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.
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, 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.
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 [EDIT: website no longer exists], 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.]