Retail now available wholesale

Norm Feuti has put together a complete archive of his Retail comic strip.

Retail, about the people working at Grumbel’s Department Store, was one of the comic strips to end syndication in 2020. It’s the one I most miss. It’s not a story strip, except to the extent every comic with recurring characters is expected to have them change over time. Feuti did a great job with his core characters and, particularly, the subtle paradox of maturity. The retail life is absurd, but as the characters started treating it more seriously, they made their days better but found it harder to get away from it. It’s great work that unfortunately defies presentation in a handful of sample strips.

Customer: 'Excuse me. Could you help me get something down off a high shelf?' Cooper: 'Sure.' Customer: 'Oh, thank you. It's in the cupboard above the refrigerator.' Cooper: 'Say what now?' Customer, shuffling off frame: 'It won't take long. My apartment is only a few miles from here.' Cooper: 'Uh ... '
Norm Feuti’s Retail for the 14th of March, 2017. Customers with unrealistic expectations was a running joke, naturally. My favorites were these little-old-ladies like this who seem reasonable enough and don’t know there’s, like, limits.

I’m not sure when I started reading the strip, but think it was around 2010. It was a good time; Feuti had got the hang of his characters and the worldview for the strip. In skimming the archive around then I find a good number of strips I’d say anyone could jump in and read.

Feuti continues to draw a his other strip, Gil, for Sundays. And then, posted the 30th under a category of “we’ll see where it goes”, he posted a Sunday-style strip titled Dollar Admiral, at a discount store. Dollar Admiral was teased as the store taking the place of Grumbel’s, which makes for a neat handoff. If it goes anywhere. I’d be glad if it did.

Norm Feuti’s _Retail_ comic strip is ending

Anyone who took my advice to read Norm Feuti’s Retail likely suspected this was coming. The comic strip, following the life and careers of workers in a department store, had a story about this being maybe a make-or-break holiday season. And then Stuart, the fussy regional micromanager, just … disappeared. It was so out of character as to suggest the world was ending.

Scott: 'You don't think it's possible that Stuart got fired?' Marla: 'Nah, people like Stuart never get fired. Grumbel's prizes blind loyalty above all else. Sycophants who go with the flow and pretend everything is great keep their job forever.' Scott: 'At least until the place goes bankrupt.' Marla: 'Which leads me to my next theory.'
Norm Feuti’s Retail for the 16th of January, 2020. Marla, here, had started as the assistant store manager (Stuart was the full manager). She’d had ambitions of opening her own boutique, which faded out after she was promoted to full manager. It’s not been mentioned (that I remember) in years. The workday life of putting off ambitions until you forget you had them was a running motif in the strip. It’s one of the small things, rarely drawing attention to itself, which I admired for emotional reality.

So it is: Norm Feuti announced that he’s retiring the strip. The last installment’s to run Sunday, the 23rd of February. He’s found more opportunities in children’s books and is focusing on that instead. He intends to secure a digital archive of the strip and will announce that when it has a place. I’ll try to remember to pass that news on.

I’m saddened by the news, of course. Not just for the loss of any comic. But also that Feuti drew strips with a quite good blend of daily humor and running continuity. This and his (mostly) ended Gil paid attention to working-class and even poor people, without (to my eye) ever getting snide or condescending about people’s lives. They looked at the people who are the marginal characters in other comic strips, and it’s a shame to lose those.

(Gil still runs as a Sunday comic in the Providence (RI) Journal and on Feuti’s blog. I have no reason to think Feuti will revive Retail as a Sunday or web comic, but would read it if he did.)

2020 has already been a rough year for the syndicated comics. Terri Libenson’s The Pajama Diaries (another King Features comic) ended, and Peter Guren decided he’s done every Ask Shagg comic he cares to.

Comic Strips Worth Reading: Norm Feuti’s _Retail_

It was an ordinary setup for a week of comic strips. The department store hadn’t been sent some of the sunscreen meant for a planed summer display. Marla, the department store manager, shrugged, resigned to the impossibility of getting the supplies they needed to meet corporate’s plan. Brice, the new assistant manager, was sure that was impossible. At his old store corporate would never short-change inventory like that. Marla told Brice if he wanted he could go beat his head against the wall of corporate’s inventory system.

And that’s a moment that stood out.

Retail, by Norm Feuti.

Retail is another example of the continuity-humor sort of comic. It’s set in one of many outlets of a New England department store. Something inspires the week’s worth of action. But the characters change some, in the slow way we change. Sometimes characters leave altogether, for new towns or new jobs or new careers. Sometimes characters realize the job they took for a summer is becoming their lifelong workplace.

So here’s the thing that stood out. Most comic strips that do a story you know the rough outline of what will happen. That’s not necessarily a strike against it. If the characters are clearly defined then there are limits to what they can do. Anything too far outside is surprising or illogical. And while a situation can blow up unexpectedly, that doesn’t happen often. Stories have logical limits.

But here — what might happen? And many options made sense. Marla could be right, that corporate didn’t care, and after long enough of fighting against this, neither should Brice. Brice could be right, that there was some dumb screwup that could’ve been fixed by anyone trying. There could be some truth to both sides.

That stands out. Comic strips often have this sort of interpersonal drama. But there’s usually a more clear definition of who the heroes are and who the villains are. Retail stands out for avoiding that. The characters are the protagonists of their own lives, and they’re depicted well enough that you can typically see their side of it. It stands out to see this sort of drama in which everybody involved is a reasonable adult.

This is not to say there’s not pettiness or stupidity. But it’s a pettiness and stupidity that feels observed and authentic. Stuart, the District Manager, has the sort of suspicious, devious mind that inspires suspicious and devious behavior from underlings. Stock manager Cooper discovered that one of his employees had for months thought all there was to inventorying deliveries was counting the number of boxes received in the morning and had no idea the stuff inside the boxes needed counting too. Everyone’s job is that blend of being called on to do more than their time and resources allow, for people who are ambiguous and contrary yet exacting in their demands.

The comic can be absurd. Some pieces feel like fossils of an early idea of the comic as a broad satire. See most of the strips with Lunker, the enormous and nearly cloud-cuckoolander stockroom worker. But that’s kept well-balanced, enough loopiness to break up and to highlight the mundane stuff. The result is a comic strip that feels like the warm memories of having worked in a mall, sometime in the past. When what you have left of it are a couple of anecdotes about weird customers and boring evening shifts and the time everybody gathered around to watch the impossible happening. Which, in my case — it was a Walden Books — was someone actually for once buying one of the nearly 48 billion copies of The Polar Express that corporate thought we needed. It was August. It was ridiculous, in the quiet and simple ways. The ways of retail life.

Lesson Learned From The Dream About Moving My Parents Out Of Their Old Home

Oh, it may have been one of those slightly frantic dreams, re-creating the experience of my parents moving out of their home, with all that running up and down the long corridors and that weird state of affairs where stuff needs to get done but somehow none of it can be done right now. You know the way things get.

Anyway, my mother had the right comment to sum it up. She’d explained to the guy in the gift shop that while there really was a lot of merchandise — and there was; the gift shop area of the house was easily thirty feet by thirty feet with counters and shelves filling the area — none of it was ever quite interesting enough to buy and take home, to the room outside. So it is. I know the gift shop in my current non-dream home is terribly under-stocked. I can’t blame the staff for the low sales volume. Has anyone had better luck with their homes’ gift shops?

The Perfect Crime

I’ve figured out the perfect crime for me to commit. It’s counterfeiting two-dollar (United States) bills and spending them (in the United States). Any cashier questioning the bills would go asking around and get told by some smug know-it-all legal tender pedant — there’s at least one in every store’s work shift — that there are so two-dollar bills, and while they’re rare they’re legitimate currency and you should feel stupid for not taking them, and maybe they’ll even point out those urban legends about Taco Bell giving you stuff (Taco Bell food) for free just to not bother them with two-dollar bills or how the mall’s cops laugh at people who think two-dollar bills are fakes. I don’t care about getting free Taco Bell food, but the principle is a good one.

Why this is really perfect is it’s perfect pedantry snipe bait: anyone ready to get all smug about knowing there are so two-dollar bills is going to be so busy showing how proud he is to accept them that he won’t suspect they’re fake. And if he does accept them and find they’re fake, he won’t tell anyone because it would be too humiliating to have his smug self-assurance of knowing that two-dollar bills are for real destroyed by turning them over to people who know that these two-dollar bills are not. By then, I’m long out of the store and have got my free books about Taco Bell.

Oh, except it wouldn’t work, because I’m a know-it-all legal tender pedant and so I know that I’d be unable to resist going back to the store and telling the legal tender pedant just how I put it over on him. And then he’d either turn me in or demand to be cut in on the scheme because it’s so good. So the whole thing is a failure. Now I can’t do anything with the idea. Too bad.

I Miss Out On My Wheelbarrow

I was in Walgreen’s, which is not a joke by itself except to the CVS partisans, and noticed by the checkout counter a transparent plastic stand featuring a sign: “FREE!!!!! If we fail to offer you one at the time of purchase.” The stand was empty. The cashier didn’t say a word about it.

What am I supposed to do with a checkout counter transparent plastic stand? I bet the stand is a loss-leader, and they’re hoping to make the real money selling me the Walgreen’s to fit around it. But I’m on to their game. It’ll serve them right if I go to Music Comics instead and buy the stuff to open a Music Comics shop. Although they’ve palmed off some free comics and flyers on me, come to think of it.

Maybe I can open a shop holding nothing but the stuff I’ve got thrown in free from other shops. That’s a good plan. Anything I charge will be pure profit.

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