When I moved to San Francisco in 1997, one of the top priorities of my transition was to find a local comic store to patronize. This may humor those of you who do not collect or read graphic novels (comics), but I liken it to the drinker who finds a local bar to call home. I have read, collected, and bought comics for most of my life, and at the time read several titles that had 10 to 30 year story lines (Cerebus and Bone). Finding a local store, setting up a subscription bag, and bugging the owner provides me with quality living through culture and community.
I lived near 25th street then, so visited a shop nearby and was unimpressed with their lack of zeal for the art form. I visited Comic Relief in Berkeley, found a reprint of RAW, and loved the shop. Its distance from my Mission District home didn’t work. I visited Comix Experience on Divisadero and felt that they weren’t into hanging out and getting to know their customers. I shopped at a few other shops in the City and decided that they were too far away.
So Al’s Comics became my store. Strict on rules (no leaning, beverages, bags, reading, etc.) but big on customer service and comic knowledge, Al’s became my weekly watering hole. Most of the comics I read are published whenever the artist creates a new issue (that’s been years for Chris Ware), so I usually don’t buy much at Al’s. So Al and I eventually became friends and wasted time talking politics, movies, and eventually life stories and experiences. As my life bottomed out this year, Al offered to give me what little work he could afford. I eventually became his eBay photographer, and now bug him often (not on Wednesdays) since I live across the street from his shop.
Al was a Haight/Ashbury kid in the1960s, collecting underground comix along with other things (posters, toys, etc.). His love and knowledge of San Francisco runs deep, about as deep as his love for sequential art. Al’s Comics is a long-time small business on Guererro Street (since 1989), and he seems to know all the other small business folks around the hood (Al supports many of those businesses). His shop carries an eclectic array of comics: local, old, new, indy, corporate, and even photocopied.
Running a comic store isn’t a piece of cake. The profit margins are small, chain bookstores are beginning to muscle in on the business, and there’s a distribution monopoly (Diamond) that can make or break a shop. Al constantly gets financial hits on many fronts: the State Tax Board, Diamond, his landlord. Last week Al’s landlord served him notice for back rent, and then upped his currently monthly. Al had just paid him a substantial bit of back rent in hopes of alleviating the pain, but wasn’t surprised at his landlord’s move.
We all know how landlord$ can be.
With this unfortunate turn of events, Al’s customers and friends have stepped up to help him out. There’s a fan Web site asking for donations. I’m personally putting the word out to stop by and drop some holiday cash at Al’s Comics. Al is also looking for a new location, hopefully affordable and in the Mission. As a friend and customer, the thought of losing my local hangout sucks. My drive for a supportive and sustainable community includes locally-owned culture spots like Al’s Comics.
So this simple plea of supporting a friend who has supported me is the least I can do.