I started this blog one year ago today. My first post was a valentine to comics in the form of a list of 100 things I love about comics
(all the cool kids were doing it
), and in many ways this blog itself continues to be a love letter to comics. I’m celebrating my first year of blogging and kicking off my second by taking you on a virtual tour of Vancouver and showing you the shops that fed my habit. Have you ever heard of the “ghost tours” some cities have where they take you to all the haunted sites? This is like that except with comics.
The first comic store I ever visited was called Camelot Comics. I found out about them when their business card fell out of a library book I was about to sign out. The card had an image of a dragon flying in a ring, with its head by its tail. The imagery was appropriately ouroboros-like, because this store was the beginning and the end for me. The idea of a store that stocked nothing but comics blew my mind, and finding the card in such a random way gave the moment an Arthurian/ Willy Wonka type feel. Needless to say, seeing a store packed full of comics was even better than I’d imagined, and as soon as I walked through the doors I was done for.
Camelot Comics closed a few years later, and in the years since we also lost Gotham, Fourth Dimension, and Foot’s (later called RC Pitstop). What follows is a rundown of the stores open in and around Vancouver today.
We’ll begin our magical mystery tour in downtown Vancouver and work our way outwards. The first stop is Golden Age Collectibles, near the busy shopping corner of Granville and Robson, what I’d call the heart of downtown. My friend Pat owns this store, and they’ve been in the same location over twenty-five years, since 1979. Almost. When I visited Vancouver in October, Janis
told me that the store had moved a few doors down. I didn’t believe her, because, quite frankly, Janis is a pathological liar, and I figured that she’d just gotten mixed up while in a drug addled haze. For once, however, she turned out to be telling the truth, as earlier this year the store had up and moved four doors over.
Of all the stores I’ve been to, I think Golden Age is the most civilian friendly. This is the place I take non-regular comics readers to trick them into reading comics. The store is well laid out, accessible, and displays comics in ways that will appeal to the novice, while still having an extensive enough stock for the lunatic compulsive, such as myself. The new location is slightly smaller than the old one, but has even more of a cool, bookstore kind of feel to it now. Golden Age is the Chapters or the Barnes & Noble of comic shops. The store is modern and well lit, and the staff are friendly and professional. (Moreover, this is the only store on the list that has multiple women working there). While the back issue selection is limited, you can find anything new here.
The next stop is the Elfsar Collection, a newer store that opened just a few years ago.
This shop is located in Vancouver’s trendy Yaletown neighbourhood, which is a refurbished warehouse district that now houses expensive boutiques and restaurants. I’ve only been in the Elfsar Collection a few times, so my impressions are limited, but the store is well organized and modern, and the staff have been friendly and welcoming on each visit. The store carries plenty of comics, but they’ve also got imported art books, lots of DVDs, and a gallery of original art.
I like visiting there, but I wonder how long they’ll be able to stay in such an expensive neighbourhood that gets so little foot traffic. The store also needs to do something with their exterior, as none of the window displays draw attention. The first time I came here I walked by the place several times without noticing it. If someone who’s looking for the store can’t find it I don’t know if a casual passerby would give it a second glance.
ABC Book and Comic Emporium is the final store before we leave downtown.
This shop is on the same street as Golden Age, but down in the slightly seedier end, right before the bridge out of town. These guys moved from across the street a few years ago, and in the new location most of the main floor is taken up with used books, and hence the feel is that of an old used book store. New comics are located on the main floor too, as are several shelves so packed with hardcovers, tpbs, and books about comics that my head hurts whenever I try to scan what’s there.
If you go down the stairs and into the basement, you find the store’s extensive back issue collection. They’re currently having a 50% off sale on back issues. My friend Pat at Golden Age said once that he only holds sales once a year (New Year’s Day) because if you do it more frequently people hold off on buying things in anticipation of the next sale. He may have been right, because ABC’s 50% off back issue sales used to be semi-annual, but the current one is entering its sixth or seventh year.
Leaving downtown now, just across the Burrard Street bridge and to the right on West 4th, we find the aptly named Comicshop.
The Kitsilano neighbourhood is young, urban, and professional, and West 4th is yet another shopping district, crammed with clothing stores and restaurants. Along with Golden Age Collectibles, The Comicshop is one of the twin pillars of Vancouver comics retail; these two are the big kids. Both are inviting to all sorts of comics readers, but while Golden Age, in its sleekness, leans more towards drawing in casual buyers, The Comicshop is the addict’s heaven. The best way I can think to describe the feel is that when you walk into The Comicshop, you can smell the newsprint, and it is good.
The Comicshop has three floors: gaming stuff in the basement (I believe. I’ve never been down there); a lobby-like main floor, with an entrance, a load of pop art and comics related books, and toys; and sweet, sweet comics upstairs. The comics floor has an ample supply of back issues, a good selection of new stuff, multiple shelves of indy comics, numerous comics magazines, and all of it is just right. They have a monthly (?) newsletter, and a good semi-annual sale (April and October).
The next stop is Rx Comics, and they’ve got the potion that can cure your disease. >Ahem<
This place is also somewhat new, the guy inside said they’ve been here on Main Street for about three years. I’ve only been here the one time, so I can’t say much about them, but they do have a welcoming set up. Located amidst used bookstores, vintage clothing shops, and counterculture outlets, this store seems to cater to an alternative/ underground crowd. The material on their shelves suggests the same, as while they carry the usual books from the big four, they’ve also got an ample supply of mini comics and independent books that I’d never seen before. The guy was friendly, and they’ve got this great sign out front.
Heading up Main Street, we come to Lucky’s.
I’d never been to this store before, or ever heard of it, but my friend Zoe took me here on my last trip to Vancouver. The shop is tiny, but they use what little space they have to stock loads of independent and alternative comics and art books. This place is where I’d come to find my Chris Ware. Upon entering, you see that the front wall is covered with a series of little framed drawings, and apparently different artists are showcased over time. Zoe’s boyfriend George, who is an artist, frequents the shop, and I’d imagine that the clientele is similarly artist types in the know. Lucky’s gets a special mention on my list because on my visit I scored a cheap copy of the Shuck
tpb I’d been hunting for years. (In a supreme case of irony, when I looked up the Shuck
link to slot into the previous sentence I found that the whole series is now available for free online).
Leaving Vancouver now, we head into the suburbs and find the Tazmanian Comic Connection, named of course after the Tasmanian Devil.
Taz is a high quality comic store located on the fringes of civilization on Hastings Street in North Burnaby. I began visiting here regularly when I worked at the unnamed software giant down the street. The owner is gregarious and friendly and he learned my name the second time I visited and five years later still remembers. Shamefully, I never learned his and now I feel too embarrassed to ask. They’ve got good deals and an excellent selection of new, old, toys, statues, cards, and whatever you might want. Unfortunately, this excellent comic store is tainted by the fact that an ex- lives right up the street (she was the devil too, if you get my drift). Let us leave here and never speak of this place again.
Going south into New Westminster, we come to Talkin’ Illustrations. This comics store was the second one I ever visited and the place where I rode out the boom of the late 80s and early 90s. Back then, Talkin’ Illustrations was the cock of the walk, with signings and release events galore. At this store I met Todd McFarlane, Eric Larsen, Chris Warner, Javier Saltares, and list of others whose names get progressively less impressive as I go on. The early 90s were heady days; we were living large, buying multiple copies, and snorting coke off of hookers’-- well, you get the idea. A friend of mine still carries a grudge from that time because he feels that the owner of this store took advantage of the fact that we were kids and incited us to buy multiple copies of comics that were eventually worthless. I’m not angry, though, because when I look at this shop that is a shell of its former glory I know that he’s gotten his.
And finally, we finish up in the city of Surrey at Triple Play Collectibles.
This store is my local comic shop, and they’re currently in their third location (which isn’t to say that they’re a chain, they’ve just moved twice). The new location is a little out of the way, so I worry about whether they’re getting enough casual customers, but they seem to be doing okay. This store is everything I want in a local comic shop. They have a large selection of monthlies, including all but the most obscure comics, and they get in anything I order with a minimum of fuss. Anything
. (It wasn’t for me, alright?). I like going here too because it’s a place where everybody knows my name, and I like to be where I can see our troubles are all the same. Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name. Okay I’m done.
So that’s Vancouver, or at least all the important parts. I did miss a few stores, like Comic Land on Rupert (which has the best awning in the business), Greyhaven out in White Rock, and that place in Port Moody, but seriously, what do think, I’m made of driving? I’ll get to those next time I’m back home.
Thanks for reading.