ATTACK OF THE 50-FOOT COMIC STORE
A couple of weeks ago, I was riding home from a lunch with my pal John Lee, and I headed down Noriega, which is a thoroughfare in San Francisco that heads to the ocean.
It's a straight road, and there's not a lot to pay attention to in the way of traffic, as everyone's pretty much heading in the same direction, heading down the hill and soaking up the gorgeous view of the Pacific arrayed out before them.
If it's a nice day, of course. Mostly it's pretty foggy out there in the Sunset District. Comedian Will Durst has a great line about living out in this part of San Francisco: "I don't know why they call it the Sunset District. They might as well call it the Unicorn District, because you have a better chance of seeing a unicorn than you do a sunset."
It's funny if you live out here.
Anyway, I was tooling along on my Yamaha Riva 200, and I got behind some old guy driving his Oldsmobile Delta 88 along like he was being careful not to run into an iceberg. Usually, I just scoot right by these folks, but I wasn't in much of a hurry, so I decided to just ride along behind him and enjoy the view of the sea.
At every stop sign, I'd look around and see the foot traffic on the sidewalks, the shoppers, the kids skipping school, the old guys sitting in chairs in front of the cobbler's…
…the Sunset is like a little suburb all to itself out at the edge of the city.
Well, Captain Smith finally wrestles his boat up to the intersection of 24th Ave and Noriega, and stops at the stop sign. I realize I'm at the intersection where Comics and Da-Kind is, and that I don't have Eagle Volume 16 yet, so I figure I'll make one of my yearly stops in and just check out the place.
Now, Comics and Da-Kind is a weird sort of store. Saddled with an odd sort of name, 'Da kind' means the best, the genuine, the natural thing, the real. It's Hawaiian and New Age-y all at the same time, which would be fine if that's the sort of store it is. It mostly features action figures and Pokemon, and ancillary crapola all packed into an oppressively cramped space, and is just basically the sort of store I never go into if I can help it.
Except for this one day, where I see from the street that all of the Wolverine stand-ups and Tomb Raider window clings and faded color xeroxes of Lady Death have been taken out of the window, it's open and aired-out inside, and the walls have a fresh coat of paint, and the whole place looks inviting to the casual shopper.
I emphasize that I saw all of this, at a glance, from the street. That's how different this shop looked than its usual.
So I parked the Riva and stuck my head in, and there was a lot of bustling going on. Nice glass fixtures going up, boxes being uncrated, shelving being reattached. I looked for the new comics section. There wasn't one. Quickly scanned the shelves and tried to spot the "New This Week" signs that would give up the new Eagle. Couldn't find it.
Now I know this is a legitimate marketing tactic, but I didn't want to make any friends, y'know? I just wanted to get the Eagle and split.
So I walked up to the whirling center of all this activity, and asked for the new Eagle.
I can see this guy is the new owner, and he's got his hands full getting the place ready, and being open for business, and he's probably trying to get his DSL connected or something, but he's still got time to make sure a customer he's never seen before gets his comics.
So I want to hear what made him take over a comics shop at a time when comics shops are going out of business. You can imagine I assume we are probably kindred spirits, what with my starting a publishing house back in one of the bleakest times for publishing comics.
We get to talking, and I can see that new owner James Sime is on his way towards creating the perfect comic shop.
Comics and Da-Kind is an inviting place, now. Most strikingly, there's room to walk around. The front of the store isn't cluttered with whatever the latest Big Thing is… it's given over to a leather couch, some end tables (upon which are some quality hardcovers and trade paperbacks, tastefully displayed), and nicely-framed original comic art.
There's an Art Deco-inspired rug in front of the red and white padded counter. Behind this are glass cases holding all manner of Silver Age comics.
The whole place looks like Frank Sinatra's living room. Y'know, if Frank Sinatra had known who Stan Lee was.
At first I thought the physical layout of the store was due to James being a bit of a lounge lizard himself, but it turns out it's reflective of James' philosophy:
"Comics already are a mainstream medium," says Sime. "Look at all the Far Side calendars at Christmastime, Calvin and Hobbes t-shirts at the mall… not to mention all the idiots dressed up like Dilbert at the Halloween office party. So it's time to market comics as a mainstream medium. And if Starbucks can take something that gives people stomachaches and diarrhea and turn it into something that's become a standard modern lifestyle then it should be easy to do with comics. Because despite popular opinion, comics are much cooler than some old soy latte or low fat cappuccino.
"It's all about applying real-world techniques that make business successful to the comic store model. Atmosphere and high class. Restaurants and clothes stores work the atmosphere angle… why can't I? If any place deserves to have kick-ass atmosphere it's a comic store."
And that's Comics and Da-Kind, in a nutshell; the kick-ass comics store.
There's a warm wind blowin' on my back today/And I turn around to find/Her heart is hungering for happiness/While her head says love is firstname.lastname@example.org
Of course, most answers to simple questions you may have about me or my company can be gleaned from http://www.ait-planetlar.com. I'm quite pleased to report there's an update to the site which features all sorts of useful and pertinent info, including some teaser pages of Aman Chaudhary's frankly kick-ass art for the upcoming Double Image #5 (MAY011353, from our pals at Image), additions of new works including Warren Ellis' Come in Alone, and a little spot for you to groove on the Bill Sienkiewicz cover for The Foot Soldiers, Volume Two, coming in September. There's no order code yet, because Diamond hasn't assigned one… but it'll be up as soon as we know. Sweet cover, though, eh?
How is your comic store doing the right thing? Where's it going wrong? And if it is all going horribly wrong, what are you doing to help out? Let us know over at the Loose Cannon Message Board