We’re living in an age where comics, however rare, however collectible, however new, are really just a swipe away on a smartphone, which is pretty awesome… sometimes. But what about the feel of setting foot into an actual comic book store? What about the bin rifling, the collectible figurine gawking, the retro gumball machines in the doorway experience that says so much about who we are as a culture? You would think that with all the online bargains, places like that would be long defunct. But they aren’t. In fact, cool comic book hangouts are on the rise. They’re doing better than ever.
Would you like to know why? It’s because they’re powered by readers who value experience over a price tag. So while the bookstores have all but faded into the background of society, the comic book store, with its basement gaming parties and secret Magic: The Gathering meeting nights, lives on.
Even though we still value these stores, the accessibility and convenience of Internet purchasing have changed what we’re shopping for. We used to be shopping for comics, just comics, which gave the megastores a major edge. But we don’t have to be nearly so picky now that the world has morphed into a great big shopping oyster where you don’t even have to leave your living room in order to uncover a collector’s edition.
Comic book shopping is all about the experience. It’s about finding those little obscure shops with a million “secret rooms” and pulling up to the curb with butterflies, wondering what’s inside. It’s about rediscovering our love of the classics and developing a taste for variety. Today, we’re journeying into indie territory; we’re flipping through the pages of unorthodox graphic novels and venturing past the caped heroes. Some of us are looking for the Silver Age legends. Some of us just want the newest thing hitting the racks. But all of us who are pulling up into comic book shop parking lots today are seeking something special. We’re seeking a community, a place where we can, as Philadelphia shop owner Ariell Johnson so aptly put it, “lay out our nerd stash” with pride.
Dragon’s Lair Comics & Fantasy, Austin, TX
If the gaming aspect of nerddom appeals to you and you like a side of humor on your comic book jaunts, it’s high time you gathered at the Dragon’s Lair. This shop gains notoriety because of all of the cool nerdy things that are happening between these walls. An event is set to take place each and every night in this fine establishment. There’s no shortage of comics or comic paraphernalia when the dice are being tossed around, either. Here, you’ll find a wide array of comics, toys, posters, figurines; even comic book high heels are in stock. Not sure where to turn next on your journey through the comic realm? Check out their rotating light box of staff selections.
Isotope, The Comic Book Lounge, San Francisco, CA
The name really says it all, but the jaw-dropping interior alone is worth a second look or better yet, a second lounge. Floor-to-ceiling windows, oversized, colorful sofas, velvet ropes, and superhero costumes are all part of the vibe. This place has been rated the best comic book store by the San Francisco Bay Guardian numerous times and it’s super easy to understand why. A grand collection of well-curated, alphabetized comics awaits in a setting that showcases everything from indie events to commercial affairs. Like other shops on this list, it’s surrounded by geeky hangouts, including a vintage arcade machine shop. They also host comic book crafting classes. Look up for a glimpse of the toilet seat art. Yes. Toilet seat art. Need we say more?
Mile High Comics, Denver, CO
Comic booking in the Rocky Mountains, anyone? This shop is truly the tops when it comes to that. The 45,000-square-foot superstore known as Mile High Comics features over 10 million comic books, making it the largest collection in the nation. Their inventory doesn’t stop at comic books, either. Much like the store itself, which the owner is anticipating adding on to as we speak, the collection is ever growing. Toys, games, merchandise and everything else a geek could ask for are featured here at Mile High.
Austin Books & Comics, Austin, TX
Austin Books & Comics truly is a world of fantasy for fans of comic book culture. Housed in an unsuspecting strip mall (like all the coolest shops usually are) this award-winning pit stop is guaranteed to inspire adventure. The extensive selection of comics, graphic novels, toys, figurines, and board games has kept this facility up and running since the 1970s - that makes it the longest-running pop culture store in central Texas. Be on the lookout for their art shows, toy shows, book signings, and general bits of daunting dorkery.