Comics/Graphic Novels

Confessions of an Ex-Bookseller

Sonja Palmer

Staff Writer

Sonja resides in Asheville, NC where she has a job she loves at a children’s nonprofit.  When she’s not working, she probably has a book or comic in hand as she tries to read her way out of the ever-growing stack in her small apartment.  On weekends, she’s probably clambering through the mountains with her husband and dog or trying to eat too much cake while watching Great British Bake Off.

A couple of years ago when I still worked at Barnes and Noble as a bookseller, any time a customer had questions about comics they would get waved over my way. “Go see the curly redhead about Batman.” I would greet the customer with an enthusiastic “ALRIGHT! YES! Want a classic?  Hoo boy, I’ve got something for you. Oh oh, you’re looking for something for your girlfriend? AWESOME. What kind of books does she like?” And I would recommend a big stack of titles and get really, really excited because that part of my job was the absolute best.

However, if I was helping a dude, I often watched his face do some kind of weird zombie-like twitch and then he’d say the following words:

“So, wait. You’ve actually READ these?”

* Sigh *

Yes, sir. Yes, I have.

I even had to get in a couple of nerd-offs, which I hate, but when dudes start trying to prove I’m a fake-geek girl or whatever, I WILL GO ALL MJOLNIR ON THEIR ASSES until they change the subject or slink away in a snit. If you come on my turf and try to creepy or weird, you’ll get what is coming to you.


So talking to people about comics could be infuriating, but it was often delightful.  It’s something I really miss about that minimum wage part-time job (I don’t miss the peanut butter crackers for dinner because of no money). Eating real food is nice, but I sometimes miss being able to squint at some guy as I watch his sad worldview shrivel a bit. Even more so though, I miss giving young girls comics about themselves, or moms comics for their kids who are reluctant readers, or excited dudes awesome new series to enjoy. When someone came back with a, “THAT WAS AWESOME. Have any other suggestions?” I could say, “Well, yes, yes I do.  Have you read Captain Marvel? NO! Well, boy, life is about to get better for you.” That feeling? That feeling can’t be beat. And now with all these new amazing comics, I miss the opportunity to hand-sell.

That connection is what it’s really about, you know: nerding out with someone else and being enthusiastic about something awesome.  One of the best parts of enjoying something is the opportunity to give it to someone else. I don’t understand the urge to shut gates in people’s faces or somehow prove you are better.  The best part about reading Lumberjanes was sharing it with my younger sister-in-law. Reading Bitch Planet is way more fun when I talk to my one of my friends about how it makes us feel like powerful badasses who can take on the world despite all the crappy work emails that week.  YOU JUST CC’D SEVEN BOSSES ON THIS EMAIL? Well, I AM NON-COMPLIANT AT HEART, SUCKERS.

I don’t want to miss the best part of being involved in nerd-dom. I no longer have to deal with dude side-eye (or creepy breathing-but that’s another issue) in the comic aisle, a fact for which I am grateful. I can find ways to reach out and give great comics to other people through online communities or by force-feeding them to friends and family members (I’m fun at holidays) So while I sometimes miss that little righteous flare of indignation, I guess what I’m saying is that connection is what I really loved about my job, and that can still be made regardless of where I am.

I am curious though, for other ex-booksellers/comic-slinging ladies, about your stories of woe or excitement? What’s your favorite story of that connection or annoyance?