As you all know, I was in Southern California last week with my lovely family visiting Disneyland. But I couldn’t spend every day at the Happiest Place on Earth, as that might drive me completely insane! So on Wednesday, 3 June, I visited a comic book store. I can’t escape even when on vacation!
The store I visited was Ralph’s Comic Corner in Ventura, California. Now, if you check out this handy MapQuest guide, you might wonder what in the hell I was doing driving 90 miles from one side of Los Angeles through the city and all the way out to Ventura when I’m sure I could have found a comic book store very close to Disneyland, and the answer is, of course, Mike Sterling!
Yes, Mike Sterling, of the world-famous Progressive Ruin blog, works at Ralph’s. I had mail-ordered a few comics from him in the past, including the epic Faust #12, which provided him with a pull quote for his blog. So when I thought about taking a day off from All Things Disney, I knew I would have to make the pilgrimage to Ralph’s! Here’s the man himself:
Look at that handsome devil! No wonder he’s world famous! (He also asked me not to take a picture of the front of the store, as the sign was looking a bit sad, but you can find the front on Google Maps street view, if you’re interested!)
I went in and checked out the new comics, even though I wasn’t buying any. The new books are racked in the back of the store, forcing you to walk past all the other booty the store has. Clever! Ralph’s is next door to a anime/game store, but they are really the same store, as they’re connected in the back. The new comics are right next to where you move into the other store. Newer comics are stocked right next to them, so if you missed an issue, there they are.
(That first picture is looking back into the store – the new issues are against the back wall. The second one shows the rack of this week’s releases, and, looking into the anime/game store, some of the trade paperbacks on sale. The back wall is filled with comics-related books, which were neat, too.)
In the anime/game store, you’ll find the trade paperbacks. And what a selection they have! Rows and rows of cool stuff, let me tell you. I dug up the second Archive Edition of Doom Patrol (been looking for that for a while; and although I know the Showcase volume is available, those early issues of Doom Patrol look so cool in color that I’m willing to pony up $50 for them), the first trade of Steve Englehart’s Coyote, the second trade of Tim Truman’s Scout, the trade of The Overman (I read a few issues of the mini-series and was intrigued) and the first trade of Anna Mercury. That latter one I bought off a rack where several creators have their work grouped together – this was in the Warren Ellis section, not surprisingly. They not only had guys like Ellis and Moore, but Eisner and (if memory serves) Pekar. That last one might be wrong, but I was struck by the diversity of creators they had on that shelf. I’ve seen some comics stores do this more and more – separate out specific creators – and I think it’s a great idea. It’s usually writers, and it would be kind of cool to see a section devoted to, say, Bill Sienkiewicz interior artwork. It was cool digging through the trade paperback section of the store. You may say to yourself that I could get those things on-line for cheap, and you’d be right, but as you should know by now, I love buying stuff in actual stores, especially when it’s a local comics shoppe. I’m old-school, man!
I introduced myself to Mike and we had a nice chat about comics and comics retailing. As you’ve probably figured out, I’ve become more and more interested in the process of selling comics, so whenever I get a chance to talk to someone who sells them, I take it. Mike told me that they order a ton of books that people don’t order, because they’re confident they can sell them eventually. I saw the 16th issue of Berlin on their racks, the first time I have ever seen an actual issue of Jason Lutes’s masterpiece (I own both trades, and so should you). Mike said they’d sell it eventually. He also had a few copies of El Gorgo #2, which he mail-ordered (and which was signed by Tamas Jakab, the artist). Perhaps not surprisingly, this comic is right in Chris Sims’s wheelhouse (if that means anything to you, the discerning comic book reader), and although I haven’t read it yet, the art is quite neat. I just point it out because it’s cool that Ralph’s would mail-order stuff just to make sure they have a lot of stuff in stock.
Ralph’s stocks some manga (I bought the third volume of Gantz there), but Mike said their manga fad seems to have faded a bit. It’s interesting, because I wonder who was buying them in the first place when the “fad” was at its height. Here in the AZ, I know that the other store I go to, Atomic, does a brisk business in manga and anime, so I wonder what’s different. Again, trends in sales are neat, and I wish I could have picked Mike’s brain a bit more, but I couldn’t stay all afternoon! I asked him about his back issues, because in the main area of the store, the long boxes were not very plentiful. That’s when he showed me what was behind the counter:
Shelves upon shelves of boxes, stuffed to the gills with back issues! Plus, the back issues stretched into the back room. Holy crap! They’re on the far right of the picture above, if you can see them. I wanted to get the whole store, so the picture doesn’t focus on them (you can also see them behind Mike in the first picture). But behold their magnificence! I didn’t bring my list of back issues I wanted to buy (my latest list is culled mainly from the list of greatest runs that Brian did on the blog last year), and I’m kind of glad I didn’t, because I spent $150 at the store and it could have easily been double that if I had pawed through the back issues. I did get the 1,000,000th (and final) issue of The Creeper, so there’s that. I told Mike that if I’m ever near Ventura again, I must come raid his back issues. Those 1970s Master of Kung Fu issues aren’t going to mysteriously show up on my doorstep!
It was getting late (well, actually, it was only about 1 o’clock, but considering it took two hours to drive there, it was getting late), so I bid Mike and his fellow employees (Aaron and Kid Chris) adieu and left for the long drive home (we – I went with my dad, as it was his rental car – took the Pacific Coast Highway, so it was even longer). It was very groovy checking the store out and getting some cool comics. Ralph’s looks like a “stereotypical” comic book store, in that it’s just a bit shabby, but in a charming (to me) way. It’s very bright and open, though, and the three employees were very friendly and ready to help out anyone who wandered in. It’s an amazing store both for the quality of the books they have and the sheer quantity of both trades and back issues. I don’t know if I’ll ever be anywhere near it again, but I would love to go back.
Mike reminded me that they can do mail-order stuff, so if you’re interested in finding something obscure (come on, the store had an issue of Faust!), drop him a line and ask! And I should remind you that if you want a comic book store where you shop featured here, e-mail me at email@example.com. I just received one from Perth, so I’ll post that next week (probably). I would have posted it today, but I had already begun working on this! So feel free to send me a synopsis about your store and any pictures you feel like taking. No pressure!