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...

1 comment:

  1. The Diamond years....I remember those.Interested in hearing your thoughts and memories.