_A Guide to the Different Types of Comics Shops
by Rob Imes
Based on the comics shops in my area, there are a few different types of shops, with perhaps a different type of customer for each. Some non-fans may not realize that there is such diversity within the subculture of comics fandom, painting all comics shops alike (and usually making snarky, mean-spirited comments about the people who are there). Each of these shops has their own audience, with some overlapping between them. A fan like myself who loves one type of store may find himself rapidly heading for the exit in another type of store (as I have indeed done). Here are the types of comics shops that I've experienced in my years of comics-buying:
- THE HALF-A-SHOP. The first comics shop I ever went to (which is still in business) was not fully a comics shop at all. About one-third of the store was comics, the rest of the store consisted of used paperback novels. This was not a store run by a comics fan, but a store that started as something else; comics were added as a sideline to bring in some more customers. While some comics shops may also have a large selection of related items as a sideline (action figures, DVDs, etc.), the "half-a-shops" I'm thinking of are the reverse situation. For a few years, my local comics shop was actually a sports-card shop that had added comics to their offerings. In fact, this particular shop would jump on any fad that came along, so perhaps comics had been added initially as just another fad and ended up lasting longer than the rest. When I was a teenager, I'd sometimes stop in a local store called "3 Coins Coin Store," which primarily sold rare coins. They didn't even have their comics on display; I would have to ask the man at the counter to see the comics, and he would bring them out of the back room in a box for me to look through! By the 1990s, trading-cards seemed to be their main sideline rather than comics.
- THE FLY-BY-NIGHT SHOP. This is the comics shop that pops up out of nowhere and goes back to nowhere just as fast. You got the chance to go to it a few times perhaps, but then there came the day when you showed up at the door and saw that it was vacant. These are the types of comics shops started by comics fans who thought it would be a great idea to open a comics shop. I have to admit, I have fond memories of those shops I went to once, twice, maybe three times, and then they were no more. I swear that one time I saw a sign on the side of the road promoting a comics shop whose address turned out to be someone's house! I didn't go in, and later when I wanted to find it again, I couldn't remember exactly where it had been. (Sounds like a weird dream, doesn't it?)
- THE ARTSY SHOP. This is a comics shop (usually located in a college town) that takes pride in offering a larger-than-usual selection of independent, alternative, self-published, literary, etc. type comics. You can still get the new Marvel & DC titles here, but there will also be an acknowledgement of the range of publishers and subject matter available in the current comics scene. This is the place that is most likely to have artists or writers appear in person to do a signing, like a prose bookstore would. The person who runs the store likely knows who Chris Ware is, and can perhaps give you an opinion about his work, which is likely not the case at the other stores in this list.
- THE CAPE SHOP. This store focuses mainly on new Marvel & DC superhero comics, with perhaps some other titles of a similar sensibility generating some buzz among the same readership. This week's new comics may already be bagged and boarded as they sit on the shelves, like instant collector's items. Almost everything in the store is of recent vintage, from the past 10 years primarily. The employees and customers are likely under age 30, and may have some opinions about the writing of Brian Michael Bendis. This is the most cosplay-friendly of the stores on this list (hence the "cape" reference). If there is a creator signing here, it might be accompanied by fans in costume promoting it at the door.
- THE TOO-MANY-COMICS SHOP. This is my favorite type of comics shop, and in fact what my current local comics shop is like. The new comics shelves are dominated by Marvel and DC, but other prominent companies are usually represented. If you want action figures or DVDs, they have those, too. The owner may not know who Chris Ware is, but the selection of graphic novels that line the store's walls is so extensive that there's bound to be a copy of Acme Novelty Library in there somewhere. But this shop's main asset is its insanely huge back issue section. If you are interested in buying a 1950s issue of Patsy and Hedy, skip all of the above shops and look for it here. Looking for a large selection of 1970s B&W Creepy magazines? Try here. Interested in Dell, Gold Key, Charlton, ACG? Westerns, romance, war? They got 'em, more comics than you have time to dig through. And the "cheap bins" here are just as extensive, full of hidden gold (and to be sure, a lot of dreck as well). This is the comics shop for the fan of comics history in all its glory and garbage, built on the wreckage of various booms and busts, whose artifacts are now filed away and forgotten, waiting to be found again. It's an assault on the senses, too: a room jam-packed with too many comics for the mind to absorb quickly, with no guide on how to navigate this sea of paper, but rewarding to those who already know how to find their way.