The Eltingville Club #1 a Glimpse Into Comics as It Was

It’s always a pleasure to see Evan Dorkin drawing, with his bold lines and claustrophobically crowded panels. Reading The Eltingville Club again — which I think first appeared in Instant Piano #1 in 1994, then continued intermittently in the Dork series — feels like very uncomfortable time travel. The satire of obsessed, immature, selfish fanboys is savage. It’s the kind of work that can only be done by someone who knows the type and the field extraordinarily well. When this started, 20 years ago, these character types were a lot more common, and anyone interested in comics had to deal with them.

The Eltingville Club #1

Nowadays, though, this is no longer the dominant type, thank goodness. They’re still out there, sure — and they’re likely gnashing their teeth and spitting furiously in wrath at Dorkin daring to make fun of them this way, assuming that they’re willing to turn away from their booby books to acknowledge the existence of this comic. While I cringed at just how far Dorkin takes the members of The Eltingville Comic Book, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror & Role-Playing Club, I also had the inklings of a nostalgic fondness for when we had to worry about these types of customers and storeowners ruining comics. Now, there are so many more choices that one never has to visit these kinds of pits or put up with this self-obsessed stupidity again.

Anyway, in case you’d like to know more about this comic, it’s the story of how one of the Eltingville Club members, Bill, gets his dream job working for “Joe’s Fantasy World”, a hole-in-the-wall shop for comics, games, and collectibles. Joe treats him like crap, demonstrating a contempt for his clients that’s exponentially worse than the Comic Book Guy ever was. His introductory speech includes the instruction, “You do not deal with the customers. Most of ‘em are f—- crazy an’ gotta be handled like moronic babies, so I deal with the customers.” Bill’s not paying attention, since he’s dreaming of “cosplay wenches” and stealing from Joe.

It’s a fascinating look into the bottom-dwelling economics of the flea-market mentality. Books are graded and priced by cover only. Any unsold comic is automatically assumed to be worth more as a back issue, “lottery tickets [that] are gonna pay off one day,” as we survey teetering piles of longboxes full of garbage. The owner fakes signatures and lies to customers and doesn’t care about comics he doesn’t personally like. The idea of comic shop owner as a position of power, a “professional” instead of a fan, makes sense only to those who invest their entire self-worth in their hobby.

I’ve seen some of these scenes in person, back in the day, as when he refuses to carry alternative comics because they don’t sell, even when a paying customer is standing in front of him looking to buy them. “I didn’t open my own place to take orders from no one,” he pontificates, ignoring any feedback from customers. Then they all scare off a young woman who dared to ask about Saga. It all continues spiraling out of control until we reach… dun dunh da! … the end of the club. I don’t believe these guys will ever grow up, though, and that’s part of the nasty fun of reading about them. “There, but for the grace of God, go I,” perhaps.

There will be a second issue coming from Dark Horse before all the Eltingville Club material is collected in October with a disturbingly metaphorical cover.


3 Responses to “The Eltingville Club #1 a Glimpse Into Comics as It Was”

  1. Jim Kosmicki Says:

    very nice review. There was always a sort-of-love/hate thing going on in the Eltingville stories. Dorkin clearly knew these people and couldn’t stand them, but they were also part of the comics sub-culture, so they couldn’t be dismissed outright. It does appear that he’s finally dismissing them, though, with this final 2-parter. I always saw them as a version of a Jack Chick tract – exaggerate the common flaws to show how bad you can spiral into truly damning behavior.

    and I can’t help but compare them to Rick Koslowski’s 3 Geeks stories, which deal with much the same behavior, but from a more sympathetic angle. Or Knights of the Dinner Table or Dork Tower from the gaming perspective.

    there’s probably several good academic papers analyzing how the various comics/gaming subcultures represent themselves to members of the subculture, with Eltingville being the most negative by far.

  2. Johanna Says:

    Thank you. Good comparisons you make. I haven’t thought about 3 Geeks in a while, but yes, that was clearly a more “us” portrayal, while this is a “them” (perhaps with some fear that they might be what “us” could become).

  3. James Schee Says:

    You pretty much nailed it for me with the uncomfortable time travel analogy. This book reads like it was created then and being reminded of the way things were, and sadly still can be at times (see Asselin’s recent experience) is sobering.

    I enjoyed the book, but was also horrified by it as well because I’ve seen the behavior, though perhaps not to certain extremes done. Very interesting book.

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