Every Saturday as a kid, my Mom would go visit her parents, and I pretty much always went with her. After my fill of Saturday morning cartoons, Mom and I would hop in the Dodge Caravan and run errands before heading to Grandma’s.
Grandma and Pap lived in Natrona Heights and my mother being a very efficient woman would strategically go to specific grocery stores near their house. One of those stores was Bi-Lo. Next to Bi-Lo was Value City (a sort of value department store… ah I get it), where I scored plenty of early Marvel Toy Biz action figures (great values I might add), and next to Value City was the Highlands Mall. Cue the Stranger Things 80s music.
Highlands Mall was just barely a mall. It was small and probably had less than ten stores, but by my 10-year-old standards, it was utterly epic. Among my favorites was J&S Pizza (which had a Pacman arcade machine, the table unit), Waldenbooks (where I purchased my first issue of the Star Wars Insider before becoming a subscriber), and Superior Sports Cards.
Now Superior Sports Cards may sound like the least interesting place to a comic book geek, but despite the name, it was thoroughly a comic book store. I spent plenty of wonderfully lost hours here. Mom would go into Bi-Lo and I’d head over to the other stores. Most Saturdays I’d make my rounds, first a quick stop in the toy section of Value City (I still haven’t found Storm), then a visit to Walden’s (maybe they’ll have a new Timothy Zahn Star Wars novel), and finally an extended stay at Superior Sports Cards. I’d usually make it back on my own, however, sometimes Mom would have to come drag me away. She was (and is) a sweet woman and always did (and does) have great patience with me.
Certain Saturdays I’d be lost in the bargain bins at Superior Sports Cards. Those were some of the best Saturdays of my life. They’d run sales of their cheap comics. The comics had 3 stickers – Orange comics were 75 cents, yellow comics were 50 cents, and red comics were only 25 cents. Those dang stickers were a pain to get off the mylar bags! While I certainly bought comics from the two higher price points (particularly to get consecutive issues of a series) my goal was to get as many 25 cent comics as possible, more bang for my paper boy buck. However, those days were the exception, not the rule.
Most days I’d find myself wandering the shop, looking at back issues I couldn’t afford. Browsing toys, I was just too afraid to even ask the price of and kept slightly hidden while enjoying the conversation in the shop. I’d learn what comics I needed to read or avoid, what movies I needed to watch, and plenty more essential nerd stuff from the guys who worked that shop. Like my wife today, those guys probably didn’t think I was listening, but I am always listening.
I cannot overstate how important that culture was and is to me. Over the last twenty-five years since I was a regular, the independent comic book retail has been dying off. The mid and late 90s were particularly challenging (I know I didn’t shop there at that time, and I regret that fact). It’s a tough business and for the most part, those that are in it are in it because they love it. My time in Superior Sports Cards help shape me in every way that I’m currently shaped (mostly round at the moment). That time was as important as Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, George Lucas, and my parents. Geoff, the second Geoff of Geoffery’s Comics put it this way, “There’s a reason people do not walk into our comic book shop, buy their books and immediately walkout. There are customers that spend 4 hours just talking to other customers.” Geoff Jr. talked at length about the people that came through the years that his Dad impacted, which in turn impacted their family. A comic shop isn’t just a shop, but a community for a very specific and surprisingly diverse group of people. He mentioned the societal label of the comic book geek being labeled as anti-social, but wisely pointed out, “Maybe they weren’t anti-social, maybe they just didn’t have anyone to talk with yet.”
As COVID-19 spreads and more of that world is closed off, those small shops need us. They need our support. Visit their websites, their Facebook pages, and see if they sell online. If they don’t just share that they exist, help build their base for when things open back up. At the end of this article is a list of just a few shops to support. The announcement that Diamond, the distribution company for the comic book industry will not be printing and delivering new books makes the situation direr. However, you can still purchase graphic novels, back issues, and collectibles.
As much as those shops need us, we need them, and the best of them are finding a way to serve us. One such example is the aforementioned Geoffery’s Comics in Gardena, CA. Geoffrey’s is a family business, founded by a father, now run by the son raised in that shop. That son is heading up efforts to deliver comics to people sheltered in their homes. They are also doing mail orders at very reasonable shipping rates. They need us and we need them. Please note the regulations on necessary business are changing (and restricting daily) so some shops are totally closed while others are doing only mail order.
One of those Saturday mornings in that shop, before my Mom had to come to tell me it was time to head to Grandma and Pap’s, the guys in the shop were having a conversation about the best Star Wars quotes. One guy was sort of asking the other, as the guy at the register with his wiry frame and equally wiry black hair, was clearly the expert. I distinctly remember his response for Princess Leia, “Aren’t you a little short for a Stormtrooper.” The guy was good. A few characters later, The Emperor came up. He hesitated, unsure, he joked that it was probably his scream when he fell down the pit. They laughed a half-hearted laugh. After what felt like an eternity, my heart aflutter, I broke the void of silence between us. I interjected, “So be it Jedi.” They both just stared at me, I don’t think they even knew I was there. I don’t know if they thought it was a good quote or not, and frankly, that doesn’t matter. What mattered is that I entered fully into that world. The culture of the small independent comic shop cannot be oversold in my development as a creator and a person. Many businesses, big and small, have already suffered due to COVID-19. Please do what you can to help your local comic shop. Those shops are already a dying breed, we must do what we can to help them from becoming extinct.
Josiah is a writer, he wrote this. You can find him IN his house on YouTube. Now go support a comic shop.