We’ve been together for more than five years now, so she knows that look. We’ll be in some far-off city, wandering down strange streets, and I’ll seem strangely determined to find a certain area.
It doesn’t matter where we are in the world, I’m useless at hiding it. She knows what I want. She knows I’m looking for comic shops.
It’s easier these days with the internet and you can look up addresses and maps, and even go on Google to see what the street looks like ( I have done this far more than I should), but sometimes it’s just a matter of following your nose.
It’s easy to stumble on comic shops if you know what to look for. Near a university campus is always a good idea, or suburban shopping areas that also features things like second-hand bookshops, reasonably-priced antique stores and kick-ass tattoo shops.
They’ll be there, lurking innocently while insolently flashing some kind of neon Bat-signal. I’m always, always thrilled to step into a new comic shop, because you never know what you’re going to find.
I’ve been to comic shops in Amsterdam, Auckland, Christchurch, Dublin, Dunedin, Edinburgh, Hamilton, Invercargill, Las Vegas, London, Newcastle, New York, Osaka, Rome, Sacramento, San Francisco, Sydney, Ventura, Wellington and York.
Some of them were undoubtedly groovier than others – the stores in San Francisco and Brooklyn’s Rocketshop (which I think doesn’t exist anymore) exuded a casual cool, finally stepping into London’s Forbidden Planet was weirdly thrilling and an overdose of the local produce meant an adventure down into the cellar of some Amsterdam store felt like I was going to be starring in Hostel 3: Bob Doesn’t Come Back from The Comic Shop.
But if I could go back to any two comic shops in the world, it would be A-1 Comics in Sacremento, and that one in Dublin’s Temple Bar area with the extraordinary selection of 2000ad-related back issues. I left behind comics at those places that I really, really wanted, and now I have dreams where I go back to these places and buy those comics I didn’t get the first time around and I’m happy as a pig in shit until I realise it’s just a dream, and I feel real despair when I wake up.
This isn’t normal, but what is these days?
There are inevitable disappointments. There are plenty of shops that just sell the same old shit as everybody else, that have nothing different or interesting, nothing worth bothering with.
There are a lot of stores that are like this, but how will I know until I go inside?
To be honest, it’s getting harder.
It’s not just the fact that there are a lot less comic shops than there used to be – the drop in store numbers since the mid-nineties is staggering, (speaking from personal experience, there were a shit load of comic shops all over New Zealand at that time, now there are about half a dozen in the whole country), and that simple fact makes the good ones harder to find.
But there have been other changes in the business over the past decade that have led to a bland uniformity. The amount of reprinted material now available is wonderful, but while it’s possible to pick up collected editions of the most obscure material, there are thousands of comics that can’t/won’t/will never be reprinted. (I’m still completely baffled by the lack of trades reprinting the truly excellent v4 Legion of Super-Heroes.)
I’ve spoken to enough retailers to realise there really isn’t any money in maintaining a large back issue collection, and many stores have justifiably ejected them entirely in favour of a books ‘n’ three months of comics.
This is only good and proper, but I’m after little oddities, and the best place to find them is in a dusty and dark room packed full of comic history. My favourite comic shops are the ones that have the weird shit.
Yeah, I know I can get this stuff through the internet (and the online world has been good to me this month, as I’ll explain in another post soon), but there are two obvious factors why I tend to spend almost all of my comic budget in brick and mortar stores.
One if the beauty of browsing that can never really be replicated online. By their very nature, weird little oddities never become apparent until you find them in a dollar bin somewhere, sandwiched between endless issues of Transformers dreck and invulnerable copies of D.P. 7. You can’t go looking for them, you have to stumble across them yourself.
The second factor is that it’s cheating, and cheating is NO FUN.
Our next trip overseas won’t be for another 11 months, but she’s already caught me looking up potential comic shops. Soon enough, we’ll be somewhere over the other side of the world, and I’ll be looking for some random street with that weirdly focussed look, and she’ll know what I’m doing.
Because I’m always looking for new comic shops