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January 15, 2013


They're All Comics Trips Now: LA, December 2012

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Here are some comics-related thoughts that occurred to me during or later about a recent trip to Los Angeles in December 2012.

* so I got to see Jaime Hernandez's work area. I've never been to Tom Stoppard's home studio or sat in on Albert Finney doing scene work, so this is about as good as a certain kind of experience is ever going to get for me. The main thing I noticed -- and I'm going to chalk up the banality of this observation to my being super-nervous -- was how all of Jaime's personal-favorite art seemed to be right there in the studio with him. It's not like that's a rare thing for an artist to have what they consume nearby. That's just how these households break down a lot of the time. Still, one thing of 10,000 I love about Jaime's work is its relationship to the idiosyncratic and wide-ranging selection of art that inspires its creator.

* here's one of Jaime's favorite movies.

image* his house was really tastefully decorated, too, in a comics sense, with some rare line art but also a few Jordan Crane prints. Everyone loves Jordan Crane prints. That's not from one of the ones in question, but they're all similarly attractive.

* it was really nice to have lunch with Jaime and my brother and my friend Jordan Raphael, and just talk nonsense, everything from media crossover for L&R, which isn't a place I'd go naturally, I don't think, by myself, to Fantagraphics' hiring habits during the LA years. No better guy in comics than that Jaime Hernandez guy.

* I worked that week about 200 yards from where Comic Book Resources is now headquartered. I saw it first, Jonah. I should have marked my territory, by which I mean peeing on things, by which I mean peeing on things more systematically.

* visited Secret Headquarters for about an hour. That is one fine shop.

* I don't have the same standards for judging great comic book shops that a lot of folks have. One of the first things that was posted when CR launched was a suggested list of standards for processing which shops are effective ones. I can't find it now! At any rate, I think there are plenty of comic book stores that are great ones, and an even much bigger number that are sort of awesome on some level or another, without ever really serving my own needs as a shopper and fan.

I was always bothered in the mid-1990s by the contempt and borderline rage that some comics fans had for the way certain shops were set up. For one thing, I don't think we get to vote on how someone wants to make an investment in retail. Nor should we. I mean, if you want to open up a shop, open up whatever shop you want. You know? Life's too short, and you're the one that has to go to work there everyday. Another and I think more important thing is that a lot of set-ups for which I have no personal, easy use, a lot of those strategies make perfect sense to me. I can totally see making your small-town store a fantasy hub, for example, with comics at its center. Worrying about what is sold in proximity in comics strikes me as slightly batty, like a film fan slapping movies out of the hands of people that use one of those Red Box things.

So SHQ is a good shop from my point of view because it's an attractive space, there are things it does uniquely that make it a place to visit for out-of-town customers, and the staff is knowledgeable and helpful and never looks down on any kind of request about comics that comes their way. I don't primarily value the niceness in that last thing as much as respect the fact that stores like that, all stores, really, are a gateway into comics for a lot of different fans. One of the shameful things about the history of comics retail is how difficult they can sometimes make it for people that aren't exactly on their personal wavelength to just buy and enjoy some comics.

* I totally missed that SHQ opened up another shop, keyed to a specific neighborhood with a specific, curated look. That's a great thing. If we could get all of the great comics shops to open up one more comics shop, well, we'd end a lot of marriages. But it would be cool there for a while!

* one thing that came up in conversation when I was in SHQ that also came up when I was in Phoenix last Fall, so I want to hit it again: local economic issues have a dramatic and drastic impact on comics retail. In Phoenix it was the general transformation of that region's economy away from a certain type of high-income consumer that really dug into serial mainstream comic book that I think went a bit under-studied. In Los Angeles, I was reminded that the downturn in the US economy came really close to an entertainment-industry guild strike there in town, which compounded problems for those stores that count on a certain kind of customer having cash.

* it should probably be noted that LA is more of a comics town than it used to be for DC moving a bunch of people out there. If nothing else, a bunch of the shops gained several quality customers.

* oh, and by the way, about what was on the SHQ shelves: there's a staggering amount of work out right now. Just generally. I'm not even sure how to better communicate this tidal wave of publishing to all of you, but there were literally 20 books on those shelves about which I had little to no comprehension. There are even entire imprints about which I have little to no easy mastery.

* I still can't quite figure out why LA doesn't have at least one sublime, everybody-has-to-go, small-press show. I'm thinking it might be that the nature of the town makes for destination travel over walking-in traffic, and those are shows that depend on walking-in traffic. Maybe. I seriously don't know. Another thing LA could do that maybe a lot of towns couldn't is a comics-anchored cross-media show for a specific property -- a kind of show that it's be interesting to see someone try, maybe just a one-day thing.

* I bought some Marvel Comics and some Michael DeForge.

* later that same day I went to eat with some of my roughly same-age peers. It's fun to talk about comics with men and women right around your age because the continuity of perspective is about the same. You don't have to explain someone in the context of an earlier comics effort because those folks were probably around for said effort. Comics has this strange thing where it's at once immediate, encompasses all comics everywhere at all times, and negotiates individual perspectives as if they're really either one of the two.

* I recently wrote some things about cartoonists that emerged in the mid- to late-1990s that some people took as disparaging, but those are my people and I'm happy to be acquainted with so many of them.

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