Shopdropping

Comics, Work

A segment on today’s “Brian Lehrer Show” about shopdropping (covertly placing one’s own merchandise on display in a store) reminded me of my own misadventures in this arena.

It was 1997 and I had just moved to San Francisco, to the Mission District. man_size  and I were still doing Keyhole, and I soon began frequenting a local shop called Al’s Comics. (I think it’s in a new location now.) Al’s was a cool store: old-style in the sense that it was a sole-proprietorship, but funky in its selection and fairly supportive of indy comics. However, seeing that they didn’t carry Keyhole, I screwed up my courage and approached Al. I don’t know if he was in a bad mood that day, didn’t want to deal with ordering the book from the distributor catalog, or what, but he turned me down cold. That really bummed me out!

So I decided that the only thing to do was to go into Al’s store with a discrete selection of Keyholes (I think we had done four issues at that point) and rack them in with the other indies. Sure, this was giving the comics away for free, but I was convinced that all Keyhole needed was exposure — our little two-man anthology of autobio travel stories, super-psychedelic romance, true stories of the business world, and quirky vignettes deserved a place alongside Sandman and the X-Men (and certainly Hate and Eightball). Once the book was in place, I was convinced that demand for more would force Al into ordering Keyhole via the traditional route.

Doing the deed, however, was one of the most nerve-wracking experiences of my adult life. Ironically, in order to give away my book for free, I had to channel all the skills of my prepubescent shoplifting days: the nonchalant entrance, the pretend perusal of the new comics rack, the eyeing of the store employees to make sure I wasn’t being watched. And then the moment of truth, when I whipped out the Keyholes and stuck them in with the other alt-comix. Whew! The flop-sweat was practically flying off me. Mission accomplished, I bought a random comic to further throw off suspicion (more free money for Al), and quick-marched out of there. Back home, I was quite proud of my little black-ops maneuver.

That is, until a few days later, when I went back to Al’s for my weekly comics. The man himself stopped me at the door. “Hey, Josh. We found a bunch of your books in the comic rack. Did you leave those there?” I was totally busted! Thankfully, though, instead of really being mad, Al was charmed by the whole thing. He ended up keeping the Keyholes and I think he even paid me for them, at a generous 60-40 split.

Shopdroppers of the world unite! Who says un-crime doesn’t pay?