Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Sweet Encounters

A few years ago while visiting friends in California I made my first trip to San Francisco. Mike and I spent the day seeing sights and eating great food and having fun. Completely fortuitously Cherie Currie, former singer for the 70s band The Runaways, had announced a concert in San Francisco the same day that we had already planned on being there. When I discovered this I called Mike and told him we were going, then bought tickets online. I wrote about that concert in more detail HERE, so that isn’t what this is about.

There were two experiences I had while waiting in line outside of the Red Devil Lounge waiting to go into the show. We were approached by a homeless man. He was the epitome of the downtrodden. His hair and beard were long, dirty and matted. He was thin and filthy, wearing clothes so ragged I’m not sure how they stayed on him. He came straight to me and I fully expected him to ask us for money and then move on.

Hey,” he said to me. ‟Nice shirt. They’re one of my favorite bands!”

I was wearing a t-shirt with the logo of the Glam Band The Sweet (Ballroom Blitz, Fox on the Run). Perhaps ungenerously I assumed this was just his opening line and the ask for money would come next. Nope. He enthused about The Sweet, telling me about seeing them in the 70s. He was knowledgable about them and we had a completely enjoyable conversation, just two guys who shared an interest in a specific band, swapping stories about favorite songs. For the duration of the conversation he lit up, happy to be just talking and connecting. At the end he just smiled and started to go on his way. He never asked me for a dime (though I did give him some money, which, though grateful, he seemed hesitant to take).

Just after he left two couple walked by. Older. Well-dressed. Out for an evening. One of the women looked up and saw the marquee which announced, ‟Tonight: Cherie Currie!”

Cherry curry?” she said while scrunching up her nose. ‟I don’t think that would taste good at all.”

Monday, February 19, 2018

2018 Comics Retailer Survey

Recently I was asked to participate in Publishers Weeklys annual review of the comic book industry. You can read the article by Shannon O’Leary HERE. I was quoted a number of times in the article, but a lot of people, mainly my customers at Phantom of the Attic, have asked about the whole questionnaire so I decided to share it here. This really only of interest to anyone who wants to know more about the state of the comic book retail industry. My caveat here is that my answers reflect my opinions and observations based on 21 years of experience in one specific store. I don’t claim to have all of the answers or to speak for other stores. We all have different experiences.

1) What were your best selling graphic novels in 2017?

Saga continues to be our bestselling series of graphic novels for the third or fourth year now. We’ve had a lot of success with The Wicked and the Divine and East of West because they are books that a couple of our employees push pretty hard. In general the Image TPs top the list. They are self-contained series without crossovers, so people can get into a series and, quite simply, know what to read next. The introductory $9.99 price point doesn’t hurt either. We moved a lot of My Favorite Thing is Monsters. Though there are few specific standout titles in general we do really well with the FirstSecond catalog. World of Edena by Moebius did extremely well for an expensive HC. We’ve had customers regularly asking for Moebius stuff for years so the prospect of his work finally coming back into print here is exciting.

The DC Rebirth TPs increased sales over DC from the past couple of years. Marvel TPs are mostly dead stock for us. I can’t put my finger on why, other than as another indicator of the downturn in interest in Marvel. There are many Marvel trades we don’t order at all. We only move a couple of each of the X-Men TPs when they come out. The Epic Collections do pretty well with an older customer base.

Friday, November 10, 2017

It, Stranger Things, and Children in Horror

On October 21 I participated in the Mount Aloysius Charity Comic Con. I presented my Bowie paper and sat in on a couple of panel discussions. One of these was recorded by the panel moderator Danny Anderson for his podcast, The Sectarian Review. You can listen to it at the link below.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Devil’s Night

This past weekend I was discussing Halloween with my 95 year old mother. She has never really been a fan. She just doesn’t get the fascination with the horrific and the obsession with images of death. The conversation was prompted by her being pretty turned off by a yard decorated with fake tombstones.

Why would anybody want to do that?” she asked. ‟We'll all be in a real one soon enough.”

She’s not wrong, and at her age I’m sure it feels more real than to the rest of us. I talked some about how it’s psychologically healthy for people to deal with frightening things in a safe and fun environment. But, as much as I love Halloween it’s not my place to change her mind on this and I respect her feelings.

Then, she told me a Halloween story from her youth. She was a late teen at the time and she and her friend Vida, who would become my aunt by marrying Uncle Carl, were out looking for something to do. There was a party being held but they had not been invited. Apparently the hostess was a girl they were feuding right then. Mom couldn’t remember why, but all of their friends were there and they had been excluded.

Based on what I know of the personalities of my Mom and my Aunt Vida I have to assume the next part of their evening was Vida’s idea... but maybe not.

The two of them went to the house where the party was being held and soaped the windshields of every car there. Mom said they were thorough. No one was going to be able to see to drive home without a lot of clean up.

They got away with it. No one ever confronted them. If they were suspected no one ever let on.

I have never participated in this level of vandalism in my life. At 95 Mom giggled gleefully while telling this story that I had never heard before. Maybe she doesn’t dislike Halloween as much as she thinks she does.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Bend it...

A handsome young man came into the store today. Very quiet. Very polite. It’s new book day here, our busiest day of the week, so he kind of disappeared into the background noise. After browsing for awhile he asked us where to find a comic he was looking for. Things had calmed down a little so a conversation ensued.

He was in town just for the day. He was traveling on a tour bus as the opening act for another musician. The name didn’t register with me. We’re a big enough city that many small name acts pass through here playing clubs and bars and smaller venues. He didn’t say very much about what he played, and seemed a little shy when we asked about the tour, just telling us he had been in Toronto yesterday. He has his bike on the bus with him, so he was tooling around Pittsburgh on a cold rainy fall day, just checking out the sights while here. He said he always tries to find local comic book stores when he’s in a new city and the internet had pointed him to us. He was very complimentary of the store (the ‟best one I’ve been to in my travels”), and before he left he asked us where the closest movie theater was. Thanked us, got on his bike and was on his way.

So of course, after he left, we Googled his name to see what kind of music he played. His name is Clark Beckham and he was the first runner up on season fourteen of American Idol. We’re listening to one of his albums in the store right now.

Artists walk among us, unseen and unheard.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Misspent Youth #3: Race to the Bottom

Though my favorite toys as a child were action figures I did have my share of cars. Matchbox cars and Hot Wheels primarily. They were relatively cheap, so I’m sure they were Mom’s default when I wanted something. But there were a lot of them. I had the Hot Wheels track with the loop and the jump ramp that I would stretch from the kitchen table out into the living room. I don’t have any of these left and have no idea what happened to them.

There was one toy car that stands out more because I do remember what happened to it. It wasn’t one of the small cars, but a larger one called an SSP Racer. SSP stood for Super Sonic Power. Each car had a large wheel in the center of its body. You would insert the ‟t-stick” and then pull, making the wheel spin and create sound, then let it go.

Mine was called the Laker Special. It was bright orange and I thought it was the coolest model they made. The others all looked like cars. The Laker Special looked like a Sci Fi rocket car. When it raced along the floor it looked like it was floating slightly above the ground. I have often thought that Luke’s landspeeder in Star Wars was influenced by this.

Living in the country I didn’t have lot of places where I could really take advantage of the full Super Sonic Power. The space in my house wasn’t really big enough for it to play out it’s full potential. There were no sidewalks, and even with very little traffic back then playing in the road was a no-no. But, I took it outside and made the best of it.

One day after a hard rain I was in a nearby wooded lot. Crews from the telephone company had been working in the area, digging holes to bury the phone lines that up to that point had been stretched between poles. It was an overall upgrade to the system at the time. There was a large hole in the ground, filled with muddy water. That’s when inspiration hit. I yanked the t-stick and put the car in the water. Just as I thought, the spinning wheel revved and sprayed filthy water everywhere, soaking me in an instant.

Pretty cool.

The Laker Special immediately sank out of sight into the brown mud. The hole was a lot deeper than I thought it would be. I sank my arm into it, but couldn’t reach the bottom. I got a shovel from our garage and poked around with it, but no matter what I did I couldn’t find my racer. I didn’t tell my Mom because I think I was afraid of getting in trouble for losing this slightly more expensive toy. Within a day or two the work crews were back and filled in the hole. Unlike the happy ending of my previous story about Geronimo, the Laker Special was lost forever.

To this day I can go to that spot. Somewhere, six feet or so under the ground, like an ancient artifact of the past, my SSP sleeps.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Oh, for Fudge Sakes

When was the last time you laughed hysterically? Not just laughing hard, but uncontrollable, difficult to breathe, tears and snot rolling down your face, completely unable to stop yourself laughter? It’s cathartic, but I’m not sure it’s healthy. I laugh a lot. I know a lot of funny people. I’ve been told I can be a funny people. But it’s been a long time since I was out of control hysterical.

This may not be the last time this happened to me, but it was certainly the worst. Best? Most memorable.

It was the end of my first semester of grad school, without a doubt the most difficult academic semester of my life. I think grad schools plan it that way in order to weed out the people who aren’t going to make it early. I’ve always been a pretty solid B student without having to work very hard. As a result I have crap study skills. I can get really motivated when it’s something I’m interested in, but have little patience for the topics I’m not. That semester was full of things I just didn’t care very much about. That same fall Fred and I had signed a contract to produce our first comic book, which ended up never appearing, so that was taking up a lot of my time and attention. That alone should have clued me in on where my actual priorities were.

Anyway, even though I had dropped a class in Research Statistics to be taken again later, I still had four final exams and a major paper due the last week of class. The story I have told for years is that I got about eight hours sleep in the course of four days. That seems unlikely to me now, but nevertheless, I didn’t get much sleep. I was living on caffeine. The area I lived in was a test market for Jolt Cola (‟All the sugar and twice the caffeine!”). My routine for those four days was a cup of coffee, a cup of tea, a can of Jolt, repeat. There’s a reason I wasn’t sleeping.

The day came when we were all finished. It was the day before we were all leaving for Christmas break. A bunch of us were hanging out at the apartment, trying chill and relax and have fun before we left. I should have taken the opportunity to crash but I was really wired. Our friend Holly made chocolate fudge. I want to go on record by saying it was possibly the worst fudge in the history of fudge. We all thought so. Holly thought so. Somehow it seemed like a really good idea that instead of eating it we should wad it up into a ball and toss it around the living room.

Based on my reaction, this must have been the funniest thing to ever happen. Ever. Anywhere. Another friend was there, reading quietly on the couch, somehow completely oblivious to our shenanigans. At one point the fudge landed in his lap. He held it up like it was an alien artifact. The look on his face was the final straw for my sleep-deprived, caffeine-addled brain. I lost it. Completely, rolled up in a ball on the floor, shivering, uncontrollable, difficult to breathe, tears and snot rolling down my face, completely unable to stop myself from laughing.

Every time I thought I was getting some semblance of control, I would look up and lose it again. I eventually made it to my bedroom, closed the door, turned out the light and curled up on my bed, still shaking in the throes of mirth. It took awhile, but I got my shit together and went back to join the others.

Where I immediately collapsed to the floor again, all composure gone.

By this time my friends were getting seriously worried about me. I think I may have been on the verge of some kind of breakdown. Miriam came to my rescue. I was still reeling, but she took my arm, grabbed our coats and made me walk her back to her dorm. I think the combination of the cold December air and her calm presence may have saved my sanity that night.

There are times I feel like it’s been way too long since I have indulged in genuine hilarity. I like to laugh until I ache, especially in the company of good friends. I never want to be that out of control again.

No more fudge for me.