Friday, December 28, 2007

Looking To The Stars: Ode To A Small Town Comic Book Store

The very first comic shop I ever called home is dead.

I found this out last week as I went to visit my parents for the holidays. Gold Mine Comics was it's name - now vanished even from the Internet, save for a passing mention on a website listing places to buy Transformer toys.

It was, as I recall, a bit of a dump. And before anyone starts to think I'm coming down too hard on the old homestead, let me say that I've seen comic shops that are far worse and had far worse employees. That being said, Gold Mine Comics was an ironic name even at the best of times in those heady days back when the Internet was still young and Wizard Magazine the only way to get reliable comics industry news. It was a hole in the wall but it was a homey hole. And because it was the only comic shop in a rough 100 mile radius, it survived and in a fashion, thrived.

The very first regular article I ever wrote (See The Mount in Fanzing #26 - we'd put up a link, but their site is down!) was about the signs that you are in a bad comic book store. And although I didn't name it then, "Store A" - the source of most of my signs - was Gold Mine Comics.

75 Copies of the latest Danger Girl Special and yet not a single copy of Detective Comics or Wonder Woman? Special Orders that took months to arrive, assuming they ever did? Quarter Bins containing more comics than the Archive Section? The Gold Mine had all of this and more.

Then again, I did wind up getting most of the Mike Grell Green Arrow run from those quarter bins for ten bucks. So it wasn't all bad. And for all it's faults, the shop did have a lot to redeem it.

For one thing, you never paid extra for bags and boards when you bought a comic off the shelf. Granted, this was because they had everything bag-and-boarded to stop people from treating the place like a library on new comic day but that's hardly the point.

The place also did have one crackerjack staff back in the day and while I sometimes got ribbing because I was the only customer who had heard of Birds of Prey much less subscribed to it, I could always count on the guys there to keep me informed on stuff that was coming out that I'd probably be hip to.

It was their staff who - on one of the rare occasions my special order got filled - got me the silver Green Lantern ring that is my lucky charm, constant companion and most frequent ice-breaker at social gatherings. I

It was there that I picked up my first autographed comic - a copy of Clerks: The Comic Book #1 signed by Kevin Smith himself, which the owner had picked-up on one of his frequent trips to a convention in Houston.

It was there that I got my first "geek-grrl" crush on a redhead named Lucy, who changed me from a superhero-reading fanboy into a man of the world after exposing me to the works of Neil Gaiman.

And yes, it was there that I first got the nickname of Starman, as my friend Cody stumbled across an issue a copy in the back-issue bin and said "You should read this. This Jack Knight guy sounds like you".

Yes, the place was a pit. But for the three years before I moved back home to Dallas, it was my pit. And I stopped by there at least once a year whenever I came to visit, just to see how the place had changed. And changed it did. The owner changed at least twice over the years. The staff somewhat more frequently than that. And the last time I went in the shop had branched out and become equal parts comic shop, skate store and weapons dealer.

Only in America, ladies and gentlemen, could you get a custom skateboard, a pair of nunchucks and the latest issue of Action Comics in one store. Maybe such a thing is only possible in Texas, for that matter.

But that was after my time. And though there is supposedly a new comic book store in Victoria, near the long-abandoned Dunlap's department store, I didn't stop in to check it out. My memories - and a little bit of my heart - are further east. They can be found in a strip-mall two blocks from the high-school, near the abandoned dollar theater where I saw Dogma and South Park: The Movie after the big chain theater refused to show them in a building where now stands a used-electronics store.

Rest In Peace, Gold Mine Comics. You will be missed.

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