Where strange fact and stranger fiction collide
I hear a forceful yet somehow dainty cough off to my right. Looking up from my keyboard I see a thin brunette woman in a black tee-shirt, with yellow lettering that says “HAN SHOT FIRST!” She is the Genius Loci of Portland. Like most girls in my bedroom she is utterly imaginary. A figment of my over-stimulated subconscious, a personification of the city that I love.
Sure that she has my attention she explains “I am concerned, Dave.”
I sigh and ask, “About what?” I have a feeling this is going to go over about as well as when my ex-wife use to ask if ‘these jeans make me look fat?’
“I am afraid that I am just not geeky enough.” She bemoans.
Portland is a very geek friendly town. Especially the chicks. I have seen hot women with Starwars and gamer tattoos, in my work’s break room heard a sixty year old grandmother bemoan that X-Men Origins, totally missed up Emma Frost’s background story, and while in line at McDonalds, overheard two female twenty somethings debate the relative merits of Philip K. Dick and Robert Heinlein. “Trust me Portland is geeky enough.” I assure her.
“But what if I am not?” She says wistfully. “I think I need more geek cred.”
I roll my eyes at my imaginary friend. “So you came to me.”
“Well you are the biggest geek I know.” She replies. Then realizing that I am not budging pulls out the big guns. Half pleading and half in a bedroom voice she proclaims. “Help me Obi Wan you are my only hope.”
There no way I can resist that. Dang my own subconscious for knowing my weaknesses. I get up and grab my keys of the table. “Come on.”
“Where are we going?” She asks hopefully.
“To geek nirvana.” I reply.
My initial experience with Things From Another World, was not in Oregon but back when I lived in Cali. Now I have compared Burnside here in Portland to Main Street USA in Disneyland, but Universal City Walk truly is like Mouse Blvd. complete with its own amusement park at the end (Universal Studios), it is also home of one of four TFAW locations. That shop was a must stop site, any time I was down in that part of LA.
They don’t just let anyone hang out a shingle in City Walk, you have to be something special, and Things defiantly is. The So-Cal location is a mixture of Hollywood glitz and homegrown comic book shop. Just like it brother to the south the Oregon stores have their own special vibe.
When I first moved to the Pacific Northwest, my first official solo excursion was to the Dark Horse Comic HQ in Milwaukie Oregon. Twenty years or so ago I read how they had this life-sized Predator statue in a window display and how some drunken yahoos smashed the glass and stole it. I laughed myself silly imagining that police report. Fortunately the missing space hunter was recovered. So I set out on a pilgrimage to the giant predator replica.
Main St. Milwaukie is pretty much dominated by Dark Horse. They own several large building on the street, nestled in between the town hall, an antique store with a real soda fountain and a nickel arcade. I discovered that the DH offices were closed on a Saturday so I snapped a few photos of the ominous alien and his life-sized heterosexual life partner a Xenomorph, and headed down the block to Dark Horse’s retail chain, Things From Another World.
The business model for your average comic book store is counterproductive. They are dark, with opaque windows and they keep all the good stuff in the back. If you want to get something new, you have to weather the stares of cooler than you clerks, and the hustle and bustle of tweens playing Magic the Gathering. They might as well hang a sign out saying “If you are not one of us, we don’t want your business.” Not so with TFAW. All the recent stuff is easily accessible on the side wall. The opposite wall has an impressive inventory of graphic novels. The clear plate glass windows allow you to peruse Tee-shirts and statuettes from the outside.
In the back I have seen classes for teaching kids how to draw comics. I have heard many version of the ubiquitous Marvel Vs Dc argument by customers on the floor. I have seen nerds spasm with glee over a copy of Tenth’s sonic screwdriver. The large African American clerk with dreadlocks seems to be always working in the Milwaukie shop when I am there, is extremely knowledgably of the subject matter. All of the staff is helpful friendly and well versed in geeky pastimes. The one time I went to the Portland store, the guy there knew every possible difference between Luke Skywalkers, and Wedge Antilles X-Wing in a new Starwars spaceship combat game.
The prices are basically MSRP, with occasional sales. I bought my nephew a Lego Monster Hunters kit for his birthday for $13.00 then later found it at Wal-Mart for $11.00. But you don’t go to TFAW for the prices, you go there for the inventory, marvelous items it is hard to get anywhere else. Most the merchandise is pretty up-to-date. In fact they have little in the way of old stuff. This isn’t the store you go to fill out a missing issue in your collection, this is where you go to get the newest and latest. Though I did find a Number 1, Starwars Agent of the Empire: Iron Eclipse in a back aisle that I couldn’t seem to find anywhere else, but that is the exception not the rule, most of their supply is things that are just out. They carry titles from most comic book companies not just Dark Horse.
In general Things From Another World is a great place to hang out, just be repaired to buy a lot of things you didn’t know existed but the inner geek in will really, really want.
As we walk back to my car, The Genius Loci looks at the window of the Dark Horse office and tilts her head, staring at the Xenomorph, she says. “You know when they deleted that scene in Aliens, about Ripley’s child dying, they really did blunt the emotional impact when she went back after Newt.”
I smile and tell her. “Portland you are geek enough.”