I Hate Going Into Comic Book Stores

I have a confession to make. Even though I understand the important role that they play in the survival and evolution of the industry, I hate going into real-life, brick-and-mortar comic book shops with a burning passion.

A Jawa cosplayer restocking shelves at the New Dimensions Comics store in Cranberry, Pennsylvania. Though I've never met this man, I'm sure he's very nice.Photo: AP Images

Because I didn't live near any comics stores as a kid, I grew up reading trades checked out from the library before getting into the habit of buying them from the local Borders whenever I could afford it with my allowance. It didn't really dawn on me until I was in middle school that people actually bought individual issues of comics. Why, I asked myself, would people rather keep up with the X-Men on a biweekly basis when they could just sit down with a stack of trades and follow an entire arc from beginning to end over a weekend?

But, being the Pokémon card-obsessed kid that I was, the idea of collecting comics had a certain appeal and so I made a point of begging my mum to take me to the closest comics shop, which as two towns over. After weeks of nagging, plans were set to make a day of venturing off to the Comics Shop Which Shall Not Be Named and I strapped into our car, eager at the promise of getting into a new hobby.

Looking back on those moments when I first set foot in the store, I wouldn't describe my feelings as being particularly positive or negative, but it was definitely... overwhelming.

Like many stores, the walls were lined from the ceiling to the floor with gleaming covers that were nothing compared to the intricate labyrinth of long bookcases stuffed with toys and graphic novels that were older than I was. As fun as it was to see mountains of comics piled high as far as the eye could see, it was also intimidating because of how foreign and confusing the store's organisation was. Brand new comics were displayed all over the store, seemingly at random places and there was no real rhyme or reason to tracking down the issues that had come out a week or two before.

The obvious solution to my problems was to just ask someone where everything was, but the response I got from the store clerk — "DC's there; Marvel's over there. Is there something you're looking for?" — wasn't exactly helpful because, again, all of this was new to me and what I really needed at the time was guidance.

I ended up in the manga section surrounded by a bunch of solemn-looking adults as I nervously stared at a shelf full of Great Teacher Onizuka even though I wanted to be nearer to the Cardcaptor Sakura display. Eventually, I wove my way through the packed aisle, grabbed a couple of books without bothering to read the back covers, and beelined my way to the register to make my purchase, feeling more anxious than excited.

It would be years before I set foot in a comics shop again and, as I've gotten older and incorporated my love of comics into my professional life, I better understand what it was about that first experience that rubbed me the wrong way because my feelings are largely the same. All comics stores are different, but there are certain problems that many shops seem unable to stop repeating.

For every person that has fond memories of spending hours poring over comics in their LCS, there are dozens more who don't have that kind of relationship to those spaces and don't immediately feel as if they belong. As simple as it sounds, the easiest and most immediate way to address that issue is to simply make things easier to find for newbies who are unfamiliar with a store's layout.

More than that, though, far too few stores make a concerted effort to prominently display a wide selection of series beyond major titles like the Avengers or the Justice League.

Even now, whenever I happen to be in a shop browsing, it's often a Sisyphean effort to dig through all of the flagship books in search of new titles to read. If it isn't the disorganization, then its the mobs of people standing right up against the racks and shelves who make it nearly impossible to actually see whatever it is that you're looking for.

More often than not, comics shops feel like over-stuffed museum shops full of people who are all lost in their own worlds and unconcerned with making physical space for one another to move through comfortably.

These are all the sorts of things that a store's management should address and yet, in my experience, most don't -- and that's deeply disheartening when you consider that it's becoming harder and harder for comics shops to stay open. I would love nothing more than to say that I'd developed a meaningful relationship any of the comics stores I live close to these days, but, unfortunately, that's just not the case yet.

I don't know that it ever will be.


Comments

    Impact Comics in Canberra is organised well. Alphabetical order on a big wall for new releases. I wonder if your experience all those years ago would have been different if you asked for guidance when the staff member asked if you needed help.

      I went into Impact last year on a whim and you are correct. I got lured in by the Atari Game Artwork book. Left shop with wallet intact, which is amazing in itself!!!!

      I used to work with Kam and Mal at the original Impact Records (RIP), they are great guys with a true love for comics and everything that comes with them.

      Impact Comics is great, bright and welcoming and not interested in any of the outdated stereotypes that people still expect comic stores to adhere to. Impact Records was my first comic store experience, back when they were above electric Shadows or whatever? A long time ago. And even as a newb I found it exhilarating to take my first steps into this huge and incomprehensible new world with treasures around every corner.

    Yeah the disorganization can be a pain some times... but the stores prominently displaying their best selling stock (and what is possibly paid marketing by the vendors) and people getting in the way of shelves? get outta here and go buy online.

    I dunno why this article got my goat up like it did, I don't like shopping as much as the next guy, but it just sounds like griping rather than anything constructive.

    I had a similar experience! My early comic book store experiences as a kid we’re dealing with the stereotypical comic book guy behind the counter who was not interested in helping me. Awkwardly walking past posters of half naked anime girls. Very overwhelming!

    Totally agree, every trade show and comic store I've been to makes me hate the idea of collecting comics.
    There is no rhyme or reason to the millions of different spin-offs, knock-offs, one-off, alternate universes and cross-overs. that walking into a store after seeing the latest movie and stating I'd like to start reading Iron/Bat/Spider Man, or any others leaves me in despair as every book has issue22 written on it but doesn't list what timeline it is on, or the year it was released. This is amplified at trade shows where an over-stuffed milk crate full of random issues that you have to try to look through while 20 others are knocking your elbows make me not want anything to do with that industry.

    Someone tell me, if a kids wants to start reading Captain America and walks into a comic store what do they pick up?
    The latest issue of what ever run, the anthology, the special alt-universe 6 issue story, the limited edition 10 book series of the comic, the avengers cross over, the novelization, the comic of the movie, or the one where he's a hydra agent?

    Does it actually matter as each one only ends in a loop as comics always have to end on the same note they started, can a kid even 'collect' comics now days, is there even a main timeline that has been going since the 40's that to this day has continued to tell the story?

      I'm enjoying going back to Crisis on Infinite Worlds of DC and making a shoddy timeline all the way to Flashpoint. Kinda works.

      That'd be like, 30 years, maybe?

      Last edited 26/03/18 11:59 am

    All Star Comics in Melbourne is super organised and a pretty friendly atmosphere. The staff are great too, being helpful and knowledgeable.

      Seconded.

      All Star Comics is one of the best comic stores in Victoria, if not Australia. It’s very open, not very cluttered and disorganised, the staff are friendly and knowledgeable. A lot of it has to do with how the store is laid out. A large space with sections that are labeled versus most comic shops which are tiny hole-in-the-wall locations overstocked with junk.

      Classic Comics & Comics R Us in Melbourne are bad examples. They are smallish shops that are overflowing with stuff all over the place, to the point where it’s hard to move around the stores. This creates that overwhelming and unwelcoming feeling when entering the store; then you have the staff at those two stores who are grumpy, unhelpful and just want you money.

      And the less said about Alternate Worlds in Bayswater the better.

        ...if not the world. All-Star (jointly) won the Eisner for best comics store a couple of years ago. Space to move. Friendly staff who are happy to chat and to recommend stuff. Comfy sofas if you want to hang out. Open 'til 7 most days so time to go after work and not rush.

        And yes, the other two you mention have the classic clique problem that the article is talking about. As for Minotaur...

        I used to go to Alternate Worlds all the time but it always felt a bit ‘unwelcoming’, I guess is the word. Like the staff don’t seem like they want to be there and the prices were either good or a blatant rip off depending on what I wanted. Where as All Star is super chilled, friendly, and they give discounts. I go there once or twice a fortnight now to get my graphic novels.

      If you're looking for a similar experience when in Perth, Comic Zone is the place to go. Lots of space, friendly, welcoming and knowledgeable staff, and easy to find everything.

    I sympathise with this article, even the comic book shops I'd recommend still give off a vague uncomfortable vibe that puts me, someone who doesn't buy comics in store that often, off. It's probably because regular buys just want to go in and do their thing, but I very rarely get much communication from staff, instead I'm usually overhearing them talking about something very specific about an IP I'm not overly familiar with, so I leave.

    My only gripe with comic book stores is that there's so much there that I'm super interested in and would love to read! And doing so would probably cost me a few hundred thousand dollars. If I were absurdly wealthy and retired, though...

      Yeah, my problem too. Like wandering into a chocolate shop and wondering how on Earth I am going to walk out without getting one of everything.

    Just because of the sheer number of different comics, different stories, different series of the same titular character, having an organised layout and actual helpful staff is a must. I've gone digital with my comics, but still, it can be confusing at first glance if you don't know exactly what you're looking for

    Seriously, reading the article I'm really not sure why you're so scarred from your first experience with a comic book store. So the staff member was slightly unhelpful and the store layout was disorganised, big deal.

    Anyways if you're in Melbourne I'd highly recommend Comics 'R' Us in Chapel st. The owners are friendly, knowledgeable and helpful, the prices are good, the store is well organised and they carry a good selection of trades and back issues.

    There are two problems with comic book stores (and game stores and book stores and...):

    1. They assume you know what you're looking for, making them a little inaccessible to people who don't.
    2. They are staffed by people who like comics. People who like comics tend to have very strong opinions about which comics they like, and which comics they do not, and will tell everyone who'll listen. And, like Comic Book Guy, they are not always the best socialised people, so their opinion can come across like bullying/abuse, especially if you insist on buying a comic they "DO NOT LIKE!!".

    Add the clutter and general disorder mentioned in the article, and you're far better off online.

    And yes, these are gross generalisations, and there are excellent exceptions. Support these exceptions. Visit them often and buy everything through them. Build relationships with the people behind the counter. Make sure they survive.

    I'd recommend All Star Comics if you live in Melbourne. It's about a 3 minute walk from Flinders St Station, the people that work there are super inviting and their store is super organised. They also make a big deal of Free Comic Book Day and all get dressed up

    "DC's there; Marvel's over there. Is there something you're looking for?" In what way is this unhelpful? The cashier asked you "Is there something you're looking for?" If you had asked a follow-up question such as "Could you tell me where I can find the newest issues of the X-Men, please?" or "I've read and enjoyed [name of titles you have read and enjoyed] do you have any recommendations for me?" s/he could have pointed you in the right direction.
    "All of this was new to me and what I really needed at the time was guidance." Okay, fair enough but how was the cashier to know that you're new to comic book stores? Is s/he supposed to be a mind reader?

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