My First Shop: West Side Comics

I have many vague memories of my first regular comic book shop.  They are vague in the way that most memories tend to get after two decades.  But they are good memories, happy memories.

I don’t remember when I first starting buying comics, one of my earliest memories of comics being around was in kindergarten and I was 5 then, and they were around my apartment before that, so it’s been a lot of years.  When I hit age 10 and went to junior high school my comic book reading friends (primarily Gavan, Patrick, Clark and Noah) and I had a lot of options around our neighborhood on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.  

There was Comics For Sale on 75th and Columbus, and it was only two blocks from our school so we hit that one a lot once the bell rang.  Sometimes the guy let us pay for books with tokens as both comics and the subway cost $1.00 at the time.  And then, oddly, they both went to $1.25 at the same time.

Big Apple Comics was on 89th and Broadway and that was a last resort stop mostly because in the late 1980s/early 1990s that was a sketchy section of Broadway, but also because it was one of those dingy, on the second floor, crap everywhere stores that I hated even as a kid.  Good poster selection, though.

Another option to buy comics was the newsstand on 79th and Broadway, which was just two blocks from my apartment, and a good place to hit up in an emergency.  I remember running there to buy the New York Daily News when I heard they had a picture of Robin’s new costume. I read the article right there at the newsstand and saw in the article that that issue of Batman with the new costume was on newsstands now and looking up to see it on the rack and buying that too.  I still have that comic and that article.

But my first shop, the place I look back on with the fondest memories was West Side Comics.  Located on 86th Street between Amsterdam and Columbus, it was my first real comics home.  My friend Patrick lived one block over on 87th Street so we ended up there together a lot.  West Side Comics was my regular shop throughout junior high and part of high school until my family moved to Queens and I suddenly had a store right around the corner from our new place.  Here are some things I remember about West Side Comics.

I remember… the store was small, even to a kid.  When you walked in the new comics were on shelves all along the left side and the cash register was immediately to your right.  The counter next to the register lead seamlessly into a two tiered back issue unit that ran all the way to the back of the public part of the store, which wasn’t that far.  At least half their space was cut off to the public.  I remember it seeming walled off, but it was probably because I was just a kid and couldn’t see over into the back.  I know they had a bunch of file cabinets in the back that held people’s books.  Behind the cash register were more shelves which held the “high-end” books.

I remember… going to the store with my dad and being given five dollars to buy anything I wanted.  It was our thing that we did whenever I could convince him to take me.  I would immediately tunnel into the lower tier of the back issues, diving into the back where they kept their Batman books.  I imagine that all one could see of me were my little legs dangling out the front of the back issue unit as I balanced on top of a few long boxes.  My dad would always try to get me to buy five new ones instead of one back issue, but I would have none of that.  “No, dad,” I would say with ten year old condescension, “these are older.” And by my reckoning that meant they were better.

I remember… that the store was owned by two guys.  I think they both had glasses.  I know that one had long hair and a beard and the other guy had short hair and a beard.  I don’t remember their names, and if I had to draw them you’d get two heads with glasses, hair and beards and no other distinguishing features, but I do remember that they were two really nice guys who were incredibly patient with the gaggle of kids from the neighborhood that were always in and out of there.

I remember… that the early 1990s was the height of the foil cover craze and I didn’t own any foil covers and I was feeling incredibly inadequate.  One of the big ones at the time was Silver Surfer #50 and they kept it behind the counter with a whopping price tag of $50.00.  I saved and saved and saved and finally when I had the money I walked in there and said “I’ll take that Silver Surfer, please,” and plopped down my money and I don’t know that I had ever been more proud of a purchase in my entire life up until that point.  Silver Surfer #50 now lists for $0.99 on eBay.

I remember… the day that Patrick and I finally took the plunge and opened up a folder.  What that meant was that we got a big list of all of the on-going books and we checked off which ones we wanted held for us each week.  It wasn’t like preordering – though I assume this made it easier for the owners to order their books – because we didn’t lay out any money or buy anything in advance.  We just checked a box that meant “Every time Justice League comes out hold us one… no, two copies.”  And we could take a book off our list at any time.  Patrick and I opened the folder jointly and decided to start small and only pick five books each.  We were young then and didn’t quite grasp the concept because the very next week we went back to the store and they pulled out our folder and we dutifully looked over what was in it and said something to the effect of “It appears to all be in order,” and had them put the books back in the file cabinet.  We thought you had to wait until all of your books were in before you were supposed to buy them.  We quickly caught on and our folder grew to an incredibly large size.  Patrick and I didn’t always go in together so it was always interesting to see what he was buying before weeding out his books to have them put back.  Man, he bought a lot of X-books.  After a short period of time the guys would recognize you and have your folder out and waiting for you before you even got up to the counter and as a 12 year old kid there was nothing cooler than that.

I remember… that Flash #50 was probably the one book most responsible for getting me to the store every week for new comic book day (which back then was Friday).  We didn’t want to miss that one – It was issue 50!  He was getting a new costume! – and the thrill of getting all your comics new on the day they came out as opposed to every few weeks was too much.  It was a powerful narcotic.  I’ve only missed a handful of new comics days since that week, certainly less than 10.  Once I was home sick from school with a 100 degree fever, but it was new comics day!  I walked the six shorts blocks and one long avenue block up, and then back again in a fever induced haze to get my new comics.  I remember being asked about it by my parents and not remembering getting to the comic store and back – that’s not entirely true now that I think about it, I can still remember leaving the building and the first block or so, but after that?  Nada. – but I had a stack of new books to prove it happened.

I remember… going from my apartment to West Side Comics and back at least five times in one day to pick up various editions of the special DC Who’s Who that was made to fit in a three ringed binder.  They were shrink-wrapped so you didn’t know which artist was put with which character until you got it home and tore off the shrink-wrap, and the excitement of seeing all these amazing pin-ups had me scrounging for change around the apartment and going back to the store again and again thinking things like “I can’t wait to see who drew J’onn J’onzz!”  It was Adam Hughes.  I’ve still got the binder right here next to my desk.

I remember…

West Side Comics is gone now; it closed just like all of the other stores mentioned in this article. Only the newsstand remains.  I think a travel agency called Liberty Travel was the first thing to move in after West Side Comics left.  I don’t know what’s in there now because now that I live and work in Brooklyn I don’t make it to the Upper West Side much anymore.  But whenever I’m in the neighborhood I like to walk by and check out the store front.  If I squint my eyes I can still see the inside of the store with the local kids sitting on the floor reading comics.  And if I listen hard enough I can hear the owner answering the phone with his trademark “West Side,” like it wasn’t just a comic book shop but an entire neighborhood.  

And for a lot of us kids, that’s exactly what it was.

Comments

  1. jerichobp jerichobp says:

    You always remember your first.

  2. Eyun Eyun says:

    This might just be my favourite article ever on iFanboy. Just a fantastic piece of writing, Conor.

    I wish I could relate to these memories, but as a kid (when I was mostly buying Transformers, Action Force and Batman books) the only option open to me in such a small town was the local Spar shop. As a glorified grocery store, and a small one at that, it didn’t really cater to kids interested in comics, but rather more just stocked them as a sidenote (next to the rack of Vogue, if memory serves). I don’t even know if what I was buying was in continuity, or even the newest issue, I just bought whichever one had a cover I didn’t recognise.

    Also my parents were of the ilk that had little tolerance for this folly of comics that I liked, certainly not enough to actually take me to a proper store, so I had to make do… I’m imagining a sad violin in my head right now :(

    Luckily now, thanks to iFanboy and everyone on these boards, I’ve got a fantastic LCS (Megacity in Camden, baby) that I visit with as much gusto as 10-year old me would have.

    Again, bravo, Conor on an excellent piece! 

  3. jedidave24 jedidave24 says:

    Great article, Conor. I remember my parents taking me to this one shop as a kid that was having a big closing sale. I was buying comics off the newstand at a local Kmart at the time, and had never been to a comic shop before. I remember the overwhelming excitement at being turned loose upon longbox after longbox of discounted books. Good times.  That was the first and only time I went there, as it was replaced by a Papa Johns shortly thereafter. Guess that would explain my irrational contempt for their pizza.

  4. csvaccaro csvaccaro says:

    fantastic article.  i am flooded with memories and am thinking that its these memories that make this hobby so special. 

     my first LCS was a Shwegmann’s Grocery store.  i would go there with my mom once or twice a week and we would have that "meet u by the ______ in ______ minutes" syncing of watches and i would run to the magazine/comic shelves over by the produce.  in the very early days, ’87/’88, i was torn between batman and x-men.  having the "just two" limit strongly enforced, i bought both for just a while, and the sci-fi elements of the x-men won out over the dark detective stories.  all of my purchases quickly became x-related.  uncanny, wolverine, and the "classic x-men" reprints, which i did not realize were reprents.  i thought they were just these new tales of past adventures.

    a couple years later a high school friend brought me to the "Book Exchange".  it was llike finding a dragon’s lair of treasure.  rows and rows of dusty long boxes.  alergies be damned, i sifted through those boxes for the next 2 years until its eventual closing.  the next year a small shop opened in our tiny shopping mall.

    thank you conor.  this article just made me sappy as hell.

  5. DaveCarr DaveCarr says:

     You know, as much as I love the new blood around here, the Trifecta still brings it. Ron worte a nifty piece  yesterday about headquarters, and Conor brings it with this article. My first was a little place callled All-Pro sports, cards and comiics, right down the street from my house. There were long blocks a plenty and I remember wishing I had all the money to buy the Old Nightwing issues. The diXon series was in its 30′s when I decided to get a pull list. It was always grand to get that little paper bag with my name on it, holding the promise of Chuck Dixon’s Nightwing…… The store moved locales and I wasn’t able to visit weekly, until finally it closed and I had to go DC Mail order.

    By the way, Conor is this the same Patrick who is tagged as Patrick the Intern in the flickr photos from this comic con? If so, that’s awesome!

  6. jdeitch25 says:

    Great article, Conor, it’s an interesting moment for a lifelong comic fan. 

    I don’t remember the name of my first shop, but I remember that it was across the street from Smiley’s pizza in Brooklyn, a brick corner building with a smiley face painted on the side.  My dad and I always got pizza there after baseball games in Prospect Park.  I remember being between 5-7 (because that was the time we moved from Brooklyn) and loving everything Ninja Turtles.  So, when that store put a giant poster of the TMNT in the window, I had to check it out.  I walked in, and at that age didn’t notice what I was surrounded by, but instead found myself in the kids’ section with all the Saturday morning cartoon adaptations.  There it was, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1: all my favorite characters in four color glory. 

    A few weeks later, I returned to the shop and made the discovery that changed my life.  I saw a new issue of Ninja Turtles, but something was off.  On the cover, all four of the turtles wore red bandanas.  Inside there was no color, only pen and ink.  I picked it up out of curiosity. It was the "Old Man River" arc from Eastman and Laird’s Mirage series.  In it, the foursome contend with a giant mutating leech that bit Mikey or Raphael (I believe), which causes him to regress to his original Turtle form.  It remains one of the best arcs I have ever read, and it opened my eyes to the incredible world of comics.  Thanks for the nostalgia, Conor.

  7. Dan Dan says:

    Great piece – all except for the Silver Surfer bit. That hurts, man.

    My first shop was a stationary store on our town’s Main Street. I remember being about 8 or 9 and my moms letting me walk the mile or so (each way) to get there (different times then). Starting at the house, it was down the hill, over the bridge, through the path in the field, across the strip mall parking lot, through another field, down the railroad tracks, past the church, around City Hall parking lot, down the street and to the shop. That was a lot of walking for a pudgy 8 year old.

    And if I got there early enough, I’d get to open the bundle of comics. This was back when they came bound in plastic strips like newspapers and magazine. The lady behind the counter would give me the scissors and I’d cut the strip and pick out the titles I wanted. I’d bet dollars to doughnuts I still have a good majority of those comics sitting in boxes in my closet.

    I don’t think I visited my first comic shop shop until I was 14 or 15, and then it was a big deal because it was down the highway! Which was a somewhat heavily traveled two-lane road with the occasional passing zone.

  8. youngday youngday says:

    Outstanding bit of nostalgia, Conor – Wonderful.

    Growing up in a small town in North Dakota, we had no newstands or comic shops.  I remember going to Bob’s Super Value with my mom when I was about five and staring at a spinner rack and begging her to buy me a comic – she allowed me one and I got an issue of Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man that had Kraven in it.  I also remember being home from school with the flu and my mom brought me home a copy of the Teen Titans from Corner Drug that she bought along with my medicine.  Then there was Simonson’s Station Store where I bought Groo and G.I. Joe… Ah, the memories. 

  9. NJBaritone NJBaritone says:

    Great article!  I’m old enough to have bought my comics for a quarter off the spinner racks at O’Jonnies," the littel 5&10 that was conveniently located right next to my elementary school.  (Its still there but much more upscale now.)  I didn’t know anything about "new comics day" so I just went every day after school and picked up something interesting.  I still know which issues they were because they stamped the date on the cover of each issue.

    When I was in college in the 80′s and a comic book shop opened up in the mall near the University I was in heaven!  The concept of an entire store dedicated just to comics was like Paradise Found.  I have had a pull list ever since.

  10. mrmister mrmister says:

    "After a short period of time the guys would recognize you and have your folder out and waiting for you before you even got up to the counter and as a 12 year old kid there was nothing cooler than that."

    This just start happening to me recently and it is a cool feeling at 22 also ha! Good article.

  11. English says:

    Thats really cool to be able to have those memories.

  12. Megnolia Megnolia says:

    What a great article, Conor! I especially liked the story of the folder…"It appears to be all in order" seems like something I would have done as a kid. (or last week).

    The first place I remember buying comics was at Cope’s Pharmacy by the house I grew up in. It was an old fashioned pharmacy that still had a soda fountain and penny candy. In the summer, my brother and I would  pool our resources to get comics and candy to take to the neighborhood pool. He wanted Batman, I wanted Archie.

    Thinking about that place gives me a jones for chic-o-sticks and lemonheads (the candy not the band)

  13. Paradiddle Paradiddle says:

    My wife and I will be staying on the Upper West Side when we visit NYC in mid-September, I think somewhere around 86th, as well! I’ll have to see if I can find this place. Of course I will also be making a trip to Jim Hanley’s Universe at some point…

  14. Conor Kilpatrick conor (@cskilpatrick) says:

    @DaveCarr – Yep, that’s him.

    @Paradiddle – Well, you can go and look for it, but as I said at the end, West Side comics has been closed for quite a while now.  For over a decade at least. But if you want to see where it was it was at 107 W. 86th.

  15. Tad Tad says:

    Obviously you didn’t shave your head then but my image of "Lil’ Conor" is much like CHRIS ELIOPOULOS draws you.  I chuckled then literally muttered, "Aw… poor little Conor."  Even though Lil’ Conor had no idea of what the future held.

     

    Great article, Conor. 

  16. I remember… wishing that I grew up in Manhattan rather than Suffolk County.

  17. Neb Neb says:

    My first shop was Comic Carnival in Broad Ripple, which is a hipster place outside of downtown Indianapolis.  I would ride my bike there once a week to buy comics, and sometimes more than once to buy Fleer X-Men cards.  It was a great place with new stuff and huge back issue selection. 

    They’ve moved from the small, dingy shop it used to be in to a much nicer store, but man, sometimes I miss that damn place.

  18. Chris Rohling Anson17 says:

    Amazing article Conor.

     

    I hated my first shop.  Buncha stoners ran it and they didn’t know anything about comics.  They’re entire chain is bankrupt now so sucks to be them.  My new LCS is a thousand times better. I Love Hot Comics.

  19. target242 target242 says:

    Great article! Oh the Nostalgia…

    I first bought comics at drugstores and Kwik Marts (the South’s version of 7-Elevens)…my first experience at a comic book shop made me dumbstruck. It was at The Great Escape, in Nashville. It still stands today and going strong. I was amazed at how they got the comics weeks before they appeared on the newstands and without UPC codes! Longboxes everywhere and i still have great stuff from the 25 cent bins…early copies of Justice League (the original run) and a complete run of the Joker series from the late 70s (i still love those old comics!)…sadly over time i have noticed a trend even in that store: slowly CDs and VHS took over more and more space…and now DVDs…the comics slowly have moved further and further into and away from the main part of the ‘comic-book store’…and there are like only 20-30 long boxes for back issues…

    Fun times and although i don’t get to visit quite that often…despite in my 30s *cough* i still get giddy when i pull into the parking lot!

    Thanks for the memories…. 

  20. WadeWilson WadeWilson says:

    I’m so jealous of people who grew up with a comic shop (or more than one!) in walking distance from thier house. I’ve never lived closer than a 30 minute commute to a comic store, even to this day.

    I loved the part of the article about going for new comics when Conor was sick — that’s dedication, brother! I have done similar things myself.

  21. Eyun Eyun says:

    Wow, this article has spawned some great stories. It’s great to hear people talking about comic stores that are getting it right. I’ve been reading seriously for only a few years now, and the first time I went into mine (again, bigging up Megacity in Camden) I knew just enough to keep my head down for a while, but still be excited.

    Now, mainly thanks to this very site, I know enough to hold my own, but the staff don’t care about that. They almost prefer it when someone new to the comic world comes in. A couple of months ago I was in there, and a guy my age came in (late twenties). He went straight up to the counter and said to the staff that he’d been taken to see Iron Man, loved it, and although he’d never read a comic in his life he wanted to start reading some. There was no piss taking, the staff looked thrilled and very politely took him around the entire store pointing out stories he might like. And he left with about 20 books. That, to me, was cool.

  22. When I first started reading comics they were 35 cents.  I didn’t get to go to my first comic shop until much later.  It was called "Helen’s Antiques and Books" and it was run by an old lady and her grouchy husband.  It was attached to her house.  It was a big treat to get to go because it was a 20 mile trip.  It was located within a mile of the very first KFC in Corbin, KY.  I was down there recently and drove to the shop but it looked like it had been closed down for awhile.

  23. CAM CAM says:

    My first comic shop was 1,000,000 comix in South Common Mall, long since closed.

    My first book that I waaaaaay overpaid for was Rai #0, but…hey…it was the beginning of all things Valiant, with clues to what would happen in 2000…and a top ten book from Wizard…and…I’m an idiot.

     

  24. Oh, this is a beautiful article.  I love, love, love hearing stories like this, because there’s always so much magic attached to people’s childhood comic book-reading memories.  Certainly makes me wish I hadn’t started reading at age 20!  Thank you for sharing this.

  25. cromulent cromulent says:

    My first comics were gotten from a dingy convenient store a block from my house. Three comics in a pack, sealed in plastic. The covers were ripped off of each comic, which I guess is why they sold for so cheap. Later I found a store that sold comics individually, and with the covers intact! I was in heaven.

  26. crushercreel crushercreel says:

    Great Story!!  I remember getting my one dollar a week allowance and riding my bike to the local pharmacy to check out the new books each week.  I could buy four.  Then one week I went to buy the books and the clerk asked for $1.20 for my four books.  My first introduction to inflation.  Comics were now .30 cents a piece!  I was nervous and didn’t know what to do.  The kindly man in line behind me gave me the extra twenty cents.  My parents would not adjust my allowance for inflation, so I was stuck buying 3 books per week. 

    The first comic store I frequented was called, "Uncle Tom’s comics."  talk about un-pc.  Gotta love the 70′s in Oregon

  27. haystackes haystackes says:
    @DaveCarr – yes I’m the one refereed to as intern… though if you have been around for a few years, it was me who started the booth babe thing at SDCC…though i can’t find those pics anymore…
    anywho… Conor…that this was an awesome article… i read the whole thing and it was GREAT.

    i had forgotten much of that… for some reason my memories of west side comics are reduced to bearded men one shorter than the other and always…ALWAYS a pack of camel unfiltered cigarettes on the counter… did we speak to them? i think i was envious/scared of them… i remember we would we go there all the time, even on holidays.. god bless us running away from homeless people on thanksgiving… i don’t think they were open, but i love that memory… my apartment was next to a methadone clinic…
    i remember the quarter bin which was on the second shelf to the right and ohhhh how i cleaned up on my psi-force….
    i too was given a limited budget and rather than hitting the back issues i hit the quarter bin when i had extra cash. for some reason i was about quantity over quality at that time…maybe i was trying to catch up to conor who seemed to have so many more comics than me. doom patrol was another book i was mocked for picking up at the time… hahaha i was into grant morrison before you…
    oh how the tides have turned… somewhere down the road you branched out… i still recommended preacher first but it wasn’t until multiple people raved about it did you pick it up… i won’t forget last wonder con you turned me on to so much, invincible, johna hex, queen and country, etc

    and this year…the walking dead…man you made me a kirkman bitch
    his stuff is so amazing…

    there was another comic shop "funny business" i think it was on 90th and Amsterdam

    my break down is this
    westside for current and quarter bin comics
    comics for sale for comic trading cards and marvel/DC back issues
    big apple for posters and back issues..and feeling grown up… and i have the entire run of advanced dungeons and dragons thanks to them…
    funny business for realizing some people have no idea how to run a comic shop…

    i now have to hunt down my who’s who binder as i realize i have no idea where it is and that scares me…
  28. Josh Flanagan josh (@jaflanagan) says:

    Patrick’s booth babe photo cavalcade?

    http://web.archive.org/web/20031012011913/ifanboy.com/gallery/patrick

    Not all the photos are archived, but you’ll get the idea.  Best captions I ever wrote.

  29. broderboy broderboy says:

    I remember having to biked 3 miles ever couple of weeks to get the contents of my folder, grab a slice of pizza, and bike back when i was about 12.  The rewards made the trip worth it!

  30. rayclark rayclark says:

    i would drive about 40 mins to my store and then i would spend 2-3 hours in the store looking around at all the comicy goodness i still do as a matter of fact. i love my comic store

  31. J4K3 J4K3 says:

    The end of the article was actually kind of moving. Good work.

  32. devinclancy says:

    West Side Comics was also my first comic store.  I can completely identify with the coolness of them having your file ready for you when you walked in.  My Mom had put forth a deposit to open the file when I was around 12 (one month’s worth of books) and I kept it until a few weeks before leaving for college in 1992.  At some point in the late 80s, the store also started carrying VHS tapes, which they would deliver to nearby apartments.  I worked one night in the summer as their delivery boy, subbing for someone else and making $3 an hour to basically hang out and read comics until they needed a tape taken somewhere.

    I believe the store closed right after I left for school and was gone by thanksgiving break. Big Apple and a couple other stores were also soon gone.

     Oh, and the first comic I ever bought was at that 79th st. newsstand.  It was a copy of V #5, from the TV series of the same name. 

     Great article about a great store.   -Devin

  33. s30 s30 says:

    i wish i had a comic shop to go to…sniff

  34. excalipoor excalipoor says:

    wow. nice article. if it wasn’t for your link from your letter column, I would never get a chance to read this. Since I started mine when i watched the x-men cartoon in the 90s, which let me to collect marvel cards. that’s was my first comic book store. i dont even know the name, just somewhere in ozone park, it was 2 subway stations away. eventually i didn’t buy my first comic until i there’s a new comic book store down the block from my house. even though that is my first lcs that i bought monthlies, but i have lots of bad memories there because it was not a tolerant neighborhood at that time.

    the true lcs that i always remember is the chameleon in flushing. back then , the area wasn’t considered a chinatown yet. there are so many people visit that store for comics and trading cards. they even have machines for the anime trading cards. i remember i visit there quite often during my high school days and early college years. it sucks that years later, the prices in the area goes up and is taken over by more chinese establishments and become the 3rd chinatown in nyc. it sucks that i don’t see CLS in my neighborhood of north queens anymore, but i do live near by the lirr station to get to the city. i love the fact that we have stores like midtown and jim hanley’s. it is so easy to get there.

     even though i still get to go to a store and get my books, but i do miss chameleon. that is always the special place to me.

  35. RahUniQue RahUniQue says:

    @conor  you have given me quite a flashback here. wow. i went to these shops. specifically Big Apple and West Side. i remember growing up in the Bronx and flipping through the yellow pages and finding such places as shops solely devoted to comics. i convinced my pops to take me, and he did. and when i was good my reward was for my pops or my big brother to take me to the comic shop. it was heaven. it was magical. wow, thank you conor for this article.