There are so many wonderful independent bookstores and comic book shops and, with your support, they will survive and thrive. I have had some of my best memories in bookstores and in comic book shops. So, can we include both of these outlets in the same discussion? Do comics and books mix? Well, I should hope so after all these years. A bookstore and a comic book shop are two very different scenes with a good amount of common ground. It’s even possible to blur the distinctions. Any opportunity to work together is a good thing: the promotion of literacy; crossover business; nurturing community.
The market demands that all retail business adapt or die. The internet taught us that long ago and Covid has brought home the point in ways that we’re still dealing with. But, no doubt, business is picking up with in-person activity having made a resounding comeback. Over the years, bookstores and comic book shops have borrowed from each other in order to remain attractive and relevant to customers and that just needs to continue. Even full-on cooperation is possible! For instance, it’s not totally uncommon for one shop owner to refer a customer to a competitor, be it bookstore or comics shop, when a shop owner does not carry a title but knows of some other place that could. And conversations between local business are always a good idea.
Let’s break this down a bit. I can better describe to you what is going on with a prime example of how you can combine it in one venue, the boutique comics bookstore! We can compare two Seattle landmarks here. First, let’s look at Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery. Fantagraphics Books has been a publisher of alternative comics, zines, books, and graphic novels since 1976. In 2006 they opened their first retail space, Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery in the heart of Georgetown. Stop in and pick up the latest offerings from comic heroes like Charles Burns, Daniel Clowes, and Chris Ware and peruse their impressive collection of old, new, weird, rare and out-of-print publications. This retail space takes it all to a high level of excellence with a very tidy and inviting atmosphere, truly a world-class selection, and consistently high caliber art shows. Any indie bookstore would love to try to emulate this amazing store. Yes, it is a comics shop but it’s just as much a bookstore. What you won’t find here is your latest issues of comics singles as you would in a traditional comics shop. Nor will you find a big stash of vintage comic books. At least not what your typical comic book collector is hunting for. As I say, this is a boutique comics bookstore–and one of the best!
The other great Seattle landmark is Elliott Bay Book Company, which is more of a big deal sort of thing you include when strolling along on an urban jaunt. This is a wondrous bookstore experience. From this bookstore, we could compare it to Powell’s Books in Portland or The Strand in New York City, or Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi–well, we could go on and on. These type of bookstores tend to be extreme in scale, either tiny and esoteric or monumental and gregarious–more often the latter. I’ll focus back to Elliott Bay as I have a long history with them as a customer and admirer going back to their days in the heart of Pioneer Square. One thing that they’ve always been great about, among so much, is a dedication to the comics medium. This store made it a top priority to be an expert on as many subjects as possible. Early on, before the book industry as a whole created a “graphic novel” category, Elliott Bay was hip to it. Fast forward to the present, at their new location on Capitol Hill, this bookstore can easily lay claim to being a prime location for readers to get in on the best in graphic novels at close to the same level of a dedicated boutique comics shop. Add to that a first-rate lecture space in the basement level with some of the best readings you will find in the city.
Finally, we can consider what it all means. Consider Local Heroes, in Norfolk, Virginia. Here is a shop that has many of the qualities of a higher end boutique comics shop while also very much a traditional shop with an impressive line-up of the latest single issues and its finger on the pulse of what is most current across a broad spectrum of options: everything from manga to superheroes to more niche graphic novels. It’s not easy to get this right and Local Heroes is, by far, one of the best examples of this you will find. From here, we could venture off to other exceptional venues, amazing spots like Isotope in San Francisco or Million Year Picnic off of Harvard Square or Quimby’s in Chicago. Back to focusing on Local Heroes, I can tell you that the staff are truly exceptional with their customer service and knowledge. It’s a pleasure to browse the finely-curated shelves. Nestled within the hip Ghent neighborhood, this comics shop offers something for everyone, mindful of a wide variety of potential readers. This is a store that appreciates the endless possibilities that comics and graphic novels have to offer. This is a store engaged with the reader, no matter who it is or what the subject or genre. Because, in the end, a good story can come from anywhere. That’s definitely something any bookstore or comic book shop can take to heart. No doubt about it, comics and books do mix–there is really no other way for the continued survival of independent bookstores and comic book shops. Go visit one today!