There was a small stack of them, so I stacked comics underneath and then I’d wait until they built up over the course of a few weeks, then I’d go in with a book bag and steal them, so that’s how I got those
Then I fell out of comics in high school, because I was like, “Comics? I like pussy.” Then after high school, it was Walter Flanagan who was pretty fucking badass, too, and he liked comics. And was just like you get the comics and pussy too, so he got me back into it.
So he took me to Strathmore, the hobby shop in Matawan. It would probably be the Strathmore. And I went looking for “Grimjack.” To complete a “Grimjack” run, I needed about 30 issues. And I went looking for it that day. “The Killing Joke” had just come out, so we were always looking for first prints of “Killing Jokes,” because we could trade them for 10 bucks a pop.
So these cats wouldn’t go to the hobby shop in Matawan. The dudes behind the counter, I was a little more unctuous than them, because I’d just gotten back into it, so I didn’t want any crease in the book. I would go through, handpick them out, almost carry them on a platter like this, bring them up to them to get paid for and the first thing they fucking do is bend the book! Like, no, I just took 10 minutes to find the best copy. So I go back, find another one, come back and do it again.
So I was a little more unctuous than them and they would – I remember the dude at Fantasy and that was so weird. It was Dave, what was his name, Wyndorf, who was the lead singer of a group called Monster Magnet. They became kind of famous. He was the guy that would run the counter, and like I would get into enough fights, but I’d be like, “You bent the fucking book, dude.” I wouldn’t say he was Comic Book Guy from “The Simpsons,” but he definitely had erudition and he was definitely like, “You’re taking this too seriously.”
Then, when Steve-Dave approached us one day, and he was just like, “I’m moving back to Thailand with my wife. So I’m going to close or sell the store and I was going to put it on the market. But before I do that, I know you like comics and I know you’ve got some movie money, so do you have any interest in buying the store?” And I was like, “You know what, dude, I honestly thought one day we would all own a store, like me and my friends, and this is a little earlier than I expected, but let me look at it.”
And he came up with the price. And it was too high. I got him down to 30k and I rationalized it by going it’s roughly what we spent to make the film. It was like three grand more than what we spent to make “Clerks,” $2,500 really, than what it cost to make “Clerks.”
But “Clerks” kind of made all my dreams come true and this was meant to make Walt’s dream come true. Because Walt’s only ever wanted to run a comic book store and I was like I can make that fucking happen. Some things in life you can’t do for your friends, but that one, that was easy.
So I was like, “All right, I’ll buy the store and Walt will run it.” And he wouldn’t do it for two years. He refused to do it. He was like comic book stores close all the time. He was like, “I work at the rec center, dude. I make $15,000 a year with benefits. I’m not leaving,” and I was like, “Oh, lord.”
Two years later, we had the store open. Walter would order the books but he wouldn’t go work down there, wouldn’t leave the rec center. Two years later, I said, “Walter, I will pay you the most of any comic book store manager has ever been paid in New Jersey, $40,000 to $50,000, leave the other job and run this, this is what you want in life.” And finally, he fucking did it and that was like 10 years ago.
He was always like, “It’s going to close.” I said, “Dude, I swear to you I’ll keep it open for minimum of five years.” But he’s run the business very tight, so he’s kept it alive. So ironically enough, he wrote his own ticket, so to speak. Like he was the one that kind of got me back into comics and because of that one day I was like, “Oh shit, here have a comic book store to run.”
And we’ve done so much in that space and now for it to be this (reality show) is weird. But the sad thing is he didn’t want to do it. I was like, “Wow, man, you’ll never believe this one. There may be an AMC reality show.” And he went, “Well, I don’t want to do it.” I said, “Come on, why not?” He goes, “I don’t want to be fucking Snooki.” I was like, “You don’t have to be Snooki. Bryan could be Snooki. But why wouldn’t you want to be Snooki? Man, Snooki made a lot of money last year.” He goes, “I ain’t interested in that.” And I said, “Dude, it could be a really good commercial for the store,” and there was a beat of silence. He goes, “All right, I’ll do it, because that’d be a good thing for the store.”
I always assumed one day Walter would just buy the store from me. So I think he saw it as kind of like a free commercial. Let’s do it. Johnson didn’t want to do it, but he eventually did it, because he wants to fix his fucking knee and needs the money.
And I remember having a conversation with Johnson, because I’m like, “I move shit and he moves it right back.” And Johnson was just like, “Dude, he hates it. He hates it when you go into that store and touch things.” So I said, “But it’s my store.” He says, “No, it’s not. You asked him to run it, so it’s his store.” And so at that point, I was like, “All right, I guess I won’t touch anything in the store.”
So everything you see in the store is a reflection of Walter’s taste, not mine, but, thankfully, they’re pretty damn close. But I learned early on, and it was a tough lesson, too, because I wanted to be as involved in it but the only way he was going to treat it like his was to give him full rein.
And we didn’t have a lot of wall space down there. We wanted to move to a place where we could put up a lot of things. That’s the reason we moved.
So I’ve never had to pay for it out of pocket. Now, it gets bolstered. At one point, it was bolstered by the online was connected to it, so a lot of our online stuff was going through The Stash, but now that’s been separated out.
But The Stash has always kind of held its own and it’s taken care of itself, because Walter won’t carry golden or silver age. He only believes in putting up what he can sell. And when it comes to ordering, he’s not the guy who’s like, “Hey, man, I got 50 of this issue.” He’s like, “I got six, and when they’re gone, they’re gone.” So he runs a pretty tight ship.
That’s the nice thing about this show is that we remind people like, hey, comics, not just digital. They actually have them, you could hold them in your hands and you could walk in and buy them. So, hopefully, that’ll push that up. But in all the years we’ve been doing it, the new books have never been the biggest percentage, though, less now than ever. Honestly, we may do better with (trade paperback collections) than we do with new books at the store, because of shit like digital.
But this is the thing, when I pitched it, I just pitched “Pawn Stars” at a comic book store. What the show did become without my influence and I was kind of delighted when I watched the first episode is “Clerks” the reality show. It’s “Clerks” the reality show mixed with “Mallrats”the reality show. So for me, when I watch it, it takes me right back to that moment in time and those feelings that spawned those two movies and it involves the same people that spawned it the first time.
So it felt like after years of going, “All these movies are thinly veiled portrayals of my friends,” here, we take the mask off. These are my friends and they’re way funnier. Honestly, Johnson’s far funnier than anything I ever wrote for Randall, because Randall is based on Bryan Johnson. Walter’s funnier than anything I wrote for Brodie and Brodie is based on Walter.
So putting them front and center and just letting them say whatever they’re going to fucking say to me, people are going to like it or they won’t. But I think they’re going to, because there’s something charming about them. They’re not just the normal kind of acerbic, like, “Fuck everything” clerks. They’re middle age, too, you know what I’m saying. So they’ve been called losers enough in their life where they just feel like, “No, at a certain point, you go beyond loser into a winner” kind of thing.