Growing up on the Southside of Indianapolis in the 90s, I actually had a better comic selection than you might imagine with three different comic book stores within reach. They didn’t carry much independent stuff, but at the time superheroes were my poison. Thanks to my dad’s dedication to letting me be as nerdy as I wanted, we were in visiting these local stores at least once a week. The employees knew our names and each week we’d chat a little before plopping down our latest purchases.
Then at some point, I don’t really remember when, my dad and I started having a pull list at our favorite of the stores. (A pull list, for those scratching their heads, is just what it sounds like: a pre-reservation system for your favorite comics that the store holds for you as they come out each month.) And the amount of comics I read grew. When the stores started carrying manga, I jumped in. Then I found myself skimming the Previews catalog for new titles or the staff would set aside new stuff my dad and I might like.
Right before my last year of high school, I stopped buying comics monthly and that mighty pull list was no more. Fast forward a year or so later to me moving to NYC, where one can gorge on comic books, and still no pull list materialized. For the ten years thereafter, I hadn’t thought about why I had stopped using the pull list system, but in the last month I really started to mull it over.
New York City is an amazing place where you can find just about anything and that includes comic books. If you’re from middle America, like I am, the sheer size and scope of stores is overwhelming. And another thing, these stores are actually busy. Like “it is hard to get through the aisles at lunchtime on new comic book day” busy. They have a mid-sized staff (any more than four people is big for a comic store where I’m from) with plenty to do. No one asks your name or what you thought of the last issue of X-Men or makes recommendations unless specifically asked. Basically, they feel like any other store you might walk into.
There are smaller stores in the city, too, but they never became a place I frequented.
Then suddenly, a new and very small comic book store opened. And this happened to be a section of town I’m very familiar with and work around. When I entered the store on Free Comic Book Day, the owner introduced himself and asked my name. They encouraged me to get a pull list (who knew it is all done digitally now!) and wanted to know what I was reading.
Only then did I realize how integral a local comic book store was to my enjoyment and consistent patronage of comics.
I didn’t stop picking up books on a regular monthly basis because they weren’t good anymore or because I had lost interest, I was simply missing that intimate relationship between store and customer. A pull list is like a secret club. Suddenly people know what your tastes are; they know your name and recognize you when you walk in.
And now I am back in to that circle, I’ve realized how much I missed not being an anonymous customer at the comic store.
When I head back to Indy to visit friends and family, I always drop in the local shops. Of course, they are different. I don’t know the staff. No one knows my name. And I don’t have a stack of comics waiting for me. But there is still a comforting feeling about the quiet, mostly empty, store where conversations about the latest issues are always in session.