The Passing of the (Human) Torch

Yesterday was a big day for me in the world of comics. It was the last time I’ll probably ever see Wyll Greenwood, who I’ve known for seventeen years and who has sold me comics for ten of those. Wyll has sold his shop, All-Star Comics, you see, and is moving to the greener pastures of Oregon to start anew in a state that’s decidedly less conservative than this one.

Running a comic shop is no easy feat. There are those who believe that it is merely the act of “getting to read and talk about comics all day,” but they couldn’t be more wrong. First and foremost, it’s an independent business, and keeping it running takes an extreme act of knowledge, willpower (the real kind, not the green ring kind), and sheer guts. Wyll had all these in spades, as he successfully operated his store, first at New World Comics and later at All-Star, since the late 1970s. Think about that for a second: in an era when not only most independently-operated businesses are shuttered at a failure rate of close to 90%, he actually made a comic store thrive and succeed into the digital era. That’s saying something.

But it wasn’t his business acumen, nor his copious knowledge of comics, politics, rock, football (the European one!), history, or pop culture that endeared me to Wyll for so many years. It was his profound understanding that this business, his business, was built not on all of that but on the relationships forged with his customers. The comics business is all too frequently populated by guys who make you realize that Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons isn’t all that far from the truth, and these elitist, rude, basement-dwelling, bathing-adverse greaseballs are the type who cause the casual reader to run for the hills and get back to a life that doesn’t involve insular mental pursuits guaranteed to prolong virginity.

Not Wyll Greenwood, however.

Wyll always, ALWAYS took the time to talk, to joke, to build that trust between salesman and customer that keeps the customer not only returning, but happy to do so. We would talk about life, about my kids, about my wife’s cancer, about politics, about the most recent failings of whatever writer or artist was off his game–you name it, it was a topic for conversation. It made visiting the comic store more than just a perfunctory duty to fulfill in order to purchase my weekly loot. It made it an experience, a weekly touchstone to look forward to, similar to the old sitcom Cheers: here they are, the guys, the gang, week in and week out, always hanging out, talking shit, telling jokes, and catching up on not just comics, but life.  Wyll understood the value of cultivating this atmosphere better than anyone in any retail establishment I’ve ever encountered. We, the social outcasts, could find comeraderie and friendship at the shared experience of the comic store, all under the watchful eye of Wyll and his brilliantly wry English wit. 

But all good things must come to an end, and so, Wyll and his wife, Rhonwen, have elected to head northwest to pursue an off-the-land, carbon-footprint-free lifestyle not dissimilar to the hippie ideals Wyll so cherished from the ’60s (“A decade never to be repeated,” he liked to say). I found out about this move roughly two weeks ago, and am proud to say he trusted me enough that I was the first customer he informed of his exodus. Wyll has seen me grow up from afar, from being an angry, hardcore-listening-to punk teen, to a morose and directionless twenty-something divorcee, to a man of family and responsibility in my thirties. 

He’s been my friend.

And he shall be missed.

Sure, he’s leaving All-Star in the more-than-capable hands of seasoned comics vet Norman McFarland and next-generation pup Tyler Sherbon, but someone like Wyll doesn’t just amscray without leaving one hell of a footprint. The store will be just fine and will continue on successfully without Wyll’s hand on the till, and the culture he created will live on. 

But it’ll be just a little bit less…. English on Wednesdays.