The co-owner of the 2012 Dig This award-winner for Best Comics Shop in Camberville fills some speech bubbles on the biz, the medium,
and what makes Comicazi so damn special.
What was your introduction to comics?
I was a terrible reader. My mom was a teacher, and she decided she was going to help me to read better, so she had bought me whatever’s on the spinner rack. The second that I read them, I was hooked, not just on comics but on reading. None of us just read comics, you know what I mean? All three of the owners here are just avid, avid readers. Every kind. We love stories. I think comics really opened me up to any kind of story. It didn’t allow me to get pigeonholed into “I just read crime” or “I just read romance,” or whatever it might be.
It opened my eyes to many different kinds of stories, and the fact that they can all be wonderful.
What are your favorite comics?
It just changes so often, so, y’know. I can go from really, really be loving something that’s out this week to digging out some comics from the sixties.
What do you like this week, for instance?
The Massive, Brian Wood. I don’t know where it’s gonna go, but it’s a nice introduction to a world that’s kind of refreshing. It’s a little different post-apocalyptic and different take, definitely, cause you’ve got Y: The Last Man, you’ve got The Walking Dead, these are all kind of post-apocalyptic futures, and this one’s far, far from both of those. So far, so good, I’m really enjoying that.
What are the best and worst parts of your job here?
That’s tough. The best, there’s tons of good. We have a huge community here. My parents came to visit this past week, and they were staying with us, and I’m driving down the street, and I’m waving to Officer Tom, who comes in and gets his Warhammer. I can’t go far without bumping into somebody that I know through the store, and what a big outstretched community that has become.
I can’t go four feet without finding someone who enjoys all of what I enjoy, so that’s always really, really nice. Your day is always a good one, for sure.
The thing that’s not as good? The job. It’s a job. This is my career. This is serious business. You’re having a shop in the city. That means multiple thousands of dollars a month in rent. You’re signing contracts for your lease that are half a million to a million dollars. That’s no joke. You have got to be on your game. You cannot afford to be lazy or not embrace the community. You can’t be gruff. You can’t be a lot of things, and that’s definitely a hard part, sometimes.
Has the running of the business, has working here changed your opinion of comics? Do you ever get discouraged in any way, or not like certain comics because of the fact that it’s also a business?
No, I love ‘em, I love ‘em. One has very little to do with the other. I used to manage Berman’s Wine and Spirits in Lexington, which is a huge business, been around for 100 years. Why was I able to run that business as well as this one? Because it’s a job. One thing translates to the other. You can’t blame things on, like, “DC’s doing this, now, and that’s terrible.” That has nothing to do with how you run your business. They’re still coming out every week. Bad wine crop this year for Pinot? Great Cabernet’s the way to go. When it comes down to it, people who get caught up in whether or not that matters are gonna find themselves struggling in business, I think.
Put it this way: If I’m not liking the new DC stuff, that doesn’t mean their Vertigo stuff isn’t fantastic. I enjoyed Sweet Tooth, I enjoyed iZombies. Stories: There’s always a good one out there. They’re publishing how many a week and you can’t find a good story? Of course you can! There’s tons of ‘em. And if you don’t like what comics are doing, it’s like the weather in New England—wait a while. It’s not back around to exactly the way you want it, but it’s gonna be pretty close.
Probably with any kind of storytelling … books, movies, and stuff.
Yeah! It cycles around to what people are needing. I mean, this is entertainment. They’re not gonna put out shows that don’t sell. If it’s out there, that means that they as a company, their best foot is forward, and they’re doing what they need to make sales. If it wasn’t working, they’d stop. That’s how I look at it. Not so much on the worries of comicdom and double covers, and blah blah blah. People get very caught up in that.
It’s all good. Work with it, or don’t buy into it, one way or the other.
What’s a shift here normally like?
It’s a little different. We’ve got quite a few employees here, so I’m writing the schedule and checking the banking. I’m doing a lot of that kind of stuff. A regular, on the floor kind of shift? A lot of recommendations, a lot of asking, seeing what brings you into the shop and what is it about the shop that’s exciting to you. I’m always super curious to see what people’s imaginations come up with, and what gets them going, and what gives them joy.
I found the same thing at Million Year Picnic. People would come in, and Tony would recommend, talk with me about, like, “Oh, this is good, and you should read this,” and I thought, “There’s a lot of community within.” I find that it’s kind of hard to find that at bookstores, like regular bookstores.
It’s too vast, I think. I don’t think that people have that connectivity. They’re not as willing to jump from the self-help section down to the horror aisle. It’s too much of a commitment. I think, a trade, you can get it in within an hour to three hours, depending on who’s writing it, to enjoy it. I mean, I can read a lot faster than that. Somebody who’s gonna buy a book, and spend fifteen, twenty dollars on it, to go home, and to have a few hours entertainment and flip through. It’s much easier for a comic reader to try something different. You could just get an issue, to see if you like it. You don’t have to buy the trade. You could just buy that, or a mini-series that’s cheaper, or get the trade, or the hardcover! There’s so many options on one story that I think it’s easier to be recommended to in the time constraints, I think that helps.
But at the end of the day, if you don’t have someone to talk about what stories you read, they’re a little hollow.
No, but somebody told me that I should.
And Fables, much like any comic book, the characters that are in it are stronger and more powerful based on how many people know them. Their popularity is what makes them strong. That really makes sense, because Batman, Superman are always gonna be strong, people are always talking about them. Every few years, somebody’s always gonna ask “what’s going on with Superman?” There’s gonna be a movie, there’s gonna be something. Those characters have longevity, and it cycles, too, but there’s a lot of strength in them for that reason. People like to talk about what makes them excited, because it’s what your hobby is, it’s what you’re interested in. Some people that like Superman, it’s like “Why do you like Superman?” “Well, I like that he’s earnest, and that he has these neat powers, and that he’s not an earthling.” And the same person could be like “That’s why I don’t like him. That’s why I like Batman, ‘cause he’s just a person.” You get to know people and, to be honest with you, it’s funny, even if you’re both on Batman or Superman, you’re still loving comics.
You wouldn’t turn down one story or the other. You’d still take it. You can’t say that about books.
What do you think that Comicazi has that other comic book might not have?
We have comedy twice a month on the first Saturday and last Saturday. There’s stand up and we have improv [called ComedyCazi]. We have a drawing class on Monday nights. We have game nights twice a week. We have the sci-fi book club of Boston that comes here once a month to discuss a book. We’ve got Pathfinder three or four times a month, they come in and have mini RPG sessions. Plus our comic book club, like I said, which has been going on for five, six years, now, and that’s twice a month. Drink and Draw, we do trivia. We do everything, here. We have a huge community, and it’s very important to us, and we enjoy all of these folks that come. And we make sure that everyone’s welcome.
You get any kind of elitism here, you’re not working for me, I don’t want you.
We’ve fought so hard and so long to have our hobby and our weird niche become popular and to be credible. People get really indignant about it at times, and it is credible. It’s a huge moneymaker. People know that now. It’s broken through, this is mainstream. The counterculture is gone in this genre, I think. Everybody’s got tattoos and piercings and has read Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, and who cares? So we don’t have a need to have that elitism anymore.
For us, we have more women at our events than we do men. Our book club is sixty, seventy percent women. Board game nights, you’d think, “Okay, what level of geek are you?” All that stuff, and it’s like the gamer there, too, and it’s like no! Tons of ladies, tons of couples, tons of people. It literally has hit the point where it is mainstream, and I think that’s what we do better. We are open to the whole community, no matter who they are. In general, I think the comic community can be a very forgiving and open place to live in. I think we accept all kinds of folks and, much like a story, all of those unique differences in us are all worth having.
We do something every day. We have the space to support the community, to support back. And most of these events are free, or they’re a dollar for your chair. The comedy guys charge five bucks each, but most of it is free. We try to put it out there, and usually, it’s brought back tenfold.
People are really appreciative and respectful, and all of the things that you’d expect out of a community they’ve brought to the table. It’s just awesome.
[Comicazi, 407 Highland Ave., Somerville. @Comicazi. comicazi.com]