Jeff Albertson – better known as “Comic Book Guy” – is one of the most beloved minor characters on The Simpsons. I think it’s because so many of us have known a “Comic Book Guy” in real life: a socially-awkward comic book or record shop owner who lords over his store as if it was his own little kingdom. While they might have incredible knowledge of the most obscure comics or musical genres, they are loathe to share their knowledge with anyone, and often answer honest questions with a roll of the eyes and a sarcastic rejoinder.
I had a Comic Book Guy of my own. I think his name was Harry, but I never bothered to learn his name, because to me he was always just “the asshole at Wax N’ Facts”.
Wax N’ Facts is a record shop in the Little Five Points (L5P) neighborhood of Atlanta. Back in the 80s, L5P was the place for hipsters to hang out. Travel guides called the neighborhood “Bohemian” or “funky”, and Wax N’ Facts was where we all bought our music.
My troubles with the Wax N’ Facts Comic Book Guy (WNFCBG) started the day after I got my first car. I took delivery of the car in the late evening, and drove it to school for the first time the next morning. I went home and did my homework after school, then decided to drive to L5P… just because I could. And, of course, I went to Wax N’ Facts to see what was new. I saw a couple of records I was mildly interested in, but what really caught my eye was a Dead Can Dance t-shirt (they weren’t common back in the day). I didn’t have the cash for it at the time, so I decided to return a few days later, after payday.
Wax N’ Facts was originally quite small. For people who have been there, the section with used records was once a completely different store: the big steel posts that separate the new records from the used ones was once a wall that separated Wax N’ Facts from a hippy furniture store next door. Because the store was so small – and, no doubt, due to shoplifters – they didn’t just put their T-shirts out on the sales floor. Instead they folded them into squares design side out, stuffed them into plastic record sleeves and thumbtacked them to the wall. So when you saw a shirt you wanted, you’d just go to the register, point to it, and say that you wanted the Einsturzende Neubauten shirt in size XL. Someone would then go in the storage area and dig one out for you.
So anyway, a few days later I came back… but the Dead Can Dance shirt was gone. I asked an employee about it – Alice, I think her name was – and she said that she didn’t know what happened to it. She turned to WNFCBG and asked him about it. He said that they’d never had any Dead Can Dance shirts. I told him that it was hanging on the wall just a few days ago. He called me “crazy”. Alice said that she remembered the shirt, and even pointed to the spot on the wall it had been just a few days earlier. He then called both of us crazy and said that the store had never carried a Dead Can Dance shirt, and never would.
Alice, still pointing at the spot, walked over and actually put her finger on the wall to emphasize where it was. A passing employee said that he too remembered the t-shirt. WNFCBG said something to him along the lines of “jumping on the crazy train” with the me and Alice. This really made the normally mellow Alice mad, and the two of them were soon shouting at each other like an old married couple. Like, literally.
Horrified, I slowly slunk away from the counter and snuck out of the store.
My greatest WNFCGB moment, however, involved The Glove.
The Glove was a side project of Robert Smith (of The Cure) and Steve Severin (of Siouxsie & the Banshees). The two had long wanted to work together, and the band seemed like a great temporary escape from the turmoil engulfing both their bands at the time. However, Smith was contractually prohibited from singing for any band other than The Cure, so the duo had Jeanette Landray (an ex-girlfriend of Bugie, Severin’s bandmate) sing. They intended to only record a couple of singles, but quickly amassed enough material for an entire album, which was released as Blue Sunshine in 1983.
The album had a limited run in the UK, and was thus was fairly difficult to find in the United States. The album – which was really great, by the way – developed something of a cult following. I finally managed to track down a copy in 1988 or so, but it was used and had more than a few scratches.
So – sometime in the early 90s – when I read in a British music magazine that the album was going to be released on CD, I was ecstatic. Although the magazine was new to me, it was actually a couple months old by the time I got it – back then it often took more obscure overseas magazines a couple of months to reach American shores. So it was, it seemed, completely reasonable to assume that if I was reading about the Blue Sunshine release in magazine that was a couple of months old, it might be released in the UK already.
I went to Wax N’ Facts the very next day to ask about it. As it was just past opening time, WNFCBG was the only employee visible in the store, so I was forced to ask him about it.
He looked at me with pure contempt. He once again called me “crazy”, and this time I was told that Blue Sunshine would never be released on CD, and mine was the stupidest question he’d ever heard. I told him I’d read about it in a magazine, and he taunted me with “Oooooo! You read it in a magazine – it must be true, then!” before laughing his head off at my expense. He then turned and walked away, still laughing at my question, his own cleverness, or both.
As fate would have it, I came back with some friends a couple days later. It wasn’t my idea: we’d eaten at nearby La Fonda, and since my friends didn’t work in the area like I did, they wanted to stop and look at records. And when we walked into the store, WNFCBG was working the cash register. He saw me and announced to everyone that “Oh look… The Glove Guy is back!” He then condescendingly asked if I’d found the CD yet. I ignored him as best as I could.
For the next couple of months, he always announced me as “The Glove Guy” and giggled whenever he saw me in the store. I even once heard him explaining my nickname to another employee along the lines of “yeah, that stupid guy thinks this obscure Cure album is going to come out on CD one day”.
Because WNFCBG’s taunts – but mostly because it was cheaper, and often had a better selection of the music I liked at the time – I started shopping at Tower Records. Imagine my surprise when I stopped by one day and found… Blue Sunshine on CD. I picked it up and literally ran to the register. I had my money out before I could even put the disc down on the counter.
Once the transaction was complete, I hopped in my car and drove to Wax N’ Facts as quickly as I could: it was 6:30 and Wax N’ Facts closed at 7.
WNFCBG was talking to a customer when I walked in. He didn’t even see me approach him. That is, until I slammed the CD down on the counter as hard as I could without breaking the case.
“HEY!” I said to him, nearly shouting.
He looked at me, then down at the CD… and then he got an “oh great!” look on his face.
“I’M CRAZY, HUH? IT’LL NEVER BE RELEASED ON CD, HUH? WELL WHAT THE HELL IS THIS, THEN? IT LOOKS LIKE THE GLOVE ON CD TO ME! AND GUESS WHERE I GOT IT? AT TOWER, WHERE THE EMPLOYEES AREN’T KNOW-IT-ALL JERKS!”
Before he could say a word, I scooped up the CD and marched towards the door. I mumbled “kiss my ass” loud enough for him to hear, and as I walked out the door I looked back through the window to see everyone in the store staring at me. I walked back to my car, laughing my ass off… partly because I had sounded so crazy… but mostly because, for the one brief moment, I was right and WNFCBG was wrong.
Wax N’ Facts got Blue Sunshine on CD a couple of weeks later, for the next couple of months, I was always sure to comment on it every time I was in the store. “Oh, still got The Glove CD, huh?”
PS – thanks to a good friend for filling me in on some WNF employee names and other info. You know who you are!