Valerie's write up on the Last Exit to Brooklyn comic shop should touch a nerve with just about any comics fan. I doubt that I was ever far enough out in Brooklyn to have touched upon the shop that she describes, but there was no shortage of bizarre comic shops in the boroughs. In fact, the very worst comic shop that I ever walked into was actually in Manhattan.
About 3 blocks from the Valiant offices in the Chelsea district, it sat on the same block as the infamous Chelsea Hotel, famous if you were a Sex Pistols fan. I cannot for the life of me remember exactly what the name was, but it sat on west 23rd st, between 7th and 8th Avenue, much of hte time its dingy signage covered by the work awnings as they renovated the Hotel next door.
While on a pretty central street, 23st ceased in the 1990s to be particularly well trafficked past 7th Ave. While the multiplex sat on the corner of 8th ave, the Krispy Creme had yet to open across the street, and the dilapidated Hotel Chelsea seemed like an embarassment: a reminder of another time when New York was broke and subways waited for yet another Bernie Goetz. People would walk by and simply not turn their heads. 8th Ave? Are you crazy? I only go there for B&H to try an talk the Hasidiam into yet another deal.
So this grimy little shop had the greatest accumulation of ill advised promotional items that I recall running accross in all my years. It would be harder to imagine more poorly placed posters for Image books that never shipped or never sold, for Marvel titles that would never be collectible, for Valiant and Acclaim comics that would never lay claim to having the "Shooter" magic touch. The carpet was a non-descript color not chosen because it would hide the accumulated dirt of a thousand unwashed fanboys, but because it had seen that sort of traffic. That is, when the carpet was covering the old floor tiles.
Long and narrow, the shop was filled with all the prerequisites: poorly organized comics in the front, a mixture of spinner racks and wooden displays against the wall, a smattering of the growing threat graphic novels (collections of other superhero crap from the 1980s, some Fantagraphics, or the latest Europorn from Milo Manara), and then rows and rows of cardboard boxes housing essentially all the issues that you didn't need to complete your collection. i never once found a single thing that I was looking for in all those damn long boxes.
Sounds like a lot of other shops doesn't it? It is just that this one did it all, and did it worst. Especially in comparison to the other shops in Manhattan, such a Cosmic Comics, that did well with half the square footage. But Cosmic didn't have the overly large and completely disinterested store owner, asshole staff, and regular crowd of hip hop bloods, street junkies or ratty neighborhood boys that would inhabit the place. While Hanleys was getting the money to go upscale over on 34th Street, this place was a time machine.
Why did I go there, you ask, if it was that bad? I have to say that I had a perverse hatred of it, and would simply go by after leaving the Valiant offices three blocks away, just so that I could dogear a few books and slum it, before I walked cross town to one of the better shops, any of the better shops, to give them my money. Just as record producers would use the legendary car test (taking the song that they had just finished in the studio and play it on the small shitty car speakers to see how the average radio listener would hear it), I wanted to see how the new comics that we were putting out, the latest issue of my Turok or the Grackle, how they would look on the stands.
That place was my lowest common denominator of comic shops. And I never once saw a female in there. Ever.