Memories of a Comicbook Store Guy

Carl MacekOn Saturday, March 17, 2010, Carl Macek died of a heart attack.  Most people know and remember him as the man that brought the US anime through the creation of Robotech. But to me, he will always be the co-owner of a small comic shop in Orange, California called 21st Century Comics.  I think I may have met him once, but I almost never spoke to him.  I was far too shy.

It was in the early 80’s, about my freshman year in high school.  My older brother came home with this video tape that he’d bought.  It was in one of those black cases like video rental stores used for their VHS tapes, with what I think was a golden rod-colored xerox for a cover.  It was Macross, Carl Macek and Harmony Gold’s first attempt at bringing Macross over to the US.  That opening that is ridiculed in Bad English dubs that starts “Soldiers of Future from deep space…”?  Yeah, that where it came from.  My brother had bought it at Macek’s comic shop.

It was a small shop at that time, on the north end of Orange Circle, I believe.  The Orange Circle is a two way street going in and out of the circle, so there was no parking on the street.  It was in the back, and that where we always entered the shop from.  I went there a few times with my brother.  I was a casual comic collector, but loved to look at all the other merchandise the store would have.  My brother would go to talk with his friends and Macek.  Anime was almost always the topic.  C/FO was active at that time, and Southern California had at least 3 chapters, one of which was in Orange.  It was from these fans that Macek learned around anime and learned to love it.  My husband Brian was among the fans that helped turn him on to anime.

For all the hate that people pile on Macek, I think he was a real fan of the medium.  I’m sure the Southern California contingent was among his harshest critics, but that probably more because they new him before the Robotech phenomenon started.  I recall one story I was told about Macek speaking at a Creation Convention, with several of the fans who knew him in the back making shoveling motions as he spoke.  But there was never any animosity between anyone.  It was more like good-natured ribbing.

By the time I was getting involved with the anime fandom, Robotech was already a big success, and Macek was moving on to bigger and better things.  21 Century Comics reaped a bit of the benefits, as they moved from their small store front to a much larger one, still on the Circle, with 2 stories.  There was still plenty of anime merchandise.  It was in that store that I first saw a copy of Fred Schodt’s Manga! Manga! book.  It sat on the shelf for such a long time…  But Macek wasn’t around as much.  One could still get news about what he was doing through the store’s co-owner Barry Short.  Macek eventually sold his half of the store to Barry, and moved on to Streamline Pictures.  But I don’t think he ever forgot his fan roots.  SDCC, 1990 I think it was, the first year I went with my future husband, I remember running to the small movie theater near the Hotel San Diego, where the new dub of the Lensman Movie was being shown.  The reason I was rushing was because Brian had been asked to be at the premiere by Macek, and I was going to meet them.  I think that really says something that Macek wanted some of the people that got him into the fandom to be at one of his premieres.

I know none of these are really first hand stories, and I didn’t really know the man, but through all the stories I heard and just watching, I think Macek really loved anime, and was trying to bring it to the US not just for the fans, but for everyone to enjoy.  He truly was a pioneer, clearing the way for many of the companies to come after.  Just look at the movies he licensed through Streamline; Lupin III: Castle of Cagliostro, Lupin: Castle in the Sky, My Neighbor Totoro, Dirty Pair: Project Eden, Akira, even Lensmen.  These weren’t just good movies, they were films shown at the C/FO and loved by the fans.  Loved by him.

He may have been a controversial figure, but that was never what he was trying to do.  He just wanted to bring over good shows for the fans.  Fans should try to remember more of the man than what he did or didn’t do.

3 thoughts on “Memories of a Comicbook Store Guy”

  1. Yeah, I remember hanging out with Carl back in his comic days, he had a TV and VCR up by the register and a bunch of us would go in with tapes of anime to show him. As far as I know, I’m the one that introduced him to shows like Yamato, Macross and Dunbine, he ended up borrowing a lot of tapes from my collection so he could watch them at home. He also called me and told me to turn on the TV the day Robotech premiered. I also remember Lensmen, he almost dragged me down to the theater with a couple of other people in tow to see it. That’s just how things were in the early anime community though, it was so small and insular that people just got to know each other, “big” names or not. There were no superstars or celebrities, there were just fans.

    Oh, and I was one of those fans in the back of the room at the Creation Con doing the shoveling. If nothing else, Carl was great at self-promotion and taking credit for the work of others. I really don’t remember it being good natured at all, to be honest, it was our opinion at what he was spewing on stage. Somebody had to keep him honest, at least in the early days. Don’t get me wrong, he was a good guy, I count him as a friend and he got some things done in the anime community that probably needed doing, I just don’t necessarily agree with his intentions or with what he did, at the time that he did it.

  2. Oops, one other thing I wanted to bring up as a “correction” of sorts. Back when Carl’s comic shop was in the Orange Circle, it was called “Carl Macek’s Gallery”, it didn’t turn unto “21st Century” until Carl was no longer directly involved. It always had a small second floor, but that didn’t expand into a full art gallery-style thing until they moved down the street and out of the Circle entirely. In the original store front, upstairs was more storage than anything, but he did have some comic-related artwork hanging on the wall and over the balcony.

    Strange what you remember when you’re reminded of something in the past.

  3. Carl was also my original source for Anime, and for the longest time, Carl Macek’s Gallery was the “go to” place for anime books and material unless you were willing to make the trek into LA to hit Little Tokyo. It’s kind of hard to believe, living today where you can get more anime then you can shake a stick at from your local Barnes and Noble, but back then Anime was this really odd thing and Manga was something that you hardly ever saw.

    I also remember Carl showing the first 90 minute “special” for Robotech: The Sentinels at a convention in Orange County at the Doubletree hotel. He was full of enthusiasm for it, although sadly the sentinels would become a project that was destined to never be a series. He always had enthusiasm for his projects, and that was something that impressed me.

    But still, both in terms of the direct influence, the robotech books, articles, and interest, and the indirect, an entire generation of artists and writers who had their first experience of anime at the hands of robotech, Carl had a tremendous impact on the popular entertainment media, one that we still see today.


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