Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Fistful of comics

There's someone who comments on my blog in Japanese and I have no idea what he/she/robot overlord is saying. Anyone want to guess?


Getting into the meat of today's post, Happy Girls' Day! That's right, March 3rd (easy to remember, 3/3) is the Japanese festival of creepy little dollies, a celebration known as Hinamatsuri, or more commonly, Girls' Day. Traditionally, people bring out dolls dressed in the manner of the Heian court and set them up on special alters so they can, I don't know, admire their pretty, pretty dresses? I must confess, while I know a few things about Japan--enough to get myself in trouble, as my grandfather would say--the real meaning of this holiday escapes me.

That's why I spent my Girls' Day in the comic book store. A few of them, actually. I'm between temp jobs right now, so I've been taking the opportunity to jlang jlang in parts of the city I love but can't be bothered to visit when I'm slaving in the salt mines. Tomorrow I'll stay close to home and take pictures of some outdoor art around Columbia Street, something for all you true believers to look forward to, but today I took myself over to the East Village and irritated the holy hell out of as many bookstore clerks as I could.

First I went to Forbidden Planet, which has the biggest selection and least irritable clerks of any of the stores on my list. No one has ever told me to stop reading the books, or to buy something or get out. I like them. I read "Transmetropolitan" volume 6, "Preacher" volume 6, and "The Authority" volume 1.

Then I went to the Strand. Not strictly a comic book store, but if you're advertising "18 miles of books," at least a kilometer of that better have speech bubbles and tastefully rendered blood spatter. One can easily get away with reading the wares in this store; it's huge and there's people everywhere. I read "The Midnighter" and half of "Persepolis" volume 2.

Next, Shakespeare & Co. by the NYU campus. Their comic book selection is minimal, but they have chairs and I desperately needed to sit down. They also have a kitty! I read "Planetary" volume 1 and half of "Planetary" volume 2.

I've never been fond of St. Marks Bookshop. They feel snooty to me. Too many interior design books. And since they didn't have ANY comics, they barely deserve a mention in this post. I don't know why I brought them up at all.

And finally, St. Mark's Comics. The owner, Mitch, told me that he'd been on St. Mark's Place for 25 years, and he has another branch of St. Marks Comics out in Brooklyn Heights I've visited. However, this was where my freeloading luck ran out. No less than four clerks asked me if I needed any help while I was reading, and one finally asked me, quite politely I should add, not to read the books. I had to leave in shame quickly afterward and only got to finish half of "The Authority" volume 2.

The problem with me and comic books is that I can't afford to buy them. I know the weeklies are only five bucks each, but I prefer to read comics in the more-expensive graphic novel form, because I read really fast and I don't have the patience to wait two months for a story arc to conclude. This makes me the absolute worst comic book store patron: the one that reads all the comics and never buys any. This in itself is no mean feat. You try standing in the bookstore aisle for an hour and a half to read an entire book. My back is killing me, but I consider it penance for my bookstore sins. Believe me, Comic Book Stores, there's nothing I'd like better than to blow several hundred dollars on acquiring the entire "Sandman," "Transmetropolitan," and "Fables" library, thereby giving your establishment the means to distribute out-of-print "Tank Girl" issues.

I don't feel this same sort of guilt about sitting in a bookstore and reading, say, a novel or a book of poetry. You can't finish an entire novel in one setting, nor would you necessarily try. (I actually have sat in a bookstore and read a novel in one setting, but it gave me a bit of a headache, so I don't make a habit of it.) Novels can be enjoyed over several days, but a comic book is like a TV show: you want it all at once, not broken up and spread out over your week. Maybe it has something to do with the highly visual medium of both, I don't know. I process comics differently from the purely written word. I can feel it in my brainness. It makes me want to gulp down an entire graphic novel in one setting, like a raw oyster or a shot of whiskey. That actually sounds like a really fun evening: oysters, whiskey, and, oh, let's say the entire "FreakAngels" run.

But wait, I can't do that, because to buy Warren Ellis's "FreakAngels" would cost me at least $80, and, here's the part that REALLY pisses me off, I CAN'T BORROW IT FROM THE LIBRARY! Libraries rarely bother to put comics in their catalog, and if they do, they never stock the entire run. I remembering being in middle school and tearing my hair out for weeks because the Hawaii library system only had nine of the ten "Sandman" volumes. "Sandman" is a complete story, not an ongoing title like "Batman," so not having one volume was a big effing deal. It was like someone razoring out chapters of a novel I was reading. I don't blame the libraries; they're always strapped for cash and I feel their first duty is to provide the community with quality literature and clean bathrooms. If there are comics in the library, it's because some enterprising young librarian snuck the titles in under the radar, and bless those bibliographic guerillas for keeping the revolution going.

This is why hard-core comic book collectors live in their parent's basements, by the way. The only way to actually read comics with any sort of continuity in mind is to buy them, because the libraries don't have them and the comic book stores won't let you read them there. Never mind true dedication to the art form, someone with even a moderate interest in comics would have to nearly bankrupt herself just to read a complete run of a single title.

What someone really needs to do is start a comic book lending library so I can check them out whenever I want and not have to stand in the aisle and piss off the store clerks just because I want to see a big guy in a black duster punch a hole through somebody's chest cavity.

Sadly, that image wasn't available. But this one is just as memorable.
Ha! Suck it, censorship.


  1. You could always try stuffing the comics books under your shirt. Then if an employee confronts you about the obvious bulges, you can start sobbing and ask why he felt the need to so cruelly draw attention to your hideous body lumps?

    That bastard has no sensitivity toward the deformed...

  2. "Without reflecting on life, life is not worth living" is the literal translation. Could the lettering possibly be Chinese? Love your blog entries, Rachel. Sorry about the comic book clerk ... It's bad business practice for ANY book store to discourage reading on the premisis ... Actually, they could and should have a section of issues specifically designated for readers who wish to read, or "sample," in the stores and then offer those issues at discount for purchase a month or two after their release, don't you agree? Hugs and Aloha from Anne