Remembrance of Comics Past: Amazing Spider-Man #394

There’s nothing new about my love-hate relationship with the comic book reader/collector community. While I adore the medium and possess copious amounts of nerd-knowledge I’m also very myopic in my approach and collecting philosophy. I collect Amazing Spider-Man – it’s the only series I give enough of a damn about to spend my hard-to-come-by discretionary income on. It’s the only comic book series in which I own an issue that actually has significant monetary value. When I go to my local comic book shop on Wednesdays (or Thursday or Fridays), I generally only pick up new issues that tie-in to the ASM universe, like Venom, Scarlet Spider or Avenging Spider-Man (remember, I receive my new issues of ASM through mail-order subscription). When I picked up a copy of Mark Waid’s Daredevil #8 a few weeks ago, it was the first non-Spider-Man comic book I’ve purchased in years. No joke.

As such, I don’t always feel like I get the respect I deserve from vendors or my peers. When I got to a comic book show and they don’t have what I’m looking for, they go into hard-sell mode to get me to buy something else completely different (hey look, here’s a beautiful looking early issue of Silver Surfer with Spidey on the cover). It’s like these guys can’t wrap their heads around the fact that I’m just looking for what’s remaining on my list. I one time had a seller give me a sarcastic “good luck” when I mentioned the ASM issues I was looking for – because those are the issues that “serious collectors” are seeking. Well no kidding bub, I’m one of those serious collectors. I’m a serious collector who’s just interested in ASM, not Fantastic Four, X-Men and Hulk.

When I check out at my local comic book shop, I see the passive aggressive sneers from those working the register – just this past week I walked out with the newest issues of Venom. “Will that be all?” they asked with a bit of an attitude. Yep, I’m just dropping $2.99 this week – you can make your money off that guy directly behind me who has about a dozen comics under his arm. I’m just not interested in what Rick Remender is doing on Uncanny X-Force right now. And I certainly don’t have the attention span to seek out some indie titles that are getting raves. I bought some Walking Dead collected editions recently, does that give me indie cred (I’m half joking)?

So where does this leave me in the community? Stuck in-between. I’m a collector, but not hardcore enough to get the “mutual respect” treatment from other hardcore collectors, nor am I brainy or zany enough to strike up a conversation with the guy working the register at my LCS because I clearly only read “mainstream” stories about perhaps the world’s most mainstream comic book character behind Superman and Batman, and most comic book snobs gave up on that series and all of its spin-offs after One More Day.

It’s with this kind of attitude that I took umbrage with some of the reviews that trickled out about AMC’s new series Comic Book Men, which takes place at a comic book store, Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash in New Jersey, which is backed by filmmaker Kevin Smith (I swear to all of you that the tie-in to ASM #394 is going to happen). Especially this review by Comic Alliance’s Chris Sims who claims the vibe of the show is “the most compelling argument I’ve ever seen for never setting foot in a comic book store.”

What I find laughable about this review is the fact that Sims goes after the show’s featured “characters” for being the unlikeable sort that “smirk at your purchases” when Sims’ “I worked in a comic book store this is how it is mantra” is equally unlikeable and intimidating to me. It’s “contrived” that someone brings in an original Bob Kane illustration of Batman when a movie about the Dark Knight is due out this summer, as I guess a “better” show of the comic book world would be a bunch of LCS shoppers spending their Wednesday afternoons reading new issues and blocking egress to the displays for people like me who just want to get in and get out with their purchases, while talking to each other about how awesome Irredeemable is and that you’re an idiot if you like Waid’s work on Daredevil but don’t read his indie stuff.

My takeaway from Comic Book Men is that the store caters to hardcore and casual fans alike. Just reading a bunch of reviews of the place on Yelp and you’ll see the bulk of visitors are Kevin Smith fans who walk out with Clerks t-shirts. In the 4 or 5 episodes that have come out since the show’s debut last month, I haven’t seen any of the store clerks mock anyone for their purchase, or for what kind of collectibles they’re looking to sell.  When that one guy brought in a huge box of Golden Age DC comics, not knowing that he was sitting on probably a million bucks in merchandise, the store’s main guy, Walt, commends the collection but tells him he can’t attempt to buy it in good conscience, sending him to a more esteemed auction house. Ditto for the woman trying to sell her Silver Age Marvel comics for college money. When that one guy came in looking for the Tortured Souls action figures, sure there was a little chiding because of the bizarre nature of the toys, but the store cut this guy a deal, and I never got the sense that they were disrespecting him.

In fact, after watching the show, there was a part of me that wanted to give these guys a call and let them know about Chasing Amazing, the quest I’m on and if anyone came in with some low-grade early ASM’s to sell, I would be interested in taking it off their hands for a fair price. I got the sense from these guys that they would be open-minded and supportive of my quest and that I could make that kind of transaction with them without feeling the pressure to “look at this instead” or “good luck with THAT.” They seemed like honest-to-goodness fans, which happen to own a comic book shop. What’s so unlikeable about that?

Simply put, the Secret Stash reminds me a lot of my lost local comic book shop from yesteryear (finally, the tie-in to ASM #394). While I had a few different shops that I frequented when I was younger, the one I liked the most was actually a baseball card/memorabilia store that had an impressive comic book selection (new and old) to boot. It was one of those places where they let you shopped, talked to you as little or as much as you liked, and never judged you for your purchase. They had their likes and dislikes in the medium, but if they never let on if they thought your purchases were stupid or your requests pie-in-the-sky. They accommodated me the best they could, famously calling me the night before ASM #400 was to be released to let me know it was in the store and ready to be picked up since they knew how much I pined for that issue.

While their role in jump-starting my collecting wasn’t as dramatic as the “big box of comics” story I’ve referred to numerous times, there was one instance where these guys did me enough of a favor to help me get my quest for every issue of ASM in the right direction. I was in junior high school and just starting to buy some Silver Age ASMs for the first time but I was still missing a number of issues from the past year or so. I was so desperate to get money to buy these comic books, I started looking for anything that wasn’t nailed down to sell. While there wasn’t a terrible lot of interest in my “valuable” comics from the late 1980s, I did have the first issue of the short-lived Beavis and Butthead series, which was probably valued at about $20. For those of you who watch Comic Book Men will note, the store very rarely offers full price for a collectible since they need to turn on a profit during its resale, but the guys who ran my shop saw enough potential in this comic that they gave me $20 in store credit since they knew I was just looking to buy every recent issue of ASM I could get my hands on. In essence, they gave me a $20 bill to get some comics, which in those days, at least bought me about a dozen issues.ASM #394 always stood out to me during this transaction because with its foil cover and $2.95 price tag, a dollar more than most other issues, there seemed to be something “special” about it. Little did I know it would be the catalyst for my least favorite ASM storyline of all-time, the clone saga, but walking out of that store with this issue and others felt like an achievement, especially since all I did was basically trade them a comic book I had little interest in owning any more.

And hey, all these years later, that Beavis and Butthead issue #1 is going for about $1. So I guess I got the better end of the trade. But that’s not the point – I’m sure deep down, these guys understood that the comic they had just traded for wasn’t going to move for $20, but they also knew that had a bunch of recent back issues sitting on their shelves that weren’t going anywhere either. So they made a deal that worked for both sides – I cleaned out their overstock and they got something out of the deal that they could MAYBE resell down the road. It’s the same kind of “how can I make this work for you” mentality I see on Comic Book Men.

I understand that Kevin Smith is some kind of polarizing figure on the internet, but I don’t get how a store about a comic book shop could be portrayed any “better.” If that’s not entertainment to you, I understand that, but don’t try and pretend that there’s a less oft-putting way to portray a group of people, who I think have rightly earned the scorn they get from the mainstream public for their pompousness and holier-than-thou attitudes about what constitute a “good” comic book and a “serious” collector. Sometimes, a serious collector is a kid trading in a stupid comic book about an MTV cartoon series for other “stupid” comic books about a character that has lost his street-cred primarily because he’s been around for 50 years.

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