Everytime there is an opportunity to get away anywhere new, the first place to visit is a comic shop. In the last few years some of the greatest little shops I have come across have been in France, Spain and Switzerland. In some cases they’ve been small and pokey, but man did they stock some fantastic stuff.
There were tons of small press inspired comics, unknown one off prints, Craig Thompson & Adrian Tomine style graphic novels and door stoppers of books with influences of Canadian indie artists. There were many that stood out for me and the range and scope of published comics was phenomenal. What struck me most was the balance between mainstream and what I would consider indie. You actually had to go look for the DC and Marvel titles as there were simply so many other comics that dominated the shelves.
The most recent jaw dropper for me was walking into a small comic shop in Zurich. After pushing past boxes of back issues to get down into the basement I was greeted by a wall full of Soleil hardback comics.
This wall had me stalled for a good 20-30mins with a triangle Cartman smile on my face. I picked up as many comics as possible, my glistening manga style eyes just couldn’t get enough of the fantastic covers and interior glossy pages of sheer outlandish imagination. The only drawback was of course, that it was all in a foreign language. This hasn’t stopped me before. I’ve been in this situation many times, and despite the language issue I still bought the damn things!
Why?…simply because the language didn’t matter. The visuals were strong enough to tell the story and help me along to allow me to enjoy the comic regardless. Sure, it would have been nice to know 100% what on earth was going on but I figured that if I read it enough it would begin to permeate my language neuron and kick start my skills in reading French fluently.
Sky Doll was one of the first French comics that grabbed me in this regard. I leafed through it absorbing the colours and angles and beauty of each panel, mesmerized by it all. Lucky for me Marvel translated it and brought it out in English in recent years, so I got to enjoy it all over again and find out the real story of what happened. For 2012 though I reckon a new goal could be set. I’m going to learn French. Marvel will no doubt bring out more titles in English, I just don’t know that I can wait that long for them.
It isn’t just that I love the titles Soleil produce. There is something distinctly different about comic shops abroad. The same range and choice just doesn’t seem to be present in Ireland. I love comics, especially quirky indie styles and one off graphic novels. However I just don’t find myself enjoying that sense of ‘kid in a candy shop’ at home the same way I do when checking out a comic shop elsewhere. The range that grabs me just doesn’t seem to be present here in this country. I’ll still find something, don’t get me wrong, but the difference is evident when I get to go to a comic shop outside Ireland. It is almost like I can celebrate fully my love for comics because I’m spoiled for choice.
In some cases I wonder if the art of merchandising has simply become more important to comic shops than the art of comic diversity. There are lots of reasons I’m sure, why the shelves are stocked full of dolls, Doctor Who figures and other bits of plastic shaped into your favourite character, but they do tend to dominate a large section of floor space in a comic shop. It sells. I get that. Does it ultimately take from having a comic shop that provides customers with the widest selection or range of comics possible?
Somehow it just feels like other countries have a clear idea on what they want from their comic shop. They want comics. They want to showcase the art of comic creativity in all its quirky, odd, regular, irregular and superhero ways. They offer a fantastic array of choice and there seems to be more of a mainstream acceptance that a comic shop is the same as a good book shop but slightly more specialised.
I do think however that Ireland is opening up to this style. It’s a slow process, and it still isn’t as mainstream as other places but it is slowing changing shape.
Now all we need is a giant wall of Soleil stuff and a French translator and I’ll be a happy bunny.