By Kevin Czap
When I took a trip to New York City at the end of last year, one of the strongest impressions I came away with was about the comic shops. I wasn’t able to go to every single one, but that’s beside the point. This is a city that loves comics in the universal sense. Sure you’ve got Desert Island covering the fringes and Bergen Street which is a handsome, diverse boutique, but even Midtown and Forbidden Planet, the more mainstream-y stores, had a selection that made me weep from euphoria. Who needs the internet in such a place?
Of course, the separation anxiety began to seep in as I returned home to Cleveland. New York is probably an unhealthy comparison for any city, but sometimes you can’t keep those kind of thoughts out. Since then I’ve heard other people talk about the less-than-diverse offerings in their own cities, further establishing that week in the big city as a special case. Still, it got me thinking. If you’ve been checking out my posts here on the Cube, you’ll know that I’ve been all about local scenes lately, so it makes sense that my thoughts have been centering on the make-up of Cleveland’s comics scene. Comics shops, being the physical locations of input, are a large part of any scene’s ecosystem, naturally.
Over the 8 years I’ve lived here, my visits to each of the various shops has been intermittent. This was largely because of the few stores there are, each one is spread out across the various neighboring suburbs, with about a 20 minute drive between them. Add the fact that most of us kids didn’t have cars and you have the result of being taken to some far-off store only once in a blue moon. When I tried to return to the first Cleveland store I ever went to sometime last year, I found it was now selling plumbing hardware. So yeah, things change. I now can drive and own a car, and live a few blocks away from a comic shop. While it certainly does its best, and has been doing well for decades, their selection isn’t always my cup of tea. Finally deciding to go forth and see what this city has to offer in comparison, I did just that and have returned to report to you cats and mice what I learned. Here we go:
4847 Robinhood Drive, Willoughby | website
The home base, Comic Heaven puts in a solid effort. Mostly a superhero shop, they usually get the Big Two and a handful of popular mainstream titles, with the occasional experiment thrown in (for example, Glamorpuss). There’s a pretty fair selection of back issues and the walls are well-stocked with trades, although the organization isn’t readily apparent. The sizeable amount of manga they had in the past has dwindled to just over a bookshelf, but the good news is a lot of what they still have is on sale for super cheap. There’s also t-shirts, role playing games and collectors items if that’s something you are into. I always gravitate towards the alt/art comics section, which is a couple selves worth of various random titles collected over the years, including your Wilsons and Acme Novelty Librarys and your Jasons. Interesting stuff but not too many “must own” pieces, in my opinion. The clerks are pleasant and it’s a nice place to stroll into, but I usually find myself going there based on proximity and a feeling of responsibility to my surrounding area.
Comics & Friends
7850 Mentor Avenue, Mentor | website
This store opened up about a year or two ago in the mall. Super-hero oriented, there’s more of a curated quality to the alt books they do have. Overall, there’s a lot of kid friendly stuff, as the name might imply. The real power to this shop, though, are the old and rare comics they have. Comics & Friends was started up by a serious collector, and the stuff they have reflects that. Collectors prices, of course, but it’s still pretty cool to see all the old books they’ve got, again including a lot of kids and licensed stuff. I was really impressed by the old comics and fan magazines they have, including issues from the first volume of Heavy Metal.
5646 Mayfield Road, Cleveland
There’s a reason comics gets second billing. This is mostly a place where folks get together to play card games, despite the walls lined with trade paperbacks. This is where I got my copy of V for Vendetta several years ago, but other than that, there hasn’t been much of a reason to stop over. They had a couple unorganized boxes of back issues that had some surprising stuff, and I was excited to walk away with the complete run of Prez. The shopkeep was very nice, so that’s always a plus.
A & A Comics
5021 Turney Road, Cleveland
I went to this place years ago when my good buddy Hector Andres Mountains surprised me with a Cleveland visit. It’s changed a lot since then, but I have to give it mad props for not only having the newest issue of Orc Stain but also several back issues, so I was able to catch up on most of the ones I’ve missed (still need #3). This is more of a manga and anime store (and super heroes, of course) with some gaming stuff. Lots and lots of action figures. It seems like the kind of place if you spend some extra time in you can find something pretty cool. Quite a bit of back issues, though they don’t seem to go too far back in time.
B & L Comics Cards & Nostalgia
5591 Ridge Road, Parma
Man, Parma, for as much shit as they get from the rest of Cleveland, they are lucky. This shop was not on my original itinerary, but when I passed it, several blocks before it was supposed to appear (or so I thought) I had to stop in. Apparently there are two comic stores on the same street! This little store is mostly back issues, of a fairly diverse character. Lots of old Dell and Gold Key stuff, which I really like, if only for the great covers. I was very tempted to buy a copy of The Harlem Globetrotters they had on the wall…
North Coast Nostalgia
5853 Ridge Road, Parma | Facebook page
…and then a couple blocks down we have this gem. Apparently this was voted best comic shop in the city at some point in the recent past, and it’s not difficult to see where that judgement was coming from. Again, mostly back issues, but with a much more careful selection of important marks in comics history. The best part is that almost everything was marked down. Many issues were packaged as full runs, and I came close to picking up Halo Jones and Joe Kubert’s Rag Man. This was maybe the only place that had any Franco-Belgian albums, such as Asterix and Tin Tin. Lots of archived collections as well. Going off of the Nostalgia theme, there’s also a lot of older memorabilia that has nothing to do with comics, but are on a more mainstream pop cultural tip (I Love Lucy and Bing Crosby, stuff like that). I found some really swell stuff in the quarter bins, like an old Dark Horse Presents with a section of Madwoman of the Sacred Heart.
Carol & John’s Comic Book Shop
17462 Lorain Ave, Cleveland | website
Have to give these guys credit for hiring a talented graphic designer to handle their identity work. This is one of those modern comics shops, with a very comfortable atmosphere, wide open space, fancy bookcases and a section for kids to hang out and read age-suitable comics. Not to mention all clearly labeled, which is not always a given, it seems. While they focus mainly on the basic single issues, the aforementioned bookcases are packed tight with all manner of collections, trades, and graphic novels, including the really beautiful ones that Fanta and D&Q are putting out lately. The owners, Carol (who was not there when I went) and John, are very pleasant people, putting an accessible face on the comics selling business, the type who will recommend you a book and then hunt it down to show you. A long-standing establishment in the area (though quite a drive out from where I am), they recently moved to new digs, which they make much better use of then the grungy video store that was the former occupant.
Astound Comics Secret Surfin’ Spot
25943 Detroit Road (In the back), Westlake | website
The farthest shop on my map, Astound made a very very good first impression on me years and years ago. It was one of the first comic stores that had a vast and interesting collection of independent and alt comics. Because of its distance, I never got to return before they began a moving process, at which point things were a lot less organized and a lot of the great books must have been packed up. Anyway, these are the guys who founded and put on Cleveland’s Genghis Con, so it’s clear that the owner, Scott Rudge, has an appreciation for the small press and the comics creator. He usually sells the good stuff out in the hall way during Genghis Con, so I’ve no doubts about his taste level (which, as diverse as it is, doesn’t stray too far into the fringes. You’ll find AdHouse, but no such luck with PictureBox).
Anyway, as I mentioned, they’ve moved, and the nature of the store has changed drastically. Now located in the backside of the building, with only a tiny sign on the backdoor and a message on their website to indicate the switch, it’s less a comic book store and more of a warehouse. There is a whole lot of amazing stuff here, for sure, but you pretty much have to hunt for all of it. Full long boxes are stacked on top of each other 5 deep, without any labeling system or usually indication of price. This combined with the somewhat clandestine location makes it clear that this is for the Serious Comics Folk only. Finding what you want here requires patience, time and space (which is constrained by the physical layout). That said, this is pretty much the only shop in the area that sells minis, mostly purchased from tablers at Genghis Con. If you’re a fan of John G as I am, you’re in luck as pretty much everything he’s done is in stock here. But again, you have to dig.
Mac’s Backs Paperbacks
1820 Coventry Road, Cleveland Heights | website
So those are all the actual comic book stores. Subtle nuances from shop to shop, but for the most part they’re all of the same type, generally. Whatever the comics-buying populace of Northeast Ohio thinks about the world of the comics medium, it would seem to be not so diverse. But there’s other places to go, as well. On Coventry, the great bookstore Mac’s Backs has a small but sweet bunch of comics. I saw Young Lions there once! You can usually bet on Harvey Pekar being well represented (it was his neighborhood store, and he was friendly with the owners), as well as other Cleveland-originals Peter Kuper and Derf. Somewhat recently, they seem to have purchased a collection of floppies from someone who was a big fan of Star Trek comics. So, you know, there’s that if you’re into it. Aside from comics, the shop’s got a great collection of prose and poetry, and even a basket of zines. A highly recommended stop on any visit to the city, especially the literary types.
1814 Coventry Road, Cleveland Heights | website
Right next door is the novelty and nostalgia shop Big Fun, which has it’s own custom filing cabinets full of super-hero back issues. I’ve already cleaned them out of Bill Sienkiewicz era New Mutants, but there’s other good stuff as well.
Visible Voices Books
1023 Kenilworth Road, Tremont | website
And finally we have this beautiful little store in beautiful little Tremont. The kind of store of store any progressive or yuppie would love to spend an hour or two in, they’ve also got an interesting collection of GNs. The first time I ever went I walked out with a copy of Brian Chippendale’s Maggots, so that should give you an idea that you can get books here you won’t find anywhere else in the city. To further supply the context, the comics section is right next to the rock and roll section. These dudes know what’s up.
So there’s my tour of the city’s comic shops. Keep in mind that this is told mostly from an outsider’s point of view – I did some research beforehand, but there’s every possibility there are some great hidden treasure troves that you need to be a real Cleveland aficionado to know about. Also there are plenty of used bookstores and vintage shops, like Suite Lorain, that tend to have more Playboys and Mads than strict comics, but every now and then you can find gold. If I find anything good in the future, or if you savvy Clevelanders out there have any recommendations, I’ll make an addendum to this list.
The title of this post and the first image is from Ed Rusha’s Every Building on Sunset Strip, one of my favorite art pieces/handmade books.