by Erica J Heflin
Let’s fast forward a bit to my college years.
My first college job involved telephone calls. I left as quickly as I was able. Shortly thereafter, I began my first job in a comic shop.
I’d been a customer at that store for less than a year, but was on amicable terms with the location manager. I idly told him to let me know if they’d be hiring any time. A comic shop job was ideal for a geek like me, even if the pay was terrible. As a turn of fate or luck would have it, the shop was hiring immediately. I turned in my application that day and was called for an interview with the owners shortly afterward.
I trekked to downtown Indianapolis to the shop’s original location for the interview. It was my first time there, and it certainly had a more downtown/college vibe than the shop I was frequenting. I was led down unto a creepy basement by the owner. That’s where their overstocked office was located.
The interview went quickly. The pay was terrible, but there were a few benefits beyond employee discounts. They even had limited insurance offered to the employees. It wasn’t too bad for a comic shop. After a couple days of training, I was given the keys to two locations and given my hours. I would be splitting my time between the shop that was “mine” and another shop I’d never visited. From time-to-time, I’d cover holes in the schedules at the other three locations as well.
Working at “my” shop, the north location, was easy enough. There were a lot of subscribers, plenty of collectors, and few gamers. Even with weekend shifts I didn’t run many tournaments. I just talked comics and made sure everyone got the action figures and statues that they’d ordered. It was fun and relaxing. It also afforded me a good bit of time to read comics.
As I said, this was where I really began to learn about comics. I picked up everything and read it once. I became familiar with the award winners. I even came to know the titles that were “behind the shelf.” Yes, I read through the hardcore books. I figured if I was going to be selling them, I might as well be able to talk about them too.
Most costumers were fine with having a girl working behind the counter. A few – those who liked their behind the shelf books or hentai dvds – were damned nervous about me until I struck up conversation. It took them a while to realize that their interest in tentacle porn or lesbian witches didn’t matter to me any more than it did the male employees. It is what it is.
I was also pretty popular with the mom crowd. This was the age of Pokemon and the insanity that surrounded it, and I was someone that the mothers felt that they could trust with their questions. I’ll never forget the day that news of counterfeit cards hit the media, and the mothers began pouring into the store. There was a crowd around the front desk, with mothers holding cards out asking if I could identify whether they were counterfeit. Rather than take their cards one at a time, I decided to educate the group on IDing the fakes on their own. Most of the local counterfeits did not stand up to the flex test, where you press on the card’s edges and see that it curves into a “c” shape rather than bends.
On that day I looked at the crowd, and then grabbed a pack of cards from the shelf. I occasionally bought packs to resell individual cards – it was a great supplement to my income – and figured I’d do the same with this pack, while also using it to demonstrate how a real card should bend. But wouldn’t you know it, I popped open the pack in front of a group of rabid mothers to find the holy grail Pokemon card inside. It was a foil 1st edition charizard. And at the time, it was a BIG DEAL.
So while I went on with my demo, the rabid mothers were both paying attention to the different ways to detect a counterfeit card and bidding for the charizard. It was as chaotic as an auction house and I’m pretty sure one mother walked away with the card while I ended up with rent money.
I was just glad we rarely ran Pokemon tournaments. The other location that I worked at did, and those were scary times to work at a comic shop.