From the mind of Tom Beland

Creator of True Story Swear to God

Sunday, October 7, 2007

My kind of people (long post, sorry)

Retailers. For as many friends I've made in readers and editors of comic books, I keep finding myself emotionally invested in the retailers.

I think it's because it takes me back to my mini-comics days and having to take my books to Christine, owner of Metro Comics here in Puerto Rico. A store owner is not only the person who decides what gets sold in the store, but they're also the person who's job I've wished to have, if only for a day. She was the first to take anything printed by me and to this day remains my biggest supporter.

Yeah, there's no money, or little money in owning a comics shop. There's the nightmare of dealing with Diamond and shipping freight costs and returns and all that hell. I've even learned recently that some customers actually pee on the floor (I've seen video clips of the event... it's happened!!).

But with all of that, there's something very magical about the job to me. There's the coolness of being in the middle of the comics storm every Wednesday afteroon. There's opening those boxes and seeing the books for the first time. And there's the fact that you don't have to wear a tie to work and say "yes sir" and you get to enjoy an art form that takes everyone back to a golden time in their lives.

My good friend, Frankie, is a saxophonist for some very prominent singers and musicians here on the island, was visiting here last night to watch the baseball playoff games. Me, Lily, her cousing Marian and Frankie are going to be in New York to attend our nephew's wedding. While we're there, we have some time to go off on our own and Frankie and I were talking about what to do in New York during that week.

Frankie mentioned hitting some retro clothing stores and a music store to look at some saxaphones. Then he also mentioned hitting some of the old record stores. Ahhhhh record stores. Man, I LOVES me an old-time record store. Gotta be old, somewhat dirty and be playing nothing older than 1979. Record covers, big and artsy, I could stare at them for hours.

I then told him that I had to go to some comic shops and Frankie's eyes lit up. Give me two hours in a comic shop and I'll go clothes shopping with Lily anywhere. With a big smile and a "take your time, dear" at ever place we visit.

When I was a kid, my mother worked at a drug store named LEVINSON'S on Freeway Drive. This was in the early 70's and this drug store had a HEY KIDS, COMICS! rack filled with books. There was an old woman there named Ruth, who was in charge of changing the magazines and this woman HATED dealing with the comics.

So, one day I was watching Ruth cut the plastic strap on the comics bundle and I said "Man.. you have the GREATEST job on earth." Ruth looked at me, rolled her eyes and in her smoky-raspy voice said "Y'think THIS is great??? Honey, you can have this job ANY time." I looked at her in shock and said "REALLY?? I'LL DO IT!!!"

She said, "okay kid.." and told me how it worked. I had to go to the comics rack and take down all the blue-tipped books. Back then, comic books would have a swab of ink on the top of the pages, so if you looked at the top of the book, you'd see a strip of blue, magenta, yellow or green. This showed what week the book came out. So, I'd take out all the blue tips and replace them with the magenta tips. It took me maybe an hour to do this and Ruth was thrilled to not have to deal with the comics.

When I was finished, she told me "hey, I'll tell you what. For doing this for me, you can have five dollars worth of comics." That's right FIVE. FUCKING. DOLLARS.

Now, before you call Ruth a cheapscape, understand that comics back then were 12¢ per book. This meant I could have 40 comics and some candy for my work and I was freaking OUT while picking out my books. I walked home with this HUGE paper bag of books and when my dad saw them, he asked where I got the comics and when I told him, he wasn't too cool with it. "Don't take advantage of Ruth... take those books back" I was in tears as my father drove me back to the store.

But Ruth refused to take the books back. She told my father that it was her idea and her's alone and that I was really helping her out. My dad stared at my red-stained little eyes and said "You promise to do this every week?"

PROMISE?? This was my life's mission!!! He agreed and took me back with my bag... so long as I promised to bring home the new Mad Magazine.

When I had to bring my mini-comics to Comic Relief, I was terrified. Tyler was working the counter and he had spikey bleach-blonde hair, tattoos and a nose-ring. The ULTIMATE cool comics shop employee. I brought my book to the counter and said "ummm these are my mini comics, take a look." And as he read them, I ran over to my brothers Joe and Bob (yeah, we don't have the most colorful names in my family) and I was a nervous wreck as Tyler looked at my work.

"You've got a great line in your art," he said and I nervously stammered a "thanks" and then he asked me how many copies I had with me. I told him I had twenty of each book (there were four at the time) and Tyler said "Yeah, okay... we'll take 'em all."

Get the fuck out of town, I thought. Comic Relief.... the place I considered Comic Mecca in the coolest city in the free world, was taking MY mini comics!!!??? I nearly peed myself. They were put on the racks and I took a photo of Bob trying to steal a copy by sliding it in his jacket. I was so fucking high that day and they knew it. Whenver I see Rory at a convention, I want to hug the man. Every. Time.

There's Joe Ferrara, the man who is in issue #16 of TSSTG... the WonderCon issue. He never had to invite a mini-comic dude to come hang-out with his group of proffessional friends, but he did. And in doing so, he gave me my very first moment where I felt like I was one of the big guys. Joe and my father would've hit if off so damned good. At times, when I'm haning with Joe, I have the urge to cry a bit. Because I know my father would spend all day with him.

There's Joe Fields who is just plain good. He's a good guy and I sometimes think it would be impossible to be that good and have that good of a wife and that great of kids. When I need a pick-me-up fix, I visit Flying Colors. Joe, to me, is that big brother who loved comics and he gives me a great feeling whenever I see him. And... look, I have to say this about Joe. His daughter, Jenny, is hot. I don't mean "she's so cute" hot. I mean she is fire-warning hot. And she loves my book. And she PUSHES my book. Sooooo... there is an incredibly awesome moment where I'll walk in the store, unannounced and see this uber-hot girl wearing my TSSTG t-shirt and she's talking some fanboy, who's deeply in love with Jenny as she's speaking... and she's talking him into buying my book. This has happened three times and every time it has made me feel like a rock star. BONO U2 rock star.

There's Jim Hanley's Universe, where I did a signing for TSSTG and this guy walked in, telling me he liked the way I wrote couples. I said thanks and signed an issue for him and he gave me his business card and told me "You should write a Mary Jane/Peter Parker story sometime." As he left, I looked at the card and there was his name... TOM BREEVORT alongside a big Spider-Man in color with MARVEL COMICS written there. I stared at this card for what seemed like an eternity and showed it to Lily and I nearly cried right there in the store. Jim Hanley's reminds me of dreams coming true. It's why I love to sign there.

There was Bill Liebowitz, the owner of Golden Apple in Los Angeles. I first met Bill at the annual San Diego dinner Joe Ferrara holds every year at the con. It was my first dinner and I was a nervous wreck and it all became wonderful when Bill, a giant lumberjack of a man, mentioned to me that he knew my work and loved the series. He also told me that, while getting TSSTG out on a monthy rate would mean more money for me, I shouldn't let the book out unless it was something I truly felt good about. I've always felt this way, but when it came from Bill's lips, it solidified that rule in my book. When he passed away, I was at a loss to explain my sorrow. I only hung with Bill only a few times, but damned if he didn't always know who I was and tell me that the book was great. His wife, Sharon, is a joy to sit with for those dinners since. My only regret with Bill is that I never got to see him YO.

I remember meeting John Carter, owner of Waterfront Comics in Suisun, California when he opened his store. It was part of a hair salon, half hair salon/half comics shop. He had this little space and put his books on the wall by the counter. I gave him a sketch page to sell to help the cause. The hair salon went out of business and John took the entire space and now he's got a kick-ass store, with old brick interior walls that are bitching. John is such a great guy and we both love talking about our start in the comics biz.

I had my first rock-star feeling when I did a signing at James Sime's Isotope Comics Lounge. James set up a drawing table for me to work on in front of the window and then I got to sign one of his toilet seats he has on display! My toilet set hangs alonside some of the biggest names in comics and it was a very fun experience.

My newest retailer is John Munn, owner of the uber-cool COMIC BOOK INK in Tacoma. Not only is his store great looking (I've only seen photos), but he's also very good to indie-creators, which is huge. But the COOLEST thing about Munn's store are those BITCHING, RIGHTOUS BLACK BOWLING SHIRTS he gives to creators who sign at his store. I cannot tell you how bad I want one of those shirts (XX Large, John ;)) and if John was a dickhead in person, I'd STILL want one of those shirts. However, when you add to the fact that he's one of the nicest guys in comics, the shirt is just the hot fudge topping on the John Munn sundae of goodness.

Every year there's a new retailer I meet who I feel a kinship to in some way. It's a deeper bond than the readers or the publishers, because these are the people who invest their money in their stock and I've never met a bad retailer. Never. I know that sounds like bullshit, but it's just a fact. And, thankfully, if I ever DO meet up with one, the number of good ones will always outweigh the bad.

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