Confessions of a Comic Book Guy is a weekly column by retailer Steve Bennett of Mary Alice Wilson's Dark Star Comics in Yellow Springs, Ohio.  This week, Bennett says goodbye to a valued store employee, and greets a new one.


One of my very first columns was titled 'If All Else Fails, Get A Cat,' which among other things talked about the value of having a store pet.  For nearly twenty years Dark Star had Bart, who I described as an 'ordinary, aged, mid-range short hair black cat'.  A ferret (local zoning restrictions permitting) or parrot might work better for your store, but I have to tell you Bart was the best ambassador our store could have had.


If you want your store to have a distinctive identity, being 'the store with the cat' will certainly do it, but be prepared to start playing second fiddle to an animal; Bart was so popular I frequently said we weren't so much a comic shop as the world's smallest petting zoo.  There's nothing quite as common as a cat, you can get a cardboard box full of kittens for free, but that didn't stop our customers from treating Bart like he was some rare and magical creature.  He might as well have been a unicorn for the amount of wonder he generated.


They oohed and ahhed when he did absolutely nothing, which was often.  Dogs are judged by what they do, cats by what they don't do, and by doing nothing Bart was a most excellent cat.  He possessed such an uncanny stillness he was often mistaken for being stuffed (on a fairly regular basis I heard the exclamation 'I didn't know he was alive!).


But the downside to having a store pet is our animal friends don't live as long as we do and about two months ago we lost Bart.  He was nineteen and couldn't have had a softer life, so I didn't openly mourn as much as other members of the staff.  I've never owned a pet and certainly couldn't be called a 'cat person', yet for weeks afterwards I'd see him out of the corner of my eye while shelving books or suddenly look down and expect to see him padding like panther between my legs.  He was and is missed.


So before getting a new cat we gave our customers a chance to grieve, putting up a small memorial (with photo) in the store, placing a piece in the local paper, etc., so they wouldn't resent the new arrival.  And so, in good time, we got our new cat, a young black one we've named 'Mr. Eko' after the character from Lost.  He's the most adorable little predator you've ever seen, spending his mornings maniacally frisking up and down the aisles, pouncing on anything that dangles. 


This behavior of course is a big hit, especially with the kids, but what the customers seem to love most is when he does absolutely nothing.  By mid-afternoon he collapses in exhaustion from all that frantic playing, which is when customers can safely pick him up (he's got claws and aren't afraid to use them) and pass him around like a loaf of bread.  He sleeps so deeply you could safely put baby clothes on him, and frankly I'm a little surprised no one hasn't tried it yet.


After only one week he's proven quite a hit, people going out of their way to come into the store to visit with him.  He's a fine addition to the staff.


But he'll never be a replacement.