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Comic Book Shops: Bromley

It’s been a while since I’ve documented visits to comic book shops in London (and elsewhere), but I have recently become a resident of south-east London, so it was a pleasant surprise to find not one but two comic book shops in the general area. The two shops provide a contrast in the style and approach towards selling comic books to the public in the 21st century, so I thought I would write about them together.

Piranha Comics

I’ll tackle them in geographic order, from north to south: Piranha Comics is at the north end of Bromley high street, next to the Empire cinema – it has a nice shop front, a good display window, a funky logo and typeface, and generally looks modern. It is an open and friendly comic book shop, and I spent a good bit of time chatting with the chap running the shop – I guess that approaching customers is standard practice, as he asked about my tastes so that he could recommend things I might like, but the chat became more wide-ranging than that when he couldn’t point me towards something I didn’t already know about. We talked about various creators and their work and the different comic book universes (I felt sorry for my girlfriend, who felt like a third wheel, but unfortunately I was enjoying myself …), so I hope we didn’t geek out any other customers in the shop.

Because it is a modern comic book shop, Piranha Comics has merchandise but the emphasis was definitely on comic books – there were lots of trade paperbacks/hardcover collections, a large wall of new comic books, various collected sets of comic books on the shelf in the back next to the Superman statue. The variety was good, and it felt like a proper comic book shop (it compared favourably to my personal favourite, Gosh!) and it was friendly, a good size, welcoming and pleasant. It also acts as host to a regular Magic the Gathering evening, which was good to see even if I don’t have any interest in it. Piranha Comics has a good website (although the blog link doesn’t have any entries), a Facebook page that is well populated and well visited, and there is also a Twitter account for the shop – this level of social media presence should be standard for a retailer nowadays, but it’s good to see it done well in addition to serving the customers in the shop.

Time Trek shop

At the south end of the high street, nearer to Bromley South station and the larger shopping centres, is Time Trek, which is very different. It is a small shop, squeezed between a barber and a Wilko; the shop display is full of a wide range of merchandise, and it is rather cramped inside. The comic books are organised by publisher, crammed along the right wall as you walk into the shop; the range is impressive, with a lot of independent publishers included, but the comic books all overlap each other and it feels a little chaotic. There are also trade paperbacks and hardcover collections, as well as comic book sets, although not as much as Piranha. On the left, there is a centre section of merchandise, and then there is even more merchandise around the other side (there is only enough room for one person to walk down the aisles, which means you have to stand in the alcove at the back to let someone pass). The type of items on sale tend towards the popular stuff, such as Star Wars and Doctor Who (for example, I remember a Doctor Who sonic screwdriver pizza cutter), although it does cover the full geek range of sci-fi and fantasy.

As I entered the shop, the man behind the counter (who I think is the owner – you can see him in the photographs accompanying this piece in a local newspaper from last year, which I think was referring to the 25th anniversary of the shop) asked me if I was all right and then said that the shop was very quiet that day – he said that it was usually busier; it was a Saturday, so I hope he was right. The shop felt a little dated – the shop front hasn’t been changed in years (it still has an 081 phone number on top – see my photograph) – and it has a static page for its website, with no other social media, indicating an old-fashioned approach to retailing. However, there is obvious love for comic books and sci-fi, such as a ‘recommended’ graphic novel on the cash desk (when I was there, it was the first volume of Rat Queens), and the owner must be doing something right if the shop is still in business after 25 years.

Bromley: a town centre with two very different comic book shops. The choice is yours.

[EDIT as of 2016: Time Trek is now closed, after the untimely death of the owner – the details can be found in this article at News Shopper.]

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Comic Book Shop Update: A Place In Space (Central London)

I’m not timely on this blog, but I try to be complete. So think of this blog post as a tweak to a previous post, but with little in the way of actual information.

In my compiling of the comic book shops of London, the third in my list was Comicana in central London. I didn’t have much to say about the shop because it was small and I hadn’t visited it very often. Recently (I don’t know exactly when), the shop changed hands because it has a new name but little else different.

As you can see from the photograph, the shop is now called A Place In Space. What I can’t find out is if this shop is connected to A Place In Space in Croydon (which I talked about in a post about comic book shops in Croydon) – there is nothing about it on the Croydon shop’s Facebook page, and my Google fu is weak in discovering any information.

The shop is essentially the same as the previous shop, except that it’s brighter inside now and there are fewer posters and toys in the windows. Apart from that, the only difference is the banner on the front of the shop over the previous boarding (if you look closer, you can see URL for the old shop below the banner – NB: the URL doesn’t work now). At the time of taking the photo, there was a man who was sizing up the front of the shop for the owner, obviously to repair the wood at the bottom, so I guess there will be a new sign up soon.

My apologies for the lack of actual knowledge in this post. I just wanted to keep my files up to date, so to speak.

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Comic Book Shop (Sort Of): Book & Comic Exchange

I define a comic book shop primarily as a location where you can buy the new comic books that were published that week. Even though I don’t classify Book & Comic Exchange on Pembridge Road in Notting Hill as a proper comic book shop, I thought it warranted an entry on my list of places you can buy comic books and trade paperbacks in London. It has been around for a while (I traded comic books there in the late 1990s, early 2000s) and it even recently started a sister site on Berwick Street in Soho (where I picked up my Blue Beetle trades for a steal), although the Soho site no longer sells comic books, despite what it might say on the website.

The Notting Hill shop is just around the corner from Notting Hill Gate tube station, which could explain part of its long-lasting appeal – easy to get to and it sees a lot of people walking past (trying to get a photo of the shop without people walking past it or into it was almost impossible). However, the shop itself is not the reason to visit: it’s a mess. It’s a dark and dingy shop, with shelves from floor to ceiling full of books; in fact, the shelves aren’t enough and there are books on floor in various piles.

The overwhelming majority of the shop is dedicated to second-hand books; the comics and trade paperbacks are a small concern, contained in a central aisle in the middle of the shop. It’s not a huge selection – I remember that they used to have more comics back when I was a regular visitor, and I don’t think that’s just my rose-tinted nostalgia – but there is some filtering: there are some issues bagged together because they form a complete story; there are some relatively newer comics, sectioned out into Marvel/DC heroes or teams, which are different from the older (approximately 10 years) comics in another section; the trades are split into Marvel and DC and Indie; there is even a small filtering of authors (Ellis, Ennis, Moore, Morrison – it is a UK shop, after all).

The main appeal of the shop is that the comics are priced to sell – usually about £1 for recent things, 50p for slightly older or less sellable books – although the second-hand trades are about the same price as trade you can buy new on Amazon; however, you do get the opportunity to flick through the books before you buy and see what they actually look like (I flicked through some Jason Aaron Ghost Rider collections because I’ve never seen more than some preview material on comic book news websites), and you always have the opportunity to sell or trade them back afterwards.

If you want to get down and dirty with books and comics, you can always visit the basement – everything down there is 50p and there is no filtering of the books, and the comics are a messy collection on top of a table and on the floor. This is the chaotic part of the shop but the upstairs is only slightly less messy and chaotic. The shop is cramped, messy, dusty and unwelcoming – I’m amazed that it is able to keep operating. But exist it does, and thus demands cataloguing for the purposes of my comic book shops list.

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Comic Book Shop Update: Orbital Comics

One of the series of posts I have written is about comic book shops – I’m very lucky, living in London, to have a lot of comic book shops in relatively close proximity, even though I mention other comic book shops that a particular resonance in my development as a comic book fan. In this post, I wanted to revisit one of those shops because they had the temerity to move to new premises, thus invalidating one of my blog posts.

Orbital Comics now matches Forbidden Planet in central London in the number of times it has moved the shop within a mile radius of previous locations, having both moved twice to bigger floor space each time. Orbital has moved to a side road off Charing Cross Road near Leicester Square tube station; it’s not a grubby area, although the photo suggests otherwise. However, the interior is another matter.

The shops is now in what was a former photo gallery, as it a long and thin space with high ceilings and a lot of shelf space. In fact, they have so much space that there is room for a film poster shop off to the left about halfway down, and there is a separate space where they exhibit original comic book art (thus keeping the original gallery concept alive). The exhibit space has seen art by Brendan McCarthy and John McCrea, as well as some original Watchmen pages (at the time when the film came out) by Dave Gibbons. This certainly makes for a different comic book experience compared with other shops I have visited.

The new comics fill a huge wall of shelves on the left as you come in, with a huge selection of different comic books; to the right, there is the till and then the latest hardback collections and trade paperbacks, as well as any special offers on these new books. Going further into the narrow but far-reaching space, there are more book shelves filled with a lot of trade paperbacks, again of a wide selection of independents as well as the mainstream books. The last third of the shop contains the longboxes of back issues – there is a huge number, with an island in the middle and the rest packed around the walls, filed by publisher and then alphabetically by character/team. You can see why they had to move to a bigger space, because they’ve got a LOT of comic books.

The new premises are very nice – the space is very pleasant, creating a relaxed atmosphere, and it makes the comic books seem more like art (I don’t know if that’s the vibe of the original use). I just hope they stay there so I don’t have to write about them again …

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Comic Book Shops: Avalon Comics (Number 6 In A Series)

(Apologies for the unprofessional photo – you can see my reflection in the shop door. Scratch off ‘photojournalist’ for the list of potential careers.)

In the previous posts in this series, I’ve talked about comic book shops mostly situated in central London; these are shops that are some distance from my home and require a trip on the tube to get there. Avalon Comics, on the other hand, is the shop closest to me as the crow flies, but, because it’s a bit more of a pain to get to, I don’t go there, and this makes me feel bad.

Unlike Forbidden Planet or They Walk Among Us, Avalon Comics is a comic book shop that sells comic books (as you can see by the words ‘COMIC SHOP’ in bold letters in the window) and pretty much nothing else. About eight minutes’ walk from Clapham Junction station, with not many other shops nearby (unlike the shop-heavy area immediately around the station), Avalon Comics is a small shop full to the brim with comic books. On the walls, on the shelves, in boxes in the centre, everywhere; you get the feeling that the owners care about comic books and set up a shop to share that enthusiasm with the world.

There was only one gentleman behind the till, taking a phone call during the time I was perusing, so I didn’t find out if he was the ‘Can I help you?’ type, but he seemed a serious chap and I can guess why – selling comic books (and not without the help of a lot of merchandise either) is a difficult business, and the Clapham location, away from other comic book shops, probably doesn’t help. It must be tricky to manage a profit margin, especially now, and with the trend towards the trade paperback impinging on the selling of singles.

Avalon Comics has a wide range of trades, Essentials, and back issues, but I do wonder for its profitability. As with They Walk Among Us, the prices of new comic books are 10% higher than the central London shops (which I still can’t work out – surely rents are cheaper out of central London? Or is it just the amount of books sold?), but the back issues aren’t excessively expensive, so there must be a balance. There is a good selection of comics, independent and mainstream, as would be expected from a shop that sells itself as a comic book shop, and the website (although basic) suggests that they will get anything you would like to buy. I just hope that they continue to operate and be successful; I feel guilty for not buying my comics from them, but I can’t be responsible for keeping a store in business, can I?

[EDIT: as of May 2011, Avalon Comics the physical shop has closed down; it is now an online-only shop.]

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