Vincent S. Moore Presents:
Back To Work
Last Saturday, I found myself doing something I haven’t done in seven years. Something I knew I missed to some extent but didn’t quite know how much I did miss until I returned to it.
Last Saturday, I went back to work.
But not just back to work as in any old day job. I went back to work at the place I spent nearly nine years working. Well, not really working but playing and getting paid for it.
I went back to work at my old job, behind the counter at Comics Ink in Culver City, CA.
It all started a few weeks ago when I received a phone message from the store’s owner Steve LeClaire. When we finally caught up with each other, he asked me if I was interested in working at the store one day a week, namely Saturdays. I quickly said yes.
Which led me back to the scene of so many of my crimes on Saturday the 24th, two days after Thanksgiving.
See, I had left Comics Ink in the summer of 2000 to pursue a career in actually making comics and not just selling them. I left because it had become an internal war within myself over the amount of hours I spent at the store, doing my job, and the number of hours I felt I needed to write and even attempt to draw. Also the fun was coming out of the job for me, not due the nature of the work but because I had found myself in a situation where getting my paycheck every two weeks was a necessity. In fact it was beyond a necessity. I needed that check every two weeks like Dracula needed a beautiful young virgin girl, plump and full of fresh, young blood.
When I found myself counting the days until my next check and the hours I wasn’t writing in some fashion, all the joy I had in working at the comics shop went away, bled out of me as if I had cut my own throat.
When that happened, it affected my work.
I was showing up later and later most days. Especially on shipment day, when at least two people needed to be at the store when it opened. But in those days, Comics Ink was only a two man operation, so my being late put my boss Steve in the unfortunate position of having to wait on customers when he really needed to be unpacking, counting in, and shelving books.
My attitude was also worsening, with my sarcasm level shooting through the roof. In 1999 and 2000, I made the Simpsons' Comic Book Guy look like Miss Manners. Even if the customers never knew it, I was silently wishing for the store to empty out so I could jot down some notes in my notebooks or read whatever book I had with me. Anything other than really being 100% present in my job.
Finally I was abusing caffeine in the forms of coffee and pills in those days, to stretch out the number of hours a day I could do other things after a day at The Ink. Which not only affected my writing in the negative but ended up affecting my health. The end results of which were having to be off from work nearly one full week recovering from stomach flu and an overnight stay at the hospital.
It was that overnighter at the hospital that shaped my decision to leave. It’s sad to admit it was the sight and idea of my mother, then 72 years old, sitting in a chair talking to me as I lay in a hospital bed that made me thinking of my life and what was I doing with it and where I was going. More important and to my shame, it was that I thought our positions should have been reversed, with her in the bed and me in the chair, that shocked me and scared me and motivated me to want to leave Comics Ink and give breaking into comics the full time shot I thought it deserved.
Which made for a very odd conversion between Steve and myself a few weeks later. It was after the new year, the dawning of the year 2000 and it was time for our then annual contract renegotiations; at the beginning of every year I was a full time employee, we would start the year with a review of my responsibilities and my benefits (days off, pay, etc.). In my life, I’ve never had a better shake than dealing with Steve. But it was difficult for me when shortly after he had upped my pay, his contributions to my IRA, and given me more paid vacations days (digression: think of that, paid vacations days for working in a comics shop! An IRA! I could have had medical benefits too if I didn’t have my own anyway. Sheesh, what an idiot I was!) that I said I wanted to leave the store but would hang around for six months until he found my replacement. As if I was being gracious to him and doing him a favor by staying for six more months of my crappy behavior. Why Steve didn’t just say that he didn’t need that long and let me go in a month’s time is beyond me.
And even when my time was up, Steve offered me the chance to work Sundays only, just so he didn’t have to break in someone completely new and could keep some continuity going. An offer I turned down because I thought it wasn’t the clean break I had aimed at. Again, the arrogance of me, I tell you.
Over the intervening years, as I made my very slow penetration into the comics industry, I would stop by The Ink occasionally. With being on a tight budget usually, I couldn’t buy comics the way I had when I was working there. Also, I was still sticking to my clean break mindset, as silly as it was. Because Comics Ink had been my home away from home. Many of the customers had become my friends in my outside life. My life had grown and changed because of my time there. Yet I treated going back like encountering an old lover: something to be avoided at all costs when possible.
Shame on me.
Yet and still, when I did go there, Steve and Jason and Adam would greet me with a smile and ask how things were going. Steve would even give me a hard time, for old time’s sake, to make me feel better.
And in those years, these mere seven years, I came to better see that working at Comics Ink, working for Steve, was the best job I could ever have. In the sense that I looked forward to work, even when it was bagging and boarding comics all day on the slow days. Because it was doing something I loved, working with a hobby I’ve loved most of my life as if it were my life.
For those nearly nine years, it was my life.
And it was good.
And I did miss it.
The past seven years have been okay to me. Notice my word choice here: “okay”. I haven’t been burning up the keyboard or drawing board as much as I thought I would in the last seven years. My advancements have as much to do with luck as with ability on my part. And, truth be told, my perception of myself and my relative position within the comics industry is that of a bacteria with delusions of grandeur in the stomach of a flea on the tip of the tail of the dog that is the comics industry. In other words, I have many more miles to go to work my way up the food chain.
I’m learning to accept my failings in my approach to the industry and trying to find ways of changing my own game to jump start this old dream of mine. It’s not easy but it has to be done. I mean, what else do I have to do with my days?
So, when I was trying to see how I could up my game, when I had some writing opportunities show up that could and will further my comics career (I’m still trying to pop my comics cherry as it were), when I was also facing a difficult family situation, along comes Steve to offer me a chance to return to the fold.
A chance I took with joy and pleasure.
Returning me to where I began, not only this column but my career in comics really, to last Saturday.
As I discovered, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
In the last seven years, as I learned, the basic stock and layout of the store has changed. Trades now make up more of the floor stock, with back issues slowing down. There are many kinds of comics out there and Steve tries to have at least a sampling of what there is out there. But where things are have changed somewhat. The challenge now is as much to keep trades on stands as it is to keep new comics there. If a trade sells, then its replacement has to be found in back stock quickly and put out for sale, because you can’t risk not having it there for the next customer who wants it. The few old familiar faces I saw were older, wiser, in different places in their lives. It was a lot to adjust to.
Yet many things were still the same.
That rush of ringing up comics was still the same.
That desire to push good comics to customers was still the same.
That sense of quiet satisfaction at a full store was still the same. So too was the satisfaction of seeing people buying comics, whatever comics their tastes desired.
And the snide interplay between Steve and myself--that need (?) to just fuck with each other, to give each other a hard time in the way that men often do--was the same.
It felt like returning home after years spent abroad.
When Steve offered to share his lunch with me, something that happened a fair amount in the old days, I accepted and the trip home was complete.
This is not to say that everything was perfect right out of the gate, like Athena bursting forth from Zeus’ brow.
I still have to learn the new cash register by heart, what keys to push when, and how to ring out for the night. I still have to get used to running around the store, keeping those trades a’moving. I still have to learn who’s who now, who are the new regulars that have come along in the last seven years. And I have to get my comics legs back, to know what’s going on in most books by memory not by company hype.
It’s not perfect yet, but it can only get better with time and patience and a willingness to get better.
Which I will have the opportunity to do each and every Saturday, plus the odd pinch hit day here and there, for the foreseeable future.
So, if you live in the massive Los Angeles area, or find yourself there while traveling, stop by Comics Ink (4267 Overland Ave., 310-204-3240) and say hi. Even if you can’t stop by on a Saturday, stop by anyway. As I said then and say now, I still think it is one of the best comics shops in the city.
Comics Ink may not necessarily be that place where everybody knows your name. But, for me, it is a place that feels like the home away from home.
And I’m glad to be back.
See you folks again in seven days.
Copyright 2006- 2010 Marc Mason/Comics Waiting Room. All rights reserved