Omnium Gatherum #76: On Repaying Debts of Gratitude: Comics Ink
By Vince Moore
Howdy, folks, and welcome once again to the Omnium Gatherum.
The title of this column draws inspiration from The Writing of Nichiren Daishonin, “On Repaying Debts of Gratitude”. In that gosho, or letter to his followers, Nichiren discusses the lengths to which one may go to repay a debt. Especially a debt to a lord or teacher who guided and shaped a person, and the rewards that come to one who repays such a debt.
I don’t know if this column has enough space or I have enough time to fully convey the debt I wish and need to pay. I can only do my best and let time be the judge.
By the time this column goes live, I will be working my last day ever at Comics Ink in Culver City, California. Not only will I be pulling comics for the last time, but the store itself will be closing at the end of the month. The owner, Steve LeClaire, is retiring after 40 years of selling comics, 23 plus years of those years running Comics Ink.
I have written in past columns about the store and my days there. I will write more in the days to come. For now, I will stick to how grateful I am to have worked there.
As with many events in my life, I fell into working at a comics shop.
Because I was hanging around too much.
In the early days of Comics Ink, back in 1991, the store was a two man shop, Steve and Doselle Young. I had met Doe hanging around the Graffiti Comics shop (no relation to Graphitti Designs) in Culver City for a while. I had even asked Steve once for a job there. He told me only family members worked for the store. But that didn’t stop me from hanging around. A lot.
That hanging around continued at the then newly opened Comics Ink.
One day while I was hanging out, Steve pulled me aside and asked me if I were interested in helping out. There were a bunch of boxes of comics that needed organizing. In that marvelous Midwestern way of not liking to see anyone being idle, Steve wanted me to organize those boxes. Doing this task was to be my payment for occupying the time of the clerk behind the counter and the space in the store. I tackled the task with ease. In a short period of time, four or five long boxes were organized. In gratitude, Steve bought me a turkey sandwich from Trader Joe’s and gave me a Marvel Masterworks Fantastic Four volume.
That was my first pay from Comics Ink. A bargain for both of us.
A couple of weeks later, Steve asked me if I were interested in working at the store. I jumped at the chance to do it, to be around the hobby I had loved from childhood.
That began my first term at the store, from 1991 until 2000 when I left the store to pursue writing in comics. During those years I would go from part time to full time, from one of a crew of two to the one and only. All working under Steve’s leadership. I would see the comics industry go through one of its boom and bust cycles. The rise of Image. The rise and fall of Valiant. Fads galore be chased by all kinds of folks like pogs. But not by Steve.
For Steve, Comics Ink was always a comics shop. We sold comics and trades and supplies. We sold toys and statues in a minor way or to special order. That was it. That was all.
And it was more than enough. For 23 years.
It did our customers well. It did the store well.
When Steve asked me to come back in 2007, I did it because I was going a little stir crazy. I wasn’t connected to many other comics people. I wasn’t going to a lot of conventions, just San Diego. I wasn’t really buying many comics. I was a bit lost.
When I returned behind the counter, I found I did miss the energy a comics shop has. I did miss the kind of energy Steve encouraged Comics Ink to have. An energy where wild conversations could take place. Where the clerks could have strong opinions and personalities. But where the comics came first and last, and the customer was taken care of to the best of the abilities of whoever was behind the counter. Maybe not to everyone’s tastes but again, more people were happy with the service they received than not. Nobody is perfect.
But I will say Steve LeClaire comes close.
A simple man with a simple philosophy.
Focus on what you do best. Watch the bottom line. Give customers what they want but don’t be afraid to tell them what they might like. Keep it fun. Take things only as serious as they need, no more than that. Have an opinion and don’t be afraid of it. Be yourself. Keep it simple. Don’t compete, just run your race. Take care of the customers.
All good lessons to learn.
All good lessons I hope to take with me as I return more fully to writing and to school and other plans.
All good lessons I had to pleasure to learn and get paid well for learning them at the hands of Steve LeClaire.
I don’t know if I will ever be able to repay my debt to Steve fully. (And no, Steve, if you are reading this, that does not mean you don’t have to give me my severance; I gots to get paid! Another lesson you taught me.) I can only try to take everything I learned and share it and use it.
Thank you so much, Steve, for taking me under your wing, for putting up with my nonsense, for letting me be me, and for the use of the halls. May your retirement be all that you wish it to be! You deserve the best!
Thank you so much, Jason and Adam, for being the best brothers in arms a guy could ask to have. I wouldn’t have made it through so many New Comics Days without you guys!
Thank you again to all my customers. For the conversations and jokes and good, good times. It has been my honor and privilege and pleasure serving all of you. For those who are aiming on careers in comics and the like, I hope to see you around the convention circuit.
As Nichiren wrote in “On Repaying Debts of Gratitude”, “The old fox never forgets the hillock where he was born” (The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, page 690).
I will never forget my days at Comics Ink.
I will never forget Steve LeClaire and all of the lessons he taught me and all of the conversations and all of the times well spent at Comics Ink.
As Alan Jay Lerner wrote and Richard Harris sang,
“Don’t let it be forgot
That once there was a spot
For one brief shining moment that was known
As Camelot.” (Camelot, reprise)
And what a brief shining moment it was!
Comics Ink may not have been Camelot but it was a place of wonder.
And I will miss it.
Until next time, folks.