Our Valued Customers: A Single-Panel Webcomic That Knows More About Geek Culture Than You Do

Today we’re going to branch out from SFF comics and talk about a Boston-based artist who chronicles fans of mainstream SFF comics, movies, and TV shows with his black and white, single-panel, web comic, Our Valued Customers.

Tim Chamberlain, aka MRTIM, has been posting OCV online since 2009, after a year of sketching the “more irritating customers” he’d been dealing with as a comic book store clerk. Not every panel came from work (he’s since left that position); he also gets inspiration from overhearing fans venting at other shops or conventions, in line to get into a movie, and so on.

But he swears they’re all real statements, and that his drawings even look a bit like the people who uttered them.

   All images © Tim Chamberlain

His painful depictions simultaneously remind of us that one dude we got stuck in a bookstore/café/elevator with that one time, and make us hope desperately that he’s not talking about us. For every regular joe waxing poetic about his love of Green Lantern or suddenly realizing they’ve taken fandom too far, there’s a “jerk”, “creep”, or “crazy” who’s been pushed over the edge.

His work has been criticized in the past, largely by readers who felt Chamberlain was:

Using their unguarded and open expressions of interest to mock them and show the world LOOK! TAKE A LOOK AT THESE FREAKS AND WEIRDOS THAT COME INTO MY SHOP! – Comix Cube, June 2011

Others have objected to his art on the grounds that it’s an “invasion of privacy” (though all of the comments depicted were said in public) and that it drives away business from other comic book shops by promoting “the fact that a large segment of its customer base is being laughed at on the Internet”.

In his defense, Chamberlain never intended the strip to be representative of all comics fans, everywhere. “The majority of comic book folks and comic shop customers are awesome,” he says. “However, like in any group, there’s that loud, crazy one percent that will continually amaze you with the crazy things that they say.”

In 2012, he listed his ten favorite drawings, with commentary, over at Mandatory. His comments prove that his motivation isn’t entirely to mock these folks, since Chamberlain identifies with many of them. The guy emerging from the darkness of the convention hall to find that in the bright light of day, he might want to reevaluate his comic collection? The guy who gets excited when he sees “X-Factor” on the TV Guide channel until he remembers it has nothing to do with the comic? The kids who don’t want to leave the store because there’s got to be one more comic they haven’t seen yet? Chamberlain sees himself in all of them, and more.

It’s refreshing to see this aspect of geek culture poked, prodded, exposed, and yet deeply appreciated by someone who isn’t just judging it from the outside. We do love hard, us geeks, and there’s nothing really wrong with that.

Check out last month’s Rhymes with Geek interview (audio/podcast or video, your choice) here.

You can find OVC on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, or online.

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