Whatever Comics

Comic Book Shop Memories: Canterbury

The chronological continuation of recollecting my comic book shop patronage moves from Bristol to Canterbury in England’s garden, Kent. After my undergraduate degree at Bristol, I went to the University of Kent at Canterbury (its full title) to do some post-graduate work for several years. Even though it’s only 90 minutes from London, I was worried that there would be no comic book shops (not a factor in my decision, you understand); I needn’t have worried.

When I first moved to Canterbury in the early 1990s, there were two places to buy comics. The first was Siegi’s Comics, a small shop near Marlowe’s Theatre. It was a very basic unit, just a small square room, but completely filled with longboxes of old comic books – in the middle of the room and around the walls, box upon box of old books that could take many hours to peruse. There were shelves for new comics, but I think that the owner (the Siegi of the name) tended to work with subscriptions more than people coming in to buy things. There were was some merchandise, and even trade paperbacks and graphic novels, but the shop never really cared about that – Siegi was a living embodiment of the Simpsons’ Comic Book Guy, a hugely overweight man with some facial hair and a coterie of friends who hung out in the shop to talk about comic books and other pop culture ephemera, creating an unfriendly atmosphere for any outsider who might accidentally venture inside. Luckily I was accepted, knowing enough to not seem stupid (even answering questions I would overhear) and buying sufficiently ‘cool’ books to be seen an insider. Unsurprisingly, the shop didn’t survive – they weren’t turning a profit on my purchases (it was the time I began my maturing in my tastes; I recall buying lots of back issues of Sandman, Black Orchid, Animal Man and other of their ilk), and Siegi had to close down about a year or so after I moved there, and I had to look elsewhere for my comics. In doing a bit of research for this post, I discovered (on the 2000 AD forum) that Siegi had passed away, which is a shame.

The other place to buy comics at the time was a stall in a covered marketplace, run by a friendly chap called Manny who called his operation Whatever Comics. It was a small unit, enough for only two other people to look through the longboxes with Manny there, but he had a good collection (at good prices), was chatty and approachable, and it was only a matter of time before he expanded the business. This he did before Siegi closed down (1992, according to the website), opening a well-laid out and well-presented shop on Burgate Lane near the north wall of Canterbury city. The new-comics shelf was large (and with a wide variety of different comics), neatly arranged and always kept tidy. The longboxes expanded to fill the rest of the shop, but again everything was neatly organised and easy to peruse – as I did, for many hours, filling the gaps in my collection (I picked up up almost the entire run of Suicide Squad for 25p each).

Incognito Comics CanterburyI returned to Canterbury recently, to find that Manny has upgraded again, moving to new premises on the high street, St Peters Street (see the main photo), which is a great location. The shop is again a well-presented facility: large shelves of new comics, longboxes with old comics and trade paperbacks, and a lot more merchandise (especially in the window – being on the high street means more casual shoppers dropping in). It was great to see such a good shop and Manny doing so well – I felt that I almost helped him make the move with all the books I bought from him. Not that he needs it anymore – there were plenty of people in shop when I was there, in the middle of a weekday, both casual shoppers for the merchandise and comic book fans looking through the boxes and buying trades.

The strangest aspect of the new location is that it is literally (and I used the word ‘literally’ in its correct sense) around the corner from the other comic book shop in Canterbury, Incognito Comics, on The Friars up from the Marlowe Theatre. Before, these two shops were at either end of the high street – now, they are next-door neighbours. Incognito came to Canterbury some time after Whatever Comics opened into the shop – I think about 1994, but I’m not sure – which came something of a shock; I was just getting used to only having the one shop in town. Incognito is a small and cramped shop – it hasn’t changed since I was last there but I don’t remember it as well because I didn’t frequent it as much as Whatever. On one side, the shelves of new and recent comics (lots of them, a good selection); on the other side, longboxes of trade paperbacks – I think they leave the back issue selling to the online shop. There is lots of merchandise of all sorts, from busts to lightsabres, filling every other available space on the walls and behind the counter – comics may be in the title of the shop but it’s not the focus. The staff are very friendly – they were entertaining a family looking to buy a lightsabre – and the shop, although small, was full and and had a nice atmosphere.

I was delighted to see so many people in both shops – they can obviously survive the competition, and I hope they do for many a year. I have fond memories of both shops, and my collection has many books from them too, and I’m glad they’re still around. It was a shame that Siegi couldn’t stay around, but three comic book shops in a city as small as Canterbury (and trust me: having lived there for over three years, it is small) would never have worked. I was spoilt for comic book shopping during my time there, I know that, but you should try it: there’s something very nice about having two comic book shops on your doorstep.

[EDIT as of 2018: a search seems to indicate that both of the shops have now closed, which is a great shame.]

14 Comments

  • Philip G 12 July 2013 at 10:08 am

    Hi,

    Thanks for the memories! I used to hang around inside Siegi's Comics back in the day. I was never much of a comics fan but frequently chatted to Siegi about Doctor Who. 🙂

    Reply
  • David Norman 12 July 2013 at 11:29 am

    Glad to be able to rekindle fond memories, Philip. Conversation was always the dominant aspect at Siegi's, so I can understand how you chatted so much without buying any comics 🙂

    Reply
  • Anonymous 24 August 2014 at 4:08 pm

    My memories of all three shops more or less tally with your own. I shopped in all three between 94 and 97. Incognito had many boxes of silver age comics which were tucked away at the side of the shop and only used only for comic cons etc. the owner did let me dig through them as I was building a collection up from scratch. They also had a shop in Chatham which was larger and had more silver age comics on display. The guy who owned Incognito told me that they had a malicious fire in the Canterbury shop soon after they opened. He more or less said he thought it was the patrons at Whatever comics who were responsible. Happy days!
    Ken.

    Reply
  • David Norman 25 August 2014 at 4:01 pm

    Thanks for the insider gossip, Ken – I had no idea there was such intrigue occurring 🙂 But, you are right: happy days indeed …

    Reply
  • Manny 14 May 2015 at 9:26 pm

    Its always interesting that when someone has something malicious to say thy hide behind that faceless farce "Anonymous" some say that the mystery fire that struck incognito was set by the owner himself as I was told at the time from a reliable source that most of the stock that was supposed to have gone up in flames reappeared as if by magic when the shop reopened ☺ who knows? All I know is that if your not prepared to put up then you should indeed shut up, as people who know me well will attest to I say what o mean and mean what I say. To suggest that said accident was in anyway connected to us is just plain nasty.
    Still with that out of the way … What a wonderful piece you wrote here mate, brings much joy to my heart, and thanks for not only the kind words but the memory, over 25 years service to the industry that I loved and I gotta say it was more good than bad ☺ thank bud.

    Reply
  • David Norman 17 May 2015 at 4:34 pm

    The internet is unfortunately a haven for nameless people peddling scurrilous and libellous rumours. Thankfully, it's hidden in the comments. However, it also allows for connections like these – I'm touched that you enjoyed what I wrote about your shop, Manny, and I'm glad that you've enjoyed working in the comic book business for so long. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment, and all the best for your continued success.

    Reply
  • MattLB 11 September 2020 at 2:08 am

    That’s interesting. I was a student in Canterbury ’96-’99 and remember there being two comic shops, but neither of them looked like the photos in the article. I still have a yellow carrier bag from Incognito comics (from when it was at 1-2 The Friars), although like you I went to Whatever more often (at its Burgate Lane location). It seemed to be run by a mother and daughter team whenever I went, so I’m drawing a blank on a Manny running it. Either way, it was a shame to be nostalgically browsing Canterbury in Streetview in 2020 and see that both shops had now gone.

    Reply
    • David Norman 11 September 2020 at 9:09 pm

      The photo of Whatever Comics is the location from the high street; unfortunately, I don’t have a photo of the Burgate Lane location, which is where I was a regular (although before your time). I didn’t think that Incognito Comics had changed that much since I was there originally, but I could be wrong. I only remember Manny from Whatever Comics, and don’t recall the mother/daughter team, but I guess he could have got the family involved in the business when he was sourcing old collections, perhaps. And I agree that it’s a shame they’re both gone; I felt the same way when I discovered the fact in 2018 when I added the edit to the end of the post.

      Reply
  • Nick Payton 29 November 2020 at 7:25 pm

    What a great blog, thanks for writing it David.

    I got into comics as a young kid in the early 90’s thanks to the X-men cartoon and I still vividly remember being taken to Whatever for the first time when it was in Burgate Lane. I loved everything about it, how cramped it was (it was like I’d stumbled upon a secret only a select few people knew about) the smell of paper and carboard, and most importantly how Manny and Deb and their kids would interact with the customers (especially as this was all new to me, i’m sure I asked them questions they’d answered a 100 times before)

    I’m now in my mid 30’s and continued to have a pull list at Whatever until they closed down. I recently learnt of Manny’s passing and I know the last few years of his life werent the easiest for him or his family, but its fair to say I doubt a lifelong love of comics would have flourished if not for Whatever.

    The fact Canterbury doesnt have a store anymore is a real downer and I hope one day another 1 (or 2) pop up again.

    Reply
    • David Norman 30 November 2020 at 4:18 pm

      Thanks for the kind words, Nick, and for sharing your memories. I have very fond memories of the Burgate Lane shop, too. I hadn’t heard about Manny’s passing; that’s very sad news, and I hope his family is OK.
      I’m glad that Manny helped you develop your love of comics, and I hope Canterbury gets a comic book shop soon.

      Reply
  • Jamie Sansom 14 December 2020 at 2:25 am

    Great article.
    I’m a bit younger than most of the folks here (I’m 26) so I didn’t know about Siegi (but a Google search has led me to a few results which was always nice to read).
    But I do remember going to Incognito frequently when I was very young. I used to go in Holiday a lot to Kent (my parents still do and I go occasionally), so I only went to Canterbury a couple times a year, but I would always spend what felt like likes hours in there (in reality, it was probably about half an hour, but being 8, I didn’t have much of a concept of time).
    I would single handedly blame that shop for making me a collector today

    I didn’t know about Whatever until a few years later. Then I found out that it had been there since before Incognito was a bit of a shock to the system for 12 year old me (imagine loving one shop when there was another about 10 minutes away, and close to where we’d park too).
    That one then moved which was kind of handy for me as they were very close to each other.

    Looking back on it now, I don’t really remember the interior of Incognito, it felt like a very small room with thousands of comics stuffed inside.
    It was a shame to hear that both of them closed as I had a lot of good memories there.
    Anyway, thanks for this article, I find it very nostalgic, and I’m pleased to see you’re still replying to comments after all this time.

    Reply
    • David Norman 15 December 2020 at 11:55 am

      Thanks for the kind words and for sharing your memories; I’m glad you enjoyed both shops so much. And I’ll always reply to genuine comments: discussion is one of the main aspects of a blog, although unfortunately not as much as it used to be back in the day.

      Reply
  • john massey 15 December 2020 at 8:41 am

    great memories Dave thanks just looking for a wolverine comic and stumbled across this site and brought back some amazing memories, i used both shops but i would say i used Manny the most when they were at the burgate , and remember Debs and her daughter well . i dreads to think how much i spent with them including a whole collection of xmen …much to the dismay of the wife ! so sad to hear that Manny had passed he was a great character and i still remember haggling with him now , he was a larger than life character despite his size ha ha , thanks for the memories guys .

    Reply
    • David Norman 15 December 2020 at 11:57 am

      Thanks for commenting, John. It seems that Manny and Whatever Comics seemed to have affected a lot of people, and it’s really nice to hear such positive comments. And I understand your dread about how much you must have spent, particularly a whole collection of X-Men!

      Reply

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