Tuesday, August 28, 2012

My History with Comics part Two: Working the Business

Since this is my oral history of comics I am going to jump around all over the place. The last blog I ended with stopping collecting comics while in college. I will revisit that in a bit, because during my quick early history overview I skipped some parts which I will tell you about...NOW:


I am one of those people who really doesn't have a plan. I do not have a career path that I am dying to take. (Well I would like to be a writer but that takes time, practice, and talent). And I still have bills to help pay and other things, so I have had many jobs. Some I have stayed on for 4-5 years, some only 6 months to a year. One of the axioms you always hear is you should work with stuff you enjoy. So enjoying comics, I should be working in the comics industry in some form correct? BEEN THERE DONE THAT. I have had 4 jobs in the industry. None of which were actually creating comics for sale. I did create my own comics but they were for my own enjoyment and I think I still have them in my basement somewhere. But flashback to the mid 80s. I'm a young kid again. My first ever job was as a paperboy. I used to deliver the Evening Sun (before they dissolved it) and the Sunday Sunpapers. Did that for a couple of years. But I was not making  alot of money, so I decided to try a different job. Now in the early 80s Speciality comic shops just started to appear. These were stores that all they sold was Comic Books. In most cases these stores were the only places you could buy back issues of comics, or even experience some of these upstart Independent Publishers. There was a store up in Timonium/Cockeysville called Alternate Worlds which I would frequent sometimes. Well the old axiom work with what you like popped in my head and I asked the owners if they needed any weekend help. Surprisingly they said yes. And it was my first experience working retail. The fact that it was a Comic Book store was a plus. So I got to work at (for the time) my dream job. Spend all weekend with comics, talking comics. It was great. Then during the summer I would work during the week. Brillant. I did everything, run the cash register, re-stock, bag and board books, inventory, customer service. We would shoot the breeze about comics and I was surrounded by people who liked the same things I did. It was great. HOWEVER, the owners of the store were married and had a daughter about my age, maybe a little younger. She started working there also, and I noticed that my hours started getting decreased a little at a time. Then they just stopped scheduling me. To this day they never told me I was fired. So maybe technically I still work there. But I was never told by them that I was fired. I just assumed since they stopped scheduling me I didn't have a job. And maybe they told me I was no longer needed. I don't remember.

Fast forward to Summer 1993. The Orioles were hosting the All Star Game, Jurrasic Park was in Movie theaters, and I had just completed my Sophomore year of College. Now during the last few summers I had been working at the SuperFresh grocery store in Towson. (this was the job i got after Alternate Worlds). I had been there all toll about 3 years off and on. On weekends and after school I worked there. This summer though I wanted to try something different. My sister was on the verge of getting married and she had a summer job up at Hopkins where my mom worked. So they car-pooled together and I was able to have access to my sister's car. My mom I had discovered a job opening at the Diamond Comics Distribution Center in Baltimore City. Now Diamond is the only distributor of comics to the entire world. They distribute all comics to the multitudes of speciality stores out there. Since it is headquartered in Maryland, this warehouse was the first one they ever opened. They then expanded to Los Angeles and Memphis. They had one in Sparta as well for awhile. So I got an interview there as a warehouse worker. they knew I was a college kid and would be leaving near the end of August, but they hired me. And for almost two months I worked in this Distribution Center, distributing Comic Books. It was my first exposure to Warehouse work. Which coincidentally is what I do for a living now. So it was helping pack orders for stores, do inventory, and more. And it was fun. Kind of. Being around the comics I loved, being able to see the inventory we had and then being able to buy some of these comics direct from the warehouse was excellent. It was a hot summer and the warehouse was not air conditioned. The offices were however and I sometimes found myself taking orders from customers and pulling the orders for them. (This will come into play later). Every Friday after lunch we would do inventory of the warehouse. That was kind of fun. Tuesday nights I would work overnight to help pack up orders for delivery and pickup the next day. One of those days I drove past Camden Yards the day of the All Star game. One of those nights my sister's car broke down on me. I remember gettting hazed into the warehouse staff by getting duct taped to a plastic trashcan. There were also sometimes where my mother would have to drop me off and pick me up as well. I also helped load speciality store owners cars with their boxes of books, including my former employers at Alternate Worlds. We used to call Jurassic Park Jur-asshole Park. Fun stuff like that. However it was my only time working there since my sister moved away fo Virginia and my mother could no longer take me to work or pick me up. So I worked there only about 2 months still interesting though.

Coincidentally my never working at the warehouse again coincided with my no longer reading or collecting comics so it all worked out. So fast forward to I guess it was 1998, I graduated in 1995 and got a job where I lasted for about a week before I decided to quit. (I'll tell you about that sometime). I was still living at home paying bills, but I needed a job fast. I started working at a bagel shop and the hours were killer. 330am-1030am-12noon depending on how busy we were. I ended up there almost for two years. One plus to that job was that on Fridays it was slow so I was off at 1030am after working a full 7 hour day. So I had the rest of the day until 8pm when I needed to go to bed. So I decided to go to the movies. In Towson there was a movie theater in a building called Towson Commons. The Commons also housed at the time a brand new Borders Bookstore which was one of my favorite hangouts. They sold comic trade paperbacks there so I would also look at what I had been missing and read them a little at Borders. Then one day I discovered that a Comic Store has opened in the Commons. So since I was up there alot I started looking around. I didn't buy anything but would still browse what was going on. In the Spring of 1998 I got a job as a promotions assistant at WLIF 101.9 FM headquartered in the Commons. So I would be in the Commons alot. I still felt myself drawn to the store and would go in. One of those times I noticed a comic called Marvel vs. DC written by one of my favorite writers Peter David. So I of course bought it and was sucked back in. The store moved to Towson Town Center soon afterward. I walked by once and noticed that they were building a Rainforest Cafe right near it. Now the Radio job was only part time though  I worked more than usual there, but I still needed a full time. So I interviewed and got hired to work Rainforest Cafe full time in the Gift shop. Now I had money and a comic store right next door. I was happy, so i was buying more comics. Then they moved again to a storefront across from the Commons, which was still not to far away from me and i could still go to it.

Fast Forward to 2002. I was collecting again, and I was in a relationship with my future wife. We were also living together in an apartment out in Cockeysville. I was still not collecting alot because now I had rent to pay, electrical bills, food bills, car insurance, college loans, car payments. But I was still able to collect a little bit. Though not as much as I had before. Rainforest was doing ok but not great and my hours were getting cut drastically so I was losing money. I still worked for the radio station but still i had a lot more responsibilities. So i needed to find another job that paid more. Since I was near Timonium I remembered that Diamond Comics Headquarters was in Timonium. I went to their website and saw that they were looking for help. So I applied for the job and got an interview. The job was for Customer Service Rep. I nailed the interview, due i think mostly to my crazy comics knowledge. So I was now a Customer Service Rep at Diamond. My shift was 11-8pm since I was on the West Coast Team, which meant my customer base was on the west coast and since they are three hours different it was like working 8-5pm. By this time there were hundreds of speciality comics stores across the country and they needed customer services reps to help them with their ordering, any problems that arose with their shipments, calling in damages and shortages, basic Customer Service stuff. My account base was widespread. I had stores in Sacramento, Los Angeles, Seattle, Alaska, and other portions of California. Some were big stores, some were small, some were owned by a former Seattle Seahawk football player. And I also became the personal Customer Service rep for author Harlan Ellison who was friends with the owner of Diamond Steve Geppi, (he who owned Geppi's Comics World, and is also a minority owner in the Baltimore Orioles). I worked at Diamond for 4 years doing two different jobs. Both of which I will tell you about...NEXT TIME. To Be Continued...

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

My history with Comics part One: In the Beginning

One thing you need to know about me is how much I love my comic books. It is a deep seated love that harkens back to my childhood days. Throughout my life so far I have had numerous connections with the comic world. It's a part of my being. I never really thought about how much comics were a part of my life and then the slightest thing occurs and it flips a switch in my head and I come up with this concept. An oral history of my Comic Book life. Things that happened to me and that I have not thought about in a while started popping into my head. So I felt I should write something down, maybe more for my memory, but I hope you enjoy it. The first part is about what I can recall about the beginning of my love affair with comic books.


I don't quite remember the exact time I became a Comic Book Geek. The past is a blur with some memories stronger then others as the want is. I remember my dad collected nothing but Spider Man Comics and had quite a good amount of them. A lot were Marvel Tales which were reprints of earlier Spider man comics. The one thing I do know is the oldest one my dad has that is in good shape is 137. To put that in perspective Spider Man is still running and is getting close to issue 700. I think he also has issue 75 but he has three holes in it where he used to put his comics in Binders. I don't remember how but I just started reading comics. It very well could be I read his Spider man comics first then started getting my own with whatever allowance money I had. Back then there were no Comic Book Speciality Stores like there is now. Nowadays there are close to a Thousand probably in the world if not more. Back in the olden times when I started collecting, which believe it or not could be as early as 79 or 80, you could only purchase them in newstands. There used to be a ton of those that sold magazines, books, cards, candy, you name it. The one near me was called News Center. I would go there and pick up Spiderman and anything with Spiderman on it. I think because of that I was introduced to other characters and my obsession grew.

Since Spiderman was my first hero, I never really looked at any DC comics. To me Marvel was the best one since hey they print Spiderman. But then Man of Steel showed up. Back in 1986 DC was losing ground to Marvel because DC has been around longer and their continuity was more complex then Marvel's, so new fans probably did not want to pick up any DC books since they were a little behind in the characters histories. 1985 came and DC decided they wanted to start fresh, so they created Crisis on Infinite Earths which was a 12 issue maxi-series that changed the DC universe forever and made it more accessible. They also made some changes to their big three. Wonder Woman was rebooted by the multi talented and good writer Artist George Perez, Batman not only had the classic Dark Knight Returns comic written by Frank Miller, but he also wrote the classic Batman Year One story which rebooted Batman into a more serious character after years of being the butt of jokes with the campy tv series starring Adam West. Then there was Superman. John Byrne one of my favorite writer artists was tasked to reboot Superman, and in 1986 he did with his classic Man of Steel miniseries. Being a huge fan I bought them as well as Wonder Woman, Batman, and some other DC comics. Now I was both a Marvel and DC zombie.

My parents did not miss my comic book obsession so they fed me more. On a family trip to New York in 1985 I believe they took my sister and I to a guided tour of the Marvel Comics HQ and my God I was in heaven. My tour guide was Eliot Brown who acted goofy since I was 12 years old. Eliot was a fantastic artist whose speciality was machinery and buildings. He would show how the interior of say Avengers Mansion looked in detail, how some of the scientific weapons worked as well. Fully detailed realistic drawings. He never did draw a comic, he was an editor I believe who drew these pictures in the Official Marvel Universe Handbook, an encyclopedia comic that detailed the history of Marvel through its characters.

For my birthday one year my dad promised to take me to Chicago Comic-con which at the time was one of the biggest comic conventions out there. He was able to get us a room in the same hotel that the con was in and we drove out there and spent about a week out there I guess. My dad would go to the pool or sleep or read while I wandered around the convention and bought stuff and had many of the comic artists and writers sign my books. So somewhere in my massive collection I have a number of signed books by the creative teams, but for the life of me I could not tell you which ones they were. After I was done at the con we went into Chicago proper and went sightseeing, ate at some restaurants in town, and even went to a White Sox game. (The Cubs were on the road at that time.) It was a nice trip that I took with my dad.

I used to live near Towson, Maryland. There used to be a Holiday Inn in Towson that had what they called a Serendipity. Basically a monthly comics convention where for one day a group of dealers would get together in one of the ball rooms at the hotel and just sell comics. Now this was before the direct market comic store skyrocketed and there were only a few comic book stores around. So this was a way for stores in PA, MD, VA, DE, etc could reach out to some comic fans who may not have a comic store near them. I had 3, Alternate Worlds in Cockeysville (where I worked for a while but that is a different blog), Geppi's Comic World at Harborplace, and the best of bunch, the biggest, most amazing store Geppi's Comics World near Security Square Mall. ( I will get into the stores at another time). But I still enjoyed going to Serendipity every month and just hanging out with other comics geeks and getting interested in other comic books. At these events they also sometimes had comic artists there so I got to meet Tom Lyle who was a local guy who eventually worked on a few comic books, and Chris Sprouse who also still works in the biz.

My obsession continued through High School and College. In College there was a Comic store in the nearby mall that I was able to walk to, and also there was an old fashioned news stand that sold them as well. So I was set. But College was an awakening. I was working at the College Cafeteria, only getting paid once a month, had lots of bills to pay while at school so I had to cut somewhere. And comics is where it was at. So I stopped buying so many of them not only due to cost but time, I was busy in college and couldn't really read them too much as well. And maybe I also started thinking that I was turning into a grownup and I should stop reading them anyway. At the same time the industry was starting to struggle with the advent of the speculators and the sheer numbers of comics that came out a month, so thinks looked bleak for the comic industry as well. What better time to quit then during that time. So that was what I did. I quit my hobby that I had been doing for years. And didnt look back...for a few years...