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March 4, 2007

CR Sunday Magazine

Collective Memory: WonderCon 2007


Links to accounts of all types covering the West Coast kick-off to the convention calendar year: WonderCon. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)


When In Tucson, Shop at Charlie's

I don't get to comics shops very often, but while this site's server was doing its Joe Frazier in a George Foreman fight impersonation Friday I took a brief trip (about 3.5 hours) to Tucson, Arizona. On my way to a couple of ethnic grocery stores I ran across Charlie's Comic Books in one of the 18 billion strip malls that dominate every intersection across the copper state.

I'm not in any position to say where Charlie's stands in the constellation of the Tucson's comics-buying options. I don't live there. I've visited exactly two comics shops in Tucson. One was in a kind of foreboding, windowless building but turned out to be a solid 1980s-style comic book shop with a quirky back-issues selection and a very watchful clerk. The other wasn't a proper store but a massive half-price books establishment with a semi-large graphic novels section.

imageI liked Charlie's. I bought a handful of new superhero comics for work, and a bunch of back issues from the quarter bins, including a long run of Eddie Campbell's Bacchus serial. I don't know enough about the peculiarities of retail to provide a vigorous review of the store, but Charlie's was arranged in interesting fashion, at least from my perspective. It was airy and high-ceilinged, with a bright color scheme that reminded me of a storefront karate studio or daycare center. There was a ton of moving-around space; the store could easily handle three times the number of comics being sold there now, maybe five times that number if it were as crammed and stuffed as some of the comics shops I've seen. The newer comics, which are almost lost to the casual eye when you first enter the store or look at it from the outside, were arranged in eight to ten bookshelves/racks: a few on the wall immediate to the door, a pair across the room, and three on a back wall. The new works selection was more broad than it was deep, but I was fairly surprised to see as many arts comics (The Ticking) and manga series (Cromartie High School) offerings as I did.

The signature feature of Charlie's was an old-fashioned one: the store's front center portion was filled with tables holding white longboxes that contained older comics for sale. If anything, these were more prominently placed than in most comics shops. There was certainly more room to navigate them. Their white, orderly look contributed to the store's super-clean visual impression. The boxes were immaculately kept, housing both traditional back-issue selections and, it looked like, more recent single issues. Eighty percent of the shops I've visited over the years would be more likely to have kept hundreds of books from those boxes on the new issue stands. My guess is that Charlie's for whatever reason focuses on getting most single issues into the boxes sooner than other shops might. The greatest benefit? Charlie's is the least headache-inducing comics shop I've been to in years, with more wall showing than comic book covers. There was a total of about eight older comics covers displayed, in a small array on the back wall. I really liked this.

Shopping there was pleasant, too. The shop's owner/operator proved to be extremely courteous, explaining to me some things I didn't know about Marvel's DVD-Rom complete-run offerings (whipped together to have a competing process through which to pursue bootlegs and then improved when they surprisingly sold out -- is this true?), regaling me with a Chester Brown story (inking portions of his 1963 work in a Benihana), and looking around without my prompting for a cheaper copy of a book I admired in passing at but noted that in excellent condition it was out of my price range.

I don't want to beat the visit into the ground or anything, and I don't want to make Charlie's sound like a destination shop, because it really isn't in the way we think of comics' destination shops. (Although it's worth noting the owner says a growing part of his business comes from people driving in or mail-ordering from places without a shop.) Still, it's nice to go to a comics store and have a pleasant experience rather than a depressing or bizarre or frustrating one. I'm not a hardcore shop elitist that thinks every store should rival Meltdown, Chicago Comics and The Beguiling. I simply think it's healthiest and am willing to advocate that comics shops be physically appealing, have friendly and solicitous help, offer an array of things for sale that reflect the desire to sell something as opposed to replicating the owner's specific collection desires, and, finally, have something unique to offer a one-time customer. This one had all of those elements, and I look forward to going back the next time I'm in the neighborhood.


Five Link A Go Go

* older interview with Bernie Wrightson part one

* older interview with Bernie Wrightson part two

* older interview with Bernie Wrightson part three

* longish profile of Deepak Chopra's comics efforts in Washington Post

* that Thierry Groensteen US book cover that I couldn't find the other day -- thanks, Dave Knott


Go, Look: Matthew Bernier



Go, Look: Ryan Iverson



First Thought Of The Day
I've said it before and I'll say it again: there is no building in the world that would not be improved through the addition of a pneumatic tube system.
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