Ever since I was 6 years old I wanted to be a cartoonist, or Superman. I also knew that if by chance those two options were unavailable to me, I also really wanted to work in a comic book store.
Throughout my professional life I became a little too familiar with the world of retail and customer service. I spent my 20s like many do, folding and re-folding sweaters and ladies jeans on table displays, steaming low-fat decaf cappuccinos, emptying garbage cans overflowing with sun-curdled dairy products, being written up by sweaty and disappointed assistant managers, enforcing return policies that I didn't agree with, getting chewed out and spit at and ALWAYS asking "Can I help you?" I couldn't imagine what it would be like to work in a place where I actually wanted to be. To be surrounded by things that I knew and loved and to look forward to going to work everyday, where the customers wouldn't be shrieking lunatics, but peers. Folks with whom I shared a huge common interest and could converse at length on the many topics that often hang heavy on the mind of the modern comic book fan. Then after years of persistence, I was hired to work in the comic book store in my neighborhood.
On my first day, my boss told me that this job wasn't like any I had worked before and she was right. There are no better folks than comic book folks and while customer service will always be kind of awful no matter where you work, customer service sure doesn't feel like it in the comic store. As anyone who has worked in a record, book or video game store will tell you, the more specific a clientele your store caters to the more interesting your customers tend to be and the comic shop is no exception. There was a focused intensity in so many of our customers that caused even the most casual of interactions to end in me smiling over something funny I had heard.
It wasn't long before I started drawing some of these stand-out moments and soon I had a pile of cartoons that would eventually become Our Valued Customers. Here are some of my favorites that appear in Our Valued Customers: Conversations from the Comic Book Store. Also, be sure to check out www.ourvaluedcustomers.net to see more of these magic moments from the world of comic book retail.
Kids have said what have become some of my favorite comics in the book. The kid depicted in this comic had a Batman shirt and mask on and he and his mom were killing time in the store waiting for their dentist appointment. He was so excited to be in a store and she was really patient with him and let him look around for a long time but then it was time to go and he wasn't having it. I remember this feeling so well, my parents would take us into the comic book store while they were waiting to get a haircut or something. It would be so exciting and overwhelming to be in this cool store with all this cool stuff and you wanted to look at EVERYTHING and when it was time to go it was heartbreaking.
This wasn't a long conversation. He started out so confident, as if there was no chance I wouldn't agree with this, like if he said 'So you know how it's daytime right now?' The truth is I DIDN'T know that and when I said 'NO' he was totally shaken and the conversation was over. I tried to get him to finish but he was embarrassed and I felt terrible but I guess now I know about the hot android ladies.
This girl was probably 13 or so and she wasn't going to let Batman tell her what to do. It's always cool to hear kids say what they would do if they were in a particular comic book situation. 'Well if I was Wolverine I would have just...' It's considerably less endearing when 30-year-olds are angrily doing the same thing.
This was a good one too. She was definitely joking around and he got a little too upset. He tried to play it off like he was joking too but it was too late; she had been yelled at over nothing and they both knew it. It's always interesting to see people getting angry over comic books. There's always the guy who will be fuming over <em>something</em>, like the fact that they changed the artist on <em>X-men</em> or that they brought a character back from the dead. I feel like those are reasonable things to grouchy over, but then there's the guy who can't take criticism of his <em>Green Lantern</em> collection and yells at his girlfriend.
'Wow. Lady, your son must be the smartest kid alive.' Sometimes on weekends we'd have this group of snooty moms come in with their kids and try to out-boast each other. It was always interesting to overhear the <em>amazing</em> things young Skylar and Malachai and Dakota were up to. One time, when I was in second or third grade, a friend of mine lent me a <em>Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle </em>book. It was this big magazine-sized book that collected a bunch of issues of the original black and white TMNT series. The original series was awesome because the characters would casually swear and the fight scenes were the bloodiest and most violent I had ever seen at that point in my life. Anyway, it was after school and my mom came upstairs to see what I was doing. She said, "You're supposed to be doing your homework, not up here reading comic books." And I corrected her and said, "It's not a comic book; it's a <em>graphic novel</em>." I have never seen her laugh that hard in my life. It's funny to hear people straining to make that distinction because, sorry, your kid might be a genius but it's still a comic book.
This girl was about 19-years-old and while this isn't a comic book-themed comic, I still think it's pretty funny. It's that universal teenager mentality where you assume that since <em>you've</em> only just heard about this particular thing, you're probably the first one. Never mind the fact that this girl's mom probably went and saw that movie when it first came out in theaters. It's how your dad must have felt that time when you were 17 and he asked what you were listening to and you sneered and told him it was this cool band called Jethro Tull that he'd probably never heard of.