Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

Home > Commentary and Features

Five For Friday #37—The Early Shopping Experience
posted July 8, 2005

Name Five Things You Remember About Your First Comic Book Shop

Tom Spurgeon

Comics Carnival (Broad Ripple Location), Indianapolis

1. Rack of Cerebus and Elfquest next to counter that you had to walk past going from main rack to cash register. I've never seen any other shop make that use of that exact space.
2. Totally freaking cramped. Impossible to see things down below.
3. Same manager for years, I think named "Mike."
4. Tiny kids' rack near the door.
5. Wasn't the original CC location, and isn't there any longer.

.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Alan David Doane
Via The Internet

My first regular comics shop, other than the few I visited once or twice in my pre-teens, was FantaCo in Albany. Here's what I remember most:

1. Being amazed that (the now sadly departed) cartoonist Raoul Vezina had to work in the shop; wasn't he living it up off the huge profits from SMILIN' ED COMICS?
2. The copy of World War III Illustrated (#1 or 2, I would guess) that I had in my pile when I checked out on my first visit in 1981, only to find somehow I left it behind in the store. It would be nearly two decades before I crossed paths again with the work of Peter Kuper.
3. Buying the counterfeit Cerebus #1 there, knowing it was fake, but thrilled to finally be able to read that story, then only available in the high-priced back issue market.
4. Seeing Wendy and Richard Pini at a signing there and being surprised at how normal they were. It was as if the people who made comics were just, you know, people.
5. The copy of Metroland I would always grab from the left side of the door on my way out every week; FantaCo is gone, but Albany's free alternative newsweekly is still chugging along.

Look for a great deal more information on the FantaCo era this fall on Comic Book Galaxy.


Benjamin Bayliss

Grackleflint Comics in Dover, OH

Mitch, the owner, was a large man and not patient with little kids. His wife was very nice.

The "store" was in the foyer of their house (later it was expanded to include the living room and dining room.) Later still it moved into an actual storefront and then after a massive flood due to a leaky roof to yet another storefront. Now, from what I hear, it has moved to a flea market.

All locations had sketches of Grackleflints and the various Grendels done by Matt Wagner along with other original art hanging on the walls..

I bought nearly the entire run of Uncanny X-Men from issue #150-250. Having said that, Mitch DID introduce me to Grendel and Mage and therefore the entire "independent market."

I hated the 10 block walk from my Dad's house (after pilfering some change from Dad's change drawer.) I could never get there quick enough to see what new jewel I could find and then I could never get home quick enough to read my newly found gem.


Dave Knott

The first comics shop I ever went to was Island Fantasy in Victoria, Canada.

1) The store catered to geek-culture in general, including science fiction and role-playing fans. I believe that it originally started out as an SF bookshop.
2) It was located in a cool little downtown square that was packed with all kinds of specialty shops, ranging from musical instruments to outdoor gear to aboriginal artwork and handicrafts.
3) There was a satellite store further up Vancouver Island, but I never got a chance to go there. Strangely enough, both stores went out of business at the height of the speculator boom of the early nineties.
4) As a relative newbie to the comics scene, I naively asked for a copy of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1. This was before the Turtles became mega-popular. I just liked the title of the book. The owner handed me a copy without telling me it was a reprint.
5) They had all kinds of books that I dismissed at the time, and ended up searching for in vain many years later.


Chris Mautner

If memory serves me right, it was Dollars and Cents, located in lovely Ridgewood, NJ. It's not around any more.

1. Sitting out front of the store Saturday morning (aka new comic day) waiting for the guy to open. The owner was frequently late.
2. Buying a copy of Omaha #2 without so much as wayward glance.
3. Taking a job at the store, only being forced to quit that night because my parents didn't want me working there. (I made my Dad tell the owner)
4. Afore-mentioned owner all but begging me to please make friends with his teen assistant because he was lonely and could use some friends. (This was after my own brief employment, natch)
5. Being the only one in the store when the first issue of Dark Knight Returns arrived. The guy had only ordered one copy and I picked it up, not having heard anything at all about the series.


Rob Schamberger

My first shop I visited on a regular basis was Legion Comics in Independence, MO, run by a guy named Bob.

1. Their first location was friggin' tiny. I mean, I was tiny at the time, and I knew this location was like a closet.
2. The street it was on was insanely busy, and the parking lot was small, so my dad would have to pull some really crazy maneuvers to get in and out of there.
3. It was where I got turned onto DC's superhero line, as I was a strict X-Men reader at the age of 12. I've bought every issue of Legion of Superheroes since.
4. They moved to a much nicer location in the 'Square' district of Independence, half a mile from Harry Truman's house, actually. That new spot was much bigger, and gorgeous, and surrounded by the coolest shops. With the bigger space, he started carrying more stuff outside of the Big Two, and that's where I got into Everything Else outside of Marvel and DC.
5. Bob ran into health problems, if I remember right, and had to shut the store down. He actually called each person on his pull list personally and recommended them to whatever shop was closest to them, and offered to forward our lists to those shopkeepers. Real class act guy.


Daniel Holloway

Brandon Comic Shoppe, Brandon, Florida

1. Inflatable Wolverine. It was a staple of comics shops for a while in the 90s.
2. The shop changed locations three times within what felt like two years. It was probably longer than that. My favorite location was in a small strip plaza next to one of the closest things my town had to a landmark, the old Brandon Twin Theater. The Twin got bumped to $0.50 movie status when a six-screen multiplex came to town. Later, a 20-screen AMC multiplex drove both out of business. For a while, the theater, bowling alley, comics shop, library and an amazing ice cream place called Campbell's Dairy Isle were all on the same block in a town made up mostly of strip malls. Now, the ice cream shop is (amazingly) the only thing still there.
3. I stopped going to the shop for about a year when I was around 14 or so, because of one of the clerks. He took my phone number off my 'subscription' card and called my house to see if I wanted to go see a movie with him. He called me a few times, and then I think my dad finally told him to stop calling. I don't think I went back to that shop on a regular basis until I started driving, by which time that guy was gone.
4. This isn't about the shop so much as it is about my new comics day routine. After I started driving, I'd go pick up my books, take them to Village Inn or Denny's and read them (coffee and cigarettes are best when you're a teen), then come home and give the X-Men books to my mom. She'd read them, and then we'd talk about them. My mom and I were at war in my last couple years of high school, and new comics days were pretty much the only days when we could talk without screaming at each other. Thankfully, the civility of our conversations no longer depends on the mind of Scott Lobdell.
5. Having a conversation with the shop owner on a visit home from college. He told me he was going to close the store, but was trying to sell it (he did sell, and it became a much crappier store). I had never talked to the owner for more than a minute or two before that, but he spent about half an hour telling me what a shitty business it was, and how he had made a huge mistake.


Cole Odell

Moondance Comics in Brattleboro, Vermont

This was a great shop that I discovered around 1983, when I was 12. And because it was a considerable distance from home, visiting the store was always a special occasion.

1. The excitement I felt when I realized that the Moondance Comics advertising in my Marvel comic was only 45 minutes down the interstate.
2. The rides with my dad along Vermont's gorgeous I-91 on the way to the store--and riding back with a giant stack of comics in my hands, from my long sought-after X-Men #137 to the first 8 issues of Marvel Fanfare.
3. Hard to describe, but the shop's location on the inside corner of an underpass beneath a building that opened onto the parking lot in the center of town. It made the store feel like something magical, hidden in the side of a cave. Once inside, seeing row after row of back issues alongside new books you couldn't get on newsstands -- Fred Hembeck collections, Captain Victory, Spirit reprints, even the Fantaco Avengers Index -- *proved* it was magical.
4. My dad's amazement that the shop's owner had put himself through college on his comic book collection
5. How disappointed I was the day I realized the shop had moved across the parking lot to a far move conventional (if bigger) storefront -- although I did get an autographed copy of local artist Steven Bissette's first Swamp Thing comic that day.


Warren Craghead

1) "Doug's Comics" was in Marumsco Plaza in Woodbridge Va, a completely sad-sack shopping center.
2) Doug had this weird long black beard.
3) The back was filled with used sci-fi paperbacks.
4) Doug always wore a white dress shirt and glasses. He was a cliche of a comic-store owner -- pudgy, geeky, full of arcane and useless knowledge.
5) Years later I saw Doug at a different comics store. His store had closed and he was working for a husband and wife team over in Burke Va. The husband was a loudmouthed short guy with a hobbit beard who yelled at his wife, Doug and all the customers. Doug still had his blank expression.


Mike Dawson

Fantasy Zone -- Red Bank New Jersey, circa 1987-1989

1.) Staring at the cover of Power Pack with MadCap getting run over by a steam roller in the back issue bin for hours.
2.) Manager went on to become the lead singer of stoner metal band "Monster Magnet"
3.) Same manager politely telling me "no" after I asked to apply for a job there time and time again
4.) Located in the lamest mini-mall ever. The only other stores I remember being in there were a woman’s hair salon and a yarn shop.
5.) Thinking "Marvel Comics Presents" #1 was actually "Wolverine" #1, and being confused as to why there were three back up stories in the comic: Man-Thing, Master of Kung Fu, and Fear Eater.


Evan Dorkin

The Green Ghost in Brooklyn, NYC was the first dedicated comic shop I went to, normally I got my comics from a newsstand or a number of luncheonettes that carried comic racks.

1) The bus trip there was in and of itself a big part of the shopping esperience. Two busses, each way, actually, taking me into a neighborhood I was unfamiliar with. Nobody would ever go with me, I always went alone. It made me feel very nervous traveling alone at age eleven or twelve. And then there was a bit of a walk from the second bus to the shop and back.
2) Every back issue was a revelation then, because I was unaware of organized "fanzine" fandom and so anything I saw in a mylar was new to me. I can recall specific issues to this day, things I bought and worse, at the time, things I couldn't afford. Learning about the Avengers/Defenders war and knwoing it was folly to try to buy all the parts to the story. Maybe that's why I can't stand multi-issue crossovers. Or Roy Thomas. Or back issue prices.
3) Speaking of which -- Juggling the 75 cent back issues with the dollar back issues so I could get maximum comic bang for the buck with my small allowance and found change.
4) Seeing new newstand-only comics propped up on a shelf on the right-hand wall and wondering how on earth a back issue shop was getting the books I normally saw in spinner racks in grocery stores and the like.
5) The owner/operator is a large blur to me, and pretty much was even then. There was no conversation, he never remarked on my purchases, all Marvel back issues, largely Avengers, FF, Spider-Man and any apperance of the then-new furry Beast I could get my hands on. I recall no one speaking in the small shop, none of the usual lord fanman rap, he was a quiet tyrant. A lot of customers were older male collectors rummaging the boxes in the usual manner of the species. I always felt weird when I was the only kid in there. Never threatened, I was in my own collector zone, I just remember feeling weird and "adult" (little did I know...). The whole experience was freakish to me every time I went, the ride, being alone, having too many choices and never, never enough money.
6) Sorry. To get in the cramped shop you had to maneuver a tight horseshoe-shape trail created by the tables holding the longboxes. If someone wanted to search left and you were moving right, you couldn't pass by them even if you were both anorexic.


Russ Maheras

My earliest visit to a "comics store" was in about 1969, when comic shops as we know them today did not exist. That "store" was the basement of long-time Chicago collector Joe Sarno's house, and my parents drove me over there after I saw Joe's "comics for sale" classified ad in one of the Chicago newspapers. Sarno eventually opened a real store a few years later called "The Nostalgia Shop" (later "Comics Kingdom"), and he was one of the co-founders of the Chicago Comicon (now Wizard World Chicago).

1.) You entered Joe's "store" from the back basement entrance, down a short flight of concrete stairs.
2.) Joe had tables set up throughout his rather smallish basement, and everywhere were boxes of comics, movie stills and stuff like that -- more comics than I had ever seen before.
3.) I remember buying "Cracked" #1 there, along with some other oddball humor comics like "Get Lost" #1 and "Eh!" #1.
4.) I saw my first Golden Age comics there, and later traded a beat-up copy of "Human Torch" #4 to Joe -- a copy I'd picked up elsewhere for $1.
5.) Joe's basement is where I met good friends Alan "Jim" Hanley (a widely known fan artist from the 1960s and 1970s who later died in a van accident) and artist Jim Engel. I'm pretty sure I also met artist Chuck Fiala there too.


Cris Skokna

I'm breaking protocol because my first comic-book store -- Hero's World in Columbia, Md. -- was a boring, generic mall chain store. However, my second comic-book store, Gun Dog Comics in Starkville, Miss., on the other hand ...

1. Its second (first, actually, I guess) line of business was hunting dog supplies. You know, cages, leashes, food, and such. Which meant the shop was located out on a country road in a farm-supply store/warehouse-type space. Bizarre "double businesses" were de rigeur in small-town Mississippi. In Columbus, 15 or so miles away where I lived, we had a pet shop/soul and R&B record store. Awesome.

2. I was one of Gun Dog's original pull-box subscribers (it opened in '88 -- soon after my family moved to Mississippi; I escaped in '91 -- later branching out to five+ stores in the state, and I think it completely shut down circa 2001), which entitled me to some sort of lifetime discount/deal, the details of which I can't remember.

3. It eventually moved to a strip mall (La Gallerie?), next door to a tanning salon. Nothing mixes better than sorority sisters and comics geeks.

4. Speaking of sorority sisters, Starkville is a college town (Mississippi State; go Bulldogs!), so Gun Dog did carry a number of independent comics, thereby introducing me to Flaming Carrot, Cerebus, Nexus, Love and Rockets, and such, ruining my budget for all time.

5. At some point in the mid-late '90s, Gun Dog published comics, including an early edition of Larry Young's Astronauts in Space. Until doing a web search today, I had no idea. Also, somebody told me a few years ago that Gun Dog's owners -- the Snell brothers -- were awfully ornery in the early internet bulletin-board days. Again, I had no idea. They were always nice to me.