Comic strip on life in retail to be featured in TFP StarWritten by Brigitta Burks | News Editor | BBurks@toledofreepress.com
When asked what his pet peeve was in his job dealing with customers at Best Buy, Phil Machi replied, “Customers that ask questions and when I begin to say the answer, they’ll interrupt with another question.”
Unlike the average retail employee, Machi turned his frustration into a comic strip in which a customer asks a frazzled employee a series of rapid-fire questions. This comic installment, or episode as Machi calls them, is just one of 83 in a series called “Retail Sunshine.”
“Retail Sunshine” is set to be featured in Toledo Free Press Star.
The series chronicles Best Buy employees and their misadventures dealing with customers. But Machi, who works at the Best Buy in Holland, said the series is relatable to anyone who has worked in retail.
“I really wanted to show what it was like to work in sales, not necessarily Best Buy. So it looks like a Best Buy, but there’s enough of it that’s not Best Buy that it could be anywhere. A lot times people go, ‘Is this Target? Is this Wal-mart?’” Machi said.
Even customers can relate to the comic, Machi said.
“A lot of people aren’t being insulted by it. They’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, I do that, too.’ And they’re being, like, humorously embarrassed by it,” he said.
Machi grew up in Solon, east of Cleveland and has loved art since childhood. However, he originally wanted to be a paleontologist. He attended Bowling Green State University to major in science and minor in art before having a change of heart and flipping his major and minor.
“I never thought I would be doing [art] as a big part of my life. Originally, I thought I would be doing it as something in the background,” he said.
The artist started his first major comic series as a sophomore in high school — while in geometry class.
“I was doing some doodling in my geometry class because, you know, math,” Machi said with a roll of the eyes. “The drawing I did on the side of my homework was a little cow and I was like, ‘Oh, I’ll make her say something,’ and I made her hate on McDonald’s.”
The simple sketch ended up sparking Livestock, a series based on farm animals that Machi did for 11 years.
“It’s not gone; it’s hibernating,” he said.
Machi graduated from BGSU in 2003 and began working at Best Buy in 2005. He also compiled a “Livestock” book in the meantime and, by 2008, he was ready to try something new.
“I thought maybe I’ll do something scribbly and silly that would be reflective of my everyday job,” Machi said. “Retail Sunshine” was the outcome.
He said his employers and co-workers have been supportive of his series. Machi has done murals in the hallway by his Best Buy’s restrooms and is published in The Link, Best Buy’s internal magazine.
“Like most jobs involving customer service, retailing can provide its challenges,” said Andy Hokenson, who runs The Link, in an email.
“But, if we can’t laugh at ourselves and call light to the situations similar to our own — we’d all go a little bonkers. Phil’s comics have helped create that amusement we all need from time to time.”
To make an episode, Machi first draws in pencil and then goes over his work in ink. He then adds crayon for color and scans the drawings into Photoshop to add words.
Machi also has a graphic novel on the backburner that harkens back to his first love — dinosaurs. “Not Quite Extinct” introduces three dinosaurs: a silent carnivore, a paranoid germaphobe who is convinced the silent carnivore is trying to eat him and the main character who doesn’t believe him.
“The whole reason I wanted to write that story was because I felt like I lost that whole part of my life, and I wanted to join art and science together,” said Machi, who has completed 13 pages of the project that is currently on hiatus.
Machi also released “Silver Lining,” a compilation book of “Retail Sunshine” episodes on Halloween. In the past, he has put out other books, including “Twas the Day After Turkey,” featuring a poem about Black Friday.
Machi strives to keep his work relatable. When he promotes his work at comic book conventions, he finds it’s usually what draws people in.
“People will walk by and at first, they’re confused because it’s not a superhero-based thing at a comic book convention. But once they look at it and I find out they’ve been in retail or whatever, they’ll pick up and go, ‘That’s my life,’” he said.
To learn more, visit the web site http://livestockproductions.com/.