The Used Book Store

When I’m out and about, one of the things I like to do is pop into the used book store. Not only can you find some really good deals, but you can also find some unique items as well. In the past, I’ve been fortunate enough to find rare out of print material from my childhood that I just wanted to have again. Often, this material would have little or no monetary value and would be difficult to track down even on eBay.

It wasn’t too long ago that you could find “key” comics for next to nothing at the used book store. I remember picking up VF copies of Luke Cage #1 for only a dollar and older books like Fantastic Four #52 for about five dollars. Things have changed and the back issue market is booming again. These days, the used book stores have been picked clean or have become comic shops themselves with fully priced books and a diverse, well stocked offering of cultural print material, including newer trades and graphic novels. I am, of course, referring to the local chain BMV books, in downtown Toronto, which has been a great draw for comic collectors for over a decade now.
One of the things that I still keep an eye out for are signed books. I don’t normally chase creatives and I don’t have the patience to wait in line for a signature. But, whenever I come across a personalized book at the used book store I’m quick to pick it up. There is a satisfying feeling for me in finding something that was touched by the creator. Perhaps it’s the thrill of the hunt or the idea that the signature makes the item unique from all the other prints. Even more thrilling is to come across an original sketch. Often done on the spur of the moment, these sketches tend to be spontaneous, concise and unpolished:

A beautifully designed book, I was delighted by this sketch of Asterios Polyp and signed by Mazzucchelli, thanks to someone named Bill.

Asterios is a graphic novel by David Mazzucchelli. An unusual offering considering Mazzucchelli is best known for his work on Batman Year One or Daredevil Born Again. Essentially a love story about opposite personality types, the book is well designed and rich with symbolism.

This small self portrait of Adrian Tomine is so cleanly rendered, at first glance, I thought it was printed. This book is nicely laid out with beautiful, clean typography.

New York Drawings by Adrian Tomine was a bit of a disappointment for me. When this book was first announced, I was hoping for more of Tomine’s unique narrative insights but it’s essentially a collection of his commissions. Still, his work is gorgeous to look at, crafted with care and sensitivity, and his concepts for the New Yorker magazine are deep so I had to add this book to my Tomine collection.

A partial sketch of Parker, looking mean and gritty with Darwyn’s bold signature. I can’t believe people passed this up!

Parker, the Hunter by Darwyn Cooke is the first in a series of retelling of Richard Stark’s (aka Donald Westlake) 1960’s crime novels. Beautifully interpreted into graphic form, the recent passing of Darwyn Cooke makes his touch all the more special.

All of Seth’s books tend to be nicely designed and well thought out. From fly leaf patterns to the choice of paper, size, colour etc. Even the hand lettering demonstrates fine craftsmanship. Thanks to Jesse, I’ve replaced my previous copy with this personalized copy.

Clyde Fans by Seth (aka Gregory Gallant) is a trepidatious recount of a fan salesman in small town Ontario. Not the most exciting concept for a story but if you’re a fan of Seth’s work, you’ll be delighted by his melancholy portrayal of Simon, the main character, as he struggles with his anxiety. Something that every sales person can relate to. And typical of Seth’s work, this book reeks of nostalgia, nuanced humour and quirky mannerism that should have you smiling.

This scratchy pen drawing by Seth almost borders on being a doodle. Thanks Imran… this book now has a new home.

It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken is another book by Seth where in which he, as the main character, attempts to track down a forgotten New Yorker cartoonist. I already owned a hard cover edition of this book but when I came across this personalized original sketch in a paperback edition a few years back I had to have it. The sketch reads “For Imran, Seth 2001”. I put this book away and had forgotten about it. Since then, I actually met the previous owner, Imran, and had become friends. He has a huge collection of indy books that he’s been slowly pairing down. It wasn’t until I looked at this book again for this write up that I realized this was his book. Serendipity, I guess.
The used book store may no longer be the gold mine for under priced “key” comics that it use to be, but my interests are broad enough that I can literally spend the whole day rummaging through art books to trade magazines. I view these as time capsules of our cultural past that reflects the things that held our interest not too long ago. As well, many used book stores also carry newer items or overstocked items that get sent back. Normally, the distributor would send these out to be destroyed but a secondary market has emerged where these books would be offered at a deep discount. So, depending on where you live, depending on what you happen to be doing, depending on your mood and how much money you’ve got in your pocket, there is always something of interest at the used book store.

Charlie Kim
Charlie Kim

Charlie Kim is a designer who is currently transitioning into teaching. While working for various companies, he helped develop many international brands such as the Hong Kong Airport identity, Lenovo’s sponsorship program for the Beijing Olympics and Lavasa, a new city being developed in India. Locally, he's also worked on the 1998 campaign for the Canadian Opera Company, the Canadian Innovations stamp for Canada Post and the terrible Grand & Toy re-brand (hey, they can't all be winners). Charlie’s love affair with art and design all began with comics.

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mel taylor
mel taylor
7 years ago

Couldn’t agree more Charlie. Some of my favourite finds have come from run-of-the-mill book stores in small towns or big cities. You never know what may turn up. I was lucky enough to pick up a couple of books illustrated by Adrian Dingle of Nelvana fame, which had apparently come from the library of the late, great John Balge. On another occasion I picked up a copy of Leaders by Richard Nixon just out of curiosity. Curiosity may have killed he cat, but mine garnered what turned out to be a signed copy, for $3. I have found that more and more used book stores have jumped on the graphic novel bandwagon too. Sone of my fondest memories are of my years managing the KW Bookstore back in the ’80s and having great stuff cross the counter almost every day. Really the only thing I miss about retail.

7 years ago

I dont think Ive ever dropped less than 300 at BMV bloor every time Im in town. So many floors of awesome, and I didnt even know about the basement the first time I went.

Mike Huddleston
7 years ago

Very impressive haul of signed books, plus those sketches. Some real treasures there Charlie, especially the Darwyn Cooke.

7 years ago

I collect a lot of old paper (mostly comics) and I love to find beautifully illustrated children’s books.

mel taylor
mel taylor
7 years ago

He Charlie
I just noticed a copy of The Autobiography of Mark Twain on the bottom shelf of that bookcase pictured. Funny story. When that came out I wanted to get a copy for my Da for his birthday. I walked into Chapters, thinking they might finally have hired some intelligent employees (silly me) and asked one of them if they had The Autobiography of Mark Twain. The very intelligent, considered reply I got was an angry, “You got an author?! You got a title?!” The moral of this story? You will have far more success finding informed employees in an independent bookstore than a brain-dead chain.