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SYFY WIRE Behind the Panel

Why your local comics shop matters now more than ever

By Mike Avila
A&M Comics

This week marked my first trip to a comic book shop in two months. It's the first New Comic Book Day we've had since the pandemic, and there was no way I wasn't going.

I picked up a couple of awesome things new and new-ish, like the sixth issue of my favorite of DC's Hill House Comics titles, Basketful of Heads from Joe Hill and LeoMacs, and Marauders by Gerry Duggan and Stefano Caselli, which is the best of the new X books, IMHO. I also picked up two older trades, Son of the Demon and Birth of a Demon, because back issue sales help the shop and because I'm a sucker for the al Ghul family.

Great reading material notwithstanding, what really made the visit worthwhile was the conversation. I talked with total strangers whose names I don't know about incredibly geeky things, and it was glorious. I had no idea how much I'd missed the idle chatter and interaction with my fellow nerds until I was in the thick of it.

New comic books

That's what comic book stores have always offered me as much as the selection of new comics and back issues: a sense of community, a shared joy in a hobby that allows total strangers to jump right into a conversation about Avengers villains before segueing into a debate over the best Hulk artist.

My LCS is A&M Comics in Miami, a wonderfully chaotic and messy store and the second-oldest comics emporium in the country. I spent an hour there on NCBD, with about 15 minutes of that time allotted for picking out my books and scanning the shelves for other goodies. The remaining 45 minutes were spent ping-ponging between various topics of conversation with Jorge the owner and customers who jumped into the fray.

I've been in that shop when a customer walked in looking to sell nice condition copies of Incredible Hulk #1, Journey Into Mystery #83, and Amazing Spider-Man #1. I've been there when the staff had to calm a frustrated collector who was livid because he couldn't believe his stacks of unopened Donruss 1995 baseball cards weren't worth four figures.

No such histrionics this visit, but I did get to lay my eyes on a great piece of original art by Dave McKean and an EC Comics cover recreation painting done by the great Wally Wood just before he died. I'm not that big an EC fan, but the store owner is. And when I left, I took with me more knowledge about those legendary comics than I had when I arrived.

I always wanted a treehouse as a kid. I wanted my own space to use as a meeting place for me and my pals to plot our mayhem. Unfortunately, the bulk of my childhood was spent living in apartments. Besides, my mom, who could do almost anything, most certainly could not build a treehouse.

comic shop treasures

When I discovered that there were shops dedicated to selling just comics, those stores became my clubhouse. And I would stay for hours.

I'd pick out the new comics I was after, dig through the long boxes for back issues, and then strike up conversations with whoever was in the store about how awesome Wolverine was or why Wonder Man was really the best Avenger (I was young and dumb, I know).

Decades later, some things haven't changed. I'm still going to buy comics and talk about whatever silly thing comes up for debate on that day. Except now I get to play the role of Veteran Comics Fan and fill in the blanks for a young collector who has no idea who the hell Khonshu is and what beef he has with the Avengers.

It was nice to be back in the store, surrounded by comics and people who love comics. We're wearing masks now and we're not shaking hands, but that did not dampen the good vibes one bit. Our local comics shops are like a security blanket that trigger a nostalgic callback for a simpler time. As we slowly start to resume daily life after the months-long lockdown, the LCS becomes even more important because it provides a reminder of what we hope to eventually regain.

Without comics shops, comics won't make it. We can buy titles online or make the transition to digital books. We can talk and argue about storylines and what Brian Michael Bendis is doing with Superman on chat boards, but it's not the same. For the comics community to survive, it needs comic shops. The stores are the connective tissue in our wonderful, wacky hobby. They are our safe space, our clubhouse. And I'll be back next week.

Oh, and for the record, Sal Buscema is the definitive Hulk artist. Full stop.

I want to hear about YOUR local comic book store. Find me on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram and tell me about your shop, and what makes it special. Let's celebrate the stores that help keep our wonderful hobby alive.

Don't forget that Behind the Panel is a multi-platform series that can help keep you entertained during these strange and stressful times we're in. Our video series is loaded with my in-depth interviews with amazing comic book creators. The Behind the Panel podcast is an audio documentary series that provides unique insight into your favorite creators and stories. Check 'em out, we think you'll enjoy them.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBCUniversal.