The New Reader: Comic Book Stores
By Amy Devine
Hey friend. You have done it. You have completed Step One and decided to start reading comics. You might even have a little list of good books that you want to start with. I am SO excited for you and the awesome stories and people you are going to discover. But first, you need to actually obtain some comics. And that might involve entering a real-life comic book store.
You might have an idea of what a comic book store is. This idea probably comes from a mix of TV and film; a dingy little store on a side street with a shelves upon shelves of mysterious books, organised in some completely indecipherable way except by those with mystic knowledge. That can be intimidating. Or perhaps you have no such preconceived notion and you just don’t like walking into a new situation unprepared. I have your back. Consider this your training montage in the action-comedy film that is your comic book journey.
First, you need to find a store. Your local comic book store – sometimes referred to as an LCS if you’re fancy –might actually be in the next city/town/suburb over depending on your hometown. Do some light research and get together a list of promising prospects, preferably within easy weekly or monthly travelling distance in case you want to become a regular. It would be a tragedy to find the perfect store in a town 5 hours drive away. Check out store websites or pages to get a feel for their culture but DON’T be too quick to judge a book by its variant cover artist.
On a personal note, I hate feeling like the ‘outsider’ and so prefer to go into a situation having some idea of what I want and where to find it. But when you walk into a store for the first time, depending on the atmosphere of the store and your own comfort levels, you might be unsure how exactly to proceed. I advise not rushing and taking everything in shelf by shelf. With a casual preliminary wander around, you should get a feel for their layout and then you can go about finding what you want.
If you’re searching for trades and graphic novels, you’ll usually find them organised by publisher and shelved in order of book title. Superman books will usually be grouped with other Superman books, Deadpool will be with Deadpool and X-Men – well X-Men might be all over the Marvel section depending on the dedication of the store staff to their system. New releases may be in a separate area of the store but hopefully you scoped that out on your first circuit around the store. If not, you may have to actually speak to a physical human being.
- Real talk: I am bad at asking help from staff. I am that person who can spend a solid half hour looking for something specific only to tell a helpful salesperson that I was “just browsing”. It’s an awful habit. If you are anxious about asking comic book store staff for help try to remember two very important things:
It’s their job to help you. They have the ability and (hopefully) the desire to do their job.
- They work in a comic book store. They probably really like comics! You have something in common with this person-with-an-ability-to-help-you and they would probably love to talk to you about their favourite series. You just found a new source of recommendations AND that graphic novel you’ve been looking for.
I did a quick poll amongst friends to determine whether they would describe their first comic book store experience a ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ one. Overwhelmingly the answer depended upon the staff who were at that particular store. Helpful and welcoming staff members made for a great and encouraging experience whereas indifferent or even rude staff all but turned people off of comics all together. Remember that one bad egg does not indicate the nature of ALL comic book stores. If you walk into a bad situation, walk right back out of it and start again. Life is too short to waste in unwelcoming comic book stores.
I might be making it all sound as simple as learning how to find books in an alphabetical system but sometimes new social situations can be nerve-wracking. Make sure that you feel comfortable and safe in any store that you set foot in. Ask your friends to go with you and make it a fun day out rather than a daunting, lonesome dragon to slay. If you are anxious about being looked down upon for not being knowledgeable, bear in mind that things have come a long way since the stereotypes of old. More and more new people are coming to comics these days through the boom in media exposure. You are not alone in your quest.
This column is based on my first few experiences with stores and my advice for stepping into your own brick-and-mortar store. If you’re wondering why I didn’t mention online comics or buying single issues, you may just have to keep an eye on upcoming columns.
Best of luck, friends!