"It seems I will never sell these She-Hulk vs. Leon Spinks comics. Worst crossover ever!"
--Comic Book Guy, The Simpsons, "Days of Wine and D'oh'ses"
Guys who own record stores are cool. Just look at John Cusack in High Fidelity, the big-screen adaptation of Nick Hornby's novel; he's young, hip, able to score with Catherine Zeta-Jones and Lisa Bonet. Guys who own comic-book stores are, well, not cool. At all. Ever. They are punch lines and punching bags, dudes without dates--save for a copy of Batgirl. Look no further than The Simpsons, which is populated by Comic Book Guy--his gut dangling over his shorts, his limp ponytail poorly masquerading a bald head, his insults shooting blanks at kids too young to fight back. Comic Book Guy lives on the Internet, surfing his newsgroups--"alt.nerd.obsessive" being a prime fave. Actually, he lives in his mother's basement.
Jeremy Shorr, proprietor of Titan Comics near Bachman Lake, does not. Actually, he lives with his wife, Cecilia, and their two young children in their own home, thanks very much. He did not even pick up a comic till he was 18, primarily because he grew up overseas: His father was a civil engineer, a builder of oil wells, and moved the family from Finland to India to Venezuela before returning to the States in 1976. Though he will cop to looking the part--"I'll be the last to say I'm svelte and muscular, and I am balding in all the right places"--his entire existence seems geared toward demolishing the pale, pudgy stereotype.
"The wife and I have a conversation about this on a regular basis: 'What image do we want to project?'" Shorr says. "I wanted to make sure I didn't present the standard Comic Book Guy image--the ponytail, the beard, the T-shirt that was washed, oh, last month sometime. I bathed recently; I cut my hair on a regular basis. I do what I can given my body's archetype. I'm sorry, I've tried to lose weight--short of having amputations. On The Simpsons, the only thing he's interested in is whatever comic book you're talking about. My wife calls me the comic-book bartender. I know most of my customers by name, I know their favorite football team, take the time to find out what's going on with them."
Twenty-six years after his introduction to comics, Shorr runs the coolest comics shop in town--a fanboy's paradise, and not because fangirls have been known to work behind the counter. In June, Titan celebrated its 11th anniversary, though Cecilia Shorr's been in the comics biz since December 1985, when she opened Houston's Phoenix Comics, then the largest store of its kind in the 713. Jeremy was one of her first, and best, customers; he was spending $100 a week--a "ton of money back then," Jeremy says. "They were happy to see me."
So, too, was Cecilia: One night in 1987, Jeremy came in after a date stood him up, and Cecilia asked him out. Within two years they were married. Fifteen years and a move back to Dallas later--Cecilia's dad worked for EDS, where Jeremy collected a paycheck for a while as a systems engineer--they're still together and selling comics. This, despite the fact most comic-book retailers have long gone the way of Jack Kirby and Joe Shuster. (Those are comics references, and if you don't get them, dude, why are you still reading?)
When Titan opened in June 1991, there were 25 to 35 comics-related stores in the area--"from Rockwall to Weatherford," as Shorr defines it. Today, Shorr estimates there are probably 15, including the eight stores in the Lone Star Comics chain, two Keith's Comics locations and the mighty Zeus outlet in Oak Lawn. But most of these retailers carry baseball cards, Dungeons & Dragons dreck, stuffed dolls and other non-comics effluvia--junk food, in other words, intended to appeal to the dilettante and their fad-grabbing kids for whom Yugio's the hottest thing since Pokémon. Titan is for the fetishist who knows his (or her) Golden Age Green Lantern from his Silver Age counterpart. Shorr's the fanboy's pusherman, the guy you turn to for a quick fix of superhero kicks.
His store's overrun with old issues--some from the 1950s--long the bane of the comics retailer's existence. Though he still peddles T-shirts and collectible statues, usually handcrafted and hand-painted, Titan's packed with only the good stuff. Need an early Justice League of America, when Green Arrow didn't have the beard? An X-Men from the '60s? He will hook a brutha up.
"I have people come visit me every four, six months from out of town strictly because they know I have the books they want," Shorr says. "And now back-issue sales account for approximately 30 percent of my sales--and in the comic-book world, if you can break 5 percent, that's amazing. There's just a need for my kind of store. So many people come in here and the first words out of their mouths are, 'Thank God, I found a place that sells comic books.'" Count us among them.