Thursday, October 3, 2013

Recalling My First Comic Shop


Okay, so I pulled out a bunch of old Amazing Heroes magazines from a box and was leafing through them. As I glanced at 1984 Preview Issue it made me nostalgic for those days. I thought back to the variety of new publishers like First, Pacific, Eclipse, Vortex and Seagate. This boom of publishing was fueled by two things, the direct sales distribution method and the rise of the comic shop.

Before the late 70’s current comic books came to be sold strictly by newsstand distribution. A distributor’s function was to gather a publishers product and physically get it to that outfit’s string of retail outlets. For this service the distributor received a percentage of the magazine’s cover price. However, after a period of time, something like three months, unsold copies were returned back to the distributor for full credit and this was debited back to the publisher. A new economic model was developed where specialized distributors could buy the new comics at a lower price than the newsstand distributors by forgoing their right of return. This new system of direct sales benefited both interests. Publishers took a lower margin up-front, but no longer had the specter of return copies hanging over their heads. The direct-market distributor serviced the emerging retail outlet; the comic shop.

The comic shops now had the ability to offer customers discounts off the cover price, driving hard-core geeks into their store on a regular basis, where those discounts might be offset by the sale of back issues and other profitable merchandise.

The comic shop was an unthinkable concept to me in the early 70’s. How could a store that was limited to comics be a viable economic engine? Well thanks to direct sales this ‘miracle’ came into a ubiquitous reality by the early 1980’s. My first exposure to this new shopping outlet came in the late 1970’s via A&M Comics And Books. My good friends James and Albert took me to the tiny store when it was located in a strip mall near their homes in Hialeah, Florida. At the time my passionate interest in comics had dissipated and I was buying less than 10 books a month, if even that. During this first visit I was introduced to the “A” in A&M, Mr. Arnold Square. He was a short, middle aged, balding Jewish man who seemed friendly enough. I rummaged through the clearance box and picked up a few goodies. Little did I know then, that Arnold would become a future employer. 



 
About a year or so later, A&M had moved to a larger storefront over in North Miami. This locale was a lot closer to me than the Hialeah digs were. In 1978 James told me that Arnold was looking for some part-time help on weekends. I was a poor college student and was intrigued by the idea. I thought it was a good match for both Arnold and myself. My years in the hobby gave me a good knowledge about comics, so I was able to help customers find the things they were hunting. On the other hand, I wasn’t enough of a comics-junkie to be tempted to blow my pay on merchandise. Now if I’d been hired at a record store, then that factor might have been more of an issue. Sure it was minimum wage but it didn’t require a whole lot of effort on my part. For his end, Arnold got a dependable worker who didn’t rip him off.

  
Arnold took advantage of the direct sales option offering his subscriber customers a small discount and reserved them their books. A & M also dealt in related items like sports & non-sports cards, sci-fi items, movie memorabilia , stills, posters and tee-shirts. 





Later on in 1978, he opened a second shop down in South Miami and for a brief period I worked there full-time.

Okay, I must admit that I wasn’t totally immune to the lure of the wares. One day a guy came in with books to sell. Arnold trusted my judgment enough that I could buy for him upon occasion. The seller had some decent silver age stuff, which I took in for cheap. Among the items was the same issue of Konga that I’d bought of the newsstand as a 6-year old in 1962. I had been enchanted by the cover, which I later learned was drawn by Steve Ditko. I’d long ago lost the book and nostalgia overtook me, so I resold the book to myself providing Arnold with a fair profit.



In this same period I had come into contact with my birth-mother and was establishing a relationship with a hitherto unknown family. In getting to know her I found out that she had adored the Ralph Bakshi animated “Lord Of The Rings” movie. When we got in a magazine called Fantasy Quarterly, I thought she might enjoy the cover featured strip about elves, so I bought a copy and sent it to her. This led to her addiction for the Pini’s “Elfquest” saga. She still has the comic to this day.


 
I later learned that Arnold and his wife Maxine (the ‘M’) had once gotten in legal trouble with their mail-order pornography business and had turned to dealing a more wholesome product. I almost never saw any porn at the shop. But once I checked out an old paperback that he had under the counter and it was filled with explicit, bondage illustrations done by Bill Ward. Looking back now, I wish I’d have bought it as it has got to be a hard to find item.

My favorite Arnold story is the time a guy from outtatown stopped by the shop. He was in a bind, he needed someone to cash a $100 personal check and no local bank would do it for him. He stopped by A&M because he was a comic book professional and thought there was a chance that the proprietor might know who he was and might do him this favor. Arnold took care of the guy and in gratitude, the fellow made an original drawing for him, on the spot. And that’s how the shop came by it’s Gil Kane art piece. Regrettably I don’t have a picture of this to share.

Pat

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