Something interesting (dare I say weird) happened recently. Given that I don’t have nearly as much time anymore to stop by my LCS every week to pick up my weekly stash, I had a fair amount of books to pick up. In fact, the last time I believe I was able to pick up anything was the week Johns’ final issue on Green Lantern was released. So it had been awhile.
While I was there, I quickly poked around the recent comics, didn’t see much of interest that I wasn’t already getting, and then turned to the cash register and asked for my box. I paid for my comics, and under normal circumstances that should have been it. I should have been on my way, wishing the folks there a “take it easy” and a “see you later” and then been on the way to meet up with my girlfriend. Yet, that’s not what happened right away.
The entire time there were two long tables with a blue covering with stacks of hardcover comics that I had been eyeing since I entered the store. These books were for a comic signing that was taking place literally in the next 40 minutes that I simply couldn’t stay for. Regardless, after I bought my comics (which included another copy of UysFaber‘s Totem Sacred series) I walked over to the table and started looking through the books. The series in question is Mouse Guard, a series written by Michigan-based creator David Petersen. The best way I can sum up the series is that it’s a lighthearted action/adventure romp set within a fantasy universe where the main characters are mice.
Having already picked up my comics, I was a little hesitant to spend another $20 on a hardcover trade, and so then I walked out of the store and began making my to the subway. After passing maybe three shops heading south on Yonge Street in Toronto, I stopped. I turned around, and then walked back into the store, asked what the reading order was, and ultimately bought the first volume.
So what, right? “You bought a comic, congratulations!” you might sarcastically quip. I can’t altogether explain why I turned around, other than thinking it seemed like a cool comic. Maybe I was influenced by the fact that I knew Mr. Petersen was going to be in the store very shortly, maybe I just like hoarding and supporting indie comics because I roll in that direction. Perhaps it’s just a combination of the three. Maybe just as much, I’ve spent a number of conventions and shows on the other side of the table and know the difficulties in pitching a lesser known project to a stranger. I still remember a signing I was involved with in December 2011 where this couple came into the store and the girlfriend reached right over our table without a hint of hesitation and grabbed a Big Bang Theory t-shirt before moving towards the cash register. It’s not like that all the time, but those moments are disheartening and the reality is that in many cases those independent books you pass over during in-store signings or walk by as you’re walking through Artist Alley at conventions are as good as the books you read every week, if not better.
It’s tough competing against all of the well-established comic properties, and sometimes it literally seems like mice scurrying around the feet of Superman, Spider-Man, Batman or Wolverine. Yet there have been and continue to be very good independent comics, such as Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim series, Maus, Kill Shakespeare, Y: The Last Man or Fables. Those types of books are special strikes of lightening, yet it would be foolish to assume for a moment they’re that rare. Sometimes those truly striking books are the ones you don’t expect–like Watchmen–and quite often there’s a fair amount of meat attached to what sounds like a cool idea on the surface. Sometimes I think you just need to take a chance on a book, because sometimes the really cool books aren’t the ones companies tell us are the greatest, most awesome things in existence.