To the Cute Girl in the Comic Shop

By IAN GONZALES

To the cute girl in the comic shop,

A few years back (OK, probably closer to a decade), I found myself perusing the shelves of an East Village comic shop. You were working behind the counter. You had short, fire engine red hair, wore a tank top and had an ankh necklace. Customers shuffled in and out of the store, less than subtly gawking at you. The atmosphere was all kinds of awkward.

It was the summer before the first Spider-Man movie. Reading comics had not yet been elevated to a socially acceptable activity. We “mainstream” comic fans were still recovering from garbage like Electric Boogaloo Superman and the evil Professor X/Magneto hybrid, Onslaught. Indeed, our embarrassment was sound and warranted. On the other hand, these were the days after DC Comics published Neil Gaiman’s 1990s classic, Sandman, and the book was still bringing new kinds of readers to comics.

The main character of Sandman, Morpheus, is the anthropomorphic personification of dreams. The book chronicles his escape from captivity and his reclamation of this realm, the Dreaming. Morpheus comes from a family called The Endless and his older sister, the personification of Death, drew in an audience as yet untapped by the purveyors of funny books – women.  As a former comic store clerk, I can’t tell you how many times I sold women Death’s premiere mini-series, Death: The High Cost of Living. Karen Berger, Vertigo Comics’ Executive Editor, said it best: “Creatively, Sandman started reaching out to people who normally didn’t read comics.”

I deduced you were a Sandman fan from three clues:

1)      You accessorized your tank top with an Egyptian key of life.

2)      You were thumbing through a Norton Anthology of American Literature, indicating a more than passing interest in the arts.

3)      You worked in a comic book store.

I kept mum about my deduction though. Instead of approaching you about the relevance of “Young Goodman Brown” in George W. Bush’s America (remember, remember the stolen November), I thumbed through The Complete Jack Kirby Green Arrow. The world of comics was changing and the True Believers like myself didn’t know how to handle it.

Then, one of the customers did the unthinkable. He walked right up to you and commented on your ankh! I don’t remember the conversation verbatim, but this is the gist of it:

“So, you like Sandman,” he said.

You looked up from your book and said, “Yeah.”

“Me too. How funny was it when Martian Manhunter popped up in Preludes and Nocturnes and talked about eating Oreos?”

“Huh?”

It took all of my self-restraint not to groan. Of all the things he could mention, he decided to hone in on Martian Manhunter’s love of Oreo cookies? Apparently he wasn’t ready for the brave new world either.  Oh well, at least he tried. Right?

I’m sorry, cute girl in the comic shop. I’m sorry it was so awkward. You probably played out this scene every day. Here you were, a symbol of true change in comics, but the base, the loyal readers who are so resistant to change, didn’t know what to do, especially since you represented a change we actually wanted to happen.

When I was a kid, I’d go to the local comic store and notice the complete lack of girls in the shop. There were plenty of forty-year-old men lurking about, but none of the fairer sex dared enter the four-color dungeons (well, my mom would pop in and buy me comics when I was sick, but I never actually saw her there). Obviously, it was a healthy environment for a middle school student.

For all the bashing the 90s take at the hands of myself and my brethren, Sandman and its spin-offs did something no pragmatist thought possible; it brought new readers into comic stores. No, not someone looking to make a buck off the Death of Superman (the kind of degenerates you probably dealt with on a daily basis), this book got people from all walks of life to take that step and walk into a comic book store.  It probably got you into a job as a comic book store clerk. That is massive!

Those were hard times back then. Oddly enough, Hollywood wound up forcing the change down our throats with movies like X2: X-Men United and Batman Begins, but we should have learned from Mr. Gaiman’s own words, “[t]he Lord of Dreams learns that one must change or die, and makes his decision.”

Best,

Ian Gonzales

~

Ian vs. the 90s is an ongoing column in which I take a look back at a very dark time in comic books – the 1990s – in search of the best (and worst) that dire decade had to offer.

Like this piece? If so, I implore you to re-post it. Also, feel free to follow me @IanGonzales on Twitter. I promise I won’t be so emo.

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  • http://www.unwinnable.com james rattigan

    great read ian

  • Ian Gonzales

    Thanks dude!

  • John McGuire

    So weird, Death just popped up in the latest story arc of Action Comics.

  • Ian Gonzales

    @ John, James & Garrett I love Cornell's work. His Doctor Who two-parter, Human Nature/Family of Blood made me tear up a bit.

    Supposedly Gaiman wrote most of Death's dialogue in that Action Comics issue. I can't wait to catch up on that book!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003405401832 Karoline

      Oh and for the 6″ DCnU frgiues from Mattel, I’d like to see the modern JLI characters Fire, Ice, Rocket Red, and Vixen.

  • http://www.unwinnable.com james rattigan

    yeh i read that john it felt kind of flat to me

  • Garrett Martin

    Yeah, surprised to see them let somebody else handle the character. Cornell's done some good stuff in the past though.

  • Stu Horvath

    It's funny, I actually feel similar kind of embarrassment about the Sandman comics, broader audience or no.

    I remember reading something a long time ago in which Neil Gaiman said he met "Death" at a diner where she was waiting tables. Maybe he was riffing on Alan Moore's artful claims of having met John Constantine. Perhaps Neil actually had never encountered a goth girl before. Whatever the truth, it was right around then I started to suspect that he was full of shit.

    After recently re-examining the Sandman run, his full-of-shitness is pretty obvious to me. Kind of a shame, really.

  • http://writeclubpodcast.blogspot.com/ Kurt Christenson

    Nice piece! I have to say that I don't see why other amazing Vertigo books haven't risen up to be the next series people read post Sandman. I mean, they might not have the fairy tale/fantasy elements Sandman did, but The Invisibles? Sexy counterculture meta terrorists? Why doesn't that book have more of a cult following? If I have my way I will create a book club cult whose sole mission it is to read the books, dissect them as they ingest hallucinogenics, and create an alternate universe within their minds, then travel there.

    Also, Peter Milligan's Shade, the Changing Man should be collected and distributed among the weirdos and freaks. This was a revolutionary series that dealt with all manner of mature topics from sexuality, paranoia, schizophrenia, conspiracy, insanity, relationships, America, Hollywood, politics, etc. etc. Not to mention the amazing list of artists on that book from Bachalo (at his finest), to Richard Case, to the surreal work of Brendan McCarthy on covers.

    Then of course there's Warren Ellis' Transmetropolitan, all of Hellblazer (esp. Ennis' run of course), and Morrison's Doom Patrol. Why are more fringe artsy-hippy people art students not all over this madness like the social parasites they are?

    I must show them they way it seems.

    Oh, and I totally BWA-HAHAHAHA'd at the Martian Manhunter bit. Kudos!

    K

    If you doubt that great comics were made in the 90's look

  • Stu Horvath

    Also, the man is going to marry Amanda Palmer. If ever there was a litmus test for a man's madness, it is that.

  • Ian Gonzales

    @Kurt, Thanks! Invisibles was one of the best books to come out of the 1990s. I think it's a better book than Sandman in nearly every way. For starters, it's self-contained and Morrison never seems to lose his focus. I will write something about that book soon. I want to see how the American political climate levels out in the next few months.

    I think they are finally reprinting Shade. I have the first trade floating around somewhere and I'll get to it by the end of the year (hopefully).

    @Stu Say what you will about Mr. Gaiman, I can't wait to see his Doctor Who episode.

  • Michael

    Stellar article brother. As I scrolled down to comment I noticed someone mention Action Comics, the very issue sitting right in front of me as I read your piece. Fucking weird man. And I bought it simply because she looks hot on the cover.

  • http://www.beeteedee.com/ Bee Tee Dee

    Yeah, Gaiman was kind of a gateway to comics for me too! I think The High Cost of Living was the first non-superhero comic I'd ever read, and thus possibly the first comic I ever really got into. Not sure what I'd think of it now, I just saw the cover art and it made me cringe a bit.

  • Stu Horvath

    @Ian: Gaiman's Doctor Who – an episode which initially seems brilliant, replete with a variety of references to mythology with some sort of modern twist that, upon subsequent viewings, feels pale and about as intellectually engaging as home-schooled shut-in's folklore fan-fic? I can already see every character in pale make-up and acting detached and whiny. Also, strong odds of an Amanda Palmer cameo.

    Ugh, count me out.

  • Stu Horvath

    Also, does it bother anyone that the Sandman advert in the article not only rips off T. S. Eliot but also botches the quote? Anyone? No?

    Bunch of godless savages here.

  • http://www.unwinnable.com james rattigan

    Cornell is amazing i will read anything he writes. His marvel work was top notch

  • http://japanesedudegirl.blogspot.com/ Chuck

    fuck Sandman

    • Stu Horvath

      @Chuck: You are the Indiana Jones to my scimitar-twirling Nazi/Egyptian assassin.

  • http://www.SmallLindsay.com Lindsay

    As a girl that worked at a comic shop for 6ish years, this gave me a warm smile.

    I'm pretty sure MM likes chocos, not oreos ;)

  • Ian Gonzales

    @Lindsay Thank you for reading! You're absolutely right, they did change the name to Chocos (pesky trademark laws). If memory serves, the Chocos turned him into the Hulk once, right?

  • http://www.SmallLindsay.com Lindsay

    @Ian

    Yes, an unfortunate incident with Booster and Beetle methinks, in the JLI era. Scamps :D

  • Ian Gonzales

    @Lindsay I miss those guys and their hair-brained money making schemes. It was great seeing them again in Brave & The Bold this season.

  • Stu Horvath

    Rest in peace, Ted.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003405399724 Letlhogonolo

    I had frttogoen about the diet soda thing. *facepalm*The horror stories I’ve heard about Power Girl’s characterization and depowering in JLI (also, mystical pregnancy) are the reason I still haven’t read the series O_oI enjoyed Formerly Known and I Can’t Believe on their own merits, but I don’t know if I’ll ever go back and read the series proper because the PG stuff would probably give me an aneurysm.I’m really happy for fans of the series though!

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