Living in Capon Bridge, the closest comic book store was Four Color Fantasies in Winchester, VA. As often as my parents took me to get comics from there, most of my early collection came from the newsstand (yes kids, when I was a boy you could get comic books everywhere. The grocery store, the convenience store, drug stores, etc. It’s a shame they’re not readily available anymore). So when I moved to Morgantown in 2003, it wasn’t long before I ventured out of my College Avenue apartment and went exploring on High Street.
It was a Saturday in August and there were kids all over the place with their parents (it might have been Kid’s Day, but considering I had only lived in Morgantown for a few weeks, I didn’t know this). I thought I had spied my potential destination from the passenger seat of Angel’s Rav4 a few days before, so I tried my best to remember its location since I was walking from the opposite direction. I struck pay dirt when I found it: Gateway Comics on Fayette Street. I had my very own comic book store a few minutes from my apartment!
This isn’t a column about Gateway however; they had a good selection and I went there for many months. I once wrote them a check that bounced for a couple dollars because I had to have Batman #619 (it resolved the original Hush storyline and spoiler alert, it was a disappointment), so that one issue cost me almost 30 dollars because of the returned check fee they charged. My relationship with them ended the day I went there to browse around and I picked up maybe 10 or so different comics. I then realized it would be extremely irresponsible of me to buy these comics as I wouldn’t have enough to cover my bills at the time. Dejected and depressed, I put the books back and walked out.
I hadn’t even reached the car when the cashier rushed out and called me by my name (something he had never done before) and asked if I had put the books I was holding back before I left the shop. Now angry at the suggestion that I had walked out with unpaid merchandise after being a faithful customer for several months, I held back tears as I answered with a loud, “Yes!” and got into the car to leave.
A few months prior, in November of 2003, I was home alone. My roommate Steve had already left town for Thanksgiving break and I was waiting on Angel to pick me up so we could both go see our respective families for the holiday. Morgantown was icy from a previous snow storm but I was bored with playing NCAA Football 2004 (I’m a beast, come see me) and decided I needed to get out to breathe some fresh air.
A lot of the normal restaurants and shops were closed, which is the norm when the students are away on break, so I didn’t have much to choose from in order to escape the cold for a few minutes. I had almost reached Walnut Street when I noticed an open shop to my left. It was pretty barren, but I immediately recognized it was a new comic book store and headed inside.
All of the new issue racks were still where they are today, on the far right wall, but there were not new issue racks on the other side of the aisle yet. In fact, the only other thing I recall being in Gary’s was 1 or 2 back issue bins. I spent some time looking at the new issues but didn’t pick any up as I was current on the books I was buying at the time from Gateway. I then headed over to the back issue bin and rifled through some old comics. I spent a good 30 minutes or so inside, and while the owner Gary Loring (an all-around good dude who would give you the shirt off his back) did check to see if I needed help, he seemed largely unbothered that I stayed and read for so long even without a purchase. He told me he had plans on expanding the shop and asked me to keep checking in; I promised him that I would.
After the Gateway debacle, I never purchased anything from there again and I began visiting Gary’s for all my comic needs. Just as he said, the shop grew in the next few months to include an expanded new issue section. Several more back issue bins joined the earlier ones I went through my first visit. And soon another aisle filled with graphic novels and trade paperbacks took up the left side of the store. In addition to that, Gary’s has your standard long and short boxes, backing boards and bags. They have some action figures and t-shirts on the opposite side of the back issue bins. There is now a younger reader section at the front of shop, right where the kids can start looking as soon as they get in the door. And if that’s not enough, there’s a DVD section and the shelves above the books are lined with statues that are for sale. The little comic store that gave me something to do on a cold November evening has become the biggest comic book store in Morgantown. Gateway closed its doors a year or so after I walked out for the last time.
Despite my not buying books weekly anymore, I still have 1 to 2 titles being pulled regularly for me. I think the reason for that is out of loyalty to Gary and the shop. There have been several times when I’ve found myself in Gary’s for no other reason than needing a place to go; a place to escape the current stresses of the day, even for 30 minutes. One of his former employees, Matt Godwin, shares a birthday with me. For years, I would lose track of time just talking comics with Matt or Gary or any other random person in the store. There have never been arguments or fist fights; just some loud voices occasionally. I always preferred talking about comics in the store versus on the internet because we all know how brave people can get from behind a keyboard and I didn’t feel like insulting someone in Nebraska because they didn’t like the Clone Saga.
I haven’t had too many column worthy adventures since my last one. There have also been a lot of personnel changes at work so by the time I get home, I really don’t want to do anything, let alone write. E told me when he suggested I start this column that as an official “townie”, I could use this space to talk about things I do in Morgantown as well as things I love in our great city. Gary’s was one of his immediate suggestions since he knew I frequented there and I was even able to get some footage in the shop for a music video in 2011. For anyone who has a slight interest in comic books, no matter how you were introduced to them, Gary’s Comics And More is a place you have to take some time to go to… no matter what.
And that’s all thanks to Gary himself. No matter where I see Gary, we always take the time to wave and/or chat if we have a few minutes. He still loves comics and it shows in the care he’s taken to grow the store over the past 12(!) years. He’ll still go out of his way to order you whatever you want, no matter how obscure or if he knows it will sit in the store unsold if you decide not to buy it. He also still sits and crafts the weekly store newsletter which has now started arriving on Thursdays instead of Fridays like they used to do. He not only lists all the books arriving at the store on Wednesday but also any problems with the current or previous shipment, books that have had their shipment date changed, as well as key books that he recommends.
And he announces the store news, and he takes the time out to mention any of his reservists birthdays and there’s a koala… but that’s a whole different set of circumstances.
I’d like to finish this column with a heartfelt thank you to Gary for his hard work in the store and for his continued dedication to downtown Morgantown, reservists like myself, and most importantly, the new comic book reader, no matter how old or young they may be. In a market where the Big Two feel a need to constantly reinvent their tried and true heroes in order to boost sales, Gary has made sure the shop has stood throughout it all, 6 days a week, 11 am to 7 pm. Thanks for taking in a 20 year old kid with nothing to do on a cold November weeknight. And thank you for taking in a 33 year old kid who now has his own kid and has to be reminded to come get his books every now and again. The 9 year old kid who was trying to piece together Spider-Man storylines through his purchases at Food Lion couldn’t be happier.