The Comic Shoppe

A few days ago I was able to spend some time outside of the city, up in the country. It was a really nice getaway, the town we were in was just awesome, little diners, a cafe, general store… but no comic book store. I had brought some trades with me, but I am woefully behind (like, two weeks) and did not have a chance to visit my store before we left, so although I wasn’t technically looking for a comic book store… but I was kinda hoping.

I was fine with not having a chance to pick up a few issues — I did not have the time to read anyway — but I did fantasize, just a bit, about opening a store there, which, in turn, got me thinking about what makes a good comic book shop tick. And then — voila! — idea for Wednesday’s column.

When I was a kid, I remember going to Comics and Comix (or was it the other way around) on Irving Street in San Francisco. Now, it was kind of a big deal when my dad would take me to the comic book store — here, in one space, was everything that I liked, you know? C&C was pretty cool — I remember it had comics, sure, but it also had toys and shirts and I never wanted to leave. I remember, too, that it smelled, not in a bad way, but in a way that was unlike any other store that I usually visited, which made some degree of sense. For me, the comic book store was MY store — my parents would certainly never go unless I was dragging them. It was a place that I could identify with — my first place that was my “own” aside from my home.

Really, if you think about it, nothing’s really changed. Your comic book store, in a very real sense, is your home away from home. It has a ton of stuff that you like, it tends to have people you like to talk to hanging out in it, and you find it very easy to relax and just hang out in.

As far as I can tell, there tend to be a few types of comic book stores:

1 – Shop – These are the worker-bees of the comic book store community. My main store in LA (DJ’s Universal Comics (pictured above) is one of these; it’s in a mini-mall, stuck between a nail place and a Mexican food place (that’s actually quite good, which is nice). You go in and you see comics on one side, and some toys and cards on the other. This type of store is really good for the avid comic book fan, since it focuses primarily on feeding you your comics. They tend to be run by opinionated comic book fans who may roll their eyes at some of your purchases, but that’s just their way of making friends.

2 – Lounge – I think Isotope in San Francisco really defined this one for me (see their sofas, to the right). This is where you buy comics, yes, but the store also serves as a local hub for comics culture in general. These stores tend to offer more alternative comics and other comics-related merchandise and organize events, including book signings and convention parties. They also tend to look and feel different than the average comic book store — the store itself is a nice place to hang out in, with couches to sit in and art on the walls. LA’s Secret Headquarters fits this bill as well.

3 – Bazaar – These are bigger stores that offer comics and toys… and everything else. Meltdown on Sunset in Los Angeles is an example of this. They’ve got art books, back issues, trades, models, figurines, baby clothes, videos — the whole mix.

There are probably some other types (the trades section in Barnes and Noble, the comics rack at the local drugstore, the Internet), but these are the ones I tend to encounter most of time.

Each comic book store tends to cater to a different audience, of course. I tend to have “deeper” comic book discussions at my local no frills store than at Meltdown (though the staff there is quite cool and knows their stuff) but I can buy cooler gifts at Meltdown.

Regardless of the kind of store, there are a few elements a store should have:                              

Knowledgeable staff This goes without saying. The staff at the comic book store are arguably some of the most important folks in the comics business. They are ambassadors of the art form to new readers and fellow philosophers to long time fans. They are critics, they are fanboys, they are like the Force — they keep this universe together. If the staff doesn’t have an answer to “I like [this book], do you have others like that?” then the store is in big trouble.

Places to sit
– Not every store has the room to do this, but I think it does make for a nicer environment and more inviting experience (the Isotope sofas, pictured above, are a good example).  Customers should be able (and encouraged) to take a few books and sit down with them a bit. Again, it’s that “home away from home” vibe — if you know you can sit around and hang out a bit, you’ll keep coming back.

Saver program – A feature for the more straight up basic comic book store (though other stores, like Secret Headquarters, pictured left, are starting to offer “subscriptions”), this is what keeps fans collecting. If the store has room and caters to the hard core comic book fan, they should have a comics saver program. Basically, you tell the owner what books you are reading and s/he saves them for you each week. So, even if you miss a few weeks, you can rest assured that the books will be there when you get back to the store. There are two sub-requirements to this: 1) they must be good about the books, it’s really lame when you rely on the store to save a book for you only to get there and find they forgot and 2) a really good owner will save books that s/he thinks you’ll enjoy (a spin off title, or a new book by an author you dig). Many comic saver programs give a discount (usually 20% off) which is obviously helpful.

Events – Though not possible for all stores, this really does build a great community (search for Isotope in Flickr and you’ll see what I mean). Aside from meeting cool artists and writers, you’ll be able to meet other comic book people in your area. If done right, this is a great way to bring your friends whom you might want to introduce comics to, especially if there are drinks.

Bathroom – Just a good idea. I’ve been able to “sneak” a visit in when running errands with my wife Whitney by asking her if she needs to go to the bathroom when I am near the comic book store.

If I were to open a comic book store, it would probably be more of a lounge with some basic shop features, like comics saver program. I would want lots of windows, a good sound system, a fridge, and room to screen movies and videos. More than anything, it would be the kind of store I would just normally want to hang out in, you know? You figure you’re gonna be the one hanging out there the most, it might as well have all the stuff you like.

How about you? What “type” of store do you frequent? Do you like a smaller, focused store, or prefer a bigger store where you can get comics and other kinds of books?


Mike Romo is an actor and writer in Los Angeles. His comic book store would feature at least two reclining chairs and a full bar. He can be reached at


  1. Ha! That bathroom idea is genius. Thx for the tip, i’ll try that with my girlfriend sometime.

    Great article.

  2. great article

     my comic shop does the save program and i love it. it’s about an hour away so the save program is nice to hwere i only have to go once every two/three weeks. guy gives discounts and suggests other comics too. yay for my small comic shop

  3. Yeah, my comic shop is a home-away-from-home. Last year, in high school I would leave English early and go to the shop. Spend about 30 minutes looking at all the new issues and then buying 2 books. Good times

  4. I don’t get to go to my shop as often as I’d like, but can spend a good couple of hours in there. It’s kinda mid-sized, no couches and not many toys, but good god is it’s comic selection comprehensive!

    There’s pretty much anything you could hope to find in there, and the owner is more than happy to spend as long as it takes to help you find something or make suggestions, without ever being patronising.

    Plus it’s on a street with some of the best damn food places I’ve ever been to and great record shops… You can easily lose a day on that road!

    Great piece, Mike 🙂

  5. Visualize the way a mediocre "collectables store" in the "heart" of Georgia would look and that is exactly what my shop looks like.  Nascar stuff everywhere, books stacked willy-nilly, and no chance of anything from IDW, DH, or Image being anywhere in the store.

    Did any of your shops have the "risque" All Star Batman #10?  Mine didn’t, but I assume they will be all over ebay by the end of the day.  I’m not particularly interested, but I do find it humorous that this is causing such a commotion.  Apparently it’s ok for Batman to break every bone in a man’s body, but as soon as the work "fuck" is used in the book it gets recalled.

  6. @stulach

    where are you in GA? my comic shop is in kennesaw, really small but really nice. guess it all depends on where you are. best way to find good comic ships is google maps 

  7. @fragilenin  

    *comic shops 

  8. Interesting article.  My shop started adding video games.  I’m not really crazy about it but anything he needs to make more money and stay in business I guess.  The owner is mostly a Marvel guy which was a little disappointing but recently he hired a DC guy, so now I can have more interesting conversations when I go in.  I tell people this is my weekly escape, the only place I can talk about comics.


    Playing iFanboy podcasts on the sound system would generate interest and conversations about new and different books.  I think this would increase sales of new customers and old.  Hearing more about the books takes a little of the guess work out of choosing titles and it’s nice to know what’s new and cool.

  9. In Minneapolis, Dreamhaven is the bazaar, and in Saint Paul the total comics store is The Source Comics and Games.  Geek nirvana.  I live three minutes from The Source . . . 

  10. I’ve been to many shops – probably close to 20 or so – and have never encountered a Lounge. Most of them fall somewhere between Bazaars and Shops. My current shop has a bench, but nothing very inviting – it’s usually occupied by girlfriends or wives wating on husbands.

    I’ve also been to shops where there are gaming tables – why not kick out the Pokemon kids and put in an inviting sofa?

    I’d love to walk into a shop and hear a comics podcast playing over the sound system. My current shop has a podcast – I’ll have to ask the owner today why he doesn’t play it instead of the 70s tunes he’s usually piping in.

  11. My comic book shop is what it is….a shop. Sure it doesnt have couches, or music playing, or even isnt the size of a restaurant (it’s like the size of a regular building first floor)….But I like it cause it’s just a small shop. The guy doesnt have to go overboard with the decor or put a ton of signs with sales on the window. It’s just ‘THE COMIC SHOP’ on the building and a huge sign saying ‘COME ON IN!’

    Sometimes being little is a good thing.

  12. My comic shop is… online. I only frequent my local shop (which has hardly any back issues worth checking out) when I’ve missed a recent issue and my online service is sold out. My local shop charges tax, cover price, and $0.20 per bag and board. They do have a decent kids section, so I like to take my son there and let him hang out. In general, driving to my local shop is a waste of time.

    The online services will eventually take over your "shops," but the lounges (although rare) and bazaars should be around for awhile.

  13. Like Mike, I’m in LA, which means there’s a nice array of shops. My shop is Earth-2,which is a "shop" in that it doesn’t have the sprawling bazaar of Meltdown (which I also like). But the folks there are very friendly, knowledgeable and helpful. They also have lots of events. And because they’re right on Ventura, there are a lot of Hollywood and comics creative types in there all the time. Which is a nice little perk.

    Incidentally, I totally remember Comics &Comix! My first store, too. I used to visit the shop in the Sacramento area, but the chain also used to list of all their locations on their printed plastic bags. I would always keep those bags and note the addresses so that if my family drove to, say, San Francisco (which we often did to visit my grandparents), I’d know exactly where I needed to go to visit the SF-branch of my favorite store. 🙂

  14. I’m with Bibble. I know somebody who will pick out his vacation plans across the country based on what kind of comic shops are there. I have no idea why, when I’ll stay home and shop online. Just going to the comic book store costs me $3 in transit fares ($4 next year), which is enough for another comic.

     Much like how Star Trek couldn’t get made if it was only Trekkies and how Power Rangers wouldn’t exist with only the 22 year old fanboys who remember the golden years, comics couldn’t exist on this goofy niche business model they have that is initmidating to all who aren’t already enthusiasts. It’s only because of the Graphcis Novel section at Borders the industry can carry along like it is, and it’s only because of manga that section at Borders is still there. So, manga is the big two’s saviour and biggest enemy, at the same time.

  15. @thefragilenin – I am way down in Milledgeville.  I teach at the university there.  Kennesaw is out of the question.

  16. all a store really needs to pull me in is a subscription service, somewhere to sit, and back issues. proximity to good (and cheap) food is important too.  if i opened a store, it would have a large lounge-type clubhouse area with a fridge for the regulars, a tv with some video games hooked up to it, a bumpin sound system, and no adult section at all!

  17. I would have a comic shop with with private back rooms and special video rooms with t.v.s that you could watch by putting quarters in…..


    And instead of comix it would be pornography……..But ya know…..Tomatoes Tomahtoes….

  18. @resolute  Sweet I’m in a suburb of Minneopolis and have a shop just a couple blocks away.  Hot comics is kinda a mis between the Lounge and Bazaar.  I love that place.  I’ve yet to make it out to The Source but my Girlfriend got me a signed copy of X-Men number 1 from Jim Lee when he was there.  Did you go?

  19. I have to say, I’ve never understood the whole "home away from home" concept of comic book stores.  It seems like something fairly unique to comic books.  

    Maybe it’s because I only discovered comics late in life (after college), but I just want to go into the store, be able to find what I need, purchase, and leave.  The store should be clean, well-lit and logically organized.  That’s what I want in a comic book store.  Not a place to hang out.

  20. @PudgyNinja – I agree.

  21. Personally, if I didn’t care about having a cool, fun store to hang out in, I’d just order from DCBS and be done with it, but that’s me. Save money, save gas…hell, I’m still tempted by it sometimes.

    That said, I shop at the above-mentioned Secret Headquarters and am quite fond of it; especially the subscription website they use. It’s very much a small version of the type of store I’d like to run. 

    I do buy my supplies (bags & boards) over at Golden Apple in Hollywood, though, which is more of a bazaar. They got statues and other specialty stuff along with the comics and their $0.20 bin was awesome before they cleared it out. The still have a decent selection of back-issues, though.

    Another good store in the L.A. area is Legacy in Glendale. They are a shop (comics on one side, cards on the other), but one of the big things that set them apart I recently discovered is that they seem to be the only local seller of DRAWER BOXES. I haven’t bought any yet, but I’m plannin’ on it…






  22. I’m also the kind of comic shopper who likes to browse for a bit and then take my leave.  The guys at my shop are very friendly, but I tend to just want to pay for my books, take them home, and read.  I never just stand around and read while i’m there.  Maybe because it’s a smaller shop and I get a little claustrophobic.  I don’t feel that the place is lacking because of it though.  It’s just how it is.  I’ve grown accustomed to that.   

    However, I do like the idea of an Isotope model when it comes to events or signings.  I’d totally stick around if there was some kind of creator signing or book launch or something. My shop recently opened a second location downtown, and they have a few signings coming up.  I haven’t been to site B yet, but I hear it does have that lounge feel.  Looking forward to checking it out.   

  23. I find the two stores in my town (there’s a third one but the employees are so cranky I have no clue how they stay in business) are ok. Nothing spectacular But Mike, and Rémi and Steve (don’t see John much), are nice enough guys and usually take a minute to talk. I like that they don’t amke you feel like a disturbance and know you by name. I appreciate that they treat me good even if I don’t buy too much comics. The stores are clean enough, one more than the other.

    We’re in a pretty small town and they’re pretty hard workers. But I would like to see more creativity. Like cool contests and whatever.

  24. The Star Clipper in the STL kind of falls into "lounge" category.  They have places for people to sit and chill, but they also sell a ton of different things.  They have events and creators stop by to sign stuff.  It’s where I shop every week (or sometimes twice a week…shh!  Don’t tell my fiance!).  It’s probably the best store I’ve ever shopped at, but I still love my hometown Comics Carnival shop from when I was growing up.

  25. Nice article. I would like to see some of the Lounges, sounds pretty cool.

    My LCS is a little different from what you’ve described. It is the cleanest, best merchendised store I have ever seen. We are in a small little tourist town and the owner and his wife have hit the nail on the head with the mix. Would you believe their Sunday, during the summer, is as big as their Wednesday or Thursday? They have a huge mix of indy books, manga, and the big two. I have never had them not get something that I was looking for. If I ask for it they will check it out too. They are super knowledgeable on what is out there and true fans. They have original art, figurines, Magic cards, board games and far too much of my money.

     We love it so much my son ended up getting a job their for trade. He loves it and has turned into such a comic geek you wouldn’t believe it. Great shop. If your ever on the Oregon Coast, stop and see Amazing Stories in Astoria. Great People Great shop.

  26. I think there’s a really awesome documentary film to be made from camera crews around the country tracking a typical Wednesday at a bunch of different comics shops.   Being used to the homogenous, generic world of big chain bookstores, I find it cool that every LCS I’ve visited is a little different.  That doesn’t mean it’s always been a great experience, but I’m always willing to check out a new shop when I’m in a different town to see what sets this one apart.

  27. @Diabhol:  I think that there are a lot of reasons to shop at a local store instead of the internet, even if you don’t want to hang out there.  First and foremost, is that supporting local businesses is good for the community.  It’s important to me to have a healthy downtown area where I live.  It raises my property value and generally just improves my quality of life. 

    Also, a good store can offer a lot of things that an online store cannot, even for someone who’s just shopping.  The most obvious is the ability to browse.  Then, of course, is the immediacy of being able to walk out of the store with a purchase instead of having to wait for shipping.  Customer service is another.  I couple years ago, I couldn’t find a copy of the out of print Project Telstar anywhere.  I went to Comic Relief (Berkeley, CA) and asked them if they had a copy.  They didn’t, but said that they would see if they could find one.  A week later, they called me and told me that they had located one and sold it to me at cover price (though e-Bay copies were three times as much).  Now, I’ve had fine customer service from online stores regarding damaged books and similar issues, but I’ve never had one of them go out of their way for me like that.

    So, while I do order some stuff online, I also still appreciate the value of a quality local store.  I just don’t want to hang out there. 

  28. Great article!

    I live in the LA area, so I’m blessed with every kind of comic store imagineable.  My absolute favorite one is called THE COMIC BUG in Manhattan Beach, just south of LA.  I started going there because it’s near work.  They are super friendly and it’s a pretty good size store… bordering on the ‘bazaar’ kind… but not too big.  They have a large screen TV / Lounge area in the back where gaming goes on a few days a week.  And they also have creators come in and set up tables for signings and discussions.  It’s pretty awesome.  One of my favorite things… free bags and boards for the comics you buy if you ask for them. It’s just a nice little bonus.  Great article, again!

  29. I’m in New York so I’ve got a good number of choices. My shop is in Queens (Royal Collectables) no couches but a great staff who take the time to be cool to everyone (they’ve even handed my 2 year old toys to play with while we’re there). They not only remember my name and my daughters but they’ll do their best to get anything you’re looking for. If I mention a book coming out I’m interested in they order it (for me and the store). That plus having a pull/reserve list keeps me coming back week after week. I may not actually hang out there but they treat me like I do.

  30. @Pudgyninja: I like supporting local businesses as well, but that’s just because I’ve been programmed to. Nothing can negatively affect L.A. property values with any real significance.

    @darkalley: I’m always jealous of you people with the free/cheap bags and boards… 🙂



  31. My LCS has its own pull system when you sign up for it. you also get 20% off of Trades and Issues. its awesome. plus thers statues and just EVERYTHING