The Comic Pimp: Issue #23

Fri, February 20th, 2004 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
James Sime, Columnist

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A COMIC PIMP

Today is Thursday February 19th, and the countdown clock to my favorite weekend of the entire year is ticking down to zero. It's APE Weekend, the two-day whirlwind comic book celebration that happens every year when the Alternative Press Expo hits the city of San Francisco and a man's liver like Owen Hart hitting the cement floor.

Traditionally the whole month of February is nuts with new faces and old amigos around my sexy little comic lounge out here on the West Coast. And not just from all the comic connoisseurs that come into the city of San Francisco who take time out of their trip to see if my shop actually lives up to the hype. Or all the comic pimping creators who show up at my doorstep with a fistful of funnybooks looking to score some shelf space or to make a quick buck off a generous retailer. Or all the comic industry personas and personalities who I've become fast friends with who stop in to say hello. But, as regular readers of this column won't be even remotely surprised to hear, also because I hold one hell of a bash every Saturday night of APE Weekend, APE AFTERMATH.

But before you tune out and think you know where this column is going, think again. This isn't some kind of ad for my party. Not even close. Last year I packed around three hundred APE attending sexy comic nerds and nerdettes into my tiny little comic lounge in celebration of APE AFTERMATH and frankly, I don't think we could even fit more people into my store even if I wanted to. And I don't want to.

This week I'm going to talk about what it's like to be James Sime, proprietor of San Francisco's Isotope - the comic book lounge, retailer, and professional comic pimp. Since the inception of this column I've gotten a near-constant flow of emails from comic Epicureans out there who are thinking about making their own mark on the industry and considering jumping into the fucking deep end of it all… they're thinking about getting into the world of comic retail.

The fucking front lines.

I'm all about the retailers of the future. I'm all about the ass-kicking, take-no-prisoners mad men and wild women who are stepping in to stand at the precipice of a new age in comic industry and we're going to be there right with them. Over the next month, The Comic Pimp is going to start getting serious about the retailers and the comic stores… because there's not one damn thing sexier than those who are willing to risk everything to give birth to the future.

If I achieve nothing else from this series of weekly columns than to share a modicum of my knowledge with this industry's future risk takers, rule breakers and image makers then my job here has been a complete success. And we're going to do just that, my friends. We're going to share the wisdom, spread the inspiration, and pour four fingers for the retailing revolution that has only begun to reinvent and re-imagine the comic industry.

With that in mind, this week I'm going to pull back the wizard's curtain and give you a snapshot of my life deep in the thick of the busiest week of my life… at least, the busiest week of my life until next year rolls around.

My morning began early, perhaps not earlier than yours, but early nevertheless. It was 5:30 am when I rolled the cat off my legs and crawled out of bed to get to work on my Isotope Award for Excellence in Mini-Comics presentation speech. That stupid speech class I had back in collage that I thought I'd never use? Yeah, I'm fucking using it, so what? It's a small thing to be up at five thirty in the morning writing my speech, the cause is a righteous one, and it's one that I'm damn proud to be part of. I get to help do a little promotion of the comic industry's true underground comics and creators and I get to throw a cool award ceremony to celebrate it too… and I get to hand out a trophy for mini-comics every year.

Picking this year's winner was an exceptional challenge. As always, there were a plethora of top-notch mini-comics, which was great for the judges' reading enjoyment and agony to pick which one was the best of the best. And this year presented a unique challenge in time control when we found out that one of the entries had sat around in post office limbo for nearly two weeks and never made it in the door. Now this wasn't exactly our fault or the creator's fault, the book was sent on time and the San Francisco post office had the package, only they never brought it to the Isotope. And if they left one of those sticky door notes telling us to come pick up the package, well, we didn't get that either. Perhaps it's not our problem that the minis didn't make it in, but our judges are a bunch of softies, so we had the creator re-send his package, including the original envelope just to keep everything on the up and up.

The mini-comic in question was Jim Massey's excellent "Death Takes a Holiday" which you may have seen serialized on www.nextcomics.com, or seen the big brother version on the shelves of your local comic shop in the form of a self published professionally printed comic that Jim put out late last year. All of our judges really enjoyed the minis he sent, which combined with the additional time constraints that re-accepting his submission caused, only made our judging process even that much more difficult.

Check it out, I think you'll like what his book has to offer as much as we do.

You can buy yourself copies of "Death Takes a Holiday" in both mini and full-size form directly from Jim at Varmint Press.

But "Death Takes a Holiday" isn't the winner of the 2004 Isotope Award for Excellence in Mini-Comics. To find out what is you'll either have to attend our official ceremony at 9pm on Saturday the 21st at 1653 Noriega St. here in San Francisco, or wait until I make the official announcement next week.

I had spoken to this year's award winner on the phone the night before and, as usual, the person we did choose was completely blown away by being picked as our winner. That's one of the best parts of the whole gig, breaking the news to the winners, because just like last year the person we chose had no idea it was coming. Sure it's easy to love mini-comic creators for the genuine humility that they all seem to have, but I love them more for laboring away in the trenches of our industry making some of the most innovative and diverse works out there. Unsung heroes, true, but heroes nonetheless.

So let me just say to each and every one of you out there forging the future of our industry out of paper and Xerox toner… although I can only present one award per year, I appreciate you for everything you do to make this industry great. You're out there in the trenches making comics and as far as I'm concerned you're all champions and it never gets old giving praise where praise is due. Keep 'em coming!

But enough of the sappy stuff, I've got a fucking column to write! So back to the day at hand…

Once I'd gotten a rough draft of my speech down, I dug out a complete run of "Thor Vikings" from my personal comic collection, because one of my regulars needed an issue, although he wasn't even sure which one it was that he needed. But that doesn't matter, what's important is that when my people need comics it's my job to help them get their comics.

Pulling comics out of their own collections to fill holes in their customer's collections is something that I think most retailers do more often than people realize. Particularly in this day of the trade paperback, good comic retailers who magically "find" comic books for their people are often doing it by strip-mining their personal collections. Not because they don't love the comics, because anybody who is crazy enough to own a comic store obviously has mad, crazy love for the funnybooks. It just so happens that they also have a little bit of love for their people too, and many retailers are willing to make a few sacrifices to keep their people happy. Something you might want to keep in mind next time your retailer hooks you up with a sold-out book. But, hey don't feel sorry for me, baby. You know I got the trade!

Next up on my day's agenda was driving in to the shop and setting up my Broken Frontier fund-raiser sets that I was talking about in a previous column just a couple weeks back. All told, we raised those boys a solid 250 bucks without even breaking a sweat, and I got yet another excuse to talk about comics I enjoy. In my mind you don't get a much better fundraiser than that! It was great seeing so many people get behind this good cause, and you know that some of that credit has to go to the Broken Frontier's creative efforts to make the fund-raising effort more interesting for everyone. If this is the future of industry fundraising, I can't wait to see the crazy antics future comics fundraisers will provide.

Next up on my day's agenda was a trip to the dry cleaners to pick up a huge stack of my suits. When you wear a suit every day of your life, even to dive bars and filthy rock and roll concerts, you get to be fast friends with your dry cleaner. My guy's name is Thomas, pronounced "toe-mas." He's a fun guy who loves his work, and as much as I l appreciate this fine gentleman who keeps my suits fully pressed and lightly starched, every day I leave that place I thank the gods above that I get to pimp comics for a living. Sure, Thomas gets to watch E! True Hollywood Story all day long, but I'm happy to give up a little bit of knowledge about Carmen Electra's marriage with Dennis Rodman if it means I get to hang out at a cool comic shop and talk about the fine ladies that Wally Wood drew and the cool comics Greg Rucka writes all day long. Truly this is the life!

Then I got on the phone with Steve from San Francisco's best micro-brewery Speakeasy Brewery to confirm that one barrel of the twenty-six barrel limited brewing of their malt-beverage tour-de-force, the Speakeasy Double Daddy, would arrive in time for the APE AFTERMATH festivities. A few weeks back we tried this beer straight from the vat during Brian Wood Month and it was so good it nearly made Bri cry. Steve happily told me he's delivering the treasured brew right to the Isotope's front door this Friday. Beautiful.

I followed up my phone call with an email to this year's Isotope Award for Excellence in Mini-Comics winner. Well, okay, I actually read the emails Isotope Special Projects Director Kirsten Baldock wrote, but it was just as much fun seeing how expertly she did at getting all the details arranged and calming the inevitable pre-ceremony jitters. Have I mentioned that this is going to fucking rock?

Then I sat down to spend a little time with you, my readers, and write this week's column. But I found out pretty quickly that writing the column at the store just wasn't going to happen because, as is known to happen, the Isotope suddenly erupted into a little comic convention itself.

Ryan "Scurvy Dogs" Yount was already at the store because Thursday is his featured day behind the Isotope counter. But just because the guy works for me doesn't mean that I don't think that he's putting out one of the best comic books on the market today. "Scurvy Dogs" is a true phenomenon mixing high seas pirate adventure with madcap humor that any member of Monty Python would be proud to call their own. Don't take my word for it, get out to your local comic dealer and pick up a copy of his book. Or, if you'd like, you could go see what he and Andrew Boyd have got going on over on their website www.scurvy-dogs.com.

When Manny Bello walked in the door, I knew things were going get fun at the Isotope. Manny's one of the Isotope's regulars and has been getting his weekly comic fix at this location for years. He's a really laid-back kind of guy who has terrific taste in comic books, but like comic store regulars the world over, Manny's got some amazing talent that he rarely shows people. At least, that's what it was like before he blew my mind last November when he brought in his portfolio to show me. Now, up until this point, Manny had never even mentioned that he was an artist, so you can imagine my surprise when I opened his portfolio to find that Manny is a fantastic undiscovered comic book artist! His art has a Paul Grist style filtered through Bernie Mirault with a little Moebius thrown in for good measure. His portfolio completely knocked my socks off.

"Holy shit, Manny. This is fucking amazing! Why aren't you making comics? You're ready to go." I exclaimed, stabbing my finger at page after page of glorious fully realized comic book art.

"Ready to go?" He looked at me like he had no idea what I was talking about.

"Yeah, ready to go. You're fucking ready to go! You should be shopping your stuff to Oni or Dark Horse or Image or…" I turned my head slowly and looked over at AIT-PlanetLar publisher Larry Young, who happened to be at the store at the time talking to a customer. One look at Manny's portfolio and Larry gave him a job on the spot doing an original graphic novel called "Hench."

Larry describes "Hench" as "the story of Mike Fulton, a guy who reluctantly makes his living 'henching' for supervillians. But, as befitting an AiT/PlanetLar book, Adam and Manny have turned in a work that goes right up to the superhero cliches you're expecting and takes a ninety-degree turn into CrazyTown." It's written by animation writer Adam Beechen whose work can be seen all over popular cartoons like "X-Men Evolution," "Teen Titans," "Batman" and "Jackie Chan Adventures." Working with such a well-known and professional writer has got to be a mind-blowing gig for a guy like Manny to get his first time out, but seeing the pages that he whipped out in an unbelievably short period of time, you'll agree that Manny came through like a champ.

Also Manny was nice enough to hook The Comic Pimp up with a couple of pictures of Manny's pre-production work on two characters from "Hench," The Cosmonaut and Pencil Neck, which give you a glimpse into the creative process he uses. You might notice that the Cosmonaut bears a little passing resemblance to a certain writer/publisher…

The comic industry is filled with great undiscovered talents like Manny, and it wouldn't surprise me one bit to hear that every comic store in the country has one or more great unknown creators who shops there regularly. As a retailer and a supporter of grass-roots creators, mini-comics, and the belief that if you want to you can break into comics, it couldn't make me happier to realize that the Isotope was going to have some small part in bringing this new creator to the industry. If only by offering a creative environment and a little bit of encouragement to those who want to make comics of their own.

Keep your eyes peeled for "Hench" and for more books by Manny Bello in the future. Take my word for it, this guy's got the goods.

As Ryan and I were talking to Manny, in the door strolled radio DJ and the one-man cultural renaissance behind "Tales of the Moonlight Cutter" Dale Berry.

Dale's handsome book is, hands down, one of the best pieces of historical fiction and martial arts comic books I have ever had the pleasure to read. He also has one of those radio personality voices and if being a cool indie comic artist wasn't enough for Ryan, Manny and Dale to have in common, they all happen to be left-handed cartoonists. Somehow the Isotope had been transformed from a good location to write my column into a hip southpaw comic convention.

I had to leave.

So here I am perched atop a barstool and polishing off my third Myer's and Tonic and spending a little quality time with you. I honestly couldn't tell you what the rest of my day will bring.

When you run a comic shop in San Francisco around APE Weekend, you have to go where the day takes you.

And that's exactly what I plan to do.

You know the routine. You can pontificate on industry issues, preach the gospel of the great comic books or discuss this article on the Comic Pimp Forum.

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