New York Comics Shops and Big Books

Last week I was in New York, New York for our annual family vacation getaway. And since we were in the big city I took the time to visit a few Manhattan comic shops. In reality that meant Forbidden Planet and Midtown Comics Times Square, as Jim Hanley’s Universe closed and I didn’t feel like looking for anything else.

And I should clarify for those that don’t regularly read my columns that big books are, in fact, based on size and not desirability or collectibility. I like oversized art books and seek them out, especially Artist’s Editions and their ilk.

First up was Forbidden Planet. We were trekking across lower Manhattan on our way to Katz’s Delicatessen for lunch and my wife said “do you want to go in?” as I walked right past it.

There was a classic comic shop vibe with a modern sensibility. A good layout with the cash mid-store and the monthly comics along the back wall in a well lit and featured area. Along the top were the oversized volumes.  I was impressed by the sheer variety of Artist’s Edition format books available.

The shop otherwise seemed a bit dark with the lighting. A very good selection of trade paperbacks, hardcovers and graphic novels. Also a solid toy section closer to the door.

Next was Midtown Comics Times Square location. They have three stores but this is the flagship.

The first thing that struck me was a television advertising 50% off graphic novels from midtowncomics.com. As I looked around the store there was none of that sale happening, just on the website. With pickup available. So was I supposed to order some books on my phone from the website and come back to the store?

Very dense store with great lighting; complete retailing wall to wall.

Far less love for the oversized book: a few strung along the top of their shelves and then a small bookcase by the stairs. Because of the odd placement of that shelf, I sat on the stairs to check the lower shelf and an employee immediately came over and said: “sorry no sitting on the stairs”. So that ended my browsing.

Two points struck me as I looked at both stores. First, oversized books are a pain to display and stock so they end up somewhere out of the way, but also out of reach for any interested customer. Second, there seems to be a grouping of comic strips, art books and Artist’s Edition format books that from all appearances are not big sellers.

I try to go to older stores and dig through their dusty selections for that hidden treasure, normally from the 1980s. A classic portfolio, or perhaps a signed and numbered hardcover. That wasn’t happening in Manhattan: the stock at both stores was very modern.

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Scott VanderPloeg
Scott works in I.T. but lives to eat and read. His other ramblings can be found at AE Index and eBabble. Art collection at Comic Art Fans.
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2 Comments

  1. Scott, I work a block from Midtown Grand Central so I can tell you about that location. The layout is much better for browsing and all of the “big books” are easily accessible, but as above in the “art” ghetto, not with the rest of the reprints/graphic novels. At any one time they might have twenty or so of these kinds of books in stock. I don’t think these move quickly, which it is clear they do a strong business in the reprints/graphic novels, hence the relatively small stock of the big books. (I would estimate that they stock about maybe 3000-4000 graphic novels/reprint volumes.)

    In general I am not a big fan of Midtown, but because it is so close I try to stop in once a week just to pick up the vibe. It’s also useful for checking out something mentioned on this site. (Although after last week’s Comic Culture, I wanted to pick up the Archie Halloween issue that was mentioned, and i realized that they stock almost no Archie except reprint volumes.) My observation of Midtown Grand Central is that their staple businesses are local workers buying new issues, and tourists (especially international tourists) buy the graphic novels and reprint volumes. I am probably squandering a resource of hot new issues, variants, etc., because Midtown will still have these in stock as many smaller shops will sell out, but I just can’t get interested in this (see my earlier comments, I am a “true scarcity”-driven collector).

    I am not a big fan of Midtown along the lines of your “old stores…hidden treasures” comment above. Midtown is not really for hardcore comic collectors, but rather pop culture aficionados who like comic stories as well as comic-related merch. I’m not sure how many staff members even know what Amazing Fantasy #15 represents. So similarly they probably couldn’t tell you anything about the contents of the “big books” you are looking for. I am sure that some people in management have some knowledge, but on a day-to-day basis you are not going to find them in the store. Nevertheless I try to support Midtown by buying something every now and then because they are a useful resource and their existence certainly indirectly supports the hardcore collecting community. Like you I would far rather dig through racks and racks of random ancient material looking for a prize, but midtown Manhattan rents won’t allow for this kind of establishment.

  2. WHOAH! Lemme git’dis straight, maaan! Ya went ta NYC, and you DIDNT visit THE Koch Warehouse???? Whaaaa???!!!???!!! Call them up before you go next time, find out when they will be open, sometimes just go there on a Sat morning, but call them up like two weeks beforehand, I did. ALSO, check out the Continuity Comics office in Midtown, Neal Adams was there when I visited, got an office tour from his kid, and got him to sigh a print. BUT PLEASE go to The Mysterious Time Machine in lower Manhatten, PLEASE go on a Wednesday EARLY evening, and you will NOT be disappointed… That Forbidden Planet is generic, so are all the Midtown Comics stores in Manhattan (I heard an employee at one of their stores say to a co-worker ‘gee i just feel like being an assh0le to people today…’, and they laughed, very Millennial, no? You can get that ANY WHERE in this fake country, that ‘entitlement’ to be mean… Mysterious Time Machine, and THE Koch Warehouse are both old school greats, avoid the mass merchandising crap that make up most of the former-USA, regardless of whether you are in Manhattan, or not…
    :^D Peace

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