April 1, 2015 | by Andy Waterfield

Big Planet Comics in Washington, DC – recommended

There are few things I love more than a good comic shop. In fairness, there aren’t too many people I love more than a good comic shop. In a world where all my favourite record shops have long since closed or moved to much smaller premises, and bookshops look to be following, comic shops are one of the few places I can still go and just browse through stuff.

Not click. Not scroll. Not swipe. Physically browse.

But pawing through stuff with my clumsy ape hands isn’t all comic shops have to offer me, or you for that matter. Comic shops are surprisingly varied, and what makes the best ones so great differs. Some have galleries, some have reading spaces, some even have cafes and attendant beverages. Many specialise in particular kinds of comics, from vast back issue boxes of old superhero stuff, to rack after rack of wonderfully esoteric independent comics, mini-comics, and zines.

Some are open and well lit, and some are like rabbit warrens, where every inch of their space is utilised for the storage and display of the rare treasures within. There is one thing that all great comic shops have in common though…

All great comic shops are welcoming and friendly.

Seriously, that’s the single most important factor. Regardless of how much stock they have, their decor, or any of that stuff, it’s all about the staff. Helpful, personable staff are everything, and if the staff are able to create an environment where customers can chat with them and each other about comics, all the better. A great comic shop is like a great pub; everybody is made to feel welcome, and you can have exactly as much conversation as you like.

There are a ton of negative stereotypes about comic shops, many of them based in fact. I know I’ve been to one or two Android’s Dungeon-esque places in my time, complete with sarcastic and/or judgemental staff. You know the trick to dealing with shops like those? Stop giving them your custom. Even if they’re the only shop in your area, get your shit mail-order, preferably from another comic shop that, while farther away, you know to be awesome.

Whether you’re a casual reader, a total novice, or a Wednesday warrior who heads in every week to get your fix, appreciate the value of a great comic shop, and support them any way you can. Ask staff if they have any signings or events coming up, and show up to those things. They’re a great way to meet creators and other fans, and really help to flesh out an interest that can be pretty solitary.

I love a good comic shop, and I genuinely believe great comics retailers to be the beating heart of the industry. They’re the place we can go and enthuse about the stuff the other people in our lives might raise an eyebrow at, and, crucially, they sell great comics. Find one that makes you feel at home, and support it.

This week’s column is dedicated to Nottingham’s Page 45, London’s Orbital Comics, and Washington, DC’s Big Planet Comics. If you get the chance to check out any of these, do so. They’re all utterly fantastic, and represent everything I love about not just comics, but comics culture as well. Here’s to all the great shops, and the staff that make them so.

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