Sleeping with the Enemy

I’m not a nice girl. I don’t have a conscience. I’ve even been told I don’t have a soul.

I’m a cheater. Yeah, I said it. And I don’t care. When I was younger, I cheated at Candyland. Candyland! I used to put the good cards in order when my friends would get up to use the bathroom. I didn’t even feel bad.

I cheat on boyfriends sometimes too. With little or no remorse.Once I did it and did feel like a horrible awful person. But most of the time, I don’t feel bad at all. That feeling didn’t last long.

But enough of my peccadilloes and youthful indiscretions. I’m here to talk about comics.

Because, you see, there is a time when I do truly feel bad about cheating. I’ve taken on a few mistresses over the years, and they’ve all been kind to me. It’s not about affection or love or emotion at all. It’s the rush of instant gratification. Why wait until I get home to buy something when it’s right in front of me? I cheat on my comic book store.

I went to Comics and More in the gargantuan King of Prussia mall. And there it was, staring at me from the shelf. Scarecrow Tales, a retrospective that was no doubt, released to coincide with Batman Begins said “buy me.” It had the origin story of Jonathan Crane and I had been oddly fascinated by this particular villain while rereading Arkham Asylum a few months ago. I was intrigued by this gangly professor in rags. The book featured why he had decided to become the Scarecrow and his subsequent confrontations with Bruce Wayne’s alter ego. While in this store of ill repute I also picked up House of M #2, bearing in mind that I had missed the release of the first issue a few weeks before.

Recently I’ve been reading Green Arrow, and lo and behold, my friend Mark walks into my house with a green shirt featuring Oliver Queen in all his green tights-and-arrows glory. Curious, I ask where he procured such a lovely garment. “Comic Relief,” he replied. “I can’t shop there,” I blurted out. Not knowing what I would do in the coming weeks.

In July, I went to New York for my birthday. On the way up Mark suggested we stop at Mid-Town Comics on West 40th St. on the way to dinner. Out of the sweaty street and into the cool air conditioned stairwell we went. I stepped onto the hardwood floor of my own Library of Alexandria. You can find anything there except Kryptonite and Adamantium. There were walls and shelves of comics, trades, statutes, busts, and figures. The one wall on the right featured comics new and old, saved from the ravages of corrosive materials and time. So much in such a small space. I could have easily dropped 100 bucks in the place. I could have everything I could ever want.

Writer, raconteur, and the always-good-for-a-quote Oscar Wilde once wrote “I can resist anything but temptation.” He couldn’t have said it better. There it was. An issue of New Type with Jin, Fuu, and Mugen of Samurai Champloo on the cover. I tried to rationalize the purchase. “I could buy this here,” I thought. “I may never see this again.Then I’ll miss the article on one of the few anime shows I actually enjoy. I don’t think they sell this at Comics Plus.” I figured Comics Plus didn’t have a large periodical section anyway. I walked around Mid-Town for an hour with the plastic wrapped magazine clutched under my arm. At times I felt like I was carrying porn. It’s not like it’s a bad thing — I have nothing against pornography.

The time came for my friend and I to depart our comic paradise. I stared down at the contraband and contemplated the purchase once again. It seemed like it took forever to pay for the damn thing. I paid with my check card and went down the stairs.

I did it again. I bought something at another shop without regret or a remorseful thought popping into my brain . After all, it was my birthday, I should be able to do what ever I want. While walking uptown for an early dinner, all I could think about were two things, food, and the Elvis Costello / Emmy Lou Harris concert in Central Park later that evening.

While waiting in line for the show, I read the entire issue of New Type before I entered the Summer Stage section of Manhattan’s biggest back yard, Central Park.

A few weeks later, I stop at Comics Plus in Mt. Holly. The first thing I notice when I walk in is the bloody magazine rack. My heart sank straight to my feet. What’s on the rack but the August issue of New Type. Stupid stinking magazine. Stupid stinking addictive Adult Swim programming.

I’ve always believed it’s not a good idea to feel anything at all. It helps a lot in life. Especially at work and when dealing with the general public. But when it comes to comic shops, I do feel bad.

But what about all that unnecessary crap you bought at Wizard World in June, you ask? Isn’t that doing the same thing? That’s a different argument all together. Wizard World (the Philly version) happens only once a year – thank god. At the giant con, visitors find various items they wouldn’t find all in one place, except perhaps the Internet. Where else would I get all the figures and shirts? Not to mention the nifty artwork that has yet to grace my bedroom walls? Honestly, I haven’t done much with the stuff since I bought it, except wear the t-shirts. Wizard World is an organized orgy. It exists due to demand and has its own separate space within the comics universe. There are items everywhere. It’s like going to a swingers party. You’re there to cheat on your significant other, and so are they. Or it’s similar to an alcoholic being in a bar and not ordering a shot of their preferred spirit.

There are a number of stores in my little corner of South Jersey, all within an easy drive of 30 minutes or less. However, this doesn’t count the big box bookstores like Barnes & Noble or Borders, or even the Tower Records in Cherry Hill, which has a limited selection of mostly trade paperbacks. In my area, there are Comic Relief in Hamilton, Comic Lair in Trenton, Knight Dreams in Princeton, and Hall of Heroes in the Cherry Hill Mall, smack between the GNC and Suncoast.I also live about an hour away from Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash in Red Bank. I go to Comics Plus, it’s closest to my home, and I read a lot of what the store carries.

Comic store employees are like drug dealers. They know who you are,they know your taste if you go in often enough, and they’re always more than willing to make recommendations if you want to try something new. Employees are also extremely friendly and you always get a smile and a “Hello” when you walk in the store. This lot are definitely more approachable than your average retail salesman at Bergdorf’s or Bloomie’s. There have been plenty of times in various department stores that I have been either scowled at or just plain ignored, when I had money to spend. (I’ve worked in retail for the better part of the last ten years and that’s generally not a good business practice.) When I walk into Comics Plus, Ron (the talkative guy with the beard)or whoever happens to be here, I at least get some sort of acknowledgement.

Most comic shops are small, independent businesses. (I know there are a few chain stores out there, but I’m only writing about the ones I’ve encountered.) They thrive on repeat customers. You don’t get more repeat than a comic book buyer. New issues come out every two weeks, sometimes every week. Running a small retail outfit is a huge gamble, one that I would never dare take. Think about it, if you go in to buy oh, let’s say Nightcrawler #8, and you haven’t bought issues one through seven there, they just know you’re going somewhere else.

Comics are obviously a niche business. It’s tiny in terms of production and sales. I don’t think twice about going to a different grocery store or another gas station. With those particular items, I care more about price than anything else.

I won’t bother to say I’m sorry. I know I’ll still walk in an drop at least ten bucks or more most days I go into Comics Plus. But how can I not feel bad when an employee orders books for me, or tells a hilarious story of a comic that was marketed towards mostly kids that was ultimately scorned due to graphic sexual content, and he was asked to ship it across state lines? I’m a habitual offender, a criminal of the worse kind. The worst part is, I can’t be stopped, nor do I want to.

Editor’s Note: In the past few months, Comics Plus has changed its name to Ron’s Comic World. However, the writer is extraordinarily stubborn, and it will always remain Comics Plus in her mind.

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