Some film critics might claim that it is misguided to reflect on film without also taking into account the phenomenological experience of going to the movies. Could we say something similar about the experience of reading in a comic book shop? What do we stand to gain from reflecting on the relationship between the medium of comics and the phenomenological experience of the comic book store?
What kind of sociability arises when people read standing silently alongside one another? Is the comic book shop still a predominantly masculine space? How does the commingling of readers from different age groups affect the intelligibility of the space to the non-initiated? What appeal does the comic book shop have over online shops? What embodied practices are associated with the space? Do “New Release Wednesdays” still have the same ritual aura they did when we were teenagers? How does the space of the comic book store differ in other cultural contexts?
The medium itself does lend itself to a specific kind of public reading. Comic books, or albums in the Franco-Belgian context, are short enough to be read cover to cover in one sitting (or standing, as the case may be). Unlike magazines, which one tends to read with a distracted eye, or novels, which require much more time to immerse the reader, comics can be quickly immersive without demanding too much concentration. I like to read a newly released comic book cover to cover in the comic book store, for example, and then reread it much more slowly, lingering on visual and narrative details, once home later. But that first read-through, accomplished while reading elbow-to-elbow with other comic book readers, is tinged with an inexplicable degree of shame. Not so much because I’m ashamed to be reading comics but because reading in public mimics the attitude of shame as Silvan Tomkins describes it (the lowering of the eyelids, the lowering of the eyes, the hanging of the head). Like the experience of shame, reading in public “mantles the threshold between introversion and extroversion, between absorption and theatricality,” to cite Eve Sedgwick’s Touching Feeling.
Very much related to the feeling of shame that public reading arouses is the question of age-appropriateness, a question that still haunts the medium itself to the frustration of many. Adolescents and adults rub shoulders in the aisles of the comic book store in a way that is not fully intelligible within heteronormative hierarchies of space and time, art and enjoyment; they rub shoulders in a way that is not quite sexual but neither entirely innocent. Although there is very little open dialogue in these spaces of public reading, there is, nonetheless, a form of sociability between adults and adolescents that occurs in these spaces but it is one that narratives of innocence and experience can only fail to describe. How do you experience the space of the comic book shop?