One for the Road: A Farewell to Comics Ink
Wednesday was the last Comic Book Wednesday for Comics Ink, an LA-based comic book store within walking distance of Sony Studios.
If you follow comic book/pop culture gossip site Bleeding Cool regularly, you’ve probably heard of Comics Ink. About a year ago they printed this story about the owner, Steve LeClaire, ripping up a copy of Kelly De Connick’s Pretty Deadly in front of patrons as a statement of what he thought of it.
It’s too bad that moment was put on a national stage. It was obviously not a great choice (love your work so much, Kelly!). But it was no more characteristic of that store’s culture than any of the dumb things that any of us have done and then had our idiot friend Katrina post to her Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, YouTube, Snapchat, tumblr and FourSquare and then send in an attachment to my mom. (Screw you, Trina Jackson. Screw you for life.)
Comics Ink is in fact not one of those stores where the staff are high brow wannabee jerks, too over it to talk to you if you’re reading Bendis or (gasp) Lobdell. The space is not teeming with tweens running back and forth to the counter to tell you they’ve just won their round of whatever the hell that card game is that they’re playing now while hunched over tables jonesing like addicts. Shoot, they couldn’t do that here even if they tried; it’s just a shoebox, Comics Ink. You could fit more people in an elevator.
In the four years I’ve lived in Los Angeles, I’ve bought from all the stores and liked different things about each. Geoffrey’s, where there’s always treasure to be found in the $1 bins; Secret Headquarters, which has the best comfy chairs; and Meltdown, where I had the chance to meet Jane Espenson and blurted out, oh so creepily, “You’re very special.”
For me, Comics Ink has always specialized in community. Jason at the counter, always with a smile, saying hello, sharing a laugh. A Jedi Master of Infectious Banter and Joy. (“These aren’t the droids you’re looking for, but damn this video’s funny.”) And Vince in the back going through the pull lists, cackling like Yoda (and dropping some crazy deep Zen Yoda wisdom—I swear that man is either ninja or the next Dalai Lama).
It’s a strange thing, going to a comic book store every week. You don’t necessarily spend that much time interacting with the staff on any given day. You’re too busy geeking out over the new issues, making sure you get what you want, trying to convince yourself you can afford it all. (Me love you long time, Marvel, wanna Make Mine You 4Life, but $3.99 for Loki? $3.99?? !%!*@!%!&*!#%!&*&%!&%!*&!.)
But go to the same place at the same time, week in, week out and you become part of one of the groups of regulars — the 10am crowd whose hands basically shake until they get their new comics in them; the skater kids who come after school to trade insults and hang out with the staff; the middle aged guys who come after work to do the same.
I don’t see any of them but for those 10, 20 minutes we’re together on a Wednesday, but it’s enough to know their stories. There’s the soon-to-be-married Republican who’s made a successful business of selling variants online. If he could spend all day in front of his Xbox playing Titanfall, he’d be happy. And there’s the middle aged guy who comes in early and stays way too long. He’s often clutching a packet of scribbled drawings and papers, and he likes to pester the staff with questions until they get pissed off and tell him to stop. But there’s not a mean bone in his body; he’s just a bit off, and this is a place that will tolerate that.
Like I said, it’s just a tiny store, and there’s no place to sit, and no food or drink allowed, but somehow in the hands of these guys over the 23 1/2 years that Steve has owned the business and the decades that employees Adam and Vince and Jason have worked here — the store has had only four employees in its 23 years; Jason, the “new guy”, was hired 14 years ago — in all those years this little storefront in a tiny strip mall in the shadow of Sony Pictures has become a sort of Cheers for a whole lot of people.
Haters often imply that nerds, geeks and insert-your-own-formerly-or-presently-derogatory-term-for-scifi/video game/comic book lovers are emotionally stunted, immature people. But anyone who really knows someone who can’t stop talking about Buffy 11 years after it ended (I don’t care how much you love The Wire, we need to agree that The Body is the best hour of television that has ever been written) or is still furious about Peter Parker and Mary Jane (Dammmnnn youuu Joephhistoooo!) knows that most of us are exactly the opposite, big softies who can’t help but wear our hearts on our sleeves (and sometimes literally on our cosplay as well).
We’re the kinds of people who cry easily, whether it’s because our son just took their first step or because that goddamn Kieron Gillen just ripped out our hearts and ruined our lives. Again. After telling us it was all going to be fine this time. Again. While dancing in front of us to Emile Sande’s Heaven. Again. (Seriously, Gillen, you’re like the Lucy van Pelt of the comic book industry. I’ve had enough. I AM DONE WITH YOU.) (Is it true you’re writing Angela?)
We may not lead with any of that heart on a Wednesday. We may spend our time cursing the New 52, dreaming up ways that Katniss Everdeen could put down “Tris”, Hermione and Kristin Stewart or wondering privately to ourselves if BKV got our letter, maybe we should send it a fifth time, though maybe if he did answer and agree to our picnic lunch by the Observatory we’d be unable to do more than giggle and say “Lying” over and over anyway. (All I’m saying is, I really think we could have something special, Brian.)
We can carp about art and scripts and the companies and the movies and the video games and the WWE and the goddamn lack of a legitimate variety of weather for hours.
But then someone in the store mentions quietly to Jason something not going so well, their aunt just died or they lost their job, and we’re right there with them. We might not know each other’s names, we might be unduly obsessed with worlds that fictional and creators that we treat as though they are too, but somehow underneath it all we are friends.
About a month ago another comic store in LA offered Steve more money than he could refuse, so as of Sunday the store will close and then reopen a few days later as a second branch of that business. For some reason they’re not keeping Jason, Vince and Adam on. The guys have been very professional about the whole thing. I don’t know, maybe it’s a mutual decision.
But I know I’ll feel their absence. And I think a lot of other people in West LA will, too. Ask anyone who goes there regularly — there’s something about that place, those guys. They do good work, but more than that, they’re good human beings. And they make a nice home.
Where do you go when they close the place where everybody knows your name? I don’t know. I guess I’ll find out. But I’m sure glad that for the last four years, those guys did.
Jim McDermott, SJ, is a screenwriter and journalist living in Los Angeles and a Jesuit Catholic priest. Kevin Maguire, Frank Miller and Chris Claremont got him reading comics, John Paul Leon and Brian Michael Bendis brought him back, and so many others keep pulling him in. @popculturpriest on Twitter.