I recently made a rather significant move from Omaha, Nebraska to Stockholm, Sweden. I accepted a visiting lecturer position in the English Department at Stockholm University, where I am teaching a variety of linguistics courses and supervising student research projects.

One part of moving is that I had to say goodbye to my home comic book store, Legend Comics in Omaha. I had to shut down my pull file, and I already miss being able to sit in the coffee shop there, browsing comics and getting my caffeine buzz on. Back in May, Legend also hosted my book release party for Linguistics and the Study of Comics.

Now that I’m living in Stockholm, I’m on the look-out for comic book stores. There are a few here, and I’ve already visited one, Comics Heaven in Gamla Stan – Stockholm’s “Old Town” neighborhood. This is an old part of town, and it has narrow cobblestone streets and a great deal of European character. The day of my first visit to Comics Heaven was rainy, and several of us had piled inside the store, umbrellas and rain jackets dripping on the floor.

I spent some time browsing through the bins, finding all kinds of comics. Belgian comics. Mainstream US comics. Manga. There were single issues, and there were albums. There were back issues and current issues. I found the complete series (several volumes!) of Rocky, the famous comic strip by Martin Kellerman. This shop also sells games and CDs and t-shirts and lots of other kinds of items. Needless to say, I felt right at home there.

Of the comics I bought on my first visit, one stands out for me as both important and useful. It’s a collection called Vertigo First Taste, originally put out in 2005. As the front cover indicates, readers of this volume sample “six premiere issues from comics’ most provocative imprint”:

  • Y: The Last Man #1
  • 100 Bullets #1
  • Saga of the Swamp Thing #21
  • Transmetropolitan #1
  • Books of Magick: Life During Wartime #1
  • Death: The High Cost of Living #1

I have spent quite some time poring over these stories, and finding them all in one convenient bound volume made me happy. [Granted, some comics scholars or collectors wouldn’t find this collection valuable or useful. They might compare it to the “Hooked on Classics” series of vinyl LPs from the 1980s…a sort of watered down ‘music appreciation’ approach.]

I wasn’t able to bring a lot with me to Stockholm. Most of my academic linguistics books and most of my comics I left in Omaha, boxed up for the time being. So I was glad to find this gem. I have some Alan Moore, and some Neil Gaiman, and some Warren Ellis.

My question for this blog entry is very much on the personal rather than the academic level. What makes you feel at home in your favorite comic book store? Is it finding a comic that you want or that you miss? Is it the very atmosphere of the shop or the smell of the paper? Is it the camaraderie? When is a comic book house a real comic book home?

About Frank Bramlett

Until June 2014, I am a visiting lecturer in the English Department at Stockholm University, where I offer seminars in Sociolinguistics; Language and Gender; and Language and Comics; among others. For Fall 2014, I will return to the English Department at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

4 responses »

  1. roytcook says:

    Frank – Great post. I hope you are settling in and having a great time in Stockholm!

    In my own experience, I tend to have different shops for different purposes. In Minneapolis, for example, there is the shop I think of as the ‘has every recent mainstream trade paperback and new release floppy’ shop (The Source), the shop I think of as the ‘has a great selection of independent stuff’ shop (Big Brain), and the shop I go to for serious back-issue concerns (The Comics College). But my expectation would be that shops in Europe aren’t as varied in their selections and purposes as they might be in the States (in my experience, comic shops in Europe are either all-purpose (with a much better selection of European albums than we typically get in the States), or are occasionally super-hero centric.

    One place where we might differ, however, is in how we THINK of ‘our’ comic shops. You seem to approach them as a kind of community, whereas I tend to treat them purely commercially and functionally – I go in, buy what I want/need, and then leave to go somewhere else to read them. This is likely an effect of the environment – all the shops I mentioned above are cramped, and none have dedicated reading space, seats, or coffee shops. So it is less tempting to treat them as a ‘home’, as you put it.

    This goes back to Michael’s first PPP post, about the function of comic shops as a kind of social space:

    https://pencilpanelpage.wordpress.com/2012/06/14/what-kind-of-social-space-is-the-comic-book-shop/

    I noted there that, as someone who pretty much only reads trade paperbacks, new-release Wednesday has little pull for me (pun intended). As a result, I think that in American comic shops (especially those focusing on mainstream superhero fare), the customer base might be divided into two ‘camps’ – those that show up every Wednesday for their ‘pulls’ (or just to browse the new releases on the racks), and those that wander in more randomly, just flipping through the trades.

    Of course, the dynamics (including the commercial dynamics that lead to things like new-release Wednesday) will be quite different in Europe. I wonder if there are similar distinctions between different types of readers – and different types of ‘shoppers’ – within Swedish comic stores. You’ll have to let us know!

    • Yes, I was thinking about Michael’s post as I wrote mine. And you’re right — I’m attracted to the notion of a bookstore as a community. I’ve had three or four of those kinds of bookstores over the course of my life, where I knew the owners and lots of the customers, where we could bond over a book we liked or worry about a book we didn’t, or talk about politics, etc.

      One thing you might be interested in, Roy, is that when I introduced myself to the owner at Comics Heaven, he made sure to let me know that they have new-release Wednesday! I was surprised because I thought that was just a U.S. thing. My pull file in the U.S. consisted mostly of trades (in that respect my tastes are similar to yours), but I do love to drop by and just browse. Serendipity and all that….

  2. timscomics says:

    Like Roy, I don’t really frequent a particular comics shop because of a sense of community. I’m lucky in that I have two comics shops very close to where I live here in Long Beach, California, and the one I favor is the one that devotes more of its space to comics instead of selling ridiculous figurines of female superheroes. Most of those anatomically incorrect hunks of plastic are just creepy. Plus, the owner of the store I frequent remembers me and my five year old son, making good recommendations for us based on our past purchases.

    My absolute favorite store is Secret Headquarters up in Los Angeles. I love that it looks and feels like a cool, independent bookstore. The staff are always playing great music; there are plenty of great books; and there are comfortable chairs. And the last time I was there, I didn’t see a single hunk of plastic in the whole shop.

  3. Hi, Tim.
    I agree with you! I take it as a very good sign when an owner remembers my name and can even tell me what I like in my pull file before looking at it.

    Secret Headquarters sounds a lot like the bookstores (and communities) that appeal to me. Cool, independent, comfortable, inviting. That’s the kind of environment I aim for in my own home, and I guess that’s what draws me to those kinds of bookstores.

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