>Posting from: My Basement (Missoula, MT)
Listening to: Mastodon — Crack the Skye
My trip to Minnesota last week pretty much concluded with a successful visit to DreamHaven Books in Minneapolis. It was well worth the anticipation, since I had to visit it twice (when I tried on Monday, it was closed). I finished up at work on Wednesday afternoon, then drove the better part of three hours to get there. The sign out front struck me as . . . awesome.
32 years. That’s quite an accomplishment for any small business, but particularly so for a little book/comic store. Kudos to owner Greg Ketter, who seemed like a very nice guy in the short interaction I had with him.
Of course, one doesn’t drive close to three hours while consuming a tankard of soda and not arrive at one’s destination a little . . . full. So shortly after arriving, when I was asked by a woman sorting books there (Greg’s wife, I presume) if she could help me, I asked, “Yeah, do you guys have a restroom?” She looked a little worried, then said, “Well, yes, but not a very good one. Let me check.” I was a little puzzled by this; she went over to where Greg was on the phone, and when he completed his conversation she whispered to him, he nodded, and I received the go-ahead. She gestured through a door and down a flight of steps that lead creepily into the basement. Who knows what creatures lurk back there in the darkness, when dark forms have languished at the bottom of these steps?
Now, the restroom itself didn’t look as bad as it looks here, but thankfully my “condition” did not require me to linger. Neil Gaiman has visited this store, and I had to wonder if he has spent any time contemplating in this very chamber.
Once first things were firsted, I got to start roaming around the store; it was divine, and it isn’t often I get to visit stores like this. Don’t get me wrong, Missoula has a great comic shop — Muse Comics — and I highly recommend you devote a certain percentage of your monthly income to them. But Muse just doesn’t have the customer base, or the history, to maintain an inventory that touches so many areas — comics, books, fantasy, sci-fi, horror, even adult-oriented stuff — and all the collectibles that go with each genre.
That last pic, of the vintage paperbacks, was one of the things that really flooded my mind with memories; back in the day, I had a lot of these paperbacks. Now they are highly collectible. Hell, this old Conan paperback is $40!
I took a bunch of pictures, mostly of stuff I hope to get in the future. A few things I photographed I meant to get that very day, but forgot to. I uploaded a few to my Flickr page, if you have any interest in seeing some of the various things that caught my eye.
So what is it about this stuff that I love so much? Being a fan of comics and pulp fiction and all that really doesn’t land a guy cheerleaders during his formative years. As an adult, it’s even worse; especially when you consider that for all the good stuff, a lot of it is really freakin’ horrible. Yet, I persevere.
I’m really not that much of a collector. I don’t have boxes and boxes of action figures on display, even though I think a lot of them are really cool. I don’t even have that many graphic novels or comics anymore; just a shelf in my closet and a stack of a couple boxes (the latter of which I’ve been thinking of giving away because I’ve replaced all the single comics by getting them in collected trade editions). I try and manage them, because I know in a couple years my storage capacity will be way down.
In many ways it’s nostalgia; a lot of it goes back to some of my fondest memories from my childhood. I’m not sure where my love of comics came from, I just remember them always being there. My dad would pick them up for me. I was always reading Batman, and Captain America, and used to have some vintage Spiderman stuff that is worth a lot of money now. In fact this collection of Captain America stories from the legendary Jack Kirby run was full of editions I had as a kid, and just opening it up and reading bits and pieces was a real charge down memory lane.
As a kid, I had action figures too that I played with endlessly. I started out with “Cowboys and Indians” stuff, like the old Johnny West and General Custer action figures; Geronimo, The Lone Ranger and Tonto, plus all their gear and plastic horses and stuff (not to mention the little plastic ones too). I spent a lot of time by myself honing my imagination via made-up battles and adventures these guys would undertake. And GI Joe, don’t forget about him either! I remember with all three of these, I was too young and lacked the dexterity to properly make them hold their weapons and stuff, so I was endlessly appealing to my parents to put their guns in their hands and things.
From these I moved onto smaller figures, that seemed so realistic to me then but look kind of goofy now. I had this Captain America, and I had Spiderman, Hulk, Tarzan, Batman, Superman — a bunch of them!
These figures were pretty breakable. Their limbs and stuff were linked inside their torsos by strips of elastic, and every now and then an arm or leg would pop off (or be torn off in battle, of course) and they would fall apart. Somehow, though, my dad was magically able to repair them. I remember one would break, and the pieces would go in his lunchbox when he headed for work. Then I would wait for him to get home; depending on what shift he was on, that might mean getting up in the morning and rushing to his lunchbox to find my toy magically restored (and smelling like the pulp mill). I sometimes wonder how much shit he got from his co-workers as he’d be putting these things back together!
As I got older, I started reading books, and also got into music when I discovered KISS, a band whose comic book image certainly was not lost on me. I was still young when I started reading Tarzan books and things like The Last of the Mohicans and other adventure stories. I visited The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings for the first time probably by the time I was 10 or 12, as my sister had them. They were preceded by The Chronicles of Narnia, and junior high had me following them up with the original Dune trilogy, courtesy of my English teacher.
When I was in junior high I was also introduced, courtesy of my cousin, to Dungeons and Dragons. I was into that game the way kids nowadays are into X-Box and Playstation, the only difference being we actually created the fantasies we played in. I can’t overstate the impact the game had on me as a youngster. The 1st Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide had an “inspirational reading list” that I dug into with fervor, reading any of the titles on the list I could get my hands on. It was also around this time that I discovered Robert E. Howard and his Conan stories, an interest that I’ve maintained unbroken ever since.
My friends and I played D&D through high school, and even took it to Seattle with us when we moved there to become rock stars. As many dreams do, a lot of those fell by the wayside, and I went through a period where I didn’t read much, and didn’t even listen to a lot of music. A lot of those friends left my life and a lot of those interests were swept under the rug for a while.
When Sid was born and started developing a lot of the same interests I had, it was like getting an opportunity to relive my own youth. I was back buying comic books, action figures, and seeing movies with impossible heroics and teflon heroes. I loved seeing so many of the images that I loved so much in my youth come to life, whether it was the Daniel Day Lewis Last of the Mohicans vehicle (still one of my favorite all-time movies), or about bursting into tears the first time I was in a theater and they teased us with an image from The Fellowship of the Ring. Back in the day my friends and me would cast a live action version of that movie, knowing full well that it would be impossible to make.
Obviously for all my love of this stuff I’ve evolved beyond it. I’m as likely to visit a good villain by reading a book like Blackwater, for example, and I never got sucked into Harry Potter or Twilight. I’d rather have to be deserted on a tropical isle with Naomi Klein than Galadriel (but I’m sure Sheena might be worth having around).
The beauty of age is that I don’t really have to give a shit about whether or not it’s “cool” to like this stuff. Hell, if Michael Chabon, a guy who not only won a Pulitzer but wrote a comic based on it, can essentially write a book in defense of genre fiction, and a verbose blowhard like Cormac McCarthy can mine the theme for his own prize just one year ago, then anyone who thinks it’s immature to dig this stuff can go back to watching network TV shows and feel superior all they want — they ain’t even on my planet.
Maybe it is age that is making me think of all this, I don’t know. I just turned 42 the other day. It was a great birthday, even though I have been going through a lot of angst lately about how things change, not so much with my age as Sid’s. We don’t do near as much together, even though we still spend a lot of time talking about cool things — music, art, and genre stuff. He’s more into horror and things than me these days, but that’s cool. Still, I miss the shared enthusiasm we had when a new movie would be on the horizon and we would stand in line together to make sure and see the opening show. So, imagine my immense pleasure, when Friday afternoon we were at Hastings and I was looking at the Watchmen display; he walked up, asked if it was a cool movie (“Of course it is!” I answered), then said, “We should go see it tonight.”
And we did.