Saturday, November 18, 2006

Goodbye To Comics #10: "Lost Girl's First Comics Job"

Goodbye To Comics #10:
"Lost Girl's First Comics Job"

So if you've been following the blog so far, here is the scorecard:
1. Crazy bodybuilding comic-reading possibly steroid-fueled dad.
2. Being called a lesbian throughout grade-school and teased because I read superhero comics.
3. Successful run at the theoretically-named Gilgongo! comics ends in harassment, character assassination, illness, and personal disaster.
4. Comic guy accidently rips vagina open during intercourse, effectively leaving me $15,000 in debt.

But there is so much more. There is a whole narrative about the comic collectors I used to hang out with when I was a teenager, a rogue's gallery that would make Dick Tracy weep. Most of those men are now nearing their 40s and 50s and are almost completely destroyed, living alone in dimly-lit apartments filled to the ceiling with comics & collectables. My entrance in their lives was unnatural, unnatural because I was a young teenage girl and I was not supposed to a)be reading comics and b)hanging out with sexually-frustrated comic fans.

Now you may say: you were a free woman! this is America! you have the right to read anything you want and hang out with whomever you choose!

But what is right and what is reality are two different things.

I started working at the comic store after running away from home when I was 16. I ran away from home because I was tired of getting beaten up by my mom's boyfriends. Misogyny and me, we go waaaaaay back.

The owner of the comic store was a friend of my late father. He was a middle-aged man, a bit on the grotesque side but always quick with a joke and generous with his customers. I was so thrilled to get this job. As a comic fan, working behind the counter was like winning a trip to Disneyland. I had finally made it.

Here is a quick picture of what the fan culture was like in the early 90s. Speculation was in full swing, and everybody was as greedy as fuck. There were a lot of collectors that weren't fans at all but were simply buying up "hot comics." Which was great for my boss. Unfortunately, what was not so great was that comic thievery and shoplifting was at an all-time high. It was not uncommon to hear of one big store in the city or another being heisted in the middle of the night, cleaned out. My boss felt he hadn't a lot to worry about, however, because he was the first one to admit that the place was a scummy little hole in the wall.

Into this scummy little hole in the wall trotted the most bizarre cast of characters ever to grace the fandom. There was the old-time cartoon animator who spent his declining years buying high-ticket Golden Age items, taking care of his mother, and smelling of pee. There was the fast-talking heroin-addict who constantly came in looking to trade choice pop-culture memorabilia for quick cash. There was the short, mild-mannered big-time comic collector in the rumpled two-piece velvet suit who thought that putting peanut butter on his dick for his cat to lick off did not qualify as animal abuse. There was the fat, mentally-challenged older lady who would pull her top up and shake her boobies for a quarter; it should be noted that she was not a comic collector, but rather just a piece of the "local color."

In essence, I was working on the "Howard Stern Show."

One of my co-workers was a soft-spoken Latino man who I was never quite sure was mentally-challenged or just really really innocent. We're talking like Forrest Gump. My boss always made jokes about "spic this" and "Wetback that" and I marvelled at how my co-worker never got angry, never got angry for being called a "dumb spic." He would just smile shyly and act like he didn't really understand what was being said. He will become a footnote to this entire story, so just tuck him in the back of your mind.

I felt a certain degree of "protection" from my boss, that kept unwanted "admirers," mostly adults and a few who were middle-aged, at bay.

So when he told me in private that I sexually aroused him, that I made him "hard," I was completely devastated. I cried.

My boss acted like he didn't understand why I was crying. He said he assumed that as a "single girl living by herself" that I was "open to this sort of thing." Mind you, he was a friend of my dad. But really, considering the caliber of person that frequented his store, was this scumbaggery such a big surprise? As a naive teen with no parental supervision and no security, the answer is -- yes, it was a complete surprise. This guy was like my uncle.

What followed was a textbook case of how a patriarchal society deals with troublemaking females.

1. Tell the victim good-naturedly, "now you just keep this between you and me, okay?"

2. To cover your own ass, tell other people that your victim is a)crazy, b)a nympho, c)a liar, or c)a crazy nympho liar. In my case, this jerk went around telling others, including his own wife, that I sexually came on to him.

3. Punish your victim in some way so you can feel better about her rejecting you.

When I came into work the next day following the incident, my boss told me gravely, in front of the rest of the store, that a set of trading cards were missing by my work station and that he suspected I did it. Since he couldn't trust me anymore, I had to leave.

Of course, what type of trading cards were they?

The theoretically-named Gilgongo! Comics Superheroes series.

I kept waiting for somebody to defend me, but the rest of the men in the store just looked sheepish and away. Most had been recipients of my boss's generous nature for more years than I was alive. Though I considered some of these men as my friends, I simply couldn't tip the scales away from a guy that, in their scummy little hole-in-the-wall universe, was like a king.

So I left. Passively, stunned, not quite sure of what had just happened. Later that day, as I was walking home from grocery shopping, one big heavy bag in each fist, I had a delayed-reaction to the event and suddenly became filled with fury. I marched back to the store and slammed the door open.

"You...sonofabitch! You fucking told me that I sexually excited you! That I made your dick hard! I fucking trusted you! You fucking did this to punish me, you fucking scumbag motherfucker!"

He acted like he didn't know what I was talking about. Of course. Though at one point he reinterated his theory that since I was "a young single woman" I was "open" to that sort of thing.

I was 16.

I screamed at him for about 20 minutes, never once putting down my bags of groceries, my hands red and creased white by the bag handles. When it was over I stalked out of the store, turned around, and punched my fist into the plexiglas door, leaving a giant crack that extended from the "Yes we are open" sign to the faded Charlie's Angels Topps stickers near the bottom.

Soon after that I got what is known in the parlance as "a real job" and entered college. I was so burned by the experience in the store that I refused to read or buy any comics ever again.

Some time later, I ran into my quiet Forrest Gumpian ex co-worker. He said he was real sorry about what happened, but that he made sure to "take a lot this time" to punish my boss. I asked him what exactly he meant.

He invited me to the apartment he shared with his religious, working-class mom and dad. In his room were thousands upon thousands of expensive comics. My old boss's comics. Stacks of mylared Silver and Golden Age books. All the "speculator" titles, Marvels and Images and Valiants bagged and boarded and stacked to the ceiling. In the second bunk of the bed set he shared with his late brother were row after row of choice books, some in multiples of twos and threes, all lovingly sheathed in plastic.

"You see," he began to explain, "whenever he call me things like 'dumb spic,' 'retard,' things like that -- I take a book! Every time. So he say, 'you dumb retard,' and then I go, when he not looking, I take a book. Every time. Not so dumb a retard, am I?"

After years of not being able to turn a profit, the old comic store closed. It is now a 99 Cents store, though tomorrow it might be a cell-phone store, or a discount clothing outlet. All I know is that every once in a while, even if I don't need anything, I buy a dishrag or something from the place. Just to walk inside of it.


  1. I, too, worked in a comic book store. There's always an old weird Golden Age collector who smells like pee.

    There's one in every comic store.

    I'm not sure if it's the same one.

  2. I managed a comic book store for three years and never had an "old weird Golden Age collector who smells like pee." We had some sweaty guy who would only buy Linser art books, but no pee-soaked Golden Agers.

  3. As a man(child), I am reminded by stories like yours how painfully unaware of the betrayal of trust, sexual objectification, and disenfranchisement women face as young girls. It would be a sin to say I know how you feel, but your engaging narrative voice gives sickening chills in those scenes. Considering I experience this from but written words, I can’t imagine how it must have felt for you.

  4. {{the contrast between your obviously genuine sensitivity and your avatar is ironic, indeed}}

    What she said.


  5. I remember the quiet latino guy from that very store you wrote about. There was this odd rumour about how he slept with his half-sister. A lot of people picked on him, but I always admired his gentle nature, and knew that something knowing lurked beneath that smile. The owner (who reminded me of the late Fred Gwynne in Franky makeup)and I had verbal confrontations several times. I was an outsider looking in on the comic book world. I still believe there is a great script there. Please write it for us. Only you can.

  6. I've never commented on someone's personal blog before, hell I rarely ever read blogs, but after reading yours I just have to say something.

    Shit that sucks. I mean, talk about being put through the proverbial wringer. Bastard got his in the end though, and I'm glad to see that bullshit didn't keep you down.

  7. Wow, for someone who's had it so hard, I'm really glad that you did come through the fire a stronger shade of steel.
    Most people just keep falling apart until they're gone.