Used Book Stores as Precursors to Comic Book Stores


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Sam Osherow at Jaffe's

A while back there was a discussion on the Comics Journal message board about the “first” comic book store. Two things need to be said about this conversation:

1) There’s some great research into the history of comic book stores and the direct market being done by Bob Beerbohm, so we should look forward to his findings.

2) The search for firstness seems simpleminded to me, whether it’s the first comics, the first comic strip or the first comic book. The fact is cultural institutions and forms don’t just emerge full-blown but always evolve out of earlier institutions and forms. So the first of anything can be disputed.

3) The comic book store had many precursors, including the used book store and the head shop. We need to study the history of these institutions to figure out where the comic book store came from.

In issue 57 (2000) of Canadian Notes and Queries (my favorite literary magazine), Don McLeod has a great article about Jaffe’s Book and Music Exchange in Calgary. That’s where Don used to buy old comic books. He would go on to become a distinguished expert on Canadian book history, as well as an editor and writer. With Don’s permission, I’ve scanned his article, which is well worth reading for those interested in the pre-history of comic book stores.

Don McLeod's article page 1

Don McLeod article page 2

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11 Responses to “Used Book Stores as Precursors to Comic Book Stores”
  1. Craig Fischer says:

    That’s a lovely tribute to Jaffe’s.

    It’s absolutely true that used book stores were precursors to today’s comic shops. Growing up on the north side of Buffalo, NY, I had experiences similar to McLeod’s. Three blocks from my house, on the busiest commercial street in my neighborhood (Hertel Avenue), there was a small used bookstore—Grant New and Used Books—that also sold comics. My friends and I would get the latest issues of, say, KAMANDI there, but I also remember buying various paperbacks (LORD OF THE FLIES, MAGISTER LUDI, and lots of science fiction, like RITE OF PASSAGE and the two-book set of AGAIN, DANGEROUS VISIONS) at Grant’s too.

    What amazes me is the sense of “old urbanism” of my old Buffalo neighborhood. I could walk to Hertel Avenue in 10 minutes, and go to Grant’s, or a movie theater that showed Saturday matinees, or an Italian grocery, or a barber shop, or various ethnic restaurants. Now I live in a neighborhood that doesn’t even have sidewalks.

  2. John Adcock says:

    Going back further into the past circa 1958, in Trail, British Columbia, second-hand comics and pocket books were sold at the combination Greyhound/taxi-stand. I can recall picking up black and white Canadian editions of the Fawcett line of comics for a nickel, including a Captain Marvel story featuring Tawny the Tiger, which I read on Saturday bus trips to Nelson. Another fruitful source for second-hand comics was the IODE (International Order of the Daughters of the Empire) thrift shop.

  3. Jeet Heer says:

    Thanks Craig and John, for the resonant memories. I do thing “old urbanism” is part of the story. Jane Jacobs once noted that one of the functions of poorer neighborhoods is to house used book stores.

  4. inkstuds says:

    George Metzger did a great strip for Fog City Comix about the used bookstore he first bought comics at. I can send you copy if you havent seen it.

  5. patrick ford says:

    Craig didn’t mention it, but he recently placed a nice post about a used bookstore at the Thought Balloonists blog.

  6. bradm says:

    Hey Jeet. Love the post (as usual). This made me think of a clip from the CBC archives that documents canada’s “first” comic shop, Memory Lane Books in Toronto — run by Captain George Henderson. In the end, you’re claim is right — no ne can likley claim the title of “first past the post.” BUt this clip is fun to watch anyway — — Particularily because i think it may include the first comics nerd (about 2/3 of the way in). Where is he now, i ask?

  7. Isaac P. says:

    Where I grew up there were at least 3 decent comic shops that were easy to get to, in addition to comics still being available at c-stores and newsstands. But the best place to go for silver age and older rarities was Utah Book and Magazine downtown. The comics were in the back in a locked room so that kids wouldn’t get in and mess with them. In my later teens, I got them to let me in once and got to take a supervised look around. I traded the debut issues of Carnage from Amazing Spider-Man for a few of the then hot Valiant issues. Last time I was in town the comics room was still there, but stuffed to the gills with boxes.

  8. Jeet Heer says:

    @Inkstuds. Hey Robin, instead of sending me the Metzger strip why don’t you post it online, then we can all see?

  9. nick caputo says:

    Hi Jeet,

    Growing up in Brooklyn in the 1960’s I haunted an array of old bookstores that sold comic books. They All had a unique personality as you walked into a world that housed not only familiar (and unfamiliar) comics, but paperbacks, records, all types of old magazines and stuff you knew you shouldn’t be looking at (but snuck a peek!). Many of them were dusty and messy, but it didn’t matter to my brother and frieds who were hunting for unseen treasures.

    It was a part of the urban landscape that has faded away , and while I later frequented many comic shops, none of them had the appeal of stores that usually were named (or only known by) the proprietors names, such as Ruth and Sam’s, Pat’s and Kirk’s. It was a different time, one that will never be duplicated. And maybe it’s best that way.

    Jeet, I always enjoy your expertly written and historical essays.

    Nick Caputo

  10. Jeet Heer says:

    Hey Nick — thanks for the kind words, much appreciated. It’s true that the urban book store looks like it’s a dying institution, the victim of rising rents and the rise of internet (lots of book dealers now live in the countryside where rent is cheap and sell books online). Canadian Notes and Queries has published a number of really great essays on and interviews with Canadian used book store owners. These essays would make a great book, a memorial to a great and dying institution.

  11. iestyn says:

    I think the thing that i miss most in my life is the time wehre i could go into a second hand book store and jus tlook through stuff and see what took my interest.

    What we’re left with is the need for people to introduce us to new and exciting things becfause with the internet you can’t just find things you have to know about them to go to them.

    It’s the loss of that suddenly finding something magical and never known and going away with it that changes the tenor of enjoyng comics reading from what was – really – comics collecting

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