An important part of being a comic book reader is the comic shop. Each one is unique brimming with it’s own personality, sometimes good sometimes mansplain-y, but it’s always a different experience. There’s a culture they cultivate, that influences how you read and your interaction with the fandom.
I have been going to comics shops since I was eight. For ten years, Al and Ann’s Comics and Collectables in McHenery, Illinois was MY shop.
My mom took me there after school one day and I bought my first comic. It was the start of a ten-year relationship with the shop. I bought my first book there, set up my first pull list, and attended every free comic book day there for seven years.
Everyone’s tastes were welcome. Whether you love 90’s Image Comics or if you liked biographical comics they had you covered. All-Ages comics were even displayed with the same prominence as “Adult books”. Kids got their own section, while never restricting them to that corner.
Al, the owner, was a warm spirit, mentoring the kids who went there and engaging the adults. He loved talking about movies, comics, and music. They weren’t just customers to him. In many cases, they were friends. He always had a smile and was ready to help. He worked tirelessly for Toys for Tots, and he had wisdom to pass on.
Then on Free Comic Book Day 2014, the shop’s 20 the anniversary. Al wasn’t there. The Free Comic day was great everyone had fun, but we found out he had died earlier that morning.
I went to his wake, which was one of the most surreal experiences of my life. I saw people who I’d never seen outside of the comic shop. I didn’t know him as well as a lot of the other customers, but when Al died, we all mourned. We listened to Al’s favorite songs. finally met the “Ann” of the shop, his wife, as well as his family. I told them how much Al meant to me. It was sad, but seeing how many lives he touched and his family meeting and hearing from those people is something I’ll never forget.
But there was one thing we all shared. We respected Al. In a lot of ways, Al was comic fandom for me. I have a new shop now, a chain in the city but I can’t accept it on some level. I can’t love it like I did Al N’ Ann’s.
The shop survived the mass comic shop closings of the ‘90’s and even a car smashing through the shop, it was a fixture of the town and my life. A small pawnshop lives there now. I went in once and my eyes started to water. From the excessive dust, but I couldn’t help but think that it was also partly because of Al. It’s almost fitting, a store that sells nostalgia is the one place I’ll never let go.
Nicoli Raymond is a writer based out of Illinois. He writes scripts, short stories, and articles on pop culture. He tweets at @NicoliRaymond Contact him at email@example.com This was originally composed as a submission piece for a website. As such, this is a slightly modified version.
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