[This was something I've meant to write about for a while, but Rachelle's challenge to write about your favorite comic shop pushed it to the forefront. Well, at least until after I got over my Freakazoid bender, anyway.]
Several years ago I moved from Georgia to Idaho, and quite honestly, I love it out here. Take today, for example: It's a pleasant 70 degrees, nice friendly breeze, clear skies, and I can see a really majestic mountain range (that still has the remains of last winter's snow covering the tallest peaks) right through the window as I'm typing this. The people are plain-spoken, no-nonsense and very friendly. They look at me funny if I slip into my (slight) southern accent. Usually that involves alcohol. And you can buy that on Sundays out here. Another plus.
Yes, I moved here and for the most part I didn't look back... except ... you see, I'm convinced that I moved away from the Planet's Greatest Comic Shop: Athens Georgia's Bizarro Wuxtry.
(that link is hardly representative, but there doesn't seem to be another)
Athens is a small town, about an hour from Atlanta, hosting a huge school (University of Georgia) and as a result has a quaint, "old southern town meets hip college crowd" vibe to it. Downtown is, ohhh... maybe 5 streets by 10, and is chock full of coffee houses, bars, cheap college-y food joints, fantastic dance and music clubs (Athens has an amazing musical history - and not all of it is centered around R.E.M.), and as many hip dorm room deco kitsch stores that you can shake your parent's money at.
One of these downtown stores is Wuxtry Records, a fantastic record store in the classic sense; their racks of CD's are matched by racks of LP's. It has that great old record store smell... and they have a ton of Athens music memorabilia. I often think about it and wonder how much its changed (or will change) as music inevitably marches towards the digital.
If you go around to the side of Wuxtry, and climb a foreboding set of stairs, you come face to face with the entrance to Bizarro Wuxtry.
If you choose to enter, prepare to have your mind blown.
For me to describe Bizarro Wuxtry would utterly fail to do it justice. It's a three room, nine shades circus of pure awesomeness. Every horizontal surface is covered with vintage pop-culture detritus, as are the vertical ones - old comics literally cover the walls, fighting for space with vintage toys and game pieces that make you yell, "Holy Shit! I remember that from when I was a kid!" Everything seems to be at least 30 years old. You could easily go into an epileptic seizure from the awesomeness overload. It's like your fantasy attic. It's like H.R. Puffinstuff exploded. It's the store you want to own. And play with. Be buried in.
One of the great things about Bizarro Wuxtry is that it doesn't even pretend to be kid friendly. From its inaccessibility, its huge selection of fantastic but adult books on the top shelf, to its "things all over the fuckin' place" attic-like feel, Bizarro is a serious comic store for serious comic people. The (and I hate this term) indy comic to mainstream comic ratio is amazingly high. This is the place to walk in and pick up all those comics that your typical comic store just won't order unless it's a special request ... and Bizarro orders them routinely, as they come out. Screw the latest issue of Tarot! Pick up the newest Johnny Ryan, Rene French or Jim Woodring on Wednesday!
But, and anyone who's ever set foot in Bizarro will tell you this, the greatest thing about the place is the man who runs it. Mr. Devlin Thompson was born to in turn give birth to this beast. The place is an extension of him. Besides having exquisite taste in all things wonderful, and being a really great guy in general, Devlin is a very gifted arti... I almost said artist, but that's only halfway right (though he is that). Devlin is one of the best natural Designers I've ever met. He makes concepts, ideas, ...things.. well, work. And he has a vast, glorious imagination. The store is representative of this - ever changing, always... well, Bizarro!. And, with a store like this, it is a necessity that you know your customers - just how many copies of Acme or Eightball will you actually sell, really? I'm amazed to this day that he could nail down the ordering of such an eclectic (and rotating - college town, remember?) customer base, but I believe part of it was he just ordered what was good, knew his customers, and told them about things he knew they'd like. He turned me on to more of my favorite artists and writers than I can ever name here. I loved chatting with this man, and anytime he came up to me with a "Hey, Dave ... check this out..." you knew you were going to see something extra special.
Devlin was definitely one of those kids that's been continuously drawing since he was a wee one, and fortunately for us, he had the good fortune to get a hold of those early scratchings. He currently maintains a blog (link added to the right) where he shares all those childhood drawings.. and it's awesome! Who wouldn't want to go through their own early kidworks? Go have a laugh.
God, I miss that place. I spent more time there than I did in bars while finishing college. And that's saying something.
Bizarro Wuxtry is even kinda-sorta famous in the comic circles because of a 1994 visit from Peter Bagge and Dan Clowes. Ol' Pee-Bag himself describes it:
Back cover of Hate #15
Click for The Biggie Bippy
I thought this was so spiffy that I had Devlin sign my copy:
Gonna cash that in one day!
(..and if you happen to read this one day, Devlin ... Hiya, Ya grungy long-haired, old T-shirt, bearded, sandal-wearing bastard, Yas! Oh, and thanks for everything!)