How I met Batman

I first started going to the comic store regularly back in high school. It was on the way home, right where I got off the bus, and my friend and I would stop in after school at least once a week. I was an insufferable Trekker at the time (we both were), and Barry’s comic book shop always had boxes of individual trading cards from every series under the sun. A card collector’s dream, since those packs never had that one last special card you needed.

Barry was always ready with a smile and a friendly comment, whether my purchases were Star Trek cards or X-Men comics. Even twenty years ago, collecting every X-Men comic in existence was no easy feat – but Stories Comics and Barry behind the counter could help me make it happen.

The store was like a low-tech Bat-cave – a tiny hidden gem of a shop, with secret treasures stuffed in every nook and cranny. And I emphasize low-tech – those old manual knuckle-buster contraptions for running credit cards on carbon paper, index cards for tracking customers’ trade-in credits. There was no computerized inventory. It was all in Barry’s head – every comic, old and new; every action figure, t-shirt, video tape, collectible lunch box.

I needed a part-time job during my summers and holidays while in college. And since I didn’t want to flip burgers and I was tired of babysitting, I was elated to get a job at this low-tech Bat-cave. And so thus began my journey, like a young Robin under the tutelage of Batman. Barry the comic master taught me:

  • Everybody should have a nickname or a super-hero name.
  • Never buy a new comic from the top or the bottom of the stack; those are the ones that get the most abuse during shipping. Buy a comic from the middle of the stack.
  • Classic monster movie memorabilia is always popular, not just at Halloween.
  • If the toy companies don’t make action figures of your favorite characters, then cannibalize cheap or broken figures and build and paint your own.
  • Eat all your meals off of Justice League dishes. If those aren’t available, Looney Tunes dishes will do in a pinch.
  • If someone is scared of bugs, make sure you keep plenty of plastic cockroaches on hand to terrify them.
  • A rubber snake on the t-shirt rack will also freak some people out. Both are equally hilarious.
  • Don’t waste valuable storage or display space. Everyone has room for a giant inflatable starship Enterprise the size of a bus – that’s what the ceiling is for.
  • You can never have too many comic books.
  • Or toys. Or videos/DVDs. Or unique/one-of-a-kind/weird collectible items.
  • Batman is the greatest super-hero ever.

I worked harder at Stories than I have at most any other job. Comic boxes are heavy. Customers aren’t always happy. Returning damaged merchandise to the distributors is a hassle. Employees don’t always get along.

Barry knew how to work hard and how to run a business, and kept us working hard. When I was just a customer, shopping for my Spock and Picard and Data cards, Stories was just one tiny store in a center of a strip mall. But it wasn’t long before it took over half of the strip mall; plus two other stores opened across town, and the online sales continued to grow.

But what really made the business work was that Barry knew how to play hard and laugh hard. My boss was really just a big kid who never grew up. At an age when most adults were settling down to the drudgery that the world teaches is “real life,” Barry still believed in super-heroes.

He believed there was still some fun to be had in life, some joy to be found, some good worth fighting for. Kindness mattered, smiles could really help people. That’s what the toys and the comic books taught him, and he lived it every day.

Thank you, Barry, for rescuing a lost nerdy college girl and giving her smiles and giving her friends. You were just a regular guy, a Bruce Wayne everyman, sitting behind a cash register or posting cartoons on Facebook. But really, you were Batman. Thank you for proving there are still super-heroes.

In memory of Barry Pryor, founder of Stories Comics.