Yeah, I should have posted this two weeks ago. I didn't, because I totally suck. But here it is now!
This is the second of two write-ups by Kris Bather of comic book stores in Sydney, New South Wales, which I'm informed is not all that close to Old North Wales, nor do any of the inhabitants speak Welsh. However, I'm also told that a bunch of criminals and hot chicks live there, so it can't be all bad, right? So take it away, Kris!
Last month I visited the other side of my native country and saw what Sydney had to offer. Well, actually, most of what I saw was my hotel room, but I did venture out a couple of times to see what comic shops Sydney possessed. I wrote about Kings comics recently and, like everyone else who's been there, was most impressed. In that article I also mentioned that I ran across Comic Kingdom, located a stone's throw from Kings, and numerous commenters mentioned that Comic Kingdom was … quite different from Kings. I agree.
Comic Kingdom is situated a few doors from a Spanish restaurant, a convenience store and two pubs. I spoke to the manager Clayton, who's been there since 1993. At its height of popularity Kingdom had 15 employees and another store in Bondi. Now there's just 2 at the single location at 71 Liverpool Street, Sydney. The store is open 6 days a week and has been at its current address since 1978. The store itself is actually quite impressive, despite its rather subdued shopfront featuring the oddest assortment of goods in the window you can imagine, including a cardboard standee of 1989's Batman, Annuals devoted to Dandy, and Zac Efron and a biography of famed Australian cricketer Steve Waugh. Equally at home being defined as a collectible or merchandise outlet as a comic shop, Kingdom has a reputation for having (or finding, via eBay or auctions) classic, hidden gems of sequential art. They have interstate and international customers, and they've received surprising mileage from the back issues they've retained since the '80s heyday, as the secret stash contained within the roped off section hints at. In fact they're still selling '80s issues from their original orders back then.
[The store is] about 600 m2, with the ground level catering to collectors, with the oddest assortment of pop culture relics I've ever seen in one place. It's like someone went to a hundred different garage sales, snapping up random items and then threw them on the shelves. It certainly shows its age, and compared to the glistening, clean approach of Kings, Kingdom feels like trying to describe your unusual granddad. It has … "character." There's no music, and there was only a handful of customers when I visited, which meant it was very quiet, or in the words of Adam West's Batman, "a little … too … quiet." I felt comfortable enough in the place, but in most comic shops I've been in, there's a friendly vibe whereby the customers and the owners all feel free enough to talk about their shared passion for sequential art, and the larger world of pop culture. I didn't get that vibe from Kingdom. One browser's girlfriend told him off for staring too long at the vintage Playboys, and one guy was talking to the owner about the evils of Scientology, but that was about it. If the place is a bustling hive of activity with the kind of debates that would mirror online forums at other times, I don't know, but even Clayton said that the customers just come, buy their comics, and leave. I get the sense that it's not the kind of place for lingering conversations at the counter. Clayton admits that things are on the decline and have been for about 15 years. He's seen 10 different comic shops in the area close during that time, but he also admits that they aren't very proactive. The only "event" they hold to get new customers is the occasional 20% off sale. Their best selling series are anything involving X-Men, Avengers, Spider-Man, Batman and Superman, though they do also sell manga and some all-ages titles. Action figures and TPBs are their biggest sellers however. Clayton said that their TPB sales are on the rise, and he has been selling various collections to libraries over the last 8 years. It started with Ashfield Library and now an increasing number of other libraries have joined them. I don't know if this is a strategy that other comic shops use, but I would've assumed libraries would go through their own channels. However, more power to Comic Kingdom. At least they can recommend newbie friendly TPBs.
The seemingly random arrangement of piles will be off putting to some, but it's the kind of shop you just don't see anymore, and flicking through two crammed levels of goods makes the rummaging an enjoyable experience. There is an order to it all, as you'll notice by the hand made signs giving certain characters and genres their own sections. Tarzan gets his own few shelves, Disney comics are grouped together, as are space adventurers like Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon and pulp heroes like the various Doc Savage (and Pat Savage!) series over the decades. Clayton told me it takes at least 2 hours to give the whole store a proper look, but most customers are collectors who know what they want. The collector focus is also evident by the layout itself, seeing as that's where the older comics, including some 50c bargains, are kept. There's also some art and European books, and some individual issues of mini-series are wrapped together in plastic for a little cheaper option than their TPB counterparts.
I had a quick browse but just picked up a few titles for my podcast co-host Mladen, knowing that his tastes differ from mine. I grabbed Animaniacs #26 from 1997 (a horror anthology parody called "Tales from the Tower" and including a story that consists of 2 pages of various characters vomiting at a swap meet, and a monkey paw as a prize in a cereal box) as well as a 1983 Berni Wrightson special from DC, which has perhaps the longest title ever, in The Masterworks Series of Great Comic Book Artists. Finally I threw two Disney titles on my small pile – a 1979 issue of Mickey Mouse from Gold Key (with the obligatory ad for Sea-Monkeys and a manual which claims how to train, and breed, them). In the main tale of dubious accuracy Mickey and Goofy visit the former's Uncle Digger in Boolaboola, Australia. They meet his prospecting partner Cobber and head to Kookuburra Springs. The two villains of the piece have kidnapped Digger's pet kangaroo Hoppity and force Digger to use his unique boomerang to find gold. Of course, it's almost as inaccurate as that much-maligned Simpsons episode (well, maligned here in Oz anyway) in which bad accents ruled, but is enjoyable enough. Also from 1979 was another Disney issue. Ads of the day include the first Star Trek film, arrowheads for 50c, and a Grizzly Adams Iron-On for only $1. Bargain! I grabbed all this for only $16 and I highly doubt I would've found all that in any other place. Most of the older comics aren't wrapped in Mylar but are in surprisingly good condition, but not everything has a price on it which I find particularly annoying, especially for collectors who walk inside with a budget in mind.
Downstairs is also where the odds and ends are displayed on the ground floor, in which old magazines such as Starlog and Cinefastique, Cher and Melissa Ethridge on vinyl, Ally McBeal, Red Dwarf and steam train documentaries on VHS and boardgames are all steps away from each other. You'll find a relic from every medium – novels, films, action figures, and posters. You could walk in there and get a pretty exhaustive education in pop culture trends since the '80s, which means Kingdom resembles a museum than a hip retail outlet. The creaky wide stairs take you to the upper level, with Marvel promo art and great Eerie cover recreations gracing the walls on the way. This is where all the latest comics are, arranged by publisher, along with a few t-shirts, posters and whatnot.
I must say, that they do a great job of keeping the place clean as there's no dust to be seen, despite some of the items surely having been in the same spot for years, like the dodgiest Japanese Robocop knockoff ever made, or the Bratz toys or the display case that offers a veritable history of McDonalds Happy meal collections.
As for the customers, most are men in their 50s and above. Females and teens are rare. Kingdom's website is also in keeping with the store, i.e., not current. Their front page is usually updated with the latest shipment, but it's the only page that changes. Check out their Catalogue page featuring Kyle Baker’s Plastic Man on the cover of a 2004 Previews, for example.
Sure, Comic Kingdom may unfortunately fulfill a stereotype of comic shops to some, in that it appears to be unwelcoming and messy, but I found it to possess an unusual charm.
Thanks again, Kris! It's always fun to read about comic book stores from around the world! As always, if you feel like writing about the comics store you patronize, I'd love to post it here on the blog. Just send me an e-mail at email@example.com. It's easy!