"THE TIMES THEY ARE A CHANGING"
So it was about June, 1999 and I found myself without a second job. I was actively seeking something in an office environment, but nothing was showing up. Money was getting VERY tight as the store was not bringing in enough to cover itself and me both. I was starting to get paranoid that I wouldn't find a job in time and was considering trying to go back to McDonald's to make sure I had a steady income and the store could just support itself. In July, 1999 my sister in law had told me that they were hiring an office clerk where she worked. I knew in high school I could type really fast (about 110 words per minute) and felt I could do this job. It's typing and sorting, I sort stuff all the time at the shop. I went ahead and put in my application. When I went for the interview I was still unsure if I wanted the job, the drive and having to change the store's hours but I went anyways. I took a typing test and was barely hitting 60 words per minute. I told them how fast my fastest speed was and they offered me the job in the hopes that I could get to that speed again. That's when I started working at The Papers, Inc. in Milford, Indiana. It was a first shift job from 7 am to 3 pm so the new hours had to start very quickly. This is when I started opening the shop at 4 pm on weekdays with the hopes that whoever couldn't make it in would come in on Saturday or Sunday.
December 31, 1999: The world is waiting and wondering if it will happen. Are all the predictions true? Of course, I'm talking about the crazy Y2K virus. Most people thought nothing would happen with this, but as time was ticking by I have to admit part of me got curious. It was a theory that since most of the world is run by computers that when the clock ticked the year over to "00" the computer's internal clock would crash the system and everything related to it. This would mean a stock market crash, no electricity, the internet gone and all electronics with clocks dead and a post apocalyptic scenario could happen. As the clock was ticking closer to midnight I found myself out just out of Fort Wayne, Indiana watching fireworks but I was mainly paying attention to the city in the distance. I wanted to see if the city was gonna go dark. Of course nothing happened and life continued on like normal, but it was a very interesting time to experience and observe people's behavior/expectations of Y2K.
In March of 2000 video gaming was up for a big change. This is when Sony decided to release the Playstation 2 to the market! Having been a huge Playstation 1 fan made me really want this console and I had never purchased a console on release at this point. I really didn't have the money to purchase it, but I was barely getting to play an Magic the Gathering these days. I was really starting to change my focus towards video games more. I decided I didn't need my Beta Black Lotus and sold it on ebay. Now yes, I regret this decision today but I got a good amount for what it was worth at the time. So anytime someone regrets selling something in the past, I tell them if they got a good price at the time then they need to try not to be too upset about it. We all make mistakes that we regret, but we can't live in the past. Having sold my Lotus I now requested the day off of work and went and camped out at my local Walmart. They were going on sale at 4 am and I was determined to get one. I got there about 10 pm and was second in line. That was gonna be a long 6 hours. Of course this was the days we didn't just have a smart phone in our pocket and had to find ways to pass the time (which was more difficult without being able to bring in entertainment). When 4 am hit I was now the proud owner of a launch system! When I was checking out I even saw Pernell further down the line. So it appears we both had the same idea. ;) I purchased the Playstation 2 and Tekken Tag Tournament since I had been a huge fan of Tekken 3 on the PS1. People usually say that launch systems tend to die off or have problems but not this one. This is the exact same system we use in the shop to test all the PS2 games before we sell them! It is still kicking and reading discs great.
Now of course the PS2 system being at my store did make it so that I was spending too much time playing it with friends and not getting enough work done, but at this time collections of things didn't flood us like they do today. (Yes, this is the days of old CRT TVs) I decided my store needed it's own store logo (you know, like all the big businesses out there). I looked at the old photo of a chimp I had hanging in the store and decided I could draw that and make it into a logo. I spend a bit of time tweeking it and scanning it into the computer. Over time I didn't really like the way the letters looked on the logo and Greg said he could tweak it on the computer in Photoshop. This is also when Greg started teaching me Photoshop (which I would later use at my job at The Papers). I could also use this program to start making better flyers then I had been. I used to cut images out of the Previews Catalog and had to tape the picture on the flyer and hand write the info on it.
In September, 2000 Magic released the beginning of the new Invasion Block. This set hit pretty huge at the time and brought about some new multicolored cards that were very popular. Cards such as Absorb, Undermine, Aura Shards, Phyrexian Altar, Phyrexian Scuta, Lord of the Undead and enemy color pain lands are among a few of the popular cards from the block. Tribal Magic decks started to see a rise, especially with all the zombies in the block. This was one of my personal favorite blocks. It has slowed down a little bit with the prior block, but with the release of Invasion was back on the rise again.
Now starting to learn Photoshop more and more, Greg and myself started working on doing some new computer generated magic proxies for fun. Greg and I would do the layouts and Photoshop work while Pernell and Riggle sanded down cards and glued the new image on top. We each took turns coming up with ideas and agreeing on pictures. If you enjoy old school Magic, have some fun and try to figure out which of these cards are which. Most of these were pretty popular cards of the era.
My good friend Spore was working most Sundays for me at this point so that I could have at least 1 day off a week but his schedule was getting full as well. It was around October, 2000 when he realized that he couldn't fit it in his schedule any more and I realized the amount of customer's we would have on Sundays coupled with the small sales made it easy for me to decide to start closing on Sundays. Some of the Sundays we were open we would receive only 1 customer or less. That wasn't worth the time to stay open and pay someone to work or not have a day off. It seemed like closing this day every week wouldn't affect the bottom line. In the end, I feel it was the right decision and it didn't seem to have any affect on the store.
Also right around this time, Marvel started their Ultimate line of comics premiering with Ultimate Spider-man #1. The idea behind this line of books were what if the characters got their powers and origin stories at the current times as opposed to the 1960's. How would this change what the characters would become and how would they deal with current issues at younger ages. Ultimate Spider-man was written by Brian Michael Bendis and drawn by Mark Bagley (a long standing artist on Amazing Spider-man). This was Bendis's breakout hit that put his name on the map. Characters could be radically changed due to the time period. With the success of Ultimate Spider-man, Marvel expanded their Ultimate line. They added titles for X-Men, Fantastic Four, Avengers (known as Ultimates), Iron Man, Daredevil and many more characters. Ultimates was written by Mark Millar (writer of Kick Ass, Kingsmen and many more projects either adapted or being adapted for film) and drawn by Brian Hitch. This title did fall extremely behind schedule but gave the Avengers a much more serious adult tone without being an adults only book. As the books progressed and had their own big events Marvel actually killed off Peter Parker. He was replaced by a new younger Spider-man named Miles Morales who has recently become even more popular due to the Into the Spider-Verse animated movie.
So our Video Game selection just kept on growing in size. I had shown you picture of how many video games we started with, and here is a picture Roy had that shows some of the growth to this period. You can see in this glass case about 150 Nintendo and Super Nintendo cartridges. The white stand up behind the R.O.B. the Robot NES sign is actually the same Darth Maul that still resides in our store to this day. I had wooden shelves added to the back wall that were just big enough to hold PS1/PS2 cases so we could line them up front facing out.
You can see part of what I mean in this picture on the left hand side. We had all the systems hooked up to a little 13 inch TV/VCR combo to test all of our games and at this time we tried to let customers try the games before they bought them. This was a fun practice that worked for the time, but due to limited space and people not asking to try games out first, we eventually discontinued this feature. Here is Riggle play testing some games for us. Trust me, play testing games is NOT as fun as it sounds. Test each game out for a few minutes and switch to another then repeat. At this rate, even your favorite games get old because you may only play that game for the first level like 50 or more times with the amount of games we get in. As much as I love certain games, I really don't want to only play the same level over and over and over again. Most of my friends did get tired of play testing games and would usually offer to help as long as I had something that wasn't play testing.
Roy also had this picture of behind the counter from back then. You can see that I would try to decorate the wall around the cash register with some of my favorite posters and original art I had made. I also used the space below the counter to store extra Magic booster boxes, subscriptions and other special order items. As you can see it would get very cluttered down there. I always kept the Wizards, Inquests, Toyfares and Scryes hanging on the wall by the register as these could be quick last minute additions to purchases.
At this time, Greg, Riggle and I would spend most of our Saturday nights at the store. Some nights it would be us playing video games and other nights we would be sorting back stock of Magic cards that had built up over the years. When collections were bought, usually the good money cards would be picked out and the rest would just be put into storage. After many years of this, we had to spend the better part of 6 months of Saturday nights from 7 pm to about 2 am sorting cards to get it back on track. I would then spend the time to refill the binders, many of which would double in size due to this.
In October of 2001, Devils Due Publishing and Image comics brought back our childhood. G.I. Joe #1 was released with a great cover by fellow Joe fan J. Scott Campbell. Now as I had mentioned before, me and the guys had been reliving our childhoods with playing old NES games, watching old cartoons (Joe, Transformers, TMNT, Thundercats and such) and even starting to carry classic action figures for sale. We knew that we couldn't be alone in wanting more of this stuff, so when this book was released we were all super excited. We kept on talking about things we wanted to come back in comics, video games and shows. At this point was when Spore started to say that someone somewhere had been listening in or recording our conversations. We didn't really believe him at this point, but in future "History" articles, you may see how we started to believe he may be on to something.
In September of 2001, Magic the Gathering released the first set in the Odyssey block then followed by Torment and Judgment. This block was the first Magic set that we really saw a decrease in sales from. This block in general was not a big seller for us. It was a good block but didn't stand up to what Invasion had done. We still had our die hard players that would purchase these sets, but it wasn't bringing in the new players like previous sets (such as Invasion and Tempest Blocks). This slow down in Magic sales even continued for about 2 years including through the next block which was Onslaught.
At 8:46 am on September 11, 2001 the world was shook. I was waking up to go to my Grandmother's viewing in Kokomo when I was hearing on my alarm radio something that couldn't be real. I was sure that I was still half asleep and must be dreaming. I began to turn on my TV to start getting ready to go when I see that the World Trade Center had been struck by an airplane. I was in total disbelief, this was such a hard thing to believe was happening. I couldn't turn away and couldn't turn the TV off. Time was flying by and when I realized what time it was, I had to leave and hit the road. It was the strangest drive I have ever had going to Kokomo. The roads were clear almost the entire way, all of the radio stations were just covering the tragedy and it felt like everywhere was a ghost town. When I got to Kokomo was when I began to noticed that EVERY single gas station had huge lines of cars waiting to get get. Some even went about a half mile back from the station. Gas was escalating in price that day with some of the gas stations I saw being more than $6 a gallon. By the end of that day, I noticed many gas stations had closed early and had signs up that they were out of gas. I was very glad I filled up the night before. At my Grandmother's viewing, all anyone could talk about was what they had seen or observed this day. Everyone was in a very somber mood (which makes sense with a viewing and the tragedy that had occured that morning). This will go down in history as one of those days that if you lived through you will remember this day vividly.
There is nothing but sadness that came that day. We as a nation began to come together and put our differences aside while we researched a bigger threat. We were doing whatever we could to help those affected by this and we will NEVER FORGET. The comics industry was no different on this. With Marvel and many others releasing special comics that had all the proceeds from the sales going to the recovery of anyone affected by this and New York City itself.
The Marvel tributes were the best well received ones there were. Heroes was filled with pinup drawings and short stories related to the tragedy. Marvel brought in some of the biggest names in comics to help with this project. Heroes was released 5 weeks after and I had some people ordered 5-10 copies of it just to help out the cause. A Moment of Silence was full of short stories with no words at all in it. A very touching book as well. It released around the end of 2001. J. Michael Straczynski was the current writer on Amazing Spider-man and he decided that Spider-man is the every man character who is very ground level in New York City. He would definitely have been impacted heavily by this happening. So, Marvel had him take a break mid story to do a one shot story in Amazing Spider-man #36 with Spider-man dealing with what had happened and helping people out. There is even a moment where Kingpin and Dr. Doom are watching from outside New York and they say "Not Today" with Dr. Doom even shedding a tear. This entire book was very heart wrenching and to this day is probably one the all time BEST comics I've ever read. This book came out in December of 2001 as well.
We will NEVER FORGET 9/11 and we hope you don't either. This was a very important part of US history and it is horrible that it ever happened. Our hearts and prayers go out to anyone personally affected by this.
And on that note, I believe I will end this part of the History. Thanks again for reading this and make sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Join our website Level Up! blog.
End Part 4...