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Paper Gold Comics

WARNING: Contains Language. Discretion is advised.

Martin Clancy looked up from his laptop as the door to his shop swung open. A gust of bitterly cold winter air filled the small shop as  two teenagers came in. Both in black skinny jeans and heavy winter coats, they looked almost identical. The guy was wearing a maroon beanie with a large gold “M” on it while his girlfriend’s bright blue pixie cut was uncovered and slightly tousled from the wind. 


“Hey guys,” Martin smiled as they closed the door behind them. “Browsing today, or just a pick up?” The girl walked right to the counter while the guy went straight to the bookshelf in the corner. 


“Just picking up, but…” the boyfriend said, browsing the stacks of graphic novels for a moment before pulling out one. “Yes! Finally someone has it.”


“What’d’ya find, babe?” asked the girl as Martin bent down to grab a handful of comics from the box by his feet. The guy wound around the middle shelves over to her. 


“It’s that Arkham Asylum book I’ve been looking for.” He held it up to show her as he reached the register.


“Oh, cool,” she said and Martin stood up.


“Big Batman fan, eh?” Martin asked as he tore the Post-it with “Emma and Morgan” written on it off the bundle of comics. He’s never seen the guy buy anything but Dark Horse horror stories like the six “30 Days of Night” issues he had in his hand. Martin started ringing the comics up. 


“Not really,” said Morgan. “But I like Dave McKean, so I’m giving it a try.” Martin nodded and put the hardcover graphic novel in the paper bag with the other comics. Checking the price on his register screen, he did a quick calculation in his head then edited the total to knock 20% off. Emma handed him a Wells Fargo debit card with the picture of a pug on it.


“New card?” Martin asked, noticing the picture. Emma smiled.


“Yeah,” she said. “Got sick of the horses.” Martin handed the card back and held up the paper bag to Morgan.


“Very nice. Well, thanks for coming in, you two.” Emma waved with a gloved hand as they turned to leave. 


“See you next week, Martin,” Morgan said over his shoulder as Emma pulled open the door and the cold air blew in again. About five minutes went by as Martin went back to cataloging comics on his laptop when the door opened again.


“Woah!” gasped the boy that came in with his mother trailing behind. “Mommy! Look!”


“I see,” said his mom. “You can get one thing.”


“Anything I can help you find?” Martin asked as the boy darted around the small comic shop. The kid barely reached the third row of shelves up from the floor. 


“No,” said the mom immediately. “Just looking.”


“It’s my birthday!” the boy sang as he pulled out a polybagged comic. “Mommy! Look!” his mom came over and he held it up. 


“That’s nice,” she said. She smiled at her son but as soon as he turned away, her look of disapproval and boredom returned. Disinterestedly, she looked around at the ceiling high shelves filled with comics, the movie posters on the ceiling, and the display of vintage action figures by the register counter. 


“I’ve got some Ninja Turtles over here in the center,” Martin said, pointing to the small shelves in the center of the store. 


“Why do you sound funny?” the kid asked, hurrying over to where Martin had pointed to. 


“Travis!” his mom snapped. “We do not say that about people.” Martin smiled and waved a hand.


“It’s okay, ma’am. I’m from Ireland, lad.” Martin playfully thickened his slightly diluted accent. “How old are ya today, young lad?”


“He’s five,” said his mom, unamused. 


“Wow,” Travis said. “Mommy! I want this one!” The kid ran around the shelves and held the comic up to show her. The cover had one of the green ninja turtles squaring off against an orange anthropomorphic triceratops. Travis’ mom took it for a closer look. Her eyes slowly narrowed as she looked at it, then her carefully penciled eyebrows shot up. 


“No, Travis,” she said with disgust. “This is way too expensive.” Travis’ face fell.


“But it’s my birthday…” he said, trying not to whine. His mom narrowed her eyes again.


“No. Now, come on,” she shoved the comic haphazardly on the nearest shelf. 


“Ma’am,” Martin said quickly as the boy’s eyes welled with tears. “I’m happy to discount that for you. For the lad’s birthday. Happy to take fifty percent off.” The kid started to smiled when his mom scoffed.


“Please. Thirty dollars for that thing? I saw the price printed on it. The nerve to charge sixty bucks for something labeled as 1.50. Ridiculous.” She grabbed her son’s hand and he stumbled behind her as she stomped to the door. Muttering about scam artists and delusional salesmen, she yanked the door open and left. 


“By Bram, what pissed in her hole?” said a voice behind Martin.


“The price sticker,” Martin sighed, stepping out from behind the counter to retrieve the misplaced comic. The curtains separating the backroom from the rest of the store rustled, then burst open as something flew out. The thing stuck out a hand and grabbed the top of one of the ten foot tall bookshelves. 


It had jet black fur, tall rabbit ears, and looked like a monkey with a potbelly. Its face was horsey and looked almost human with eyes the color of fresh meadow grass. The Pooka rested his long-toed feet on the edge of a shelf and looked over his shoulder to the front door. The cold air was slowly dissipating and the store slowly got comfortably warm again. Martin pulled the comic out. Luckily the woman hadn’t been too rough as she shoved it, so the comic wasn't damaged. Martin sighed with relief and went back to put it back where it belonged. 


“Some people don’t understand these things have value,” he said and slid the comic back into place. “Especially these rarer, older comics. Most people balk at the five dollar price tag on the ones printed today, let alone the prices for back issues.”


“Pity,” said the Pooka. He looked around at the walls of built-in shelves filled with polybagged and boarded comics. “You could sell more if you lowered the prices.” Martin sighed. 


“Not that simple. The profit margin is minimal at the prices I have now. I was basically offering to give that kid an early Ninja Turtles for free with that discount. Thirty bucks for it? Any collector would’ve killed for that price.” He went back to behind the counter and started his task of adding comics to his online inventory database again. He glanced up at Pooka as the creature flipped through the comics it was hanging next to. I wouldn’t do…” he stopped as the Pooka yelped and began sucking its fingertips. 


“Haven’t you ever heard of scotch tape? Why do you use that damned sap to seal these?” Martin eyed the Pooka’s dirty, jagged fingernails and raised an eyebrow. 


“Question is: why do I keep you around. Leave those be. Only way I can sell those is to keep them in as mint condition as possible. Some of those things are worth hundreds to the right person.” 


“And has the ‘right person’ ever come in?” The Pooka leapt from one shelf to another as if they were tree branches. 


“Once. Maybe twice,” Martin admitted, slightly embarrassed.


“Maybe twice,” mused the Pooka. “And how long have you been doing this?” Martin rolled his eyes but didn’t answer. “Interesting. So why do you stay in this business? Seems these days there’s a lot better and easier ways to make a living.” 


“I enjoy it,” Martin said shortly. The Pooka let out a wheezy laugh.


“You ‘enjoy it’? And Is that why you’re sleeping on a mattress in the back of this place? Cause you enjoy it?” Martin glanced over his shoulder through the slightly parted curtains. The corner of a lumpy mattress with a ruffled tartan duvet was visible. He sighed. 


“It wasn’t all shite, you know?” He looked back. “Back in the 90’s, the market was in the biggest boom in fifty years. Every city had half a dozen shops selling out every issue they had.” As he talked, his diluted accent strengthened to almost as thick as the Pooka’s own irish brogue. “People said it was unprecedented, the success we had. ‘Course they didn’t know that Leprechaun magic filled almost every shop, making businesses grow and prosper.” Martin’s face soured as he looked down at the next comic on the stack beside him: Sandman #1. “But greed festers in the hearts of men as quickly as a maggot in a corpse. If they’d just left the industry to my people, it would’ve kept going for decades more. Just like 1929 and 2008, men consumed by greed and shortsightedness took over. Spoiled the magic with gimmicks and foolishness.” 


“Is there any other way for man to be?” said the Pooka. His long tail curled and swayed as he thought for a moment. Then, just as the creature was about to speak, the door’s bell chimed as it opened. The cold gust of wind rustled the unbagged comics in the plastic milk crates labeled “CLEARANCE”. When the man in the suit stomped the slush from his dress shoes and came in, the Pooka was nowhere in sight. The man’s black hair was neatly combed and his five o-clock shadow gave his cheeks and chin a blueish-grey hue. 


“Hello, sir. Anything I can help you with?” 


“No. I’m just looking,” said the man, wandering the small shop casually. He passed by a low shelf with a small plush pet bed and a jet-black rabbit sitting on it. The man smirked and pet the animal without asking. The rabbit flicked its ears and its green eyes twitched. He was scanning the small signs that indicated the different sections of “Marvel” and “DC” and other publishers. He stopped at the Spider-man and X-Men sections and leafed through a few. When he slid a Spider-man out, he gave a small chuckle. 


“Find something you like?” Martin asked.


“Huh? Oh, not really. Just had this as a kid. Looking at the price, I wish I’d kept it.” He shook his head and replaced the comic to its spot, checked his watch, and left without a word. As the door was closing behind him, two men came in. They went straight to Martin and silently presented their IDs. Martin knew who they were, but he nodded and took their licenses anyway. He handed them back, and then grabbed the two bundles of comics labeled “John Denham” and “Andrew John Solstein” from the bin by his feet. Once they were in paper bags, the two men grabbed them and left without saying anything. As the cold from the gust of winter air was dissipating and the shop’s warmth returned, the Pooka’s voice came from the animal on the bed. 


“Well those two were chatty,” the rabbit lept from its spot to the top of one of the short center shelves. In a blink, the Pooka was in its usual form again. “And that posh bastard. Ain’t he ever heard of asking before touching?” 


“Just two awkward nerds,” Martin said. “Regulars. They keep me afloat, so I’m not judging them. And sorry about that. He was just wasting time here.” He looked down at the now empty bin beside him. “They were the last of my online orders for the day. Who knows how busy we’ll be the rest of the day.” 


“I’m no salesman,” said the Pooka, jumping over and grappling to the Spider-man shelf. He pulled out the comic the man had looked at. “But you could’ve tried harder to get that guy to buy this.” Martin shook his head.


“No. Not even in a nostalgia culture like now will a man like that indulge himself even that little bit. At least not with comics. Cars, or scotch, maybe. Judging by his age and face, he’s a couple years from sinking his 401K into a sports car or suddenly getting really into woodworking. But not comics.” Martin picked up the Sandman comic. “I met the guy who wrote this once. At a retailer’s convention in ‘96? ‘97? He gave a speech warning all of us of the market bubble we were in and how it was going to burst. Talked about flowers or something…can’t remember…” Martin trailed off in the memory. As he thought, he tapped his fingers on the counter and after a few seconds, a pile of dull gold coins were clinking together in his hand as he absentmindedly fiddled with them. Glancing over, the Leprechaun clocked the look in the Pooka’s eyes as they followed the motion of his hand. By the next tap of his fingers, the coins were gone. Martin sighed. “The Fae Folk knew it almost a year before that conference. But his and all warnings fell on deaf, non-irish ears and within two years, it all crashed…”


The Pooka lept from the shelf he’d been dangling from and landed cat-like on top of the stack of comics Martin had been cataloging. He seemed larger, his black fur more wiry and his face a mask of intrigue. He stared at the tall, lanky comic retailer for a long while before reaching a long fingered hand out. The Pooka grabbed the newspaper that was folded on the stool behind the counter and held it up. 


“Mind if I…?”


“No. Go ahead.” The Pooka tucked it under his arm and jumped through the curtains. His tail whipped behind him and the curtains closed. Martin looked out at his comic shop with thousands of comics on the shelves and twice that in bins in the basement. The wind wailed outside, sounding like a banshee on the moors. He picked up the Sandman comic and flipped through the price guide book. The listing for the comic said: Nearmint - 150 USD. Martin inspected the comic. There were a couple spine cracks but nothing more than could affect the value. He checked the price guide again. Very fine - 60USD. Martin typed in the comic’s information into the database on his laptop and paused at the “price” column. After a moment to think, he typed in, “45 USD”. 


Maybe that’ll get a sale, Martin Clancy thought as the banshee wind wailed outside his door. 

Text Copyright © Maximillion Almgren-Bersie 2023

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