A THOUGHT ON LIFE…
I’m James Sime; comic book evangelist, Italian suit enthusiast, and CBR columnist emeritus. I’m that guy who up and decided one day to make some weird-ass comic book store because that’s what I thought comic shops should be like. I’m that guy who told you how to market comics one time so that you could turn around and sell me a box of stuff someday. I’m that guy who mailed free comics all over the planet for free comic book day. I’m that guy who threw some comic book party one time where some creator had a laugh with some fan. And I’m that guy who keeps ranting about mini-comics over and over and over again.
Damn fucking right I am.
Undoubtedly you already know I give out an award for mini-comics every spring. Yes, yes, I know you’ve already heard about it. If you’ve been paying attention you probably think that the mini-comic award I give out is the reason you always see me perched atop my mini-comic soapbox ranting until my face goes blue and my eyeballs are a-popping trying to get people thinking about the mini-comic artform. And if you’ve been reading this column for any period of time you probably think the mini-comic award is the single most talked about subject around the Comic Pimp household. And if you’re the type to put two and two together you probably think that the mini-comic award I give out each year and rant about endlessly is something I take pretty damn seriously. And, yeah… you’d probably be right too. So it shouldn’t come as any surprise at all to you to see me back up on my fucking soap box talking about mini-comics again. But this time I’m not going to just talk about some trophy and some celebration and some guy who you’ve never met in your life who was a winner one time. Nope, this time I’m going to talk about life.
Your life, as a matter of fact. Yours, and mine.
What do you want out of your life? What do you want to leave behind? What the fuck do you wanna do with your life? Now look… you don’t have to tell me I sound like some jackass from a Twisted Sister video, because I’m already well aware. But the question is a good one nevertheless. And if it’s not something you’re thinking about every once in a while then you probably should be, because unless the reincarnationists are right you’ve only got one shot at it. And if it’s a question you’ve been avoiding because you’re afraid of the answer you’re going to come up with, then you’d really better start thinking about it before you fuck things up worse than you already have. Think about it…. what do you want to do with your life? What do you really want to do?
Now I’m not being judgmental here. I’m a firm believer that as long as you’re not fucking with mine or screwing up anybody else’s lives you should be free to do what you want with yours. Seriously, I don’t give a crap about a Twisted Sister pin on your school uniform. Whatever it is that you want from your life isn’t up to me and as long as you’re not taking a shit on somebody else in order to do it, it’s not for me to decide if it’s the right choice either. Go for it. Enjoy yourself, make something meaningful, give something back, go find something new, and leave something behind if you’d like. And if what you wanna do with your life is you wanna rock, I’m all fucking for it.
Most people are afraid to do what they want with their lives and go after their dreams because it’s too much hard work or because they think doing so is just too risky. Me, I think that not taking your best shot at doing what you want is the most risky thing of all, because on your deathbed you’re never going to say, “I wish I hadn’t spent so much time achieving my dreams,” or “gee, I wish I had spent more time at some soul crushing job working for the man.” Trust me when I tell you that I’m doing exactly what I want with my life and I couldn’t be happier. And there’s one simple, easy truism equation that always keeps me focused…
If the fourteen year old James Sime had any idea what the thirty four year old James Sime is doing with his life, the fourteen year old James Sime would shit his fucking pants.
Now to me at least, that has real resonance. Because even though my fourteen year old self was no doubt pretty fucking stupid about the realities of life, at least he was in touch with what he hoped his future would bring. By the time I was seventeen and had spent some time getting my balls broken by the simple truths of work, money, and asswipe employers who didn’t give a damn about what I wanted to do with my life, my focus on hopes for the future got a bit cloudy. To the seventeen year old James it was pretty apparent how some people got trapped into dead end jobs that beat the life out of them until it was time to check out. But the fourteen year old James always knew what he wanted even if he didn’t know what he wanted to do specifically. Just something fun and exciting and cool where he could meet lots of new people, never know exactly what to expect when he went to work, and someplace where you could maybe, I dunno, read comics at work or something.
Well, what the fuck does this have to do with mini-comics?
Chances are that if you are reading this column, written by a comic retailer for a website that talks about pretty much nothing but comics, comics, comics, you’re a person who is interested in comic books. And I’m willing to bet that at some point in your life you’ve thought about making comics or maybe you’re already doing it. More often than not people need something to motivate them to action, something that gets them jumping out of the foxhole and out killing Nazis in the grand Sgt. Rock tradition. Well if you’re that person who your fourteen year old counterpart wanted nothing more than to make comic books… here’s your motivation.
You get that comic down on paper and you submit it for the Isotope Award for Excellence in Mini-Comics. Who cares if you can’t write or draw? Who gives a fuck if you’re the only one who gives a damn? This is where you start making your dreams happen.
Isn’t that what your fourteen year old self would have wanted for you?
A WORD ABOUT RETAILING…
These early months of 2005 have been full of emails and phone calls from intrepid individuals wanting to franchise the Isotope. It’s been quite a surprise to me, especially when it happened more than once. And then more than twice. Now let me say straight away, I’m incredibly honored by these requests. My staff and I have worked unbelievably hard to make the Isotope into something unique and something special in our industry, and I’m not afraid to tell you I’ve worked my skinny ass off to make the Isotope brand mean something. So when I say I’m incredibly honored, I mean I am utterly mind-blown-and-jaw-on-the-floor honored to get these kind of requests from people from all over the country. There is nothing more flattering in the whole fucking world than to hear that people want an Isotope in their own home town and there is nothing more inspiring than to meet those driven enough to say “dammit, it doesn’t look like they’re gonna come to me, I’m gonna have to get one myself!”
The bad news is, for right now anyway, that’s just not going to happen.
Oh, I’m not saying I’ll never decide that there needs to be more people running Isotopes. I’m not saying that the day won’t come when I decide that my little comic book shop needs to go head to head with the Ace Hardwares and Walgreens of the world, or that I won’t decide to just put an Isotope in every town that has a Trader Vic’s in it (you gotta have a good tiki bar!) But let me say this for the record. It’s not in the works right now.
But for fuck’s sake don’t let that stop you! For all you out there interested in getting into the comic pimping game, first I’m going to tell you how much of a financial crapshoot comic retailing is, then I’m going to tell you how demanding the job is on your time and your social resources, then I’m going to tell you how even with the most righteously winning formula you might have come up with and all the gold in the world it ain’t going to be fucking easy. And when I’m done telling you all that negative shit about your hopes and chances… then I’m going to rant.
But seeing as how I already gave you the cautions, let’s skip ahead to the rant portion, shall we?
Now is the time, people. Now.
You’ve seen what one little bitty shop in San Francisco can do when armed with smart ideas, rabid dedication, a vision for the future of our industry, and sexy good-looking nice people driving it forward. You’ve fucking seen it. The Isotope established itself in one of the most competitive (and financially prohibitive) markets in the entire country and in three short years built itself into an international comic industry force. Three fucking years! Sure I’ve got nifty hair and flashy suits, but just like you, I’m just a person. And here’s a universal truth about business I’m going to share with you; if one person can do it, so can another.
You’d better believe it will be challenging, you’d better believe it will take time, and you’d better believe it will take nothing short of complete and utter dedication in order to make it happen. But if you want it, you can do it. Don’t listen to the nay-sayers and the back-sliders (trust me there will be hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of them). Don’t buy into the “impossibles” and the “never going to works” because I’m here to tell you that it isn’t impossible. It does work. If mankind had never had the bravery to try something new even when everyone else was telling them it wasn’t going to work because it was too hard, too risky, and too dangerous we never would have gotten down out of those fucking trees in the first place!
So you wanna own your own comic book shop and pimp comics for a living? I know where you’re coming from and I’m going to tell you that if you really want it, you can fucking have it. You’ve got a vision for what you want the world of tomorrow to be. I know you do. Something radical, something exciting, something unprecedented. It’s time to get the guts to go for all the gusto and all the glory there is to be had. It’s time to start thinking brave thoughts and moving with braver action. It’s time to take the bull by the horns and to make that shit happen.
Evolution isn’t easy and it isn’t risk free but you must evolve and you must do new things because otherwise what is the fucking point? Go out, break new ground, test the untested, evolve, forge forward and change the world around you. And do it now because someday you will die and it will be too fucking late to wish you had done something exciting with your life. No more waiting for the stars to align, grab those constellations and slam them into place. Grab that bull by the horns, look it in the eye, say “You’re going to make a great steak” and proceed to twist its fucking head off. Life is your fucking oyster. Put a little tobascco on that, slurp it down, and tell the waitress to bring you more.
It can happen. You know it can happen because you’ve seen it happen.
You can build your own market for comics, no matter how competitive your city is. You can defy that which has come before and you can make it work. You can make something fresh, you can make something new, you can make something gloriously FUN. Even a comic book store.
And let me tell you something about the comic industry that I’ve learned from being on the inside, now is the time to strike. If you’re doing something new there is room for you here, even on my own fucking block. The people want an experience, not just in the comic industry, but in all customer service based businesses. The people are ready for the kind of stores that do more than just sell comics and host Pokemon tournaments. The people want you to help them create the kind of memories that money can’t pay for.
And most of all, the people who aren’t already coming into the comic stores want comic books.
Now is the time to flip the bird to common industry know how and prove that that shit was wrong all along, just like you thought it was. Now is the time to revolutionize the industry with smart ideas, effortless charm, relentless passion, neverending sex appeal and utter style. Now is the time to put your fucking foot down and drag comics kicking and screaming into the new millennium. Now is the time to spread the gospel and kick the door down between the medium you love and the people who would also love it if they only knew about it. Now is the time to remake the industry in your image by doing it right and making it kick ass.
We need more comic stores that are fucking good. We need more comic stores that are fucking brave. We need more comic stores that are fucking pleasant. We need them. In every city, spreading the good word of the new that comic stores are going to become, preaching the gospel of excellent comics, and just generally fucking up the tail-between-the-legs fearfulness and mind-numbing boringness that comic retailing fell into. Now is the time to change all that. Now is the time to make shit happen.
This is comic retailing we’re talking about here, the front line of the comic industry, if it’s not crackling with that kind of magical Kirby-dot energy that you can’t find anywhere in the entire world, it damn well fucking should be.
And I’m pleased to say we’re starting to get the kind of stores that really make me excited about comic stores, both as a retailer and as a reader. We’re starting to see little pockets of Kirby Crackle popping up all over the place, not just in hipster metropolises like San Francisco, but everywhere. And each of these daring establishments are manned by passionate new-thinkers who are bringing their own unique visions to life and aren’t afraid to deliver something the comic industry didn’t even know it was missing all this time
There are fusions of art gallery and comic book store, with an indy flare in New York City at the Jigsaw, or with a more LA flavor at Nucleus in Alhambra, California. There’s the potent blend of coffee and comics at Des Moines, Iowa’s very own Cup o’ Kryptonite. There are rock and roll, balls to the wall retailers like Damian of Orbital Comics and Collectibles in London, Amanda Fisher of Muse Comics in Missoula, Montana, and Matt Price of the utterly cool Speeding Bullet Comics and Riccochet Cafe in Norman, Oklahoma, out there making the cool shit happen everyday of the fucking week.
These are a few of the stores that are going to end up changing the world of comic retailing forever. These are a few of the retailers who are going to usher in the next wave of comic retailer and revolutionize the way comics are sold. And just like the crackle of the almighty King Kirby, the energy these shops bring to the industry is infectious.
Until there is one of these kind of shops in every city on the planet you still have time to make your own revolutionizing, world-renowned evolutionary comic store. Stake your ground and take a piss on your territory so that everyone knows that if they come into your city they’re coming into your city. Own it, reinvent it, redefine it, reenergize it, and make is pop with so much energy that the neighboring state can feel each Galactus step you take. But you need to do it before we get there! Because no matter how glorious your shop might be it isn’t going to be easy to get us to stand in anyone’s shadow. You’re going to have to out work, out think, out party, out innovate, out pimp, and out fuck the new generation if you want us to take second place. And baby, that just ain’t going to be easy to do.
We’ve only begun doing what we do here at the Isotope, but still I’m talking to you, next generation of rock and roll comic retailer. I want to be inspired by your fearlessness. I want to be flabbergasted by your genius. I want to be in awe of your vision.
Together we’re going to move the industry forward whether it is smart enough to realize it or not, and together we’re going to bring comics to the uninitiated in a four-color crusade of sequential righteousness. Together we’re going to change comics. You know it can happen. You’ve seen it happen. Bring your wild, manic, bleeding edge ideas and make them happen.
Make it happen. Now is the time.
A SURPRISE VISIT
Photos from this week’s surprise “Electric Girl” creator Mike Brennan in-store:
“Electric Girl” is a brilliant all ages book full of charmingly bright characters, understatedly clever stories, and downright cheerful artwork. Mike has received accolades for his work from the American Library Association, Cartoon Network, and comics’ own Eisner Awards. And if that wasn’t praise enough, I believe Comicology’s Brian Saner Lamken said it best when he wrote:
“It’s rare that I feel as though I’m reading something new anymore. But I had a welcome sensation of discovery reading Mike Brennan’s ELECTRIC GIRL.”
Now that’s high praise!
Thanks to Mister Brennan for being such an excellent guest, our friends at AiT/PlanetLar, and everyone who attended for helping us make this impromptu event so glorious.
THIS WEEK THE ISOTOPE STAFF IS READING
Ian Yarborough – Bon Vivant
Seven Soldiers #1
The Losers #21
Jared Guenther – Enforcer
Battle Hymn #1
Stroker’s Dracula #3
Kirsten Baldock – Special Projects Director
Y the Last Man #31
Scurvy Dogs TPB
Astonishing X-Men #8
James Sime – Proprietor
GrimJack: Killer Instinct #2
Seven Soldiers #1
Earth’s Mightiest Heroes #8
Until next time…
James Sime is the proprietor of San Francisco’s Isotope the comic book lounge. He collects antique ray guns and once rode 2 1/2 hours in the trunk of a ’71 Dodge Dart to see a Gwar concert.