A few weeks ago, I received an email from a childhood friend. We periodically email each other — two or three times a year — so it wasn’t unusual. But when I opened the email, there was no message, just an ominous link.
I clicked on it and went directly to a brief article and two photos, one of a store front and another of the store’s front door. I zoomed in on a small, hand-written sign posted in the window: “The Bookie’s Final Chapter. Store Closing Sale. 20-50% Off.”
What my friend sent me was essentially an obit announcing the demise of an old friend to both of us. The Bookie, a shop in East Hartford, Conn., that fed our comic book habit—was closing down.
It had been years since I'd last thought about The Bookie. It wasn’t the most organized or well-lit shop — in fact, it wasn’t all that appealing aesthetically, especially by the standards of today’s comic stores. But my friend — who got me into reading and collecting comics books — and I weren’t into appearances; we just wanted to get the latest comics.
Nearly every Friday afternoon, we would take a 45-minute bike ride to the shop. If it looked like it might rain, we sometimes held our trek until the next day. But more often, we would gamble and bring a few plastic bags into which we’d stuff our comics to protect them. We’d follow the same procedure in the winter. (To free our hands to steer, we’d slip the bags under our shirt or jacket — the plastic also protected the books from sweat.)
We’d roll up to the bookstore and usually lock up our bikes on the handrails of the store steps, which didn’t really offer much security because they could be toppled with a half-hearted kick. (Years later, the store moved into a more sturdy building made of brick instead of wood — big, bad wolf, anyone?)
The exterior wasn’t much to talk about, but walking into the store was magical. We’d be hit with an aroma of book paper — mainly newsprint — and then make our way to a table stocked with the new shipment of comics. We’d scan the latest issues to find the series that we followed — Daredevil, X-Men, Thor, Fantastic Four — and try out some new titles — Alien Worlds, Judge Dredd, American Flagg! We’d also pick up any new work from our favorite creators at the time, such as Frank Miller, John Byrne, Allan Moore, and Bill Sienkiewicz.
We’d always put aside a few bucks to pick up comics in the “quarter box” — several long boxes that held second-hand, non-pristine comics that the store sold for 25 cents a piece. I browsed through looking for hidden gems; sometimes I’d find comics with covers by favorite comic artists such as Neal Adams, Bernie Wrightson, or Steve Ditko. My friend would thumb through looking for a complete or near-complete series, picking up the entire line of issue of Devil Dinosaur and Godzilla, to name a few.
As my comics addiction grew, so did my collector’s impulses — buying first issues of a series, buying comics by the hottest artists or the more popular titles, as well as collecting back issues to fill the gaps in my collection.
Eventually, it became a bit much. And as a teen preparing to head off to college, various interests competed for my disposable income — dates, music, and gasoline for weekend excursions to the beach.
My interest in comics began to fade, and by the time I went to college, it had disappeared. It lay dormant for 15 years, until I met my wife, Carol. On our first date, she told me she was reading a graphic novel collection called Sandman. I told her I used to read comics and even drew some self-published comics.
When I got home that night, I went to the basement and dug out a long box of my favorite comics. I thumbed through a bunch of them — The Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen, Ronin. I stopped at Swamp Thing. This was my favorite series at the time I stopped collecting. I sat down and enjoyed the far-out storytelling of Alan Moore and the exquisite art of Stephen Bissette and John Totleben.
I was hooked again.
Nine years later, I’m still making and reading comics, but I’ve focused on independent publishers and only graphic novels, trade collections, and self-published and creator-made mini-comics. It’s interesting how it’s come full circle. And getting that email about The Bookie closing stirred up memories of how it all began. See ya, old