The Real Comic Book Guy: Gareth Gaudin of Legendsby Beth Carswell
Gareth Gaudin arrives at his shop on a sunny Thursday morning to welcome us, and immediately finds that some drunken hooligan has presumably leapt in the air and smacked his wooden sign, which now hangs crookedly by one side only. He reaches to adjust it, then winces and tells us he has thrown his back out by obligingly tossing his three-and-a-half-year-old daughter in the air. Still, despite injury to both back and pride, Gaudin is good-humoured, cheerful and game to go after ferreting out some acetaminophen from behind the counter.
The shop, which Gaudin runs with his co-owner Lloyd Chesley, is Legends Comics and Books, found in the heart of downtown Victoria, BC. The pair have been in business together since 2003 - Gaudin had been at Legends for a decade, was ready to buy, and went into partnership with Chesley.
Gaudin, a long-time Victoria resident, also draws his own comic strip, The Magic Teeth Dailies, and is the mastermind behind the beloved comic character The Perogy Cat (for those not in the know, a perogy [spelling variation of pierogi] is a sort of puffy Polish dumpling). The shop itself is welcoming - absolutely exciting to enter as a book and comic-lover, with posted staff recommendations, beautifully-drawn posters, and of course, colourful, gorgeous reading material as far as the eye can see, on glossy paper and newsprint alike.
From the origins of the Perogy Cat, to Gaudin’s own predilections for collections and more, it's a great story of local boy makes good, and we wanted to know more. Read on for an interview with Gareth Gaudin.
AbeBooks Visits Legends Comics & Books › Play Video
AbeBooks: Can you give me a bit of history about your love of and history with comics, and how you found yourself owning and running Legends?
Gareth Gaudin: In October 1978, I bought my first comic book (Godzilla #17) at Turner's Confectionery in Victoria, BC. I was instantly hooked on comics. Up until that point, there was nowhere for a five-year-old to see monsters like this except for Monster Matinee on television every Sunday afternoon, but most of those monsters were obviously just puppets. This comic book showed the world as it really SHOULD be! I first got hooked on comic books like Godzilla by Herb Trimpe (a 24 issue run by Marvel Comics available as a paperback called Essential Godzilla) and Devil Dinosaur by Jack Kirby (a 9 issue series from Marvel Comics now available as a hardcover collection). Dinosaurs and monsters were my gateway to the medium of comics.
I started buying and selling cool comics as a way to pay my way through elementary school, started drawing and publishing my own comics and eventually got a job in a comic shop when I was a teenager. Island Fantasy was a huge comic shop in Market Square (a bustling mecca of tourism and cultural events in downtown Victoria) and I worked there from 1992 to 1993 until I was hired at Legends. After 10 years as an employee, it was offered to me for sale and, with my business partner Lloyd Chesley, we bought the place in 2003. Since then the comic shop has been nominated for an Eisner Award and even won the 2009 Joe Shuster Award for Outstanding Canadian Comic Book Retailer!
Abe: Are you a booklover as well? What are some of your most beloved books?
Gareth Gaudin: I love books. I've ritualized the act of perusing a newly acquired book to the point of ridiculousness. The dust jacket is removed, my fingers gently caress the naked spine, I smell its edges and interior folios... It's embarrassing, really. Yes, I love books. Some of my favourites include the set of J.D. Salinger hardcovers I've had for 20 years, my set of Cornell Woolrich crime novels, and my original illustrated hardcover Fairy Tale Book by Arthur Rackham.
Abe: Who are some of the writers, illustrators and artists you most admire (and what is some of their best work)?
Gareth Gaudin: I became obsessed with Mad Magazine at the perfect age and fell in love with the work of Sergio Aragones (Groo The Wanderer) and Harvey Kurtzman (Harvey Kurtzman's The Jungle Book, Two-Fisted Tales, Frontline Combat, Little Annie Fanny).
Outside of Mad Magazine there were cartoonists and illustrators such as Berni Wrightson (Frankenstein, Swamp Thing), Will Eisner (The Spirit, A Contract With God, Comics and Sequential Art), and Daniel Clowes (Eightball, Like A Velvet Glove Cast In Iron, Ghost World, David Boring).
As far as writers are concerned, Alan Moore and Grant Morrison are the two giant figureheads in my world of illustrated literature. Alan Moore is from Northampton and wrote such classics as Watchmen, Promethea, V For Vendetta and From Hell. Grant Morrison, however, is from Glasgow Scotland and takes a different approach to comic book scripting. His work on Batman, The Invisibles, All-Star Superman, and We-3 borders on the insane in its creativity and I read and re-read everything that he publishes.
Someone once said that Alan Moore is attempting to bring superheroes into our world while Grant Morrison is attempting to take our world into the world of the superhero. That sums it up for me.
Abe: Can you explain a bit about comics and graphic novels, and the difference between them, for our readers?
Gareth Gaudin: As a comic shop retailer and co-owner for more than 20 years, I've watched the steady decline of the monthly comic book pamphlet with great interest. People are certainly reading comics more now than they were 15 years ago, but the format they're choosing to read them in is the graphic novel / trade paperback form (no ads, complete story in one volume, nicer paper, etc). I tend not to be too concerned with the phrase graphic novel too much, as it's hard to forget that it was originally coined as a way to trick a book publisher into publishing a comic book without having him know it was a comic book (thank you Mr. Will Eisner). "Comic Books" or "Comics" or even "Comix" does the job very well for me no matter what. Comix are literally a co-mix of words and pictures (Thank you again Mr. Will Eisner).
Abe: What are some of your favorite comics?
Gareth Gaudin: Currently I'm reading Action Comics by Grant Morrison (a DC Comics, monthly), Fatale by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (a monthly Image Comics Lovecraftian crime series), and any and all things by Daniel Clowes, Alison Bechdel, Chris Ware, Ivan Brunetti, Gail Simone, Jim Woodring, Warren Ellis, Marjane Satrapi, Charles Burns and Chester Brown (Louis Riel, Paying For It, Ed The Happy Clown).
Abe: What are some of your favorite graphic novels, and why?
Gareth Gaudin: Watchmen by Alan Moore is not only my favourite comic book, it's also the best comic book ever made (probably the best comic book that will ever be made). I've read my dog-eared copy at least 30 times since 1987 and I'm still figuring that masterpiece out. It's a densely layered love letter to the history of the American Comic book from 1938 to 1985, using an ever so slightly altered New York City. The difference between our world and the world in which Watchmen is set is this: In 1938, Action Comics #1 was released. It featured the first appearance of Superman and, in our reality it single-handedly kickstarted the entire comic book industry. In the narrative of Watchmen, however, it inspired a few people to actually put on costumes and fight crime.
Harvey Kurtzman's The Jungle Book from 1959 is another book that I can never get enough of. It was the first pocketbook featuring original comic stories ever! The humour and perfectly crafted artwork by Kurtzman has me looking at every pen stroke in awe. He is the grand master of pacing a strip and the Jungle Book has his largest body of solo work ever published. Oh, Kurtzman... He was ahead of his time. If he were alive today, he'd have ticker tape parades everywhere he went.
Abe: What are some of the rare, interesting or unique items that you have in your personal collection?
Gareth Gaudin: I tracked down the entire original art to my first comic book (Godzilla #17 by Herb Trimpe, 1978) and have it handsomely displayed in my home. I also own a nice copy of Amazing Fantasy #15 - the very first Spider-Man appearance from August 1962.
I currently have my entire set of 1960's Amazing Spider-Man comics for sale down at my comic shop. That brings a lot of interest in. The Steve Ditko art in that series still holds up as some of the finest comic art of all time.
What have you always wanted to find for your own collection?
Gareth Gaudin: I have everything I could hope to have in my collection now. They've been reprinting in handsome hardcovers the entire history of comic books, so there's no end of exciting discoveries every Wednesday on New Comic Book Day. Perhaps an original Ditko Spider-Man page would be nice, but I'm not holding out much hope for that.
Abe: Was owning/running a comic store your dream? If not this, what else would you have wanted to be when you grew up?
Gareth Gaudin: I always wanted to draw. I draw full time now and publish my own monthly comic book called Magic Teeth. Having a comic book shop is certainly a dream come true if only for the fact that it's a place to proudly display my own work (not to mention the collected works of the hundreds of ink pioneers before me)! Every day at work I see collections come in that could hold valuable treasures. That feeling of anticipation when you're opening an old trunk for the first time is worth getting out of bed each morning. The foreshadowing of excitement when you first smell the pulp paper is a driving factor in my life. Books and comics have a smell that is calming and puts me in a very happy mood.
Abe: What have been some of the greatest moments in your life?
Gareth Gaudin: I was invited to a dinner in San Diego in July 2000 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of EC Comics and I sat with Adele Kurtzman (Harvey's wife), Jack Davis (illustrator extraordinaire), Will Elder, Al Feldstein, Dave Stevens, Mike Kaluta, Jack Kamen, Marie Severin... This list would mean a LOT to anyone familiar with the history of comics. It was a highlight.
Abe: Can you tell us a bit about what The Magic Teeth Dailies is and the milestone it recently celebrated?
Gareth Gaudin: My comic book recently hit issue number 50. In 2004 I committed myself to drawing a page-a-day of the series "for the rest of my life". Today (as of this writing) is Day 2823 without missing a day yet (knock on wood). It all started as a way to woo a cute girl who was sitting beside me in a late-night History of Art class at the University of Victoria. Her name was Bronwyn, she was the most beautiful gal I'd ever seen and she had a diabetic cat named Tabitha. I created a cartoon version of Tabitha, called her The Perogy Cat and started drawing comics to raise money for the insulin needed to keep her alive and healthy. I started by photocopying a few dozen comic zines and selling them to friends and family and eventually it got big enough to become a glossy comic magazine. The wooing worked, too! The comic books started documenting Bronwyn and my life together, our engagement, our wedding, our honeymoon all over Europe (nearly crippling us financially), and eventually having two awesome little girls together.
Abe: And your two daughters – Enid Jupiter and Lyra Gotham – is it safe to presume they are both named for comic books/graphic novels (Ghost World and Batman)?
Abe: Enid Jupiter is named after Enid from Ghost World and Sally Jupiter from Watchmen. Lyra Gotham is named after Lyra from Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series and yes, my love of New York City (and yes, Batman's version of it too).
Abe: What are some of the challenges and joys around what you do for a living?
Gareth Gaudin: The only challenge is that it doesn't really pay very much. Poverty and book retail historically go hand in hand. But we are rich in literature at all times. It's a fair trade. The joys are that I get to handle old books ALL THE TIME. I'm at the front lines of discovering and unearthing vintage comic book collections. That's thrilling. Does the box that elderly man is carrying into the shop contain a million dollar book? Or is in yet another 1976 reprint copy of Action Comics #1? Exhilarating!
Legends Comics & Books has been in downtown Victoria, BC since 1992 and is home to more comic books than any place West of the Mississippi. Our basement is a veritable treasure trove of newsprint: bagged, boarded and filed alphabetically by title. We're always looking for new readers and Lloyd (my very literate business partner) and I will gladly give free tours into this 4-colour world to anybody even remotely interested in where to start. It's our pleasure to share this passion. There's only so much we can do with 85 combined years of comic book reading knowledge. Try and stump us on inane trivia!
The Best of the Best: Comics for Beginners and Naysayers
The Complete Persepolis
Box Office Poison
The Complete Maus
American Born Chinese
Gene Luen Yang
To the Heart of the Storm
Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth