Okay, so I visited Excalibur in September, when I was in Portland for the Rose City Comic Con. So yeah, this is a little bit late. That’s just the way it is!
When I moved to Portland, in 1993, it took me a little while to find a comic book store that I really liked. I found one downtown on Burnside (it was around 11th Avenue or so), and it wasn’t bad, although parking was no fun. I found Things From Another World, down in Milwaukie (it’s across the street from Dark Horse) and the one in Hollywood, but they never really grabbed me and made me feel like it was the place to buy my comics. Then I found Excalibur. It sits on the south side of Hawthorne Boulevard, a bit to the west of the truly trendy part of the boulevard (which runs from about 30th to 39th – now known at Cesar Chavez Blvd.), and I’m not completely sure how I found it. But it remains my favorite comic book store ever (with apologies to my current store, which is pretty neat). Last September, when I went back to Portland for the first time since 2001, I made sure to visit Excalibur, and it’s as awesome as ever.
I spoke briefly to Peter Fagnant, the owner, who last year celebrated the store’s 40th anniversary. The store started on 39th and Powell as a used book store, but eventually Peter switched to comics, and I didn’t see any old paperbacks there anymore, although I forgot to ask him if he still sells them (when I went there in the Nineties, they still had spinner racks of old sci-fi and fantasy paperbacks – I like to assume Greg Hatcher visited there once and found something he liked). Excalibur has a huge back stock, and they order a lot of trades and graphic novels that are off the beaten path a little. They also stock a lot of local stuff, which is always a fun feature of comic book stores around the country – I’m certainly not going to find tiny Portland comics here in Arizona, and they’re not going to have some of the self-published stuff from people here, so it’s always neat to browse those comics to see if anything jumps out. Their back issues are reasonably priced, too, which is always nice.
Peter’s daughter helps him run the store (I didn’t meet her), and he told me that the fact that he has daughters has always made him sensitive to the male chauvinism of comics and comics retailing. He said that for many years, he has made Excalibur female-friendly, and while it wasn’t terribly crowded while I was in there, half the customers were women. He said his customer base in about 30% female, which seems like a pretty healthy percentage. Peter, who’s a bit of an old hippie, has always struck me as a very inclusive dude, and he often hired young women to work at the store, so I assume he’s not just blowing smoke.
The staff at Excalibur gets to know their regular customers pretty well, and that’s one reason I like the store so much. For the first decade or so or my comics-buying habit (1988-1998), I didn’t stray too far outside of the DC/Marvel comfort zone. I mean, I knew about Alan Moore and Bill Sienkiewicz, so I got Big Numbers and From Hell, but I didn’t really dig deep into what even publishers like Dark Horse and Image (after they started up) had to offer. I didn’t know what was coming out, I just showed up at the comics store on Friday (then Thursday, then Wednesday) and bought what I liked. Excalibur changed that, as they have a little program where they notice what creators you are interested in and suggest other titles by those creators or what genres you like and suggest other titles in those genres. It was this that got me to start paying attention to creators more, and it led me to so many indie titles and away from superhero stuff, and while I probably would have gotten there eventually, it still appreciate the staff for pointing me in that direction.
Here are some pictures, beginning with one I took in March 1999, when I put black-and-white film in my camera and walked around Portland for a while taking “art” photos:
They remodeled since then:
Here’s the exterior:
If you ever happen to be in Portland, I encourage you to head on over to Excalibur (at 2444 SE Hawthorne) and check it out. You can visit their web page (linked to above), their Facebook page, or you can even follow them on Twitter. My visit last year just re-affirmed that it’s my favorite comic book store. It’s just another reason I’m bummed that I ever left Portland.
As always, if you have a comic book store you dig and want to write something about it, I’ll be happy to post it here on the blog. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have something you want to say!
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