Monday, August 22, 2011

An Ode to Atomic Comics

Atomic Comics was my first comic book store.

As I alluded to a few weeks ago, I didn't start collecting comics until I moved to Arizona in the early 90s. What I didn't mention was that Atomic Comics was my mecca when I was just starting out. I don't exactly remember when I first went there, but I'll never forget what it was like.

While I never had the pleasure in calling Atomic Comics 'my' store, it has been the Plutonic form of Comic Book Store since I first walked through it's doors. Every new store I go to, I compare to Atomic and am always left a bit disappointed. Not to totally disregard the great stores that I do go to - like House of Secrets, Comics Factory, Hi-De-Ho, or Meltdown (That is to imply that I'm something of a comics mercenary and I go to whatever great store I'm near) - but they all have they're little quirks that make them not as awesome as Atomic was all those years ago.

You see, in those days, my family and I would make routine trips from our dreary desert town to the big city of Phoenix (and it's suburbs) every weekend. We'd do everything from see movies to bulk shopping at Costco and on lucky occassions, I got to go to Toys R Us. It was during one of these routine trips that I got my hands on a copy of the Mesa Yellow Pages (this is pre-internet days, remember) and discovered a comic store near some of our haunts. "Can we go to this place," I pleaded, clutching the yellow pages, "Atomic Comics?"

Set deep in an unassuming shopping center, Atomic Comics was like something out of my eleven year-old imagination. This location (their first of many) was decently sized and filled to the brim with the books I craved. The aisles were wide and inviting, the walls littered with promotional posters and 'top shelf' expensive books that I could only dream of owning, and then there were the rows and rows of comics. Lining the entire store, it seemed, was a huge selection of what seemed like every book printed in the past three months. It was exactly what a comic book store should have been.

A year later, they moved to a bigger space and ideal version of the store became locked in my brain. One wall dedicated to the week's new books, another longer stretch to the recently released, stacks of back issue boxes, a few shelves of trades, and a big, friendly cashier behind the counter. It was a celebration of comic books and the culture, refusing to shy away from that which made them great. For years I went to that store, and I never walked away from it without a smile on my face and a few dollars missing from my wallet.

As the years progressed and I drifted from home (and comics for a while), I didn't visit the store as much as I used to. I know they moved a few times, once to a huge space that seemed almost too good to be true and then again to a slightly smaller one more fitting of it's niche. I know they doubled their store count, opening stores much closer to my dreary desert-y home, that were fancy and nice, but still not quite as cool as the original. I remember cheering when I saw them pop up in Kick Ass, noting to who was next to me that I'd been to that store (kind of). Even though I hadn't been close to an Atomic Comics in a while, I still felt a sense of pride for them when I saw their triumphs. "Good on them," I thought, "I'm glad they're still around to usher in the kids to my favorite hobby."

Then, yesterday, I read that Atomic Comics is going out of business effective immediately and my heart sank a little.

The closing of this wonderful place is an end of a very good era. For the first time in all my years of collecting, I worry about the future of the printed comic book. On one hand, I know deep down it's just the loss of a small market comic book chain. But on the other, I feel like it's the loss of an iconic, perfect comic store and if something like that can't survive than what hope does the rest of the industry have?

Maybe I worry to much. I tend to do that. I'm sure everything will end up fine, and in the end, it'll just be another casualty on this road of economic hardships. I'm sure I'll find a store out there like Atomic Comics eventually, and everything will be fine. I just hope those eleven year-olds who are thinking about collecting find it first and it affects them like Atomic did me.

Farewell Atomic Comics, you'll be missed. I'll hope every day your comics-style resurrection.

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