Thursday, July 12, 2007

My Old Kentucky Comics Habits

Because Dick demanded it, here are my memories of a comics consumer in Lexington, Kentucky, starting in the mid-1970s. I've been down this road a bit before, but since only I was reading the blog three years ago, it's probably new to you-all.

Age-wise, I guess I fall between Dick and Johnny Bacardi. Lexington's about the size of Spartanburg, probably over a quarter-million people by now. Both Dick and Johnny can probably make better comparisons than I.

Still, it took me until high school to realize where the direct-market shops were. Until then I had been relying on the local grocery stores (Kroger, Foodtown) and the familiar Kmart 3-comics-in-a-bag deal.

My grade-school purchases were all pretty unfocused, as you'd expect. I started reading superhero comics in the mid-to-late '70s, but I was familiar with the characters through "Super Friends" and the Adam West "Batman" reruns. Probably the first superhero comic I owned was The Flash #241 (May 1976), at the tender age of six, and it was probably bought at a Kroger.

I got mostly DC and a few Marvel into the early '80s. Junior high was 7th-9th grades, so I decided that would be the cutoff for my comics. An older friend, who was already in junior high, told me very seriously that no one in my new school would care about such things. Instead, junior high introduced me to the much more mature pastime of D&D.

Still, D&D got me back into comics. I switched gaming groups at the start of 10th grade, and got in the habit of picking up a couple of comics at the local Convenient on my way to our Saturday sessions. I bought DCs again, including the wedding of Donna Troy (I had been a New Teen Titans fan just before the "new maturity" set in), but the series that got me into a LCS was Mike Barr's Star Trek. It was right after Star Trek III's cliffhanger and I was jonesing for some 23rd-Century action.

The shop I started patronizing -- the only one in town, as far as I knew -- was The Comic Connection, just across the street from the University of Kentucky Medical Center. It was a couple of miles from the house, so not a bad walk; and in the winter of 1984 I started going there every Friday for almost the next ten years -- through high school, college, and law school.

It started out as a little hole-in-the-wall, almost a shotgun shack of a store. It moved into an adjacent space at least twice as big within a few years (1987, let's say). Through that store I was introduced to the Direct Market and to independent comics: all the big ones, like Cerebus, Love & Rockets, and American Flagg!. I kept up with the industry through Amazing Heroes, which featured writers like Mark Waid and Andy Mangels, and looked forward to its Preview Special, which covered dam' near every single title.

Still, I was reading DC at just the right time to be suckered in by Crisis On Infinite Earths, Dark Knight, Watchmen, and the revamps of 1986-87. Marvel was impenetrable to me: I tried reading X-Factor, having somehow missed out completely on the Claremont/Byrne X-Men, but it just wouldn't take; and as it happened I had also just missed the Byrne Fantastic Four.

During these ten years I also became aware of other comics shops in Lexington. The D&D shop I visited so often started selling comics, and there were a couple of stores in other parts of town too far away for me to haunt. I was loyal to Comic Connection, and besides, none of these others lasted too terribly long.

The thing that finally drove me away from Comic Connection was its seeming over-reliance on things: action figures, statues, and other bric-a-brac. By the early '90s it had also been sold. The owner I first knew was a much older fellow who I never saw that often. His employees were guys a few years older than me who I'd also see working at the local used-record store a half-mile up the road. They did a little more than tolerate me -- I can drone on, if you believe it -- but it's not like we exchanged Christmas cards.

Anyway, I got the feeling they knew what they were doing, business- and art-wise, and I didn't get that from the new owner. He was a few years older than me as well, but he was kind of clueless. When I got out of law school in the summer of 1994, and moved closer to another shop (Collectibles, Etc., in a strip-mall on the edge of one of the 'burbs), I took my business there.

Collectibles didn't invest as much in the trinkets, although they were pretty big in sports cards, pogs, and Beanie Babies, as each of those trends ebbed and flowed. They were consistently about the comics, and I appreciated that. They were less inclined to carry independent books, though. At the time this suited me fine, because I was spending so much on DC and a few Marvels anyway.

Therefore, Collectibles fit my needs pretty well. Towards the end of my patronage, the owner suggested that we regulars e-mail him our picks every Monday, and this effectively took the place of tthe pull-list/folder system for those who participated. Having since read Brian Hibbs' columns, I can't imagine how this helped his business planning.

Comic Connection closed a couple of years after I stopped going there. It's now the UK med-school bookstore. Another shop, Red Rock Collectibles, flourished for a while in the mid-'90s, but it's gone now too.

When I left Lexington two years ago, there were three decent shops: Collectibles, A+ Comics, and The Comic Interlude. As far as I know they're still there. Each has its charms. A+ is probably the largest and cleanest, which is not to say that the other two are dark or smell of nerd. Comic Interlude is the most focused on toys, with action figures covering one wall and two mid-sized shelves. Collectibles is the smallest, but it's bright and clean. I don't have any horror stories about any of them.

So there you go -- thirty years of comics collecting, from 1976's grocery-store spinner racks to 2005's Direct Market shops. I tried to make it interesting, and I probably got some things wrong. Dick, if you've got more questions about what I bought in particular, please let me know -- I tried to keep the nostalgia to a minimum.

If anyone from Lexington wants to chime in, feel free!

4 comments:

Johnny B said...

My Mom was ill in the late 90's and spent some time at the UK Medical Center, so I took the opportunity when I stayed with her to check out a couple of shops up there.

Wish I could remember the names of the stores!

One was pretty close to one of the other hospitals in town; one my uncle spent some time in as I recall. The other was closer to downtown, I think.

Memory definitely doesn't serve.

I do recall buying a couple of Skeleton key trades at one, and the first issue of Guns of the Dragon (remember that one?) and the then-current issue of Comic Book Artist, Neal Adams feature I do believe.

Tom Bondurant said...

Doing this from memory....

Comic Interlude is in Imperial Plaza, near Harrodsburg Road/Broadway, across the street from St. Joe's. I bought the first issue of Guns of the Dragon there too! It sounds like the shop you might have visited if your uncle were in St. Joe's.

The one closer to downtown might have been Collectibles' satellite store. Can't believe I forgot this one. It started on the outskirts of UK, at the corner of South Limestone and Euclid, above the Tolly-Ho restaurant (and I love the 'Ho, but if you've been there you know the term's used loosely). It then moved a couple of blocks into South Hill Station, where the Laser Quest used to be.

Dick Hyacinth said...

Actually, the city of Spartanburg is, I think, closer to about 40,000 in population--it's the county as a whole with a population of a quarter million. Maybe if you combine the total population of Greenville and Spartanburg (they've been gradually growing into each other for years), plus surrounding communities, you'll get a quarter million. To my knowledge, Spartanburg only has one comics shop anymore; I'm not sure if it ever had more than two at any given time. Greenville has two that I'm aware of, one of which is very marginal.

I'll add your post to the link collection I'm developing. Thanks, Tom.

Dyne said...

I know this post is a few years old, but I thought I'd add a few comments.

Tom misremembers the order of events slightly. The Collectibles satellite store actually started out in South Hill Station. It was the same building as the Laser Quest arena, but Collectibles was located on the lower floor (sort of a smallish mall area). I think Laser Quest was still open for at least part of the time Collectibles was there. The whole building was turned into residential condos several years ago (along with the neighboring records warehouse). After leaving South Hill Station, the store then moved above Tolly Ho, where it remained until it shut down several years ago (I was there during the sale). The original Collectibles is still open, or at least it was when I was last over there late last year.

Comic Interlude (which I've been to recently) is likewise still open, as is the Rusty Scabbard, the RPG store which shared space with Interlude up through the mid-nineties ... originally on Woodland Avenue, and then in their first Imperial Plaza/Waller Avenue location. The current Interlude site in that strip mall is where it moved after the stores split.

Finally, A+ is also still open as far as I know.

Insofar as Lexington goes, according to wikipedia the city proper is around 280k people. The metropolitan area (fayette, bourbon, jessamine, scott, woodford, and clark counties) is more like 450k.