Where ever I travel, I like to visit comic book shops. Something about finding these havens provides an anchor and reference for a new town that makes me feel at home. Well it wasn’t until I walked into the comic shop and felt that warm, fuzzy feeling that I realized how much I’d been missing that aspect of London. Even though I spent most of my life in London, it was still extremely enjoyable to visit a couple of comic book stores and and talk shop. Seeing fellow comic book readers looking at books and rummaging through back issue bins is an oddly comforting thing. Under the cold, skies of an English winter, the bright colors of a glowing comic book shop bring me back to myself. The heady mix of art and literature, imagery and language is so much of what I love in one place and it is so innately accessible and enjoyable.
On this recent brief trip to London, I managed to squeeze in visits to two comic shops, the relatively new Orbital Comics in the West End, which I’d never been to, and an old favorite of mine from years ago; Mega City Comics.
8 Great Newport Street, London WC2H 7JA, United Kingdom
I found this new(ish) comic shop after seeing my optician (and so you know; the LASIK I had a decade ago needs a tweak, so if you see me at Emerald City Comic Con next week or WonderCon next month and I don’t see you please come over and say hello.) Anyway, with this sobering news about my vision, I stumbling onto a favorite little gallery of mine, or at least it used to be, but things had changed quite dramatically. I have to admit that one of the things that I liked about The Photographer’s Gallery was that it was almost always empty.
In retrospect I can see that an overly quiet gallery probably isn’t good business since it has now moved… but there is good news. Instead of wandering into a quiet little gallery, i found myself in the middle of a bustling comic book shop.
Apparently thriving, situated in between Covent Garden and Leicester Square, this is quite a big store with loads of space separated into a few different areas, each one dedicated to different activities; Art, signings, back issues, independent books… everything has a place of its own.
With the dominant primary colored interior broken up with odd bits of random wallpaper and comic book art, an interesting flow of movement is created which gives the store a playful and relaxed feel. At home near Charing Cross Road and the plethora of used book shops there, this is an appropriate shop for the neighborhood, giving equal prominence to independent and mainstream comic books. When I went in they were about to begin an interview with Paul Cornell and Paul Rainey, and while I couldn’t stay for long, I very much enjoyed meeting Rainey and browsing through his work which they had prominently displayed in their event area. If you’re interested, you can watch the talk yourself on their website.
Mega City Comics
18 Inverness Street, London NW1 7HJ, United Kingdom
Way back when I lived in Camden this became my local shop. Even though I was too reserved to ever do much more than buy my comics and run, I always liked the lighting and open plan of it.
Going back over a decade later I was happy to see the entire place painted a bold red, (I remember it being white or maybe an acidic yellow, but I could be wrong, it is really hard to remember now…) Whatever the case, I love the the warmth of the scuffed red, and the large space can certainly handle it. Overall the shop exterior and interior had that excellent patina of age, (not dirty, just established) with a firm sense of history appropriate to the neighborhood and proximity to a once-punk/rock environment. You see, Camden was always a tourist location, but over the years it has embraced that role at the expense of many of the more independent and avant garde shops, becoming a kind of Disney-fied version of itself, just like a lot of London and New York has. While I don’t dislike this mutation of two of my favorite cities, I still love the old, nasty parts of those cities and that may be one of the reasons that I was so happy to see Mega City still going strong.
It felt like I spent 5 minutes in the shop, but judging by my friends need to go shopping for shoes next door, I can assume that it was closer to an hour. What can I say? I really do love talking comics. Whatever the time, I can say that the people working their were relaxed and friendly, and most importantly, absolutely happy to talk comics with me. On the front counter, Josh told me that he’d started working at Mega City straight out of university and he was very clearly happy to be there. He was enthusiastic and excited about the store and the services that they were able to provide, as well as for the medium in general, with plenty of knowledge and ideas to share. One of the things that I look for in a comic shop is people working there who still have a love for comics and he had it in spades.
He was happy to share ideas and swap opinions which made me feel right at home, “In my opinion” Josh said “Mark Waid is the most underrated writer in comics.” and later he recommended a book based on my taste; “If you like the Boys, you really need to take a look at Crossed, but only the early issues.” I could have spent all day talking with him, but by then my friends had finished shoe shopping and it was time to go in search of tasty lunch nearby (another reason Camden is still a great place to buy comics – proximity to good places to eat and shop.)
This trip back to London was a good reminder of why I appreciate California. No offense to my homeland, but the weather really is remarkable gloomy a lot of the time (especially considering that this is nearly Spring), it really drove home how I got so involved in American comic books in the first place. When I lived in a city without a lot of bright light and color, comic books provided a glimpse into a much bolder place. I’m glad that so many shops are still in business in London and I can’t wait to hit some more of my old favorites (and maybe find a new one or two) next time I’m there.