I was applying for writing gigs and one editor wanted a short paragraph "describing your favorite store." I found this request a little silly at first (and a little sexist since the ad was for "Women's Interest writers,")but when I thought about what is my favorite store, I realized that it was the comic book shop in my neighborhood growing up.
It was a paradise for children, Toys & Hobbies from Rainbow III. The store’s name had much of the same effect on kids as did George Lucas starting Star Wars with Episode IV. It made one think that there was more out there, something they missed. It was full of toys, comic books, and models, but that isn’t why it was my favorite store. We were a poor family and I had a weekly allowance of two dollars, which wasn’t much even back then. What made this place magical were Gene and Gwen, the owners. I’d walk in, surrounded by the pantheon of superheroes that allowed a wheezy, unatheletic kid to dream of secret identities and hidden powers.
They knew I had no intentions for purchase, but they wouldn’t care if I spent hours with them talking about the stories of Spider-Man or Batman, and sometimes, about my own troubles. While it might have been a ploy for sales, Gene often encouraged me to purchase two copies of much-loved – yet ultimately expected to be collectible – comics, telling me to look at it as an investment.
He soon realized that it was futile. No amount of implied riches were worth more to me than the 15 or 20 minutes I could escape into the universes of Marvel or DC. Eventually, he saw them as an investment of a different kind, an investment in my imagination and growth as a storyteller. Sadly, it closed before I could take my own daughter there. She is growing up in a time where Comic Book movies are the norm and access to stories is much greater than it was. Even though my daughter has inherited my innate cynicism, she too would have been simultaneously lost and at home in Toys & Hobbies from Rainbow III.
Wherever you are, Gene and Gwen, thanks for playing a big role in getting this nerd through adolescence, but not quite out of it.