This afternoon, I took my 6 year old to a comic book shop for the first time. We left the house with no particular place to go—we just needed to get out of the house for a while, and it was too hot to play outside. When I suggested the destination, he got excited. The nearest shop I know of is a hole-in-the-wall kind of place.
I’ve been to many comic book shops over the years, and they range from dark, gothic shops to bright, fluorescent stores. The owners and employees range from surly “fat-beards” with a chip on their shoulder to happy, helpful, friendly geeks. My preferred places are those bright stores with friendly geeks.
I had only been to this particular place one time, and it leaned a bit to the dark and surly. I know of a better place in the area, but it’s at least a half-hour drive away. I got my son excited about going to a comic shop before I really thought about what the closest place was, and kind of cringed at what his first experience with a comic shop would be. I hoped I could keep things good for him despite the establishment.
We walked into the store, and I was happy to see two normal-looking guys talking at the counter. The clerk immediately asked if he could help us with anything—a good sign. I told him we were just looking.
My son’s head was on a swivel, looking all around the room. There were comic books and graphic novels everywhere; I think he was in visual overload. He was quiet and intent. He looked at everything, and took his time moving from shelf to shelf. I made sure he quickly passed over anything of questionable imagery.
Contrary to what some non-comics-fans think, comic books are not specifically for children. Many comics are strictly for adults. Like most movies are PG or R rated—not for children—so are comic books. And even the ones not specifically for “adult audiences” can be a bit intense for young kids.
We spent many minutes looking at the new comics, some comic-character toys, and some new and old role playing game books. A few patrons moved through, in and out, of the store. The patrons were all males, and just normal guys. My initial concern about the environment was dropped—the store was physically dark, with dark walls and dark shelves, and just sufficient lighting, but none of the employees or customers were like that.
My boy found a Spider-Man comic on the new issues shelf and wanted to get it. The cover showed The Kingpin – an evil crime lord. (He’s not just a “bad guy,” he is Evil.) I paged through the book and saw this issue was almost entirely a long violent sequence between Spider-Man and The Kingpin, so I said no to that book. I suggested we go to the back of the store and look through their old comics in boxes and plastic sleeves.
New comics are around four bucks each, and I figured many of the old books wouldn’t be more than that. Plus, the sufficiently old ones might be cheesy enough to not bother a child’s sensibilities.
We searched through probably a hundred Spider-Man books until my son found one that intrigued him: Spider-Man versus The Lizard and some other reptilian/dinosaurian monster. The book cover was in bad shape, but it was only priced at $2.50. Its “pre-damaged” condition assuaged my feelings about giving a 6 year old a 30 year old, collected comic book. (He looks at his comics so much that they fall apart within a couple weeks.)
We went back to the front of the store where I picked up a couple new issues of Incredible Hulk. As we were about to check out, I asked the clerk if they had any Marvel comics (the publisher of Spider-Man and such) for young kids. They had several. The clerk showed us where they were on the new issues shelf, and my boy picked out a new Spider-Man to go with his ancient one. We were both happy and excited about our new comic books.
We made the purchase and went back out to the van. My son of course wanted to look through his books as soon as we were buckled into our seats. I wanted to look at my books right away, too, but I had to drive.
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On the subject of comic book shops, I will add that I actually worked at a comic book shop for a week back in the late 90s.
I was writing freelance at the time, and so had a very flexible schedule during my days. The owner and sole operator of the comic shop where I made all my comic purchases, a bright, clean store, wanted to go out of town for a few days to a major convention. One of my long time dreams was to run a comic book store. (Not exactly a “change the world” dream, I admit.) So I offered to run the shop while he went to the convention.
The owner was supposed to be gone only three or four days, but winter weather held him up wherever he was—I don’t remember in what city the convention was being held. Through regular phone check ins, he let me continue to run the store for seven full days, from opening till closing.
That was one of the most enjoyable jobs I ever had. I got to hang out in a bright and clean comic book store all day, looking through the old issues, reading the new issues, talking with fellow comics fans, and just generally getting my comics geek on for seven glorious days.