For anybody (and this includes me) that has worked in a customer focused industry and found themselves gobsmacked at the weird, wonderful and often surreal things they say, then times that by one hundred and you might get close to the strange ramblings of a comic book store regular.
Cartoonist Tim Chamberlin has masterfully captured his everyday encounters with some of the most colourful characters that graced the comic book store (where he worked) in his comic book creation Our Valued Customers.
Tim, 32, hails from Boston and also goes by the name Mr Tim in an attempt at anonymity so his boss wouldn’t link the comic to him, as he was doodling away the hours in the shop where he was paid to.. erm work. The long hours at the comic book store are a distant memory for Tim now, as his comic goes from strength to strength. We chatted to him about his inspirations, Daredevil and peeing on women (yeah I said peeing).
In February 2010, Tim took the first steps in creating the comic that we know and love today. “It was just an exercise at first but then I had a sketchbook full of them (drawings) and my brother had the idea of putting them on the internet.” And so OurValuedCustomers.net was born. Tim explained to us how he first came up with the concept:
I’ve always drawn cartoons and when I began working at the comic store I started drawing some of the more, let’s say, interesting customers. The ones who would come in and act crazy or needlessly argumentative, guys I’d catch trying to steal stuff, complainers, basically the worst of all the people who you interact with at any customer service job. What I really liked was how they weren’t just these run of the mill interactions because they all had to do with comics or Star Wars so I don’t think they came off as me complaining about my job, it was more me showcasing this strange side of comic fandom.
Tim is proud of his comic book store roots and it really comes across in his work. The affection he has for the subjects of his creations is evident and it is perhaps the reason for his deserved success. “I try to make Our Valued Customers be a comic that I would actually want to read so I try to make them all really good.”
People unfamiliar with the comic will get a pleasant surprise (as I did) when they visit the website. Tim has handily broken down the topics of his comics into tags, with sections labelled Creeps, Crazies, Jerks and Jus’Folks. Each category delivers Tim’s trademark wit and razor sharp observations and they all reflect truisms in life that we can all relate to, although admittedly some of them are pure comic book store.
Like, for example, Tim’s favourite sketch. When pushed he selected the “You Got Batmobile?” sketch as one that stands out for him: “
…if I had to pick one of my favorites it would be ‘You got Batmobile?’ Just for the pure, “Huh?” I was working at the store and it was probably 4 or 5 in the afternoon and this guy with a plastic fork rushes in, comes up to the counter and frantically starts asking me, “You got Batmobile? You got Batmobile?” over and over. Confused I told him we that did not and he huffed and stomped out of the store. I still don’t know what that was all about but that’s definitely one of my favorites.
As I’m sure you are all aware, we are a superhero fuelled website and we wanted to get Tim’s preferences in the hero world. Usually the same crop of heroes come round time and time again when pushed for a favourite, Superman, Spider-Man, Batman (all great heroes) but it’s rare that you hear Daredevil being brought into the same conversation:
I don’t know why but I’ve always really liked him [Daredevil]. Also Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev’s (gigantic) run on Daredevil is one of my favorite superhero comics of all time. It’s right up there with Walter Simonson’s run on Thor. The Daredevil movie not so much. That was the only time I’ve ever felt really disappointed at the movies. It was just so weird that there were all of these talented people working on this film of a character they all claimed to know and love but nobody ever looked around and said, “Hey everybody, I think this ship is getting awfully close to the rocks!” It will be great if someone can get that character right because I think that will be an excellent superhero movie. It’s too bad it fell through but I was really excited to hear that Joe Carnahan was going to do it. I like the idea of the film taking place in that dangerous, dirty 1970s/1980s New York from the Frank Miller years on Daredevil. That’s an environment that much better suits his character, you can’t have him dancing on the playground and use all those clean, plastic CG enhanced fight scenes. He’s not Spider-Man.
When it comes to superhero movies, however, Tim has much more unusual taste. He concedes to some conformist mass opinion, rating The Dark Knight as a top choice, but he had a much less typical second pick:
You know what movie I really liked? Punisher: War Zone. That film got a really bad rap. It’s not without it’s share of problems but in terms of an fun, exciting, R-rated comic book action movie it was great. Ray Stevenson was an amazing Punisher and the action/violence was insane. (Like when he punches the little cocaine henchman in the face and caves in his entire skull. What?!) The Punisher is such a one note character to begin with and I think the fan base knows that so the filmmakers didn’t bother weighing him down with a lot of back story, people know why he’s like that and we just want to see him savagely murder bad guys. The tone and violence was true to the Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon Punisher comic books and there was even a colorful villain so this one should have been a huge hit but instead people HATED it. My girlfriend and I went to see it on opening night and we were the only ones in the theatre. The reviews were really bad so people just stayed away which made no sense because it was great. I feel like the Thomas Jane Punisher came out and everyone said, ‘This isn’t the Punisher. This sucks it’s too soft.’ but then Punisher: War Zone came out and those same guys were like, ‘This isn’t the Punisher either! It’s too hard!’ Or maybe it was seeing the Punisher act exactly like he did in the comic books on the big screen that made folks realize that, ‘Gee, this is kinda stupid.’ I don’t know but that movie was great.
Such is the popularity of Our Valued Customers that Tim spends a lot of his time supplying commissions of personalised comics depicting fans of the comic in a manner that isn’t always flattering. It’s a problem that worries Tim and it’s a fine line he walks between characterisation and out right offending somebody: “I always worry that they’re going to get upset and be like, ‘Hey man. That’s too far! My wife is really sensitive about how big her ears are and you made fun of them!” Offending a fan’s looks is just the tip of Tim’s problems that he faces when taking on commissions:
One guy at a convention wanted me to draw him pissing on his ex-girlfriend. He had a picture of her and everything. They had just broken up and he was going to mail it to her because she was a fan of OVC. I turned him down. I told him I didn’t want to be a part of that whole thing plus I was sure that when the police found my drawing at the crime scene/her apartment they’d come looking for me first.
Wow! Here’s me thinking comic book folk are a wholesome and innocent bunch. I can’t help thinking what Tim’s version of that particular scene would look like and what on earth the caption would be!
When Tim isn’t busy fending off weirdo’s at conventions, he is thinking big for the future of his creation. He lists Gahan Wilson, Peter Bagge, Bill Amend and Matt Groening as big inspirations in what he does as a cartoonist and as Our Valued Customers reaches its 1000th issue we asked if he’d ever considered following in Groening’s footsteps and creating an animated series: “I’m a cartoonist who likes to drink too much and make big plans, aren’t I? Ha ha! That would be awesome though and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a story written out for it”. So any money men out there looking for an investment, Tim and Our Valued Customers could be on lunch boxes around the world faster than you can say “You got Batmobile?”
Our Valued Customers: Conversations From the Comic Book Store is available on paperback from Amazon.