This year marks the 75th anniversary of Superman, which means this is my 25th anniversary of selling comic books for a living. I started my journey in the spring of 1988 at Metropolis Comics on Main Street, when Superman was a mere youth of 50. So I have been "slinging funnies" for one third of the history of superhero comics.
After leaving Metropolis Comics and venturing as a convention-only seller for a couple years, I eventually opened my own store in spring of 1991. Marty even confessed chuckling with his brother Jim at the time I opened up my first store thinking I was crazy that I thought I could make a living selling comics. Well he was right and wrong. Wrong that you can't make a living selling comics, toys, cd's, dvd's and general pop culture ephemera. The part where Marty was right, is yeah, it’s a pretty crazy concept.
Over the 25 years we have had quite a few interesting folks pass through the doors. To say we have an eclectic customer base is an understatement. Lawyers, doctors, Caterpillar executive’s all buy comics. Right along side to the Pizza Hut delivery guy and the dude blowing diaper money on video games.
We've had share of local celebrities to purchase gifts or browse; particularly Journal Star and TV media folks. Always cordial, Jim Maloof would stop by occasionally purchasing storage cubes for autographed baseballs and basketballs.
When in the area, John Dolmayan, drummer for System Of A Down, has stopped by and purchased a large collections of pre-1970 comics. He was cool to the people in the store who recognized him, signing autographs for those who asked.
An unmasked Slipknot visited quite a few times. Being from Iowa, they were familiar with Central Illinois and had tattoo work done here. They always spent a ton of money but always trashed the store. Nothing bad, but I always had to put back misplaced books and unfolded t-shirts. I figured out who they were by the third time they visited, always coinciding with a show booking here. Plus here was this huge group of rock-type guys talking about Slipknot loudly and wondering where they could be in Peoria. My tattoo artist brother in-law verified the story.
About 15 years ago an unassuming 50-ish year-old guy came in and asked for the comic "Red Rocket 7" by Mike Allred, kind of an obscure small press comic. Fortunately I had it in stock. He told me he was featured in it and was a friend of the creator. It was Johnny Tillotson, who's early pop hits were "Poetry in Motion" and "Walk Back Tremblin' Lips", he was a really great guy and hung out for about a half hour before his show. I think he was sort of surprised that I knew who he was and could rattle off a few of hits. Before he left he hopped into his limo and gave each of us greatest hits cd's that he signed.
For 20 years I was fortunate to travel the country doing comic book and collectible convention/flea markets. Most shows have some celebrities present for signings. Star Trek conventions were the most fun, though I'm not a big Trek aficionado, the fans are enthusiastic and threw great after-show hotel parties.
I saw Gene Roddenberry and Leonard Nimoy once, pretty decent guys. William Shatner is exactly the same off-screen as on, except with a few more drinks in him. Star Trek folklore tells of Shatner continually drinking from the limo picking him up on Friday until Sunday night on the way to the airport.
Marina Sirtis, from Next Generation is really tiny and even more attractive in person. She often walks though the dealer room and chatting.
On the other hand, Jeri Ryan was a real prima donna.
The one comic show I did with her appearing Ryan sat a table behind a curtain with four bodyguards. Only one person at a time could view her, no pictures, $100 per 8 x 10 photo. Since I had a dealer badge and low regard for her status I managed to cut behind one curtain and gaze at her. I intentionally slowly crept to the side of her trying to maintain the most ridiculous fawning fanboy perv look on my face. Eventually her thugs caught sight when I was within a few feet. I "played stupid", said I was a lost vendor looking for the hot dog stand. They told me to leave at once.I did and once I was out of their sight yelled "Jeri's got great tits!"
I always said Barack Obama would never have been president if Jeri Ryan enjoyed kinky sex. Her ex-husband was Illinois Senator nominee Jack Ryan, who got booted in a Chicago sex scandal. He was replaced by Alan Keyes who lost to Obama in the Senate race and the rest is history.
Meeting boyhood Batman idols, Adam West and Burt Ward was awe inspiring, but meeting Catwoman, Julie Newmar was a trip. She's at least 6 foot tall, thin and kind of frail but an enormous head! I mean 1.5 normal size! Newmar has a very artistic aura to her, really far out chick. Her Catwoman persona is not far from her real personality.
The other Batgirl, Yvonne Craig, was quite a different story. She seemed really impressed with herself, considering her claim to fame is Batgirl, an Elvis movie, and she was briefly married to Jimmy Boyd who sang "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.
June Lockhart was very protective of her image and does few shows. I saw her take a camera away from a fan because he took a quick photo without her permission. Bodyguards swarmed and confiscated the camera. For a gal who played second fiddle to a collie in "Lassie" and a robot in "Lost in Space" I can't see the hubbub.
My wife and I met Mark Godard of Lost in Space fame in a Dallas hotel bar. He talked and bought drinks for a couple hours. He told stories of partying with Jack Nicholson and crazy California days in the 60's.
I met Famous Monster of Filmland magazine creator Forry Ackerman numerous times. He had the largest horror/sci-fi movie collection around and always told me to visit him when in Los Angeles. Met Ed Wood protoge, Dolores Fuller, at one of the horror conventions I attended with Ackerman. At the hotel party Saturday night the DJ played the Elvis tune, "Do the Clam" which Fuller wrote after her split from Ed Wood. My wife twisted with Forry, while I rumbaed with Dolores. Good times.
Lou "The Hulk" Ferrigno has a reputation of not being too nice unless a $20 bill passes his way, no free pix, handshake, nothing! Show me the money. All of the WWF guys were great always willing to do pictures and sign for a small fee. Ted Dibiase, Iron Shiek, Sgt Slaughter, Roddy Piper, Hillbilly Jim all were pretty cool.
Also on the more than gracious and will talk all day if they had the time—Cindy Williams from Laverne and Shirley, Bionic Woman Lindsey Wagner, Mickey Dolenz, Buck Rogers Gil Gerard, and Larry Storch.
Margot Kidder—nice, but I think she still hears voices in that kooky noggin of hers. John Astin, Gomez from Addams Family, is a lot taller than I thought, had a posse of bodyguards and collects Big Little Books. His son Sean Astin, of Lord of the Rings fame, gleefully signed autographs when strolling the dealers room.
Billy Dee Williams was as cool as cool could be, just don't bring Colt .45 material to sign. He disassociated himself from his earlier promo gig in the 70's and 80's.
Stan Lee is the ultimate promo man. Met him at a few retailer only meetings and comic conventions. Shook hands, signed books and allowed fans to recollect their favorite stories with him. I would hire that guy in an instant to sell ice to Eskimos. FYI not a hairpiece but a transplant.
I shot darts with current comic artist legend, Jim Lee. Robert Crumb is nice but odd. Shocking I know. He did like to sign for fans.
I also frequently sold obscure horror movies to Johnny Ramone and pre-code 50's horror comics to Lux Interior of the Cramps. Misfits band member Bobby Steele frequented east coast horror movie shows. This is also where Clive Barker in Sharpie inked a demon on a girl's bare ass with it's tongue penetrating her nether regions. Leave it to Clive.
Whenever I get a little down on myself thinking of the "shoulda's and coulda's" I like to recall these and many other stories. This can't happen sitting behind a desk or waiting for something exciting to come to you. I found it, sought out the unusual and eccentric in the world and figured out a way to make a living from it.
I feel pretty lucky to have been able to throw a dart on the map, visit the city, come back with a few extra bucks in my pocket and have stack of stories to tell. I started selling comics as a whim thinking what the hell—to quote Bob Dylan: "When you ain’t got nothin',you gotta nothin’ to lose.” Fortunately it worked out for me.
Even if I lost everything tomorrow, I still have my stories and memories, thankfully, those you can't lose.