Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Memory Lad and The Fire of '91 .

This was the beginning of the glory years, the 90's were upon us . The great boom before the eventual bust of the industry and Unicorn Comics, the store that would eventually become Worlds Collide, was the King of the Hill and soon to be located on top of one!
Unicorn was the original Oshawa comic store, preceding all other immitators, a one of a kind until there was two but that story is for another day.

The period of 1988-91 was in and around the time your not so humble writer began frequenting the Four Color wonderland, captivated by the litany of mags, rags and periodicals available. (mostly Hulk and Punisher comics at that time, truth be told.) The store had been in business for nearly a decade at this point and we had already seen the first generation of specialty comics shops erupt, the Batmania of '89 had come and gone but there was such a swell of interest in the medium and there was such a wealth of material availble the likes of whch had never been seen before.

The Comics Code Authority would dictate the path of the maintstream publishsers for several more years, many new indie publishers and underground artists longer having to deal with the contraints of the news stand, publishers and creators werefreed to make the comics they wanted for whatever audience they wished. Some of the most remarkable talent in comics history appeared on the scene throughout this period and their unbridled creativity brought the medium to new heights while slowly nudging it towards mainstream literary repectability.

I clearly remember wandering downtown toward the store and seeing a closed sign, and although everything downtown closed up by 5 O'clock it was way too early in the day for that. Then looking in on the wreckage of the place. Peering in through the smoky and discolored windows there were comics strewn about, charred, smoke damaged and waterlogged. So many wonderful stories and pieces of art lost to the ravages of fire and the efforts that quelled it. The wreckage of the place was disheartening and a bit shocking.
Besides our losses there were several apartments above the store and a whole bunch of people were displaced, their shock and trauma as a result was surely even worse than ours.

Circling back around.....

Pictured above
 is the unforgettable Memory Lad, Dave Campbell. He was a relentless ball of energy who would depart this world barely a year after this photo was taken. His enthusiasm for comics medium was infectious, you couldn't help but be convinced by his proclamations and arguments. Although it was his indelible and eidetic memory, his superhuman capacity to recall and discuss the stories, artists, writers and anything else related was the most impressive and is still unsurpassed.
Following Dave's death, Ramon Perez, Eisner Award winner and Legion of substitute Unicorns member painted a wonderful memorial to his lost friend, a warm and thoughtful portrait that still hangs in the store. Featuring Dave as an idol-like golden wonder, he beams with his trademark enthusiasm ,while the background is populated by a gallery of mourners, composed of Dave's favorite comics characters in visible states of disquiet and mourning. This Wake is visited specifically by Cerebus, The Tick, Animal Man, The Crow, Silver Surfer, Ambush Bug, Acroyear from The Micronauts and Morpheus the Lord of Dreams.

Every day I
 look up at Dave and remind myself of the way he treated me and all the others who came through the shop and i try my best to impart that same kind of joy, wonder and love of the medium that he did. Personally I feel the need to always engage the customers, discover their wants and needs, to pick their brains about the books their reading, and as a result i spend countless hours pouring over the latest comics and revisiting classics. Always trying to gain a greater understanding of the comic artform/medium, trying to pack as many wonderful stories and images into my mind as it can hold. It's a Sisyphean struggle but never stops being fun or rewarding.
In a prescient moment, not uncommon for Dave when asked to pose for a picture to go with the newspaper article he went and grabbed up one of the Cerebus "Phonebooks" to not so subtley represent and show off the greatest Canadian made comic, Dave Sim's Cerebus. It is a landmark series that came to be at the beginning of the Direct Market Comics Shop boom and it's possibility, popularity and proliferation are all inextricably tied to shops like ours. In a strange way this disaster became a boon, certainly it garnered us some free advertising.
At any rate, what was a catastrophe for the unfortunate folks that lived in the apartments above the store, did not become the devestating blow to our unique enterprize that it could have.
The pieces were picked up, the store reassemmbled and soon business resumed with hardly a beat missed.

Soon the business would resume and reform, finding itself in what Tim refers to as The Mansion on the Hill, perched overlooking the Oshawa Centre.

Next story: Midnight Madness!!!!

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