Saturday, April 28, 2018

Libraire Astro Joins the Stars

I received word earlier this month that the comic store I've been frequenting for two decades now is going to close around the end of June.  Libraire Astro, or Astro Books, or AstroLib was one of several comic stores that was just several blocks away from my High School, the other being Nebula, which closed close to two decades ago, which was when Manga was starting to gain steam in popularity, and I was developing interest in such things.  Back then, there were five - count 'em, FIVE comic stores all in close proximity to each other.  Not on the same block, but on the same street.  That number's dwindled even further now.  They were also one of the few second-hand bookstores still around, when such establishments are becoming increasingly rare to find.  That musky open-book smell is a welcoming experience, and I'll be sad to see it go.

They weren't the ONLY Comic store that dealt in second-hand books, but they were the most visible.  The other choice being Infinity Comix, located in the Pointe-Claire shopping Center.  When that side business dried up, Infinity Comix relocated to the nearby pharmacy, where it continued to be lucrative, but eventually was driven to an increasingly smaller section that is now a pale imitation of what it once used to be.  They also gave away copies of the current month’s Previews Catalogue, which was close to 500 pages of upcoming comics, and a snapshot of what the current Comic Culture was like at the time.  There’s a vast gulf of difference between then and now.  For starters, the Manga entries can be counted on the palm of your hand.  There’s barely any titles that would appeal to a wider audience.  Lots of near-pornographic images for attention getting, which certainly got mine, but not enough to actually make orders for what’d amount to five-minute flipthroughs.  And more pages devoted to merchandise than comics.  Okay, so Previews hasn't changed that much.

While disappointing, I hoped that AstroLib would be able to put off the inevitable.  The owners had been running the store for years, and even the influx of younger staff helping out wasn't enough to deter the impending demise.  An article about charitable donation showed just how much trouble the owners were in:
Betty walks with two canes, but still comes in daily. Paul got past a bout of flesh-eating disease several years ago, then suffered a stroke about (five) years back that left him partially paralyzed. He still comes in for a few hours a day, and works from home.
“If this store closes, he would turn into a vegetable,” Betty says. “So will I. I’m not looking for that.” 
The death knell came from... well, the blurb on their front webpage says it all:
It seems our *pfui* old landlord sold the building in October of 2017, and didn't even have the courtesy to let us know. We made contact with the new owners in January, but were unable to come to any mutually acceptable terms, so we have to be out (which means the place has to be empty) by July 1st., which is exactly 31 years since the day we started setting up here.
Whoops- looks like the new landlord jumped the gun a bit and put up a really nifty "For Rent" sign on the Ides of March. I had planned to make the announcement at the end of the month, with the new (and final) Astronotes.
That's right - the new landlord raised their rent rates without telling them.  How much?  Well, the new owner went by market value, which means that it went from a reasonable $3,500 a month to $9,000.  When no one was looking, the landlord raised to $9,000 a month.  That's more than twice as much.  And that's terrible.  Even with Kickstarter charity donations, that's still too rich for their wallets.

For those not in the know, Astronotes are those blurbs they give to Previews Comics.  A sort of mini-Progressive Ruin's End of Civilization.  The earliest entries go as far back as #206 up to #272.  I've been going through their online backlog looking up quality commentary worth saving, which I'll share further down.
It's been a lot of fun (and a lot of work), but frankly neither Mary, Betty, Mark, nor I, at ages 67, 72, 74 and 68 are in the kind of shape needed to start over with a new location.
AND DON'T WORRY about your list: We've got it covered until (and including) whatever ships June 20.
I was assured that the excess money I put as a down payment for future comics would be refunded after the last of my orders came through.

Interestingly enough, there was constant confusion between the two elderly female members of staff, Mary and Betty.  People would constantly confuse the nice woman with the cranky woman all the time, even though they didn’t look much alike.  I suppose when you don’t deal with women much, facial blindness ensues.  Despite her jowly looks, Betty Stock (apt name) Handleman is the friendly one.

I don't have an available photo of Mary, but she looked far more cheerful with fritzy hair, yet was the cranky one.

So you have plenty of time to move your list to another store. I'd particularly recommend Marc Parenteau's "Comic Hunter" up at 9675 Papineau.
One of the few stores to predate us, Komico, is still on Decarie near Queen Mary, and Cosmix continues on Decarie in Ville St.Laurent. I'm sure any of these guys will be more than happy to take care of you. Oh, and lest I forget, I'm told (by Mary and a few customers) that Charlie, the new owner of Capitaine Quebec (just across the street from us) is a nice guy, and you shouldn't have any problem finding that place!
BUT PLEASE- WHEREVER YOU'RE GOING TELL THEM TO START PULLING FOR YOU JUNE 27 AND NOT BEFORE! We need every last nickel we can get from you folks, so play nice, okay?
They recommended these stores, but I decided to go with Crossover Comics, since it’s closer to public transit, and the interiors don’t make me feel claustrophobic, and I can talk to the staff with ease.  Not to mention the reservoir of available comics is closer to my demographic compared to the other stores which are more closely designed to appeal to the typical Old-School Comic buyer audience, which isn’t my taste.  Another plus is that they have a preview of what’s coming out this week, which the other stores don’t have.  Granted, it’s not divided between pamphlets and Trades, but there are covers shown, so I gain something and lose something.

Their ordering system is slightly different, which confused me at first.  Normally at Astrolib, I made a down payment of cash up front for multiple books in advance.  Helpfully, at reasonable American prices, not the higher Canadian prices, made fluid by what the exchange rate at the time was.  At Crossover, I pay a $5 fee for each individual book I want that I'll get back to pay for the book in full at a 20% discount when it comes in.  It'll take me some getting used to.
Or maybe if someone wants to buy us out, we'd be more than happy to talk, and you won't have to decide on a new place> We'll try to engineer it so you can just continue here. For obvious reasons, if buying Astro appeals to you, it's best to get it done ASAP, because the sooner it's done the better your chances of customer retention.
You know, I've always disliked those "Being called home to Jesus" sales that are so rife in this business (Buy our books or we'll die). Well, we've been called home,so we're gonna have a sale. Call it a "Turn off the lights sale!" 
Talking of sales, Astrolib would go through the extensive amount of comics in an interesting way.  Every September, it would undergo it’s annual 9-9-9 Dump the Clunk massive clearance sale, where the mass backlog of comics in their longbox display would be available at incremental discounts.  10% off on the 1st day of September, 20% on the second and so on up to the ninth, where everything would be 90% off.  I never participated in these deals, but imagine it must’ve been extremely tempting for casual customers to decide whether to make an impulse purchase for an issue or hold off until later on the off chance it’d still be available then.

Then, after numerous articles were made about the store's imminent demise, this disclaimer showed up on the webpage later:
IT'S NOT ABOUT THE RENT We've gotten a substantial amount of press since we announced the store's closing, Unfortunately, they've all focused on a rent increase s the reason. While we couldn't handle a jump to the new landlord's asking of $9500 a month, we had made the decision to shut down well before that number came up. In fact the number came as a result of a prospective store buyer making the call to the rental agent. It's probably true, but it makes no difference to us. We're finished any way you look at it. The actual reason is that neither Mark, Betty, Mary nor I are physically capable of putting in the kind of effort needed to get the place flying again. To everything there is a season, and this happens to be the winter of our working lives.
One thing that I feel particularly guilty of is that the store still has volumes 2-3 of Oyayubihime Infinity, after I ordered the series when CMX was going out of the Manga business, and I was collecting whatever worthy Mangas in their stock was still available.  There was some conflicting information between Mary and Betty, which resulted in double orders, and no other customers bothered to pick those volumes up.  That always bothered me.  For the record, apart from From Eroica With Love, I haven’t really reread any of the CMX Mangas - that’s probably another failing of the company line.

Also, Astrolib was remarkably progressive.  In addition to stocking Manga, it had a wheelchair ramp allowing for easy access.  How many Comic shops are Handicap Accessible?  Go ahead,  I’ll wait.  The closest would be Carsley's Comic in a building via elevator.  But the restrictive open hours and narrow entrance doorframe would work against that.

Amazingly enough, as progressive as they were in supporting other forms of comics including
Manga when it was only available in pamphlet form, they never updated their computer system, stubbornly using the same DOS program for YEARS.  To get an idea of how ancient their system was, the computer monitor displaying the latest arrivals was in Black and White.  It was THAT old.

If you look closely at Paul's monitor, you can see it's a blue spreadsheet with a typewriter keyboard, similar to the familiar model I'm used to.  Once the store closes for good, I hope they find something to do and keep themselves far away from lethargy and boredom.

As promised, I picked out some of the most noteable Astronotes entries.  Keep in mind that this is only a small sample, from 206-210 and a quick look at 272.  I had to stop because it was extremely time-consuming.  More behind the cut.

From September 2012

Absolutely nothing new from DC this month. Lots of reprint TPBs and such, of course, but new? Forget it.

On the other hand, Marvel has tons of new stuff!
Why look, not just dull old "Incredible" Hulk, but the Indestructible Hulk. If he's indestructible, I guess we don't have to worry about him too much, do we?

And there's the All New X-Men!

 Not just the "New" X-Men (which they tried about 12-15 years ago, but All new. So I guess we can't expect any appearances by, oh, Wolverine or Cyclops or Iceman or anyone- they’re not new...
Iron Man! Thor God Of Thunder! Captain America!

Look: We won't be doing any of this "11R" nonsense as Marvel copies DC's relaunch in Marvel's usual haphazard way, we'll just continue each series with its new numbering, unless you tell us not to.

THE SUPERHERO BATTLE ROYALE YOU CAN'T GET FROM MARVEL OR DC! A powerful and mysterious supervillain has imprisoned the world's greatest superheroes, forcing them to fight to the death until there is but one victor. It's kill or be killed as we settle the score on all those hypothetical superhero match-ups in the ultimate Deathmatch. Written by industry legend Paul Jenkins (Sentry, Inhumans) and drawn by comics superstar Carlos Magno (Planet of the Apes, Transformers), Deathmatch is a dark, psychological deconstruction of the superhero genre that can't be missed.
To call someone whose main claim to fame is art on Planet of the Apes and Transformers a superstar is akin to calling Astro a rival to Chapters and Amazon.
Why does it just seem wrong that a story of the macabre featuring ghouls and vampires is being created by someone named Christopher Mitten?
I thought Devil's Due died five or six years ago, like Alias and Dreamwave, but I forgot: This is the comics biz, where "dead" often means "not around for the moment". Now, "on hiatus", that means "gone forever". 
Anyways, it appears DD is back. For now, anyways.
You know, with most publishers, even Image and Moonstone, you sometimes get the feeling that they have an intern plowing through the back of filing cabinet drawers searching for TPB fodder. With Top Cow, the job must be more akin to combing the streets looking for cigarette butts that might have a couple of puffs left in them.

In the aftermath of FEAR ITSELF, the eight mystical hammers that fell from the sky and empowered the Worthy are scattered across the globe - and Sin intends to reclaim them. But Asgardian warrior Valkyrie opposes the Red Skull's nihilistic daughter, planning to return the weapons to Asgard. As Sin and Crossbones use the dark magic of occult group DOA to track the hammers, Valkyrie must fight her way through Raizo Kodo and his legion of vampires, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, and even her Secret Avengers teammates - all with their own agendas for the weapons! Can she find and secure the hammers before Sin can use their power to raise the ultimate force of destruction? Or will a second wave of fear and death descend upon the world? Collecting FEAR ITSELF: THE FEARLESS #1-12 and material from FEAR ITSELF #7.
No, there haven't been any snotty comments for a while. That's because my brain has already turned to mush.

There's a rumour that Azzarello is about to jump ship from DC to IDW, where he's slated to take over as writer for My Little Pony. 
Not a very plausible rumour, I'll admit, but as good as any other I'm likely to invent.
We'll call this one "X-FORCE 2013". I'm sorry, but a mental block within me says there's only one "Uncanny" in the Marvel Universe, and that's the venerable "Uncanny X-Men".
Young Avengers, New Avengers, West Coast Avengers, Mighty Avengers, Indestructible Avengers... 
Why am I reminded of the time when all the "creative" minds of the comics industry thought they could capitalize on the success of "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" by bringing out their own pale, witless imitations under names like "Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters". Any day now I expect to see a solicitation for "Pre-Teen Dirty Gene Kung Fu Hawkeye".

(W/A) Higashi Nishida

President Momoi is only interested in his leadership role cause it'll help him find a young, sexy boyfriend! But why is he constantly gazing at his colleague, the old and very married Director Watanabe? And what exactly does his massive company manufacture, anyway?! President Momoi-kun splices together the silly and seductive in a masterful mix of crushes, courtship...and naughty "candid" photos.
"President Momoi" A gay president? Whoever heard of such a thing?
A couple of the right-wing forums that I peek in on from time to time have taken to calling Obama "the first gay President". They invariably become upset when I point out that there's very little doubt (evidenced by letters and lifestyle) that James Buchanan, president from 1857-1861 was gay. His long-time companion, Rufus King, was called "Mrs.Buchanan" by other politicians of the day, including Andrew Jackson.
I wonder: Does Gene Simmons have a "Lick" button on his Facebook page?
I may not be Gilbert Gottfried, but I get it: 
It's okay to call a Star Trek fan a "Trekkie, and it's okay to call a My Little Pony fan a "Brony", but it's not okay to call a Transformer fan a "Tranny". 
Be advised.

Collects THE DARKNESS #106-110
After 110 issues of the series, they could only find enough material for TWO TPBs? Pretty pathetic there, Slop Sow.
I rather like that the publisher, Digital Manga felt the need to clarify that this book, by manga star Osamu Tezuka, is "(MANGA)". How would we ever have known without their help?

(W/A)  McCranie, Stephen

Amy lives on a mining colony out in deep space, but when her dad loses his job the entire family is forced to move back to Earth. Amy says goodbye to her best friend Jemmah and climbs into a cryotube where she will spend the next 30 years frozen in a state of suspended animation, hurtling in a rocket toward her new home. Her life will never be the same, but all she can think about is how when she gets to Earth, Jemmah will have grown up without her. (STL077548) (C: 0-1-2)

SC, 8x11, 496pgs, PC    SRP: $10.99
496 pages, magazine sized, for eleven bucks. That's 2.2¢ per page. Why do I feel just a wee bit apprehensive about this?

(W) Michael Dante Dimartino (A) Irene Koh (CA) Heather Campbell

When Asami is kidnapped, Korra sets out to the Spirit Wilds to find her. Now teeming with dark spirits influenced by the half spirit-half human Tokuga, the landscape is more dangerous than ever before. The two women must trust in each other and work together if they are to make it out alive. Their fate is revealed in this stunning, action-packed conclusion to The Legend of Korra: Turf Wars! SC,   6x9, 80pgs, FC      SRP: $10.99
$10.99 for 80 pages, eh? Must be of a much higher quality than "Space Boy". At about seven times the per page price (and pages being 40% smaller) it better be.
Of course, it wasn't all snark.  Some entries had insightful commentary added.

I dunno- Barnaby is beloved by the "cognoscenti". It's about a little kid and his cigar-chomping fairy godfather, Mr.O'Malley (who nobody but Barnaby can see). It was quite a sensation, truly "critically acclaimed", but was maybe a bit too clever for its time. It only lasted ten years or so, a pretty short lifespan as strips go. Maybe I'm just a lout: I've gotten Barnaby books from time to time, (they're pretty scarce), and while I found them amusing, they didn't grab me enough to go searching for them (as L'il Abner and Smilin' Jack once did).
I've long wondered about Braniac the bad guy: He shrunk Kandor down small enough to fit in that bottle, right? Along with what- 50,000 people or more? All of whom would have died when Krypton exploded- so Braniac's not such a bad guy. He saved all those people.
Ya know, if nothing else, you have to give Marvel credit for persistence. I think this is something like the 867th time they've tried another Nova series. They may well have tried a new series more often for Nova than for Dr. Strange. Maybe even more times than they've tried new Iron Man armor, and they started doing that with Tales of Suspense #41! (Shell-Head was introduced in TOS #139.) Nova first appeared in 1966, so those 867 titles represents a new one every 2.76 weeks for 46 years. Or maybe it just feels that way...
Won't it be great if Fosdick is part of this "Fearless" team"?
*Sigh*. When Cavewoman: Rain first came out, I was very much charmed by Bud Root's art. Not so much figures (although he certainly knows his way there, but his backgrounds and vehicles rivaled the best of Gerhard and Pete Millar. Those days are long gone, now. A year or two in, Root sort of eased himself out, dropped this Devon Massey person in, and  in my eyes it became little more than a cheesecake book, like "Vampirella" or "Tarot".
Wow. I wonder how much this is gonna be. Oh. ONLY $112.50. Wish I could afford one, but I'm sure it's going to be out of range for my wallet.
So buy lots and lots and lots of stuff guys, and maybe I'll be able to buy my own Jack Davis book with the profits.


Milton Caniff (w & a & c)
Another "found out recently": Milton Caniff, the legendary cartoonist, creator of "Terry & The Pirates" and "Steve Canyon", pronounced his name wrong. I always pronounced his name the way it should be pronounced (and of course I'm always right), "Milton CAN-if. He said "ka-NIFF. I stand enlightened.

(W) Pat Mills (A) Joe Colquhoun

Join 16 year-old Charley Bourne as he eagerly signs up to fight on the Western front in 1916. The idealistic working class boy experiences the perilous arena of trench warfare, where every waking moment is a bitter fight for survival. As visceral, thrilling and compelling as on its debut, this intensely dramatic war story is the finest the comic book medium has ever produced. Written with acute political and historical insight by British comics legend Pat Mills, it is illustrated throughout with the breathtaking artwork of Joe Colquhoun. This first volume of Charley's War includes Charley's harrowing participation in one of the bloodiest encounters in human history, the Battle of the Somme.  320pgs, B&W   SRP: $26.99
The bumf doesn't do this book justice. It's great. Simple as that. Do yourself a favour and get it.  [Emphasis mine]
Some entries had some rather personal history in them.  VERY Personal TMI history.


The JLA's very first foe, Starro the Conqueror, returns in this title now in trade paperback!
The 1960's manifestation of the JLA is why I hate team books: Back when Starro first appeared my mother used to chaperone my sister's annual trip to a choir competition in Ottawa. I went along as a kind of mascot. In those days, the road there was old highway 17, and the trip took roughly 4-1/2 months by bus. One year I had "Slave ship of Space" to read, another I had "Starro" (both featuring goofy Mike Sekowsky art. That's it. That's all I had to read each trip. Well, not quite all. Fortunately, for some reason we went through the Ottawa train station, and there was a newsstand here that had no compunctions about selling Playboy to an 11-year old. Of course I didn't dare trying to peruse that on the trip back. So the five-year long trip back to Montreal was endless re-readings of Justice League. By the 340th run-through (Orleans), I'd developed this aversion to team books that lasts to this day.
I have an aversion to the name "Bram". This aversion stems from a "customer" we had here a long long time ago, whose name was Bram. 
"Our Bram (who died over ten years ago) was crazy: Paranoid, he was forever going on about how the "community" (You know who I mean) was constantly thwarting his latest attempt to re-establish himself. 
Our Bram really wasn't all that insane, or so the release letter he carried from some psychiatric hospital in New Brunswick stated. His schizophrenia was under control. Or at least it was in 1958 when the letter was written. Unfortunately we got to know him in the late 1980s, and he'd backslid a wee bit. A lot. Anyways, since then I've been leery of anybody named "Bram". I doubt that I'll be reading "The End Times of Bram & Ben", despite having no problem with folks called Ben.

In these 1960s stories, Jimmy Olsen becomes "The Giant Turtle Man of Metropolis" and more. Plus, Lois Lane marries Astounding Man!
Speaking of turtles, we have two of them critters, Lester B.Turtle and Chester A.Turtle (both females). When we got them (in 2001) they were about the size of a Loonie. They're both now about the size of a milk crate- their shells are 11-12" long. A couple of months ago, Lester took a bite out of the back of Chester's neck. Since then they've been living in separate tanks, Chester getting a penicillin shot every two days until the vet says she's 100% healed. The buggers have very slow metabolisms, so healing takes a long time. 
I learned something about these critters recently: They're not turtles, they're tortoises. The difference is that tortoises have feet, and move about on land a lot, while turtles have flippers, and are more aquatic. I never knew which was which, but now I do, and so do you. And you can blame it on Jimmy Olsen.
DEXTER #1 (OF 5)
Yeah, okay, "crime fighting serial killer" blah blah. Makes me think, at this particular moment, of the death (from cancer) this past week of Albert Lisacek. Albert was a long-time customer of ours, a big, hulking, profane guy, who lived over near Ste.Catherine and Fort. He was also a retired SQ officer who at one time was pictured on the cover of"The Canadian" (now defunct national newsmagazine) with the banner: "Canada's toughest Cop." 
I knew someone who grew up in the same neighborhood as Albert, and she said he was like a big brother to her, and to many other kids in the Plateau. If a bad guy bullied a kid, Albert would have a little chat with the miscreant. The bad guy would either give up bullying or move, how quickly depending on how soon he got out of the hospital. When Albert grew up he joined the SQ, but his propensity for "street justice" kept right on going, causing endless disciplinary problems for his superiors. Tough, nasty guy, but his reputation was that he had a knack for only pounding on scumballs, particularly gang or mob members. 
Anyways, why did I pick this point to mention him? 
This "Dexter" book reminded me: Dexter's in Miami, and Albert loved spending winters at his condo down there. He told me he had some buddies on the police force there, and he used to ride along on patrols. He said it was amazing how often they'd get into shootouts, and he liked that kind of stuff. For real. I guess he took those "Gunfight at the OK Corral" Westerns he liked to read seriously.  Albert claimed they'd never know how many Quebec hoods had disappeared thanks to him. and they'd never find the bodies, because he knew how to hide them. Yeah, he could be a bit of a blowhard, but maybe he actually was the "friendly neighborhood crime-fighting serial killer" he claimed to be. One killing he definitely took part in was that of Richard Blass, a real piece of garbage who, only a few days before his own death, had murdered 13 people by locking them into a club's storeroom and setting fire to the place. Albert claimed that 17 of the 23 bullets in Blass's corpse came from his gun, but the official report had it that Albert only led the raid, and didn't actually fire. Another point where Albert's eyewitness account differs from the official one is that "officially" Blass shot first. Albert said the cops didn't wait. They started shooting while Blass was still in bed. They did take care not to hit Blass's girlfriend who, Albert said, was quite good looking and very obviously unarmed, being naked at the time. 
Anyways, Albert Lisacek, a legendary Montrealer, and one of our more interesting customers, has departed this life at the somewhat surprisingly advanced age of 79. Rest in peace, Albert.
In closing, a fitting poem to end the day:


And in the Dollar store
The clerk is closing up
And counting Loonies trying not to say
In darkest night and in the brightest day
I....... hate............ Winnipeg

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