You could be forgiven for not finding Kent Comics on first walking along the High Street in Orpington, Kent – its address is 59A High Street, but you won’t see it actually on the high street along with the rest of the usual chains and charity shops. To reach Kent Comics, you have to walk down a side street off the high street to what looks like a garage or shed that’s part of a car park for a large office. As you can see in the photo above, the door is a functional yet unappealing barrier to entry and you can’t see inside the shop through it or the two windows (it makes me smile to see the two cars parked outside despite the ‘No parking’ signs above them), which is slightly off-putting to a shy, reserved chap like me who prefers to know what he’s letting himself in for in a new situation.
It’s not what you’d call easily accessible or an alluring shop front; I was slightly nervous going in, and I can’t imagine it gets a lot of casual customers walking past. It’s quite different from the last comic book shop I wrote about, Dave’s Comics, with its colourful and vibrant shopfronts that shout, ‘We have loads of comic books and stuff – come in and enjoy yourself!’
Fortunately, inside Kent Comics is a clean, cosy (estate agent speak for small) shop with friendly staff and lots of comic books, which compensates for the rather stark external appearance. There is a very large shelf of new comic books on your right as you enter, lots of boxes full of comic books in the middle and along the opposite wall, plus a wall of older comic books on the other side. There is also a shelf of half-price graphic novels/collections, which is a delightfully unusual mix of different things for you to peruse. (I don’t have any internal photographs – see the comment about being shy earlier – but you can see some on their Facebook page.)
Although the website for Kent Comics is not up to date (the latest copyright notice says 2011), you can believe that they have approximately 20,000 comics in the store based on the number of longboxes inside – this is a comic book shop that is about comic books, instead of being a pop culture supermarket like Forbidden Planet that caters to the general public with an emphasis on merchandise. It was a Friday afternoon when I popped in, so I was the only member of the public (apart from my long-suffering partner) flicking the many books and boxes – the two members of staff were very friendly and welcomed me, but they left me to my own devices, which is the way I like it. The range of comic books was pretty standard but fairly thorough – the website says that they have more than 200,000 comic books for sale, and that they are constantly buying more if you have some to sell. However, the Facebook page says that they had a 10p sale just before Christmas, to clear up some space, so perhaps they have fewer comic books now …
Visiting Kent Comics as an outsider was a strange experience – I’m used to the large, colourful, multi-windowed shops in the centre of London, such as Gosh!, so the unusual location and premises were very different, but I can’t fault the shop or their dedication to selling comic books, and I hope that they continue to do business successfully. I’m particularly aware of this because the two shops I talked about in Kent (Whatever Comics and Incognito Comics) appear to be closed now, and they were on the actual high street. Selling comic books is a tough business, so well done so far and good luck to Kent Comics.