Is an hour too long a distance to travel to buy half-price comics and graphic novels from a comic book shop that is going out of business? Is 8am too early to get up on a Sunday morning to do this? Should I feel guilty and a little sleazy for saving money on comic books through people who love comic books but haven’t succeeded in the cut-throat world of retail?
These questions and more were going through my mind as I journeyed on the tube to Finsbury Park on 8 November 2009 to the big sale at Fantastic Realm, the most recent addition to the London comic book scene and also the most recent victim of these economically difficult times. I first heard about them earlier in the year in a post by Dom of London Loves Comics – I had meant to visit them as part of my series on Comic Book Shops of London but they had succumbed to financial pressure before I got off my lazy arse and visited them. Dom discusses the reasons behind it in another post, which, if true, are very sad indeed – it would seem that the American parent company screwed them over.
Despite the ghoulish atmosphere of picking clean the flesh of a corpse (enough with the metaphor), I was not the only person to descend upon Fantastic Realm. I arrived a few minutes after 10am, when the shop was opening specially for the sale, but the locusts were already there – one locust beating me to the only copy of Agents of Atlas TPB that I had really wanted (bastard; he even had to think about it when he picked it up – if I’d been there 30 seconds earlier I could have had it, and I know I wanted it). It’s only a small shop but there were a lot of people crammed in there, standing over each other in an effort to get the best bargain. There were some trade paperbacks but the shop was mostly comic books – they even let us into the back room to go through the long boxes there.
It was in the long boxes you could see the evidence of where things had gone wrong – you would see packs of comics in a Mylar bag but, instead of set of issues covering a story arc in a series (as Gosh! does in its downstairs section), it was identical copies of the same issue. This was usually first issues – there were entire boxes full of the same first issue (I’ve never seen so many copies of Jenna Jameson’s Shadow Hunters) – and it was depressing, unless you really wanted 100 copies of the first issue of a new Marvel series, suggesting the allegation was true that the store was the dumping ground for unnecessary orders for the purpose of getting special variants.
Even though the shop wasn’t big and the stock not extensive, I still managed to spend 2 hours there without being aware of the passage of time. I can be like that when shopping and it was nice to see trades in a sale – when I went to the closing down sale for the Borders on Oxford Street, they had already removed all the trade paperbacks/graphic novels before letting anyone through the doors. I managed quite a haul – five of the Brubaker Captain America TPBs, Dead Girl, Fantastic Four: True Story, Uncanny X-Men: Lovelorn and Fantastic Four: Dark Reign, plus all but three issues of the recent Agents of Atlas series, the Final Crisis: Superman Beyond issues and a few sundry comics, all for £50. I tried to make myself believe I was helping the owners out by buying this haul, but I couldn’t shake off the feeling that I was ripping them off and smiling at their misfortune. Still, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, or some other cliché; RIP, Fantastic Realm.