Choose Your Own Comics Shop
It’s Tuesday, 4:17 pm. Outside, the air is crisp and clear, and you can feel each breath as it rushes to fill your expanding lungs. You pull your jacket tighter. You had rushed quick as you could to Lewisburg, PA; three days ago, your friend had let you know about a comic shop in the town that you hadn’t known existed. You’re excited to see what it has to offer. The shop is on South 3rd Street, just off Market Street. When you arrive, you’re struck by how much it resembles a house. A large sign hangs out front, proudly proclaiming the name of the store to the world: Comics Metropolis. There’s a short set of stairs leading up to the entrance.
When you open the door, a chime sounds, and you hear a greeting from the room to your right. You peek your head in. The room is full of shelves stocked with thousands of comic books; at the front of the room is the counter, where a jovial gentleman sits: Albert Payne, one of the owners of the store. You return the greeting, still standing in the entryway of the store. There’s a set of stairs in front of you, a couple boxes printed with images of various superheroes, and a small kiosk populated by comics inspired by Disney. To your left, you see a room full of action figures. Ceiling-high shelves are stocked with figures from comics and popular movies, all of varying sizes and detail. You have two options before you: to the left or the right?
You head into the gaming room, and inside is Laura Payne, the other owner of the store, sorting comics on the long wooden table. She tells you that this is what they do with shipments every Tuesday; Comics Metropolis is one of the few comic stores that bags and boards comics free of charge for customers, and all comics on the shelve are wrapped up to prevent damage.
The room has the perfect feel for a room you would love to play games in, with the big windows and spacious area. It fits the tabletop gamer aesthetic you’re familiar with fantastically. As you watch Laura carefully package each comic book, you recall an essay you had read in one of your classes: “Unpacking My Library” by Walter Benjamin, from his book Illuminations. The essay deals with, at parts, the methods and reasoning behind why people collect things, primarily books. Benjamin writes “I am not exaggerating when I say that to a true collector the acquisition of an old book is its rebirth” (Benjamin, 61). This particular passage from the essay strikes you as you recall the numerous old comics decorating the walls, in particular that which Albert had shown you as you entered the main comics room.
The comic is only worth so much as it is because it’s important to somebody. Here, in the store, it sits, doing nothing but looking pretty, but if and when someone takes the effort to procure it, the comic will be given new life. It will impact someone’s life, whether they be a lifelong fan or a new collector. New meanin g will be attributed to it. When it was printed, it was merely a fun story for children. Now, however, it harkens back to the golden age, to when you could grab a comic from a newsstand for a nickel and have a fun afternoon with your friends reading about how Spider-Man thwarts the villainous Electro. To the buyer, that comic means so much more in their possession than it does growing dusty on a shelf.
You head to the room decorated with action figures. The center of the room is dominated by a large display of figures, all in their boxes, like a wall of trophies. Rows and rows of identical figures hang from white metal hooks. The far wall houses an impressive collection of Funko Pop! figurines on the lower half of the wall, the top dedicated to impressive Transformer models.
All four corners of the room have a dedicated shelf. One is full of excess Funko Pop! characters and action figure sets. To the left of the entrance to the room is a shelf dedicated to the famous faces of Marvel Comics.
The thing surprising about this room’s book display is the fact that it contains real paperback books. You hadn’t expected to find real books in a comic books shop, and yet here you stand, face to face with that exact situation. You look closely at the books, and notice that each of them seem to bear the crest of the Warhammer 40,000 series. Warhammer 40,000 is a multi-form spanning science fiction/fantasy world, encompassing books, buildable models, and video games.
You gaze around the room in awe of the sheer number of different action figures that exist, the store’s inventory not nearly exhaustive, and recall a passage from James Clifford’s book Collections. The passage comes from the chapter “On Collecting Art and Culture”: “Thus the self that must possess but cannot have it all learns to select, order, classify in hierarchies–to make “good” collections” (Clifford, 218). Clifford is talking here about the way that people decide what is worth collecting. Many of these action figures are certainly fit for collecting, and as you glance around the room, you remember that action figures are one of the most highly sought after collectibles on the market; rare and mint-condition figures can sell for over seven thousand dollars.
To you, Clifford’s essay hits right at home here, especially surrounded by action figures as you currently are. The only reason that these items wind up costing so much is that they mean something to somebody, that they ignite within individuals “an excessive, sometimes even rapacious need to have” and so these items are increased in their monetary value because of the cultural value that they have to people. You wonder if any of the figures around you will someday fetch such a high price.
The small room off of the action figure room piques your interest, and you pop your head in. It is stocked full of roleplaying tabletop games, with everything from Dungeons and Dragons miniatures and guides to five levels of expansions for Betrayal at the House on the Hill. The room also features a collection of Star Wars and Warhammer 40K scale models to build and paint, with a display dedicated to the decorating tools.
You head to the comics room. You give Albert a nod where he sits behind the register, and notice through the glass casing that there are some comics inside. You head closer to examine them.
“These are some of our most expensive comics,” Albert says. “Do you want to take a closer look at our most expensive?” Without waiting for an answer, he reaches under the counter and pulls out a pristine edition of The Amazing Spider-Man. It’s the introduction of Electro. “Character introductions always sell for a lot. This particular comic is worth six-hundred dollars. Most expensive one we have here.”
Suitably impressed, you throw a glance around the walls of the comic room. There are comics in hard plastic sleeves lining the walls, each of them adorned with a hefty price tag. These comics all seem to be worth at least twenty dollars, some reaching up to over one hundred dollars.
The comics themselves fill all the shelves in the room. In the back right corner, you catch sight of the newest editions of current comics series, all organized alphabetically, and as you follow the shelves, you notice they travel around the shop clockwise. The big shelf taking up the middle of the room is also full of comics. You move to the back of the room, close to the second room opened off of the comic room, and find that the shelf in the middle is full of older comics. there are drawers all along the bottom of the shelf, also full of comics. These comics too are organized alphabetically but circle the room counterclockwise.
This layout is smart. You realize that if someone were to be checking out these old comics, they would be forced to move to the back of the room and circle around until they reach the shelf dedicated to the newest releases. A wanderer would pass every comic in the store, and with the eye-catching covers these issues all have, they would most likely be sucked into purchasing more than they bargained for. You yourself find your eyes drawn to the myriad covers in the room. They truly are beautiful.
The back wall has space dedicated to publications other than superhero comics, and you are drawn over to these shelves. There are, of course, superhero comics on these shelves, but contained in omnibuses rather than individual issues. Much more of the shelves are dedicated to graphic novels, and you spy a graphic adaptation of Moby Dick. There are manga high up on the shelves, and a window separates the two shelves of graphic novels. You can explore the second room branching off this one, or you can head to the other side of the store. Wherever it is you wind up heading, you know you’ll feel at home in Comics Metropolis.
All photos courtesy of Jacob Tashoff and Chris Naiman
Benjamin, Walter. “Unpacking My Bookstore.” Illuminations. Mariner Books, 2018.
Clifford, James. “On Collecting Arts and Culture.” Harvard University Press, 1988.