SO IT'S COME TO THIS.
My name is Mike Sterling, and I sell comic books for a living.
Alas, this month's column came due sooner than expected, so instead of my usual protracted disquisition on a particular topic, here are some scattered short shots regarding the business of selling funnybooks. For that added touch of laziness, these are old entries from my comic book weblog. I'm not proud. But neither did I want some of these stories to sit in my archives, forgotten and unloved.
Before I get started I should note that, for the most part, I think I have some of the greatest customers anyone could ever hope for. I have lots of customers who love comics, love to shop with us, and we love to have visit. And they're an interesting bunch, too: lots of band members (both local and pros), novelists, at least one professional magician (who had worked for both Elvis and George Burns!), professional actors, Big Name comic book pros, plenty of lawyers and policemen (including a D.A.), teachers, priests, a former member of SCTV, and at least once I had a store full of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. Not for a "special guest appearance" -- they were honest to God shopping.
And of course, there are the folks who just love the funnybooks. They're not in showbiz, they're not household names...just people like you and me, who enjoy their 32-page pamphlets and their squarebound graphic novels. I'm glad to have the patronage of all our customers, whether they're pro wrestlers or accountants.
I'm glad to have 99% of you, anyway. That other 1% are either problematic, baffling, or just outright nuts. The family that comes in every couple of weeks, just looks around for about fifteen minutes, and never buys anything. And it's not as if they're sitting there mooching a free read...they're just looking at the rack, seeing what's new, and splitting. Or the person who screamed an unending stream of obscenities at us because we wouldn't take the out-of-state starter checks without any I.D., because we were apparently being unreasonable. Or the mother who whined, when I asked her to control her remarkably disruptive and totally unsupervised preschoolers, "but I've been watching them all day."
Or some of the folk in the following stories (except for the fine fellow in #3 of the last section...that's an example of how to react properly to an unusual situation).
The repeats begin here. Original content next time, I promise!
A true conversation:
Customer: "Do you have Flash Gordon? With Buster Crabbe?"
Me: "Um...you mean the comic strips?"
Customer: "No, do you have Flash Gordon on video or DVD?"
Me: "No, I'm sorry, we don't."
Customer: "Oh, okay. Do you have The Lone Ranger?"
Me: "No, I'm sorry, we don't have any of The Lone Ranger serials on video."
Customer: "No, I meant the comic books. Do you have any Lone Ranger comics?"
Me: "Sure..." (I pull down a box) "...here you go."
Customer: "Great...do you have any westerns?"
Me: "Yes, there are more western comics in that box there with The Lone Ranger."
Customer: "No, I meant the movie serials."
And that's when I shot him.
How to ask me for a comic book back issue:
Correct: "Do you have Kilt-Man And His Mighty Caber of Justice #1?"
Incorrect: "Well, back when I was a boy out in Kellerman County, we didn't have a whole lot to do, really. Sure, there were always chores on the farm...we didn't get an allowance as such, but occasionally we'd get a dime or two here and there from Ma if Pa wasn't looking, and we'd go over to the local general store and buy us a bag of candy, and maybe a soda pop if it was a hot day, and it usually was...Kellerman County could get pretty hot, I'll tell you that for free. Anyway, we'd buy our candy, and maybe a soda pop, and we'd go sit behind the widow Reifsnyder's barn and eat our candy and look at the ducks out on the pond. Sometimes I'd sit with my buddy Lorenz and he and I would just shoot the breeze for hours and hours. Lorenz' father was a good man...ran a garage over on Schmidt Street, and I don't think there was a day I saw him that he wasn't covered with grease from being hip-deep in some automobile or another. The one car he was always working on was Mrs. Bauer's old Ford...he kept telling her that she should just break down and buy a new car, as all the money she was pouring into her Ford could easily cover the cost of a replacement. She was stubborn, though, just like her husband. Mr. Bauer didn't take any lip service from anyone...you try to tell him anything contrary to what he already thinks, and he'll just put his foot down and refuse to budge. This one time, at the general store I was telling you about earlier, he brought a big pile of groceries up to the counter, and when the clerk was done totalling him up, Mr. Bauer insisted that the clerk overcharged him on the eggs. The clerk told him (rightly, too) that the brand of eggs Mr. Bauer was buying were no longer 25% off, like they were last week. Well, Mr. Bauer would have none of it. The clerk kept trying to explain, Mr. Bauer kept shaking his head and getting redder and redder, and finally he just pushed the groceries on the counter toward the clerk and stomped right out through the door. Most of the groceries fell to the floor -- eggs, milk, apples, even a couple comic books for the Bauer boys. To this day, I remember that one of those comic books was Kilt-Man And His Mighty Caber of Justice #1...do you have that?"
True Tales of Urine and Vomit:
1. It's Sunday evening, and I'm working the store alone. It's about, oh, say, fifteen minutes away from closing. It's my day off tomorrow, and I'm looking forward to it. A young girl (about eight, maybe) and who I'm assuming to be her brother (about four or five) are at the comics rack, just looking at the covers. Parents are nowhere to be seen. Suddenly, after being generally quiet, they start giggling. I look over to see what they're doing, and the boy had just wet his pants...like, a lot. It's a real flood. And both kids think it's just the funniest thing ever. I'm trying not to be mad...they're just kids...but I'm pretty damned annoyed, especially at the still-missing parents. I tell the sister to get that wet kid out of here, and the two of them dart out the door, leaving me to stay after hours cleaning and sanitizing the area.
2. A mom is walking around the store holding her infant. She's with someone who appears to be her sister, and the two of them are just looking around at a leisurely pace. As I'm helping other customers, I notice that the mom and the sister dash out of the store pretty quickly. I don't realize why until, a few minutes later, a coworker discovers a healthy amount of baby spit-up in one of the aisles. Now, I realize that babies spit up, it's no big deal...but don't bail out on me and let me find the baby spit-up on my own! At least tell me so that it can get cleaned up right away...jerks.
3. A long-time customer brought his young cousin in the store with him on new comics day, and as he was looking at the new arrivals rack, his cousin suddenly spit up on the floor. Unlike the people in #2, the customer had the good grace to tell me immediately, and he helped me clean up the mess...but still, it was right in front of the new arrivals rack.
This was several years ago, but that customer still apologizes for it to this very day. Really, it's fine, honest! (But, right in front of the new comics?)
4. Again, it's Sunday, and again, I'm working alone. I have a store full of people. Someone I've never seen before, a heavier-set fellow in his late-50s, walks into the store and loudly asks to use the restroom. The restroom is employees-only, I inform the person...I'm not going to let someone I don't know wander around the back rooms, especially when I'm too busy up front to monitor the situation. Plus, I was getting an odd vibe off of him, which was almost immediately proved to be justified when he announced "well, I'm going to pee right here then!" -- "here" being the area right by the front counter and register. I immediately put my hand on the phone, and tell him "I'll just have to call the police then!"
"I'm gonna pee right here!" he repeats.
"I'll call the police," I retort, picking up the receiver.
...and so the debate continued. Well, for about 20 seconds or so, anyway, until he realized I wasn't going to budge and he'd have to go demand access to employee restrooms somewhere else.
Okay, I realize those stories aren't necessarily comic book store specific...most people in businesses that deal with the public have some kind of horrifying bodily-waste story to share...but I thought you'd be interested to know that comics retailing isn't all just glamour and elegance.
If you have any questions, suggestions, or complaints, please feel free to e-mail me at cbg (at) progressiveruin.com.
-- Mike Sterling