Where Fantasy Reigns . . .

Maybe for you it’s a particular song, perhaps some hard-rock favorite from yesteryear or a classical masterpiece that never fails to bring you to tears.



Maybe it’s poetry, an old, dog-eared book of favorites, verses that inspire you to see the beauty of the world when you need a lift.



Maybe it’s cooking a traditional family recipe on a cold winter night, the aroma of the food taking you back, back, to simpler days and more innocent times.



It can be anything, really, as long as it contains your own personal magic, that special blend of nostalgia and joy that has the power to transport you to a different place, a temporary refuge, an escape from the everyday routines and stresses that are so often present.



For me, the magic has always been found in comic books.  But not just any comic books–no.  Old comics, dusty and weathered with age, read and handled by children from a bygone era, with advertisements for sea monkeys and baseball gloves and old transistor radios.  And, perhaps most of all, with the musty smell of decades-old paper and ink.  I have always thought of this as the “magic smell,” one that stirs the senses and fires up the imagination, a scent that, if I allow myself to get lost in it, truly, makes me believe that all things are possible, and that the greatest stories in the world are still out there to be told.





In The Eye-Dancers, Mitchell Brant shares this love of collectible comics.  And in chapter one, the narrative describes what the old comic book smell means to him . . .

“He loved the smell of old comic books.  It was musty, but in a special way, like the smell of his grandfather’s attic littered with knickknacks and family mementoes.  A treasure-house smell.”




When I was growing up, in Rochester, New York, one of my favorite activities was browsing through some of the city’s comic book shops.  One shop in particular had a slogan I will never forget.

Boldly emblazoned on the front door were the words: “Where Fantasy Reigns But You Never Get Wet.”  It worked for me!  I still remember the first time I read those words.  I chuckled, shook my head, but also anticipated the wonder that waited within.  When I opened the door, a silver bell chimed, announcing my entrance.

The shop owner, Dan, lived in an old apartment behind the store.  His living space and his shop were separated by a door with chipped paint and a knob rusted with age.  At that time, in the late 1980s, Dan was probably in his midforties, a self-proclaimed hippie with a beard, a mane of thick blond hair that fell halfway behind his back, and a handful of silver chains around his neck, which jangled every time he moved.  He reminded me of the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz, and, from that day forward, I thought of him as The Lion Man.



And whenever I left his store, sometimes with a bag of newly purchased comics, sometimes with just a memory, I would always look forward to the next visit.  The Lion Man was like a stage performer, his comic book shop a house of magic full of gems from a different age, stories just waiting to be devoured.  Sometimes I would think of The Lion Man standing guard in front of some imaginary rainbow-colored bridge, which led to a vibrant world inhabited by green elves and talking forest animals, a world where dreams and wishes, the most daring wishes you ever hoped for, merged together into perfect actualities.



Certainly his comic shop seemed like just such a world.  I’d glance through the inventory, pausing at the high-end issues I knew I’d never be able to afford, pointing at other issues I wanted Dan to open up and show me before deciding whether or not to make the purchase.

One quirk of his shop was that he never priced his inventory.  “I’ll look up the issue in the Price Guide, and we’ll decide on the cost that way,” he said when I asked him where the price tags were.  It was a unique method–I’ve never run across it in any other comics shop, before or since.  Certainly, this wasn’t the place to shop if you were in a rush.  But that didn’t bother me.  I was never in a hurry to leave.

The Lion Man would flip through the issue I wanted to buy, noting its condition, and then he’d look it up in his trusty Overstreet Price Guide, still the industry standard when determining a comic’s value.  Sometimes I would debate the condition with him–a collectible comic’s condition tremendously impacts its sale price.  But eventually we’d hash out our differences and come to a price we both felt good about.  And when we did, The Lion Man would wink at me, place the just-purchased issue back in its protective Mylar sleeve, and we’d go on to the next one.




Several years later, the day came when there would be no next sale at Dan’s store.  When the Internet came along, with its myriad options of online buying and selling, Dan decided to close his shop. “I’m not gonna sell comics on a computer,” he said.  “Too impersonal.”  My knee-jerk reaction was to argue with him.  He could adjust!  He could put his inventory online, and do just fine.  But then I thought about it.

The Lion Man preferred to talk with his customers, bicker over the issue’s condition, haggle back and forth over the price.  While he may have been able to simulate some of that online, it wouldn’t be the same.  A customer wouldn’t be there with him, face-to-face, smelling that old comic book smell in his shop of magic and memories.  They wouldn’t hear the jingle of his silver chains as he shifted his position while flipping through the Price Guide.  They wouldn’t see him wink when a deal was reached.  No.  For Dan, for The Lion Man, it was the start of a new and alien age, and the end of a familiar one.



Sometimes, even today, I wonder how The Lion Man is doing.  It’s been years since his shop closed.  I haven’t spoken with him or had any contact with him this century.  But when I am feeling nostalgic, when a particular week is too hectic or a day too long, I sometimes think of that old comics shop, and I smile.

You may not have a Lion Man in your past, but I am betting that you do have something similar.

Something that, if you remember it, imagine it, go back to it, has the magic to take you away, on a gust of wind, flying high over the land and spreading your wings.

To a place where “fantasy reigns but you never get wet.”



Thanks so much for reading!


39 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. eemoxam
    Dec 13, 2013 @ 14:52:00

    Love that slogan! It’s too bad that the shop closed, but your memories of it are powerful. I wonder if The Lion Man knew how important the shop was to you and that you would remember it so fondly still? Great story.


  2. Fashion Mayann
    Dec 13, 2013 @ 15:55:39

    It would be fantastic if the Lion Man fell in love with Internet, in spite of everything, and read this beautiful post, which is filled with a kind of happy nostalgia ! As a Leo Woman, I’m grateful to have my magical memories (mostly rock concerts in London !) which help me when life is a little bit too rough !


  3. jenniferkmarsh
    Dec 13, 2013 @ 19:32:51

    Gosh, I found this sad :/ Maybe it’s just me being emotional today! But very moving. Beautiful. Thanks for sharing, Mike.


  4. Ste J
    Dec 13, 2013 @ 20:59:08

    I love this, a great blast from the past, a bit retro and a bit. This post reminds me of Umberto eco’s The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana.


  5. Sean Smithson
    Dec 13, 2013 @ 21:18:27

    Nice to see some fellow comic book geeks out there…


  6. Honey
    Dec 14, 2013 @ 06:47:38

    Boy, you need to meet my eldest son. He lives through comic books. I know this because I am searching for a Dare Devil belt buckle for him. The kids in school call him Mr. Batman. He never had a real Comic book store to browse through as he grew up overseas, but in the summer all his money would go to comic books. And he still has them!


  7. Parlor of Horror
    Dec 14, 2013 @ 19:23:31

    great story! I was thinking of something similar when they announced the end of Blockbuster a few months ago – a few people would gather in the horror section every Friday night and we’d discuss the films we had seen and the ones we would reccomend. Years later when the store was long closed, I realized I didn’t know any of these people’s names – only thier smiles and enthusiasm for horror films.


  8. Jilanne Hoffmann
    Dec 15, 2013 @ 07:37:04

    You can’t replace brick n mortar shops. That’s why I continue to walk up the hill to my neighborhood bookstore. I will gladly pay the price to help my neighborhood thrive! As Jennifer said, I find this a sad story. Your memory, though, is beautiful.


  9. Sherri
    Dec 15, 2013 @ 12:32:15

    Such an evocative post Michael, wonderful, and you’ve got me wondering about The Lion Man and what ever happened to him? Think you will have to make it your mission to find out and then let us all know!

    My boys adored their comics. I still have them, yes, up in the loft…

    I remember a shop that my grandmother used to take me to. It was a hardware shop and in the back they had barrels full of goldfish. I never understood why but I was fascinated by them. Stange, huh?


  10. stormy1812
    Dec 15, 2013 @ 17:33:25

    That’s a wonderful slogan! Yes sadly there are somethings that simply don’t translate well to the Internet and that’s unfortunate. Thank you so much for tapping into the nostalgia – it’s a great feeling. As always – wonderful writing. 🙂


  11. lolarugula
    Dec 16, 2013 @ 02:14:04

    You are such a great storyteller, Mike! There is a store where I live (Toad Hall http://toadhallonline.com/) that has been around forever. It’s a true treasure trove of books, comics, music and such. Being on the internet has opened their store up to a whole new audience…the world. I guess it’s all in how you look at things, though certainly nothing will ever replace seeing, feeling and…smelling! 🙂


  12. laurie27wsmith
    Dec 16, 2013 @ 10:06:54

    A love of comics, science fiction and adventure saw me through a difficult childhood. I still like to read the odd comic or two. 🙂


  13. 2embracethelight
    Dec 16, 2013 @ 22:55:07

    For me fantasy is not a thing but an emotion that comes by way of something usually unexpected. And it takes me to a place and a world of wonder that keeps the darkness of the world out- at least for a time of peace. You are a wonderful writer,.


  14. isabelburt
    Dec 17, 2013 @ 01:03:44

    Lovely post!


  15. Laurel Leigh
    Dec 19, 2013 @ 22:43:59

    What a great post and also tribute to the beloved Lion Man. I truly enjoyed this.


  16. FreeRangeCow
    Dec 20, 2013 @ 00:03:26

    For me, it is the musty-smelling LOTR books (the same set I had in childhood) that make me smile! Yay! EXCELLENT post!


  17. likeitiz
    Dec 29, 2013 @ 00:21:34

    Enjoyed this, as always!


  18. stockdalewolfe
    Jan 07, 2014 @ 21:44:13

    Fun post and Lion Man sounds like a real interesting character!
    Thanks for sharing.


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