A couple of weeks ago, Wired.com profiled nine different comic store employees, including Gary Panter's daughter Olive. However, their feature focused solely on stores either in New York or the Bay Area, bypassing the Emerald City and our very own fine establishment, the Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery. Therefore, we've taken it upon ourselves to spotlight an employee from our store (whom you might also meet staffing our booth at various conventions across the country), using the same basic questions Wired used for their interviews. Wired.com, you're welcome.
Name: Janice Headley Store: Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery Age: 32 Hometown: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Lives in: Seattle, Washington Background: Also runs the arts-n-crafts website copacetique.com (currently on hiatus), and works in the Programming Department at KEXP.ORG
If you could be any comic book character, who would it be? Pupshaw. My best friend would be a kitty, and I'd have a loyal, awesome admirer to romp with. Sounds good to me! Plus, I could make an army of tiny me's spring from my mouth and attack my enemies. Cutest. Death. Ever.
Which title has fallen farthest from grace? Hmmm... I'm gonna get SO much crap for this, but for me personally, I'm gonna have to say Popeye. You see, for me, it all comes down to the Whiffle Hen. In Volume One, I was entranced by the Whiffle Hen. I eagerly turned page after page, wondering, "Where's the Whiffle Hen?" But in Volume Two? No Whiffle Hen. Forget about Volume Three. Nope. Totally off the Popeye wagon here.
Which has risen like a phoenix out of the ashes of suck-itude? Any comic out there that wants to adopt a Whiffle Hen...
How long have you worked in a comic store? How did you start? I guess it's been something like a year and a half now? I took over for the awesome Ms. Rhea Patton, wife of also-awesome Eric Reynolds, who used to work the Sunday shift until she got pregnant with the lovely lil' Miss Clementine. As the spouse of a Fantagraphics employee myself, the application process was surprisingly simple.
What are the best and worst parts about working in a comic store? Best: Getting to talk to customers about comics. What can I say, I love dorking out with fellow enthusiasts. It feels great introducing someone to a new artist, or telling them about new books coming out, and then watching them freak out with excitement. That rules. Also, our bookstore shares its space with Georgetown Records, so I get to spend my shifts listening to obscure 60's garage rock.
Worst: The customers who spend three hours in the Eros corner, staring at me creepily, and then they leave without buying a thing. Quit it.
What's the least nerdy thing about you? Everything about me is nerdy. Everything.
What's the worst misconception about comic books and their fans? Besides the misconception that comics are a "guy" thing? That we don't get any sex. Let the recent Fanta baby boom put that misconception to rest!
Why is there such a big crossover between comic book fans and tech junkies? Is there? I don't know if that's necessarily true in our world. Sometimes when I try to tell customers to check out our website, they shake their heads and frown. I think there's still a large number of comic book fans who prefer the good ol' fashioned storefront.
Do you have any anecdotes about working in a comic store? This really precocious kid came in once, maybe 9 or 10 years old. He looked up at me wide-eyed and said, "These aren't normal comics, are they? These comics are... are..." He scrunched up his face, like he was trying to find the right word from last week's vocab test. And then looked back up, beaming with pride, and said, "These comics are revolutionary!" Awwwww! So right you are, kid.
Back in those heady 1990s, the guys at our warehouse seemingly had a lot of time on their hands. To wit: these tapes, which have been semi-legendary in inner-Fanta circles for years. Former warehouse staffer Dave Holmes -- also the front man in the legendary Seattle band The Fall-Outs -- routinely entertained his fellow warehouse coworkers with prank phone calls to local radio talk show host Susan Powter. Somehow, Susan never seemed to catch on to the joke. Dave always used the names of his fellow coworkers for the calls, and even adopts a fairly impressive Australian accent when he calls in as "Martin" -- a nod to our Aussie warehouse asst. mgr. Martin Bland (also one of Seattle's best drummers, for bands like Monkeywrench, Bloodloss and Lubricated Goat, not to mention his amazing sound experiments). I haven't heard these tapes in years but listening again now, they're as funny as ever.
Here are some thoughts on last year's comics that I would like to share with you. I don't dare call this a "Best Of" list -- these are merely some comics that I read and that stand out to me, excluding Fantagraphics releases because it's my job to love them all equally, though you'll find some stuff from Fanta folks in here. Listed more or less alphabetically:
• Against Pain by Ron Rege Jr. (D&Q) - A nice hefty slab of Ron's unique vision. I'm always compelled by Ron's stuff and it's great to have this much of it in one place.
• Capacity by Theo Ellsworth (Secret Acres) - A warm, cleverly constructed, visually stunning tour through the artist's amazingly fertile creative imagination. Ellsworth synthesizes his mind-bogglingly detailed fantastical world-building with autobiography in a really natural and satisfying way without seeming like a crazy person, which is quite a feat.
• Dead Ringer by Jason T. Miles (La Mano) - A big, haunting slab of swampy beauty, mortality, cartoon gore, poetry and lovely chipboard. Morbid, funny, sublime, and lowbrow all at once. I get to sit next to this guy at work.
• Fight or Run: Shadow of the Chopper by Kevin Huizenga (Buenaventura) - Huizenga makes an experimental comic and the result is pure, distilled, uncut, unadulterated Comics Fun. Nifty!
• The Man Who Loved Breasts by Robert Goodin (Top Shelf) - Like a master class in expressive cartooning. Just look at George Olavatia's face from panel to panel, for Pete's sake.
• Trubble Club (online and self-published mini) - Cute, weird, gross, sad, funny jam comics from over a dozen participants (including Laura Park and Lilli Carré). Almost every panel goes in a delightfully unexpected direction.
• Welcome to the Dahl House by Ken Dahl (Microcosm) - His story in Papercutter hooked me on his acerbic worldview and crackerjack cartooning. This is mostly earlier stuff and as such a little rougher but it brings you up to where the greatness is.
• Renee French's blog - I look forward to Renee's daily drawings more than anything else in my RSS feeds. I especially love her lo-fi cameraphone (?) doodle snapshots and she occasionally flat out blows my mind.
I just want to give a public salute to our intrepid Fantagraphics staffers who have been braving Seattle Snowpocalypse 2008 for the past week or so (nearly a foot of snowfall in parts of the city, where 2 inches is considered a blizzard, with more coming tomorrow), risking life and limb in hazardous driving conditions and enduring wretched public transportation hassles to keep our office running, our customer service phone line manned (1-800-657-1100, call in your order today), and our bookstore open and staffed, while the rest of us work from home in comfort and safety. Kudos to you, brave souls!
A couple of Friday night videos for your enjoyment, consisting of footage filmed in Seattle's Georgetown neighborhood (where our Bookstore & Gallery resides) in the early 1990s, and featuring sound design (and a cameo) by our own Nico Vassilakis. These are very cool. (If they don't display below, click for Part 1 and Part 2.)
Be sure and stop by our table to pick up a catalog and some other free swag, especially on Sunday when Larry Reid will be there to regale you with war stories of the Sub Pop/Fantagraphics family tree. See you there!