Happy Polar Vortex to all of you, my loyal readers. All six or eight of you. Four if we’re counting the ones likely still warm and alive.
In between my social feeds being choked with people throwing pots of water into the freezing air, or freeze-drying t-shirts all to garner useless likes from their friends and families… I noticed a prompt from local comic shop magnate Carmelo Chimera (whose name either makes him a wizard, mage, or super hero by my estimation). In a fifteen minute video posted to his feed, Carmelo — wanting to do something so Carmelo — has decided to give away one of his comic book stores. Full stop.
Not sell it. No. Give it away. But I suppose I should clarify: this isn’t an up-for-grabs fight for the keys. Instead, Mr. Chimera (I assume, transmitted from his underground volcanic laboratory) is inviting anyone willing to take seriously the responsibility of shop ownership to compete for the opportunity. And while some of you may be thinking it’ll be some form of Bachelor-esque YouTube reality show? Carmelo’s gauntlet comes thrown with a very straight-forward prompt.
Convince him the store should be yours in 500 words or less. “What makes a great comic book store?”
If you were to google “Marc Alan Fishman Unshaven Comics Comic Book Store”, you might find on a site-that-I-shall-not-name an op-ed I penned late in 2015 where this very topic was covered in decent detail. At the prospect of taking over my hometown store, Unshaven Brother Matt Wright and I seriously discussed it long into the evening when the offer of shop ownership flirted with us. We thought our way around it. Backwards and forwards. But at the time, logistics and logic outweighed a flight of fancy, or chasing a dream.
Well, it’s now years later, and here I sit with my essay at the ready to compete in the contest against my better judgement. Have things changed so much in my life that the time is right to potentially add another feather in my creative cap? Well, permit me to say I’ve lived long enough now to be sure: there is never a right time for anything. The question then isn’t when— It’s why.
As I’d said in 2015, a comic shop above all else is a hub of the often disregarded. Comics — in spite of the billion-dollar multimedia merchandising machine that birthed because of it — still remain one of the nichest of niches. Marvel and DC may be household names, yes. But Johnny Q. Public still can’t tell you officially who is on the Avengers right now, or how many Robins are in current continuity. There’s a plethora of reasons for this, of course. The ubiquitous prevalence of screens means that entertainment is more often consumed on a phone, laptop, or tablet than it is on a piece of paper. Media consumption has never been higher, but comic sales haven’t spiked enough to capture the zeitgeist since the rat-race days of the launch of Image Comics. So too, would be the peddlers of pulp needing to change the space to meet the demands of today’s nerd.
A comic shop is rarely only a comic shop. It’s a collectible card game shop. A board game shop. An action figure / prop / Funko Pop shop. It’s a collection of vending machines and a weekly DnD meeting spot. Sometimes it’s even an arcade, podcast studio, art studio, or kid / tween / teen / adult day-care. And it must be good at all of those faces in order to serve a fickle faction of fiction fans. The Comic Book Guy of shops past — with his forever-frown-of-judgement and receding hairline made worse by parents pinching pennies from their spawn — must be replaced by millennial hipsters sans snark. They must be woke, learned, and be able to banter with the blue-hairs (“In my day, Deadpool wasn’t a meme, gadammit!”) as well as the kids of the day (“Do you have any Kakegurui?”). And the whole shop needs to have an online presence, community-ties and outreach, as well as decent foot-traffic and curb appeal.
So, what then makes a comic book shop great? Well, I have my answer, and when the contest is over (and I inevitably lose), I’ll gladly share it with you all. But dutiful readers of mine likely know my answer already. And while I’d love to be punchy and deliver my denouement to Carmelo with single-phrase-confidence (“Shark Sandwich?”)… the truth is that 500 words to detail an answer so necessarily-nuanced cannot be easily shared here on a whim. But I digress. The contest itself starts February 1st and runs through the end of the month. If you’ve the answer in your pocket? The line forms right behind me.
I’ll see ya’ll in the funny pages. (or, you know, next week… when I’m back to complaining about pro-wrestling or detailing the best tracks off of Guster’s new LP).