In the Midst of the Action, a Quiet Remembrance (Or, Hanging Out in the Comic Book Shop)

In recent years, the world has been introduced to the Marvel universe through a series of Hollywood blockbusters, complete with endless action, A-list actors, and hi-tech special effects.  The result has been a surge in superhero popularity.  As a lifelong comic book aficionado and collector of the vintage comics from yesteryear, I view all of this as a positive development.  That said, I am not a huge fan of these movies.  I’ve seen a couple of them, thought they were okay, but I am far from a devoted watcher.


In a way, this seems counterintuitive.  Why wouldn’t I, of all people, who spent a good chunk of my childhood lost in the pages of The Fantastic Four, The Avengers, and The X-Men, be the first in line to see the debut of a new superhero movie based on the comics I love?  Of course, it’s not that I dislike these modern-day box-office smashes.  It’s more . . . I can take them or leave them.  They’re okay.  Not bad.  If I had the choice to watch a recent Marvel movie or an episode of the original Twilight Zone or a rerun of Cheers or The Honeymooners, it wouldn’t be a close call.  I’d go for Serling and the sitcoms!


One reason for this, I suppose, is the fact that I am a comic book purist.  (Is there such a thing?)  I have a deep fondness for the comics themselves, the original stories, created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko and the talented staff at the old Marvel offices back in the 1960s.  So when I see the movie adaptations, which, while endeavoring to be as faithful as possible to these adventures from yesteryear, nevertheless take dozens of liberties with the characters and plotlines, I become, how shall we say, a bit unnerved.  I equate it to watching the film adaptation of a beloved novel.  It’s never the same, and you recognize the cinematic shortcomings and limitations within the first few minutes of the movie.


But it’s more than that.

The movies are loud.  In-your-face.  As they should be.  I’m not criticizing them for that.  They are, after all, action-packed blockbusters replete with the best special effects our technology offers.  But, for me, the comic books I remember, the comic books I still own in boxes and protective Mylar sleeves, are steeped in quiet.  Some of my favorite childhood memories revolve around the comics shop.  When I was a kid, before I was old enough to drive, and before the advent of the mobile digital age revolutionized our culture, my mother would usually take me to the local comic stores.  We didn’t have a comic book shop in our neighborhood.  We needed to travel to the other side of town–generally once or twice a month.  There were a couple of different comic stores we went to.  One was owned by someone I always thought of as The Lion Man.  But the store I went to the most was Empire Comics, located on Rochester, NY’s south side, across the street from Mt. Hope Cemetery, which at nearly 200 acres, is a destination unto itself, and just a few blocks removed from Highland Park, a verdant oasis amidst the urban hustle and bustle, and home every year to the Lilac Festival.


Sometimes I’d go there just with my mother.  Other times, some of my friends would tag along and we might make a day of it–starting out at the comic shop, then maybe taking a hike through the park or the cemetery (which is like a park), all topped off with lunch and ice cream at one of the many local restaurants.  Whoever was with me, though, I always savored my time in the shop.  Empire Comics was long and rectangular.  The owner, Jim, had his best, most valuable comics locked away in a glass display case by the register at the front of the store.  Beyond that, there were rows and rows of back issues, lining the shop, sorted in alphabetical order and arranged by issue number.  The layout and floor plan of the fictional Eastside Comics in The Singularity Wheel, where Mitchell works, is based on the interior of the old Empire Comics. (Empire Comics closed its doors about ten years ago.)


My mother, indifferent to the world of comic books, nevertheless made the most of these sojourns.  She’d talk to Jim and his staff–she was much, much more outgoing than I am.  It got to the point where, when my mother and I walked into the shop, Jim would yell her name, akin to the famous “Norm!” greeting from Cheers.  He wouldn’t shout “Michael!”  No–it was always, “Linda!”  I didn’t mind.  I just wanted to look at the comics.  And buy a few, too.  As my mother chatted away with Jim and the other workers, I lost myself in the comic book bins, browsing through hundreds of back issues.  I’d wander to the back of the shop, take in the sights–for me, it was heaven.  I felt as though I were in a magical cocoon.  It was quiet.  Oftentimes, my mother and I were the only customers in the shop.   I’d get lost in the musty smell of decades-old comic books, and I’d dread the moment when my mother would call over to me and tell me we had to go.


And so when I watch one of the new Marvel movies, they just seem too aloof somehow, too loud.  As the cliche goes, and as I’ve said aloud to more than one Marvel movie, “It’s not you, it’s me.”  Because, for me, those old comic books, those long-ago visits to Jim’s shop, are sacred.  Personal.  They are embedded, tucked away in a corner of my heart, entrenched in a permanent wrinkle of my soul.  In some ways, The Eye-Dancers saga is an extension of this, a literary shout-out to my childhood, the comic books I shared it with, and the remembrances that remain, steadfast and solid, like a faithful and devoted friend.


Will I watch another Marvel movie, despite my lukewarm, even critical, view of them?  Sure.  Any movie that features The Avengers can’t be all bad.  But while I do, you can bet I’ll be thinking of Jim and my mother and the sounds and silences of the old comic book shop on the corner of Langslow and Mt. Hope on the south side of Rochester.


Thanks so much for reading!


24 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. ritaroberts
    Jun 06, 2019 @ 17:40:37

    Hello Mike. It seems the same old story don’t you think. The film is never as good as the book. Nice that you have looked after your comics and can reminisce with those memories .My interest has always been antique pottery which I have collected over the years. This is where I can reminisce by remembering where and when I bought it. Great fun !!


  2. shellelp
    Jun 06, 2019 @ 20:52:41

    I appreciate your story in a way only someone who grew in a no digital era could. However, I olook at it the another way. My son and his friends now take those disapearing comic book shops seriously and have stories of their own about them because the MCU gace a them a jumping point.


    • The Eye-Dancers
      Jun 08, 2019 @ 11:57:47

      That’s a good point! It can work in reverse. Someone introduced to the Marvel universe via the movies can then discover the comic books. Glad to hear this is happening.:)


  3. Mary J. McCoy-Dressel
    Jun 06, 2019 @ 23:44:40

    It was so cool of your mom to take you to the comic shops. Thanks for the trip down memory lane, Mike.


  4. Veronica Wild
    Jun 07, 2019 @ 07:24:17

    Love reminiscing in those ‘wrinkle’ moments. I have a few myself. 😉


  5. Trackback: In the Midst of the Action, a Quiet Remembrance (Or, Hanging Out in the Comic Book Shop) | Eye-Dancers | Fantasy Gifts: Books, News, Art, Gift Collectibles, and Product Resources
  6. joannerambling
    Jun 08, 2019 @ 01:57:49

    Movies or TV shows based on books or other written work rarely hit the mark in my opinion


  7. Anna Waldherr
    Jun 12, 2019 @ 17:07:48

    A loving tribute to your mother and the comic stores of days gone by. You highlight what is personal about reading a comic book (or other book, for that matter). We see the characters in our mind’s eye as much as on the page, if not more. We join w/ the author in giving them life, so participate in the story.

    I, too, am distressed when the film version of a beloved book differs from the original on which it was based.

    But movies — which, by the way, I, also, love — are simply a different medium. They are intended to immerse us. Today’s sound and special effects can very nearly overwhelm us! Going to the movies is more a communal experience, less a personal one. We share popcorn w/ a friend, lean over and comment to one another. That creates a bond, a shared memory.

    I’ve learned to appreciate both experiences. Let’s hope we get to see your books on the big screen!


    • The Eye-Dancers
      Jun 13, 2019 @ 13:26:46

      Thanks so much, Anna! Agreed.:) Because they are such different mediums, it’s probably not even fair to compare the movie to the book (or the comic book)! Still, when watching a movie based on a book, it’s almost impossible not to make those comparisons.:( And that would sure be a dream come true to see The Eye-Dancers on the Silver Screen.:)


  8. Karina Pinella
    Jun 13, 2019 @ 03:41:50

    I can see why it would be a different experience. Although the comics consist of pictures with the story, there is still the silent part, as you indicated, that allows you to use your imagination as you read and look at the pictures. It somehow becomes more personal because it’s through your own lens that you’re viewing the story before you. On the other hand, the movie with the sound and the movie maker’s interpretation of the superhero characters you so cherished may not quite mesh with your own interpretation and so there is a let down. I find this to happen to me when I read a book I really like and then it is made into a movie. I will tend to be more critical of the movie.


    • The Eye-Dancers
      Jun 13, 2019 @ 13:30:01

      Hi Karina! That is a good point that books are more personal because we use much more of our imagination when we read them, whereas with movies, the imagination is not needed or relied on as much, as the movie itself fills in many of the gaps that exist on the written page. I guess this is why we almost always imagine characters one way when reading a book and then, in the movie, they seem different from how we thought they’d be. Every now and then, a movie seems to get it right, but those instances are the exception, not the rule. Always great hearing from you.:)


  9. fragglerocking
    Jun 17, 2019 @ 12:47:05

    I never read the comics so had nothing to compare the movies to, and I do love the movies. Also when I visited my friend in Rochester she took me to Mount Hope Cemetary, amazing place.


    • The Eye-Dancers
      Jun 17, 2019 @ 12:50:03

      Mount Hope is indeed an amazing place! And the fact that it’s just a couple of blocks from another amazing place, Highland Park, is, well, amazing! The south side of Rochester is quite a jewel.


  10. firewater65
    Jul 04, 2019 @ 14:02:30

    Love this, and I grok. The same nostalgia you have for comic book shops is the one I feel in the musty stacks of libraries and used book stores. No, the movies aren’t exactly the same thing because nothing can live up to the movies we create in our minds, can it? Great write.


  11. Lyn
    Jul 15, 2019 @ 09:47:34

    I’m cautious about going to see movies based on books. The best one I’ve seen so far is the Narnia – The Lion, the witch and the Wardrobe.


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