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The Indisputable Matt Maxwell Presents:





See, I always took ‘em for granted back when I was growing up. Okay, sure, you had to bike a hell of a long way (everything’s farther when you bike, it’s like some kind of physical law or something.) My blue Schwinn 10-speed put on a lot of miles, but then I lived in a relatively new suburb, one that hadn’t suffered two decades of infill. Consequently, to get to anything like a 7-11 or any kind of place I wanted to go, I was looking at a 30 minute minimum trek to the commercial center of Laguna Niguel, home to an Alpha Beta supermarket, a Thrifty Drug, a couple of banks. On the other side of Crown Valley Raceway (average speeds of 60+, posted at 45 back in the day – to bike down it was a test of reflexes and moxie on the best of days, and in my prime I had both to spare) you could find a pizza shop, an arcade and a little further down, a no-name convenience store that got turned into a Circle K the year I went to college (1985 – let that roll around your head for a bit).

Of course, to get to a record store, you had to go all the way to Laguna Hills, some ten or fifteen miles if memory serves. To get to a good record store (Tower – still a chain) I had to push further to El Toro. And back at the time, that was a pretty good place. Hell, they had import records all the way from England! I could get stuff there that I couldn’t get anywhere else. Yeah, I could get the latest Electric Light Orchestra album from Sam Goody or Musicland at a mall, but Tower stocked stuff that the other couldn’t or wouldn’t. Kate Bush’s HOUNDS OF LOVE on import vinyl? They had it. IT’LL END IN TEARS by This Mortal Coil? Yep. Ask for those at Musicland and you’d get a blank stare for your trouble, if the salescritter behind the counter could be bothered to look up and answer your question. By the way the “those” in the first paragraph I’m talking about is indeed record stores, not comic stores. My comic needs were at one time completely serviced by convenience stores and occasionally bookstores (when they bothered to stock them).

I won’t even tell you how far away the first direct market comic store I went to was. Okay, I will. Nearly an hour. By car. The first one I regularly patronized was a two hour and then some bicycle ride. And you couldn’t touch the weekly comics. They were suspended up on the wall in racks of plastic bags where you could look but you could not browse. It was not a lending library. And it wasn’t friendly. But the owner knew a hell of a lot about comics, when he could be moved to speak. “Check out that CREEPSHOW? New Berni Wrightson art. His first comic book art in several years.” Of course CREEPSHOW was behind the counter. You better have gone in knowing exactly what you wanted. But then he was cool in some ways, because he’d sell me MATURE READERS ONLY comics like SIX FROM SIRIUS, for instance. But if I wanted to paw through HEAVY METAL, I’d have to go to the Circle K at the other end of that block.

Now, even with his customer-hostile attitude, I went there for a while. Until he went out of business because of his customer-hostile attitude. Why? Because there came a time that he as a direct market retailer was getting stuff that wasn’t showing up on the newsstands like MARVEL PREMIERE, as I recall. And who am I to pass up Michael Golden drawing Spider-Man and dinosaurs? I couldn’t. I’m not strong enough. I have weaknesses. I work within them.

Now, the folks who took over, and renamed the store Comic Quest (which is indeed still open and in El Toro, though in a new location and with a new owner) were ultra-friendly, knew a lot about comics and went out of their way to point out interesting stuff. “Hey, you like Alan Moore, right? Be sure to check out MIRACLEMAN.” And because of that recommendation, I did and ended up tracking down the entire run, buying what I could at their store and buying the rest at a host of other stores in Orange County because I had a car and could drive all around Orange County by then. They also sold me MAXWELL THE MAGIC CAT, which you could only get in a couple stores. They sold me THE COMICS JOURNAL with the WATCHMEN feature interviews (which I should re-examine in the interests of historiocity). And why did I buy all that stuff there or in other stores if I had to? Because I was hand-sold a book based on the retailer knowing my interests. Now, they were a small store and it was a lot easier for them to know all their customers and hand-sell based on buying habits. But the point is that they did it.

Now, I never got hand-sold anything at a record store until I went to a small mom/pop operation and got pointed the debut record by Fishbone based on my interest in (then) second-wave ska. “Oh, you like that? You’ll dig this.” And I did. I became a repeat customer.

After going to comic stores for awhile in my (then) new home of San Diego (and there was a looong time that I didn’t buy comics), I didn’t get hand sold on anything until the guy at Titan Comics who noticed that I bought CATWOMAN by Brubaker and Stewart pointed out that I should really give SLEEPER a try. And I did, and I dug it. Consequently, I ended up doing the lion’s share of my San Diego comic shopping there until…they closed.

Now, here I am living just outside of Folsom, California. I have one direct market store that is an easy drive. And really, it’s a comics/games store, so they don’t order very deep into Previews. They pick up some Dark Horse books, and some indies that put out books whose genre/subject jibe well with the store’s clientele. But I’m not going to have access to anything new there. My needs as a customer aren’t going to be met, but I’m happy to pick up an occasional MARVEL ESSENTIALS from them when I’m in town. I suppose I could special order everything every month in Previews and have it waiting for me, but I just can’t get into it.

There’s two other stores in the Sacramento metro area that are a manageable drive and both of which order deeply in Previews, and I’ll hit them once a month or so if I can. But the truth of things is that since I’m shifting over to trades, I’d rather just wait until my semi-regular trips into San Francisco so that I can go to the Isotope and get hand-sold books based on my interest (James managed to sell me on WORLD WAR HULK, which I got into until book 5 where the works just sorta came apart as I figured they would – the motivation for the Hulk’s rampage could only have come from within; the Illuminati, no matter how bastardlike they were, wouldn’t set up Greenjeans for something as bad as what happened to him.) Or I could go to Comic Relief, where I’m going to have access to a literally mind-boggling display of backlist and art books and stuff that I’ve missed during its initial release. Or I could go to Comix Experience and dig into their idiosyncratic backlist offerings or snag a back issue that I might have missed. Since I shop scattershot, there’s always a chance that I’ve just forgotten something until it stares me in the face.

Now, I could easily just go buy trades on Amazon. I know the title and volume I want. I can get it for a cheaper price, but I won’t exposed to any other titles. I won’t get to browse. It’ll just be a simple business transaction, but there won’t be an opportunity to get me hooked on something else or dig up a forgotten gem. I continue to drive a couple of hours (barring stupid traffic on the stupid bridge) to get what I want out of a comic store and support good comic stores, because the good ones support the vast diversity that the medium has to offer and not just slim pickings of stuff that’ll turn fast. If you give me what I’m after, then I’ll be happy to shop at your store, and sometimes that means you have to support a big backlist to keep my interest. Maybe I’m a problem customer, but there’s stores out there that manage to find a way to keep me happy, even if I have to trek far out of my way for them.

Matt Maxwell

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