Comic book fandom did not come easily to me.
When I was a kid I wanted comics to be “my thing.” The tricky part was at that time they were hard for an eight year old to get their hands on. My mom tried taking me to my hometown’s tiny comic book shop but the bespectacled cashier watched my every move (always scared of thievery, that one) and freaked me out. Then I tried out used book stores with my dad and looked through their vintage collections, but they were too expensive for a kid to read for fun. I didn’t even know where to begin to make them “my thing.” This was the early 90’s, mind you. The internet was more of a novelty than a serious information resource. At first the bulk of the content was animated gifs, porn sites, and chat rooms. There wasn’t a ton of insightful information for kids interested in learning about comic books. The bulk of my exposure came from physical Calvin and Hobbes books and the newspaper funnies section. And hey, those weren’t bad sources. But they also weren’t comic books. I let the dream go.
Fast forward ten years to college and comic books came back into my life: I had a housemate that worked at a comic shop. I thought it was cool and liked dropping in to see her at work, but it had a stereotypical blockade of guys lounging around at all times, making unfathomable Warhammer jokes. It was very clear that it was their store and anyone else coming in was a “poser.” It was uncomfortable and it didn’t rekindle my interest in comics or any other form of geekdom.
My university library even boasted a superb comic archive, but again, the gate-keepers were present. To this day it is still guarded under lock and key (you have to fill out a special request form to view any items, and a little old man steps into a secret room to hobble them out to you, one at a time. It is painful for everyone involved). As far as borrowing from a friend, most people did not have money to pour into private comic book collections, and those that did were territorial and weird about letting people touch their stuff.
So, I moved on. I had plenty of other things to read (I was an English lit major), and I satisfied myself with the classics for the next five years. But after college I began to work at a cool library. My coworkers were on top of everything going on in the literary scene, and they all read graphic novels. I was surprised that they went anywhere near the things, and I have a shame-memory of actually saying “yeah, there’s a lot of graphic novels, still I’d rather read REAL BOOKS.”
But, when you’re sitting a short walk away from thousands of amazing graphic novels, eventually temptation sets in. One day I picked up a copy of The Watchmen, and I was indoctrinated. Soon afterwards I found Transmetropolitan, What It Is, Epileptic, Ghost World, Lost Dogs, A Child’s Life, The Long Halloween, and so many more. I fell in love with graphic novels.
There was an enticingly bright blue shop called Vault of Midnight near my work. My husband and I began to go in and look around. At first I was satisfied with going into the basement and drooling over the Drawn and Quarterly books. Sometimes I would buy issues of vintage comics to frame and put on our wall. It took me a long time to feel okay about perusing the regular shelves. Occasionally I would pull comics out of their mylar plastic and leaf through them lightning-quick, like I was stealing the images with my eyeballs. But the workers never minded. I was always made to feel as comfortable as possible. The staff was welcoming, friendly, and joked around. They were always there to answer questions and had reading suggestions to offer at a moment’s notice. This place set me totally at ease. For the first time in my life I enjoyed going to the comic book shop, and would even come up with excuses to go in.
Fast forward a year and voila, I had a Vault of Midnight bumper sticker on my car plus a dozen titles on my pull list. Finally, comic books were “my thing.” But this story has a sad ending: we’re moving away from Ann Arbor and will be using the shop around the corner from our new place instead. It’s time to bid farewell to the Big Blue, but not before singing their praises, telling everyone to go there, and getting an interview out of them.
Vault of Midnight boasts a diverse and knowledgeable staff that are always plotting new events for the community including tabletop gaming, Board+Brews, book clubs, speaker panels, trivia contests, nerd speed-dating, zine shows, author signings, and even more. The store itself is like a fun-house. There is covetable eye candy every direction you look with toys, posters, games, stuffed animals, and figurines galore. Plus, there’s the staff recommend-ohs. There is a shelving unit devoted to staff recommendations. The workers have eclectic taste and are sure to have something to appeal to anyone. The recommend-oh’s are what led me to my beloved Black Science and Manifest Destiny. And the music. They’re always playing cool ass music.
I was pleased as punch when VoM’s Nick Yribar agreed to an interview last week.
What can you tell us about the history of VoM?
Everything! Vault of Midnight is the realization of a lifelong dream by two awesome best friends, Curtis Sullivan and Steve Fodale. They opened shop in 1996 in a tiny house located smack dab in the middle of Ann Arbor, Michigan. After ten or so years and a few re-locations, the two opened what is now our flagship store on Main Street at the epicenter of downtown Ann Arbor. In 2013 we expanded for the first time, opening a second shop in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Our future plans involve more Vaults of Midnight, exposing millions more humans to the wonders of comic books, and basically changing the nature and shape of the industries we love as we know it.
One of the many awesome things about Vault of Midnight is the name. Where did it come from?
The name harkens back to the golden age of comic books (1930s-1950s or thereabouts), when companies like EC Comics were putting out titles like Tales From the Crypt, The Haunt of Fear and Vault of Horror. Of course there’s also Captain Midnight, a radio-serial-turned-comic from the same period. So: Vault of Horror plus Captain Midnight? Perhaps? That’s the “vibe,” at least.
The period was huge for the medium and those types of books were huge in expanding both the readership and the notoriety of comics. We love that period and style of story; those dudes were pushing the medium forward in bizarre, ridiculous directions. So the name, in part, is an homage to that period—the birth of comic books. We also think it sounds really cool.
VoM is big part of the cultural landscape of Ann Arbor. You’re involved in all sorts of local fun and festivities such as the Art Spiegelman talk, the Ann Arbor Book Festival, even downtown treasure hunts. What other community partnerships do you have planned for the future?
Part of our mission is help shape and impact the communities where our stores land. That’s part of the reason why you’ll never find a Vault of Midnight in a mall or shopping center; we are a family owned, local business and as such we believe it’s super-important to find the unique pulse of the cities we reside in.
We always have tons of events planned. We just wrapped a few with the Ann Arbor Book Festival (for the Book Crawl and outdoor fest) and the grand opening ceremony of the Ann Arbor Skatepark, among others. On July 13th two of our senior staff members will be hosting a panel on women in comics in Grand Rapids, Michigan at the Pyramid Scheme. The same venue is hosting our Batman Dance party on July 23rd (tickets available now, incidentally) where we’re trying to break the Guinness World Record for most people dressed up as Batman at one dance party. And so on and etc.
Last year VoM opened a second location in Grand Rapids, Michigan—Do you have plans to expand the store into even more locations? How about a store in Detroit?
We’re pretty much trying to take over the whole world, so totally! Lots more stores. Detroit, you say? That’s not out of the question. We’re eyeing cities all over Michigan pretty closely, so if any of your readers think they need a Vault of Midnight in their neighborhood we’d love to hear from them. And we’re closing in on Vault of Midnight #3 any day now…
VoM runs so many cool events, with everything from speaker panels to Nerd speed-dating to tabletop gaming—What other events do you have in the works?
Besides the couple of events we spoke about before, there’s always something in the works. We have pretty regular book club get-togethers (for our Tactical Book Quest Club of Midnight), weekly board game nights (both in store and at local cafes and bars and etc.), in store-signings (like the Danielle Corsetto signing on July 7th in Ann Arbor), and on and on. Can I plug our facebook pages? We have constantly updated events listings on our stores respective facebook pages.
Your staff includes a lot of women, you host women-friendly events like the recent Ladies Night Panel, and speaking from personal experience I can say that each of your staff members are completely welcoming towards female customers. With all that said, what are your thoughts on the misogynistic underbelly of some of the comic book industry?
Thank you for saying so! It’s one of our fundamental tenets that the stuff we carry be accessible to EVERYBODY, and women are included in EVERYBODY. I don’t want to bad mouth other shops, and I won’t . . . BUT I think our industry has a long way to go in this regard. Both in the content of the books and in the approach of publishers and retailers. For too long the industry focused on a very narrow slice of the big demographic pie. Everything was aimed at a very specific type of reader of a very specific age range. This approach is exclusionary and maybe a little bit alienating to everyone else at best, horribly offensive at worst.
But there’s good news! Things are getting a lot better. Both in the range and breadth of the material, the diversity of the creators, the quality of the art and writing; we’re entering a new, even better Golden Age of comics. And the folks what make this stuff are starting realize, slowly and sometimes painfully, that there’s a much bigger audience out there chomping at the bit to enjoy comic books, board games, and the like. If we’re doing our jobs right then we’re helping to push things even further in that very positive direction.
For as many or as few of you as would like to answer, what were your favorite comic books when you were a kid? And what are your fave’s now?
When I was a kid I was a big fan of books like The Maxx, Bone, and Spawn. Especially Spawn. My list of faves nowadays is pretty immense, but heregoes, truncated and in no particular order:
And many, many others.