You know what’s great? Buying nerd stuff. Comic books, dice, RPG rule books, dice, miniatures, dice…there’s something pure in the experience of having a new piece of nerdiness in your hands. And as much as I love the convenience of ordering off Amazon, there are some things you can’t quite recreate in the experience of going to a brick and mortar comic book store.
Wait, hold on. Don’t go away. This isn’t another ‘phones are bad, online ordering ruins everything’ blog post. I’m waiting on groceries I ordered off an app on my phone as I write this. When it arrives, the only human interaction I’ll have to make is thanking the delivery person. I spend the majority of my budget (that doesn’t go to bills) on the internet.
But the comic book store is something different. Something special. It’s an experience, something you can’t get off the internet.
Let me explain the three main reasons I love going to physical locations for my nerd needs.
Meeting People with Shared Interests
The nerd is a reclusive animal. Most of us shun the hateful day orb and its heat whenever possible, going outside only when absolutely required, and doing so under the cover of darkness when we can. Or maybe I’m just weird in that regard. However, it can be hard to meet fellow nerds in meatspace. If you go to a bar, there will probably be nerds there – but you won’t be able to tell they’re nerds. Once upon a time, someone wearing a Captain America shirt or talking about Superman or debating Star Wars trilogies or discussing fantasy stories was a clear way to mark them as a nerd.
Nowadays, that just makes them a person who consumes popular culture.
Overall, that’s awesome. I love that more and more people share my interests, and I have an ever-expanding roster of people I can talk with about those things. But as ubiquitous as formerly nerdy things have become, there are some parts of nerd ephemera that haven’t made it into the mainstream yet. Comic books movies are big, but comic books themselves haven’t gotten much larger. Tabletop RPGs are breaking into the mainstream through celebrity podcasts and youtube channels, but that ‘breaking into’ is more taking the form of ‘nudging their toe into.’
So you have to find fellow nerds. And if you want to do that, there’s no better place than the comic book store.
Here you’ll find your people, in all their awkward glory. The nerds, the geeks, the freaks from across walks of life congregate in the comic book store. You’ll find whatever you’re looking for. Need a tabletop group? They’ll be there. Want to find a group to play Magic: the Gathering with? Head on down to the comic shop. Want to discuss an obscure anime that was never even subtitled in English? Might take a couple of trips, but you’ll find someone.
And if you’re not a nerd yourself, but want to delve deeper into the more obscure hobbies that surround our subculture…well, you’ll never in your life find a more eager instructor than a nerd given the opportunity to tell a newcomer about their favorite parts of nerddom. We crave a chance to ramble about our deepest interests, and given the chance to tell a new person all about it…trust me, you’ll get a more in-depth introduction that you could possibly imagine. All of which will help you narrow things down when it comes to…
Finding and Selection
Defining the term nerd is a tricky one. Generally speaking, I define it as someone with interests in the sphere of science fiction, fantasy, horror, and related genres that devotes themselves to it with a passionate degree bordering on obsessive. (If you have a nerd-level interest in something not related to that sphere, I mentally add another noun to the descriptor – cooking nerd, celebrity nerd, sports nerd, etc. No gatekeeping intended!)
One side effect of that borderline obsessive interest is that nerds tend to have a great depth of knowledge in their chosen subjects, but very little breath. Find someone who is a nerd obsessed with comic books and ask them about anime or visa-versa. Unless they are passionate about the other one, there’s a good chance they know the big names and nothing else. Which means if you want to break out of your particular nerdy sphere, you’ll have no idea where to begin.
That’s where the staff of the comic book store comes in.
If you’re only familiar with comic book store staff from tv shows and movies, you probably have a very particular image of them. Overweight, poorly groomed white guys that look down on the customer. While I’m sure those types do exist, I’ve never actually encountered one that fits that descriptor.
No, they’re tall and lanky poorly groomed white guys that look down on the customer.
I kid, I kid. In my experience, comic book store employees run the gamut of people, same as any other customer service industry – but unlike, say, working at a Walmart, you don’t work at a comic book store just because you need a job. You work in that field because you have a genuine passion both for the nerdy things and for helping people find the bits of nerddom that suit them.
And they’re damn good at it.
Let’s say you want to get into comic books. You already know anime. Your favorite is Attack on Titan because you love the plot twists and borderline nihilistic plotline where anyone could die. You want a comic that scratches that same itch, but you don’t know where to start. So you ask the guy or girl behind the counter where you should start.
They’ll immediately be able to help direct you to the Watchmen graphic novel, or to the Marvel Knights imprint that ran from 1998-2013 and while it might not be in stock on the shelves he is pretty sure he has a few trade paperbacks in the back or if you’d rather wait they’re doing a reprint run that started in 2018 but hasn’t been collected in trade paperback yet however he has some back issues in this box right over here…
I exaggerate for effect, but only slightly. The staff at these stores are there because they want to share their passion, and they’re damn good at helping you find the best thing for your interest. This also works for non-nerds – if you can tell them what kind of stories you like, and why you like them, they can help you find something nerdy that will suit you.
All of this makes it…
A Comfortable Place to be a Nerd
If you’re a member of Generation Z or even younger, I’m sure you know that nerds used to get picked on pretty hard because you’re aware of popular culture. I’ve heard things are better these days, which is awesome. Seriously, you shouldn’t have to suffer for the things you like.
Personally, I’m old enough to remember when my copy of the Dungeon Master’s Guide was slapped out of my hands to the laughter of an entire classroom. Of high schoolers. It makes it hard to be comfortable talking about nerdy things in a public space. Even though things are better now (from what I hear), I imagine even for the younger generation it can be awkward talking about things the people around you aren’t interested in or aren’t as interested in as you are.
Comic book stores are a safe space. No one is going to judge you for liking Yu-Gi-Oh when they’re there to pick up the latest issue of Daredevil.
Again, if you know about comic book stores from popular culture, you might think you’re going to get talked down to for not liking the same things as someone else. While I won’t lie and say that never happens, generally speaking, you’ll be to find someone who shares your interest to one degree or another. Even if they don’t, they’ll typically just shrug and say “I’m not that into that.” Pretty much every horror story you’ve heard about comic book stores is either based on media stereotypes or living proof that bad stories spread much faster than good ones.
For the most part, what you’ll find in comic book stores are people who are profoundly interested in finding people who share their hobbies. Remember, these are the nerds that are willing to brave the sunlight to be around other nerds. They’re people who want to talk about the things they’re interested in with other people who share those interests.
So get out of your home. Cover yourself in your favorite fandom outfits. Grab your dice or your cards or your character sheets. Head down to the comic book store, and let your freak flag fly.
Just put some sunscreen on if it’s been more than a year since you last saw the sun.
Have some good experiences or fun stories with comic book stores? Tell me about them in the comments below. And while you’re here, pick up a copy of my free book. I promise, it’s very nerd-friendly.