Comic Book Stores of America
Comic Book Stores of Yore
I've been visiting comic book stores since 1976. Before that all of the comic books I acquired were through traditional new stands, Kiosks (when I was in Europe) and military PX Exchanges (which often had small bookstores within their facilities. Some, such as the military bookstore in Naples, Italy, was quite large, with a mid-1970s newstand display of comic books that would have rivalled any good-sized comic book store "new issues" display that one can see today.)
The first "real" comic book store I was patronizing (in Virginia) was in an apparently abandoned old filling station. The comics and used books were displayed on shelves or in plain boxes on the floor inside the office and shop area and the two empty garage bays. One bay was just a pile of books and magazines, completely unsorted and looking as if a truck had simply backed up and dumped them out on the concrete. What is particularly memorable about the store building is that it had an actual hole through to the sky in its roof/ceiling that was a little less than a foot in size and allowed in gusts of wind. Since the shop was unheated or cooled (except for a small kerosene heater near the owner, who sat on a short stool near the front door, which was done out of some expediency. His one display case (with a huge crack through it, taped over) by the same front door was what appeared to be the actual cashier area, but it was hopelessly clotted with boxes and debris and a person could not get behind it, hence sitting on a stool by the front door, collecting payment and putting the money into a cigar box, and then later, a typical small metal toolbox. On strings hanging from the ceiling the owner had clothespinned various back issues and some original art pages from Marvel books, most of them selling for $25 per page. Probably the most valuable item being sold in the store, at least out for display, was a $98.00 copy of the EC Comics anthology in hardback "The EC Horror Library" published by Nostalgia Press, 1971.
Since this initiation into comic book storedom, I've not ever seen a shop in this badly a state of operation , but the typical one-man store I visited in the 1980s-1990s would usually have some degree of disrepair making up part of the ambience. As comic book stores have gotten more consistently professional (i.e., cleaner) the insides have become more predictable, but it is in the realm of back issues and in book collections where the interests of the shop owner are usually most prevalent, creating the character of the store and serving the interests of the sympathetic collector.
Comic Book Stores of America
1. The shop itself lives in my memory as a thing of beauty, as Keats would say, no matter how obviously badly the shop itself functioned as a commercial enterprise. As a 13 year old kid I used my beginner's negotiating skill (prompted by three years in Greece. The Greeks love to "haggle") with this gruff, short-tempered** comic book store owner to purchase near mint copies of many Batman titles I still have to this day. At the time I didn't realize that by letting me have the issues, he was blowing up a long run of Detective Comics he was holding off to sell as a unit. Like many casual collectors from the 1970s, if I had known what would happen later I would have purchased every copy he had in those long boxes he was keeping stacked next to his stool, guarding lest someone damage them by leafing through the copies indiscriminately, touching them with their actual hands. He was the only one who could slowly flip through the unprotected copies, one by one, while you murmered whether you wanted that copy or not. The ink colors on the covers inside were bright, unusually bright on the 100-page Super Spectaculars from DC, which are known for getting a beating going through the 1970s era distribution process because of their not-normal size that would wrinkle and scuff their covers. But these copies in this magical long box were so vibrant they looked as if somehow they had come off the printing press at World Color and then slid right into that spot in the box, spotless.
** The number of comic book store owners with short-tempers must be a peculiar quality necessary to survive in the trade.
Kennett, Missouri Walmart selling Batman V Superman
Updated last July 5, 2021