September 7, 2016

CHAZAN | How to Shop at a Comic Store

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Maybe you were assigned Persepolis in high school and were inspired. Maybe you took out dozens of manga volumes at a time at your local library. Maybe you’ve seen all the Avengers movies and want to read the source materials. Maybe you’re just curious. Whatever it is, dear hypothetical reader, you want to start going to a comic store but have never been to one before! Perhaps you’re intimidated, perhaps you’re afraid of Comic Book Guy incarnate scorning your ignorance of the four-colored floppy, but never fear! I’m here to give you some pointers on how to have a great time finding great books to read at the comic store.

Obviously, if you’re going to start shopping at a comic store, you have to know where the nearest one is. My regular store in Ithaca is Comics for Collectors — located down in the Commons, their selection is fairly limited but neatly organized, and the staff are generally cooperative. That’s pretty much it for Ithaca, but if you’re in a larger city you may find yourself with more options and the chance to be picky. Ask yourself what you’re looking for: a literary, artsy vibe? Out-of-print oddities? A nerdy den to call your own? If you happen to be in Toronto, I would highly recommend a shop called the Beguiling and its slightly less cluttered variant Page and Panel. The best shops in New York to my mind are Forbidden Planet and Desert Island Comics. Montreal’s Drawn and Quarterly store and London’s Gosh Comics set a high watermark for curated presentation in comic stores, and I’ve also heard good things about Floating World in Portland.

Stardust the Super Wizard once told criminals who were suspended in front of floating skeletons to “gaze at them for a while,” and I’m giving you the same sage advice, just in regards to bookshelves rather than skeletons. If it’s your first time in a comic store you’ll want to take your time getting to know the selection available to you. Hopefully you’ll find a few comics that interest you, but more importantly you’ll get a better sense of whether or not the particular shop you’re in is the one for you.

If you’re looking to pick up brand new releases right when they’re fresh, you’re going to want to hit the shops right in the middle of the week: on Wednesday. This is when Diamond ships comics and nerds shlep their arses down to comic stores nationwide. Observance of the Wednesday comics routine isn’t mandatory — lately I’ve only had time to get down to the store on Sundays — but there is some sense of communal significance to Wednesdays among comic lovers, and if you can manage it you’ll probably appreciate the rhythm too. And, in case you were wondering, yes, this is the root of the “it’s Wednesday my dudes” meme, may it rest in peace.

If you pick up a comic that you really like and you want to make sure that you’ll be able to get the next issue same time next month, or if there’s a book you’re dying to read that your retailer simply doesn’t stock, there’s a simple solution. Just ask to subscribe to or order your desired title, and they’ll keep a copy aside JUST FOR YOU! And this isn’t just pure selfishness or convenience on your part — it’s a guaranteed sale for the store, not to mention that many publishers are reliant on the preorder sales that come out of subscriptions for their brick-and-mortar success. Just remember to cancel your subscription if you’re going to stop buying a title, because when you don’t it sucks for the retailer AND YOU! Trust me.

Many major comics publishers as of late have made a custom of blessing some of the drabbest slabs of mediocrity with punchy, superficially stylish covers, usually involving a cool modern-ish font and two complementary colors (*cough*ImageComics*cough*). Nearly every newcomer to comics I’ve known has fallen for this bait and switch at some point or another, so be wary and be sure to skim through a couple pages of an unfamiliar title to avoid being fooled.

A lot of stores have bins of discount comics for clearance, usually abundant random neglected nonsense from the mid-80s forward, lost to the sands of time and yellowing paper. But one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and a longbox of cheap comics might as well be the jackpot for some. Within these is usually a heady assortment of genuine garbage, well-drawn oddities, and legitimate overlooked masterpieces. Quarter and dollar bins are almost always worth your time and rarely a waste of money. So watch for them.

All this being said, your comic store may indeed turn out to be a Comic Book Guy nightmare den of mint condition dirtbags, and there is no reason for you to endure this. Many local shops are also constrained to the limited selection of the monopolistic distributor Diamond, leaving the small press zinesters among us likely wishing for something else. In any case, variety is the stuff of life, and it’s good to look for comics outside of the comic store. Used bookstores are a great starting place for anyone from the casual reader to the collection builder (check out Autumn Leaves in the Commons!), as are vintage shops and the like. Keep an eye out for local conventions and festivals, as those tend to be a lot of fun. Online stores are great because you can buy titles directly from the artist or publisher, or some dude in Williamsburg if you must insist on the Ebay route. Libraries are great, and also free — the sixth floor of Olin Library here at Cornell actually has a great comics collection. Yard sales still exist too! Just keep your eyes peeled and you’ll be able to find great comics wherever you go

So, there you have it, a bunch of advice on an activity that honestly does not require much instruction. Have any of my ideas hit a nerve with some of my less-hypothetical readers? Have I overlooked an essential aspect of the comic shopper experience? Sound off in the comments!

Nathan Chazan is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]The Next Panel runs online alternate Wednesdays this semester.