I found out today that my comic book store, Avalon Comics, is closing. It’s been on the cards for a while now, with the big publishers supplying large chains like Forbidden Planet and raising the prices and the lack of new readers I feared this would happen. As much as movies based on comics are no longer the geekfest they were and it is actually “cool” to know who Peter Parker is there is still a divide between comic book readers and the masses – from both sides. I have had people turn their noses up when I’ve been sat on the tube reading my books with pictures in them. I in turn have rolled my eyes when I’ve been sat in a cinema and some guy who is trying to impress some girl who’s just there to ogle over the guy dressed in a spandex costume incorrectly reference some comiclore. People may list ‘Kick-Ass’ as one of their favourite movies of this year but ask most of those people if they’ve read the comic, or any comic, most would say no. The disconnect between movies and actually reading comics is a big part of the problem.
Another part of the problem is that those who want to read comics have no idea where to begin. Four years ago when I wanted to start reading 52, if it hadn’t been for my best bud telling me about Avalon then I probably never would have read it. There is no way that I would have been bothered to go down to Forbidden Planet every month (or every week since it was a weekly title) to pick it up. I can name six comic book stores in London, there may be one or two more, and I have searched these out. I can probably name you just as many in New York and that is just from walking around and noticing them. You can pick up comics in Barnes & Noble, bookstores here are becoming a dying breed. Even the chains are dying off with only Waterstone’s the last bookstore presence on the high street. Of those stores that I do know, I say with complete unbias that Avalon is by far the best comic book store in London.
I have been to the other stores and there is perhaps only one other that I would have no reservations about. The way that comics are handled in some comic stores, and anyone who has been in the comic stores here know which one I’m referring to, astounds me. I don’t know how anyone who is serious about comics would ever buy from them despite the volumes they carry and the number of variant covers they have. I took a friend of mine into there when he was visiting and warned him that I didn’t like the store and he said as soon as he walked in he understood why. Another store I know keeps their comics in better condition but the guy behind the counter is the comic book guy from the Simpsons, no lie. And the others are so in need of a refurbishment and quite frankly, a clean, that you don’t really want to go in there. Avalon is well organised, the comics are treated and stored properly, and when you walk in there you don’t feel like you’re going to get told off every time you go to touch something. I would in fact, for anyone who likes comic books, make it a point to make sure they went to Avalon to show them exactly what a comic book store should be like.
I knew nothing about comics when I started to read them. From the beginning the guys at Avalon couldn’t have been more lovely. All I had to do was send them an e-mail explaining that I was new to comics but wanted to start reading 52 and they were more than happy to get me the back issues that I had already missed and to set up a standing order for the rest of the series. My order has grown considerably since then and that is mostly due to Mark and Bruce, but not because they push any titles on me that I don’t want – far from it. They know what it is I read, and they know what it is I like to read. Mark will often e-mail me to tell me about a new title that he thinks I’d be interested in and ask me if I want it added to my order, or if he knows that a title is going to spin-off or that there is an existing storyline that ties in then he’ll make sure I don’t miss it. I would have been completely lost without his expertise during all of Final Crisis and the Batman RIP storylines. I trust their opinions implicitly. There is not a single title that they have recommended that has turned out to be a mistake. I have no qualms about going in there or sending them an e-mail to ask their opinion on things. Numerous times they have helped me to decide what to get the Best Bud for his birthday and will order it in for me.
It is not only their comic book knowledge that sets them above every other comic book store I have been in. Mark and Bruce are simply two of the nicest guys you could ever meet. Mark has been working in the store since it opened in 1988 when he was just 15yrs old and he and Bruce have developed a relationship with every one of their customers. I have been into the store perhaps only a dozen times but from the very beginning they have always welcomed me in there with a smile and a, ‘Hi Gemma!’ That level of customer service is almost unheard of. They even send me a Christmas card every year!
A friend of mine said to me once that I was like the Batman of underfunded projects. I only wish I had a fraction of Bruce Wayne’s money because I have known for a long time that if I did, then one of the first things I would do is make sure that Avalon stayed open. Unless my financial situation changes in the next 6mths though it doesn’t look like that will happen. Hopefully they’ll be able to maintain a mail order service. I can’t imagine getting my comics from anywhere else, I wouldn’t want to.
Some of the best things I have read in recent years have been comics, many of them brought to my attention by Mark and Bruce. I have enjoyed every moment I have spent getting lost in the stories on those pages. Buffy moving from the tv screen onto comic book pages. Green Arrow finally getting married to Black Canary. Bruce Wayne “dying” and Dick Grayson winning the battle for the cowl. It breaks my heart to think that so many people won’t know these stories because Mark and Bruce won’t be there to recommend them. When those doors close for the last time on Lavendar Hill it is going to be a sad sad day for this comic book geek.