Lessons Learned from the life of Brian Jacoby

Last night I attended a memorial service for the owner of our local (Tallahassee) comics shop, Brian Jacoby. As promised at the beginning of the service, it was not what I was used to: instead of the set format of prayer-speaker-song-prayer it was more of a Town Hall of his life, with those who had a story or experience to share encouraged to do so. Some stories were funny, some were touching, and all were heartfelt.

What was surprising on some level was that most of the stories were told by his customers. Now, this isn’t surprising if you were one of Brian’s customers (regular or not), because we all shared the experience of being treated like a new friend when you walked into his shop, and he frequently remembered your name and what sorts of stories you were into when you returned. And you wanted to return as much for the varied selection of comics, games, and sundry geek supplies as for that feeling of belonging. It’s only a surprise, then, if you never had the chance to walk into his store and were used to other shops where you were just a dollar sign on a receipt.

The reason for this, of course, was that he loved what he did. He was passionate about comics and not just the ones from Marvel and DC, but pretty much all comics created by anyone, plus so much more. He was an ardent supporter of new writers and artists, and I consider myself fortunate to be among that number.

I first met Brian when a mutual friend suggested to me (as a fledgling comic reader) to a) read Watchmen (this was back in 2007, two years before the movie would come out) and b) buy it at Secret Headquarters. Both seemed like reasonable suggestions so in I wandered one afternoon, completely clueless as to where I’d find the book. But, of course, Brian was ready and willing to point me in the right direction also asking ‘have you ever read a graphic novel before?’ When I answered no, he had a few suggestions of where to start before tackling Watchmen (and he was right) and I think I left the store that day with 5 books to further my comics education.

A year or so later I was working on an article about getting self-published comics into stores and Brian graciously let me interview him. When my barely-boyfriend (now husband) first came to town I took him on a tour of local book and comics shops, saving Secret Headquarters for last because I knew we’d spend the most time there. A few years of visits later, Brian hosted my book launch party. I was also a part of the first 3 Unicorn Parties held at the store (and how much do I regret missing this year’s, especially now?). We played D&D on Wednesday nights and Todd even served as a DM for those games for a while. We made friends at Secret Headquarters and lots of memories (including the time we were finishing up our engagement photos there and Brian suggested we recreate the proposal with a Lantern Corps ring–made for a great shot).

Brian loved what he did–I know I already said that–and he wasn’t shy about sharing that. One of the speakers last night pointed out that Brian didn’t try to be anything that he wasn’t, and that fits what I observed, too. While no one is perfect and everyone has their moments, Brian always seemed to be comfortable in his own skin, to know who he was and what he was here to do. He was a great businessman because he could sell without being smarmy or fake. He adored his daughter who was frequently at the shop with him. He supported the comics community and created a safe, welcoming space at his store for anyone who wanted to be there.

His passing was sudden and shocking. Several of us thought we were being pranked. But as confirmation rolled in that he passed away on Thanksgiving night, we were rocked to our cores. Life is so fragile, and precious, and fleeting. None of us know how much time we have and being reminded of our mortality can be a downer, for sure, but it’s also a nudge to use what time we have left wisely. Because we just don’t know how much that will be.

So, from knowing Brian these lasts seven years and from the stories shared last night at his memorial, I’m taking away these simple but oh so meaningful lessons:

  1. Be yourself.
  2. Love what you do, do what you love.
  3. Foster community.
  4. And do it now.

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