In his book Comic Book Culture: Fanboys and True Believers (1999) Matthew J. Pustz claims that the success of the comic book store can, at least in part, be credited to the fellowship that fans enjoy with one another there. He writes, “Comic book fans who might otherwise be afraid to talk about their hobby for fear of ridicule can go to a comic shop and find themselves reaffirmed. At the comic shop reading comics is normal; it is what everyone there does. […] It is the one place where fans can truly be themselves” (6).
This may be the case in general, but even though I read a fair number of comic books (probably more than anyone I know), I often feel ill-at-ease in comic book stores. Like an alcoholic hitting the liquor store, I value anonymity and simplicity in my shopping trips. Just give me a few minutes of focused browsing and an uncomplicated transaction at the register, thank you very much. A nondescript paper bag in which to conceal my purchases on my way out would be appreciated as well ….
Part of the problem is that I am a pretty reserved personality in most social situations anyway, and the fact is that comic book fans and comic book sellers (i.e. really big comic books fans) tend to be particularly talkative. Truly, you could not meet a group of friendlier people, especially on their home turf. They want to talk to you. They want to validate your preference for Robin-related comics, they want to laugh with you about She-Hulk, they want to share with you the obscure black-and-white graphic novel that changed their life. They want to connect with you in all these ways and more, all without any prompting whatsoever on your part. It’s amazing, really. Amazing, and courageous, and unpretentious, and genuine.
My discomfort doesn’t arise completely out of shyness, though. I can’t really say I know what is going on, not completely. I do think there’s some fear there: fear of exposing my inner thirteen-year-old, maybe, fear of being pigeonholed into a stereotype that glosses over my more intriguing, attractive, and socially acceptable hobbies and interests. I mean, who wants to find themselves grouped with The Simpsons’ “Comic Book Guy,” right? “Not I,” said the duck.
And so I find myself leading a double standard, trying to convince the world that there is some meaningful distinction between me as a comic book “fan” and the real “fanatics.” To be honest, though, in the midst of my fight to be what the world expects me to be, in all my anxiety over keeping my true self safely hidden from the world, I find myself secretly admiring Putz’s “fanboys and true believers,” in whom there is no guile.
Suggested Comic Book Retailers Along the Wasatch Front:
Night Flight Comics. If you’re ever looking for comics or trade paperbacks (where 6-8 individual issues of a particular comic book title are colligated into a single book), either for yourself or as a gift for others, this place is a real high-class act. Unlike most other local stores, they’re strictly in the business of comic books, not games, which I think for many people makes for a more comfortable shopping atmosphere. They have two locations: one at 6222 South State Street, and another downtown at the Salt Lake City Library.
Barnes & Noble. Most stores will have a decent selection of more-recent trade paperbacks in their graphic novels section.