A week ago my comics shop, Comics Conspiracy, was setting up to do curbside pickup of comic books during the COVID-19 shutdown (or “The Pause” as a few people have been calling it), but a wrench was thrown into their plans with the announcement that the main comics distributor, Diamond, was shutting down for the duration, and apparently the major printers have shut down too. As a result, yesterday was the last regular Wednesday for new comic books for the foreseeable future.
I’ve been buying comics regularly since, oh, the late 1970s. I think I used to go more-or-less monthly to The Million Year Picnic in Cambridge, MA when my Dad and I would go to Harvard Square for haircuts. But sometime – probably around 1983 – we discovered New England Comics, which had a store on Allston Street in Brighton. NEC was less bohemian than MYP and other stores of the previous decade, brightly lit and well-organized. It became my regular comics shop, and through most of high school I went there for new comics every Friday. I became friendly with a bunch of the staff, first a couple of women (girls? I honestly am not sure how old they were, but older than I was) named Jen and Delana, and later a couple of guys named Vijay and Matt. (Those two ended up founding Comicopia in Kenmore Square, which Matt still owns. It’s been at least a decade since Iâ€™ve visited, though.) A few of my high school friends would sometimes come with me for the train ride in and back to pick up the week’s haul.
During college I bought comics via mail order from Westfield Comics because there was not a good, accessible comics shop for much of my time in New Orleans. But when I lived in Madison, WI I went to Capital City Comics. During this time, new comics day got moved back to Thursday, and then to Wednesday, where it’s been ever since. Rather than moving even earlier, recent changes to the distribution system have made Wednesdays a much more reliable day, never getting pushed back for holidays on the Monday or Tuesday before.
Since I started going to NEC, I’ve had a subscription (or saver, or pull box, or whatever each store called it), which usually came with a discount, often 20%. The realities of the market have pushed discounts into history (unless your shop owner happens to grandfather you in), but they’ve also made it desirable to have a pull box and to pre-order comics because it’s the best way to ensure the store will get a book in at all.
Since we moved into our current house in 2011, comic book night has entailed coming home and sitting on the living room couch. Our cat Roulette would almost always sit with me, at first because she really liked the couch we had in that room, and later just because she liked some quiet time with me. The other two cats come in sometimes, especially if the fireplace is on, but mostly it’s just been some quiet reading time.
So last night I paid for my order online, then drove down and saw Brock, one of the owner Ryan’s employees, who was carrying the books out to people. Physical distancing! We chatted for about ten minutes, but of course no one knows what’s going to happen next. Maybe the comics companies will distribute online and provide a portal for retail stores to sell to their customers. We’ll see. But for now, the weekly trips to the comics shop have come to an end.
Ironically, my haul last night included the last issue of one mini-series, and the next-to-last issues of two others. Even more ironically, it included the new monthly catalog for upcoming releases.
So I’ll place my order from the catalog this weekend as I always do. And hope that in a few weeks or months there will be some new books for me to go pick up.
I hope, I hope.