I have a mild case of Blogger’s Block today, but fortunately I remembered that Saturday was Free Comic Book Day. Comic stores around the globe held events aimed at getting people through their doors and into the crazy four-colour world of comic books, and this reminded me of the following tribute I wrote a while ago, back when it looked as though my local comic shop was about to close. In the end it remained open, and I’m still a regular customer, but I thought it would be nice to repost in tribute to the way in which local stores can act as a backbpne to geek culture and the comic industry. Hopefully Free Comic Book Day this year gave rise to similar stories.
So anyway, I found out on Saturday that the Wolverhampton branch of Forbidden Planet is closing at the end of the month. (Please note that this didn’t happen, don’t want them to lose trade…)
I don’t know the reasons why – I’m guessing it’s been credit crunched, but don’t quote me on that – but it came as a shock to see the ‘closing down’ posters, and as always in these cases, best wishes go out to the staff who are affected by this. It’s the end of an era – that may sound melodramatic, but it’s how I feel. See, that store, back when it was Another World, is the reason I got into comics.
Sure, I grew up with comics – Beano, Dandy, and later the Marvel UK Transformers series, and if I poked around enough I’d find a bunch of old Marvel comics that I picked up when there was a short lived comic stall in Dudley – but the opening of Another World was when I became a collector. I was browsing in there one Saturday morning and I impulse bought a comic, picking one of the Superman titles because I (perhaps naively) thought it would be a good entry-level option. It was one of the issues featuring the Y2K storyline, which I guess dates this to the end of 1999; doing the maths, this means I’ve been a comic collector for only slightly less time than I’ve been gainfully employed, and it’s all the fault of that first comic and the sudden availability of cheap back issues.
Because yes, I sat on the floor in Another World’s comic department (it was a back room, but I guess it counts as a department) flicking through hundreds of polybagged back issues. Having got the bug, I started with the Superman stuff, trying to figure out why the numbering of issues seemed to go crazy around 1985-86 (Crisis on Infinite Earths. Don’t ask). It’s the usual geek story – get into a new hobby and then spend obsessive amounts of time learning everything you can about the hobby. And you know what? It was fun. I’ve become fairly good at being an early adopter of pop culture geekery, so this may have been the last time I dived into something and learned about it from the bottom up. Thank goodness for the internet and Overstreet Price Guide, that’s all I can say.
See, for those of you unfamiliar with all this, DC Comics (and Marvel, but my team’s DC) exist within a shared universe. Characters from one title regularly appear in another, there are crossovers, big events bring all the characters together, it’s a whole big glorious confusion of super-heroic lunacy. And there I was in the middle of it. I know for sure I picked up the early issues of the classic James Robinson run on Starman there (which paralleled picking up the last issues as new); I also think, but I’m not sure, that I got a bunch of Justice League International stuff in a sale; all these characters remain among my favourites.
See, it’s nerdy, and I’ve spent way too much money on this hobby, but on balance being a comic fan is a positive thing – I’ve made good friends as a result of it (hi Sudge!), dipped my toes in the waters of online fandom, and even have interesting-if-somewhat-disappointing stories to tell as a result (I was once invited to interview Jim Lee and Brian Azzarello online about their run on Superman – I couldn’t take part because it clashed with my dad’s memorial service). I’ve welled up at Grant Morrison’s All Star Superman, and no film or TV show can ever disappoint me again, as I am privy to the secret that imagining Batman getting involved in events will make every creative endeavour 100% more awesome. And it’s all because a comic store opened up in Wolverhampton.