A Trip To Quimby's

By | Friday, January 04, 2013 1 comment
I was in Chicago for a few days around New Year's and, while I was up there, the S.O. happened (without me) to get into a discussion about comics. Despite not being into comics or science fiction herself, she somehow manages to find friends who frequently are. Anyway, somehow the conversation went more towards indie comics and Quimby's came up. She thought it sounded kind of neat, and figured I'd be interested, so she suggested we head out there the next day. I love visiting new (to me) comic shops, but I try not to force that on the S.O. too much, so the only Chicago area shops I've visited are the ones which she's found out about independently of me.

At any rate, Quimby's, in case you're not familiar with them, is something of an institution in their long-standing support for comics that are NOT published by Marvel and DC. It's known for having a great indie selection and is very friendly to self-published and mini-comics. I was eager to see the place in person. After all, they have a guarantee on their website "to satisfy the soul beaten flat by our mainstream culture's relentless insistence on dumb pictures and insulting syntax."

The clerk gave us a friendly greeting when we entered, while we stared around a little blankly taking in what was in front of us. Books and zines. Lots and lots of books and zines. There was a table up front with new releases -- which I only knew were new releases because I was familiar with some of the titles. The rest of the shop looked like a mish-mash of bound papers, and there was little I immediately saw that seemed to be comic related.

As we started moving about, we could start to recognize the labels on the different sections. There was a section of cookbooks. Another on GLBT issues. Another with just music zines. As I started getting towards the back half of the store, I found the comics and mini-comics sections. And another section for clearances books. And a photo booth.

The selection available in the store was, indeed, impressive. There were any number of books that I'd heard about, but hadn't bought yet because I wanted to at least flip through them first. I even found a copy of Eroyn Franklin's Xeric-winning Another Glorious Day at the Nothing Factory, which I honestly wasn't even sure had ever actually been published! I had $100 worth of books in my hands in short order, including the ones I had pulled from the clearance shelves.

I was surprised at some of what they carried. They did in fact have several Marvel and DC trades, which I wasn't expecting, thinking they focused pretty exclusively on non-superhero material. But at the other end of the spectrum, they had a decently large selection of Chick Tracts which I've never seen anyone actually sell. (I always felt part of the appeal of Chick Tracts was being able to just randomly find them in hospitals and malls. But I suppose I can see why someone would want them based on the stories alone.) Basically, Quimby's had at least one copy of every odd or off-the-beaten-path book that I thought to look for. And many interesting ones I happened to stumble across!

Here's the weird thing, though. Visually, it reminded me very much of many stereotypically crappy comic shops. It was dark, and not terribly inviting. The clerk seemed friendly and helpful enough, but I overheard him directing other customers to specific shelves as they were looking for broad categories of books/zines that they couldn't find on their own. Not that the store was disorganized, but the identification labels weren't always readily obvious to find.

The S.O. noted, after a while, that the store was "overwhelming" and she didn't have any idea where to go or what to even start looking at. Even being moderately familiar with about half of their stock (comics, I know; music zines and GLBT books, not so much) I have to admit to a bit of the same problem myself. I felt decidedly out of my element in the first half of the store, and it was only once I got to the comics area where things started clicking for me. I think the S.O. felt similarly once she found the one bookshelf of cookbooks; I think she spent most of our visit in that one spot.

It made for an interesting experience in that it gave me a sense of what it must be like for a non-comics person to walk into your average LCS. There's just so much there that is unfamiliar, it's difficult for your brain to ground itself and process things. Not that Quimby's was uninviting per se, just that the deliberate aesthetic they cultivate is one of a counterculture incongruous with even the subculture of comics I'm familiar with. (And I'm talking the old school comic subculture from before when being a geek was cool.) And what strikes me about that is that, in an era when comics has really been trying to clean up its act and present itself more reasonably to potential readers, Quimby's has taken a notably different approach.

More importantly, it's one that seems to be working for them. I'm not sure it's an approach that would be easily replicable. Much like The Isotope is so tied to James Sime's personality that it would be difficult to copy that. So, while there are many Best Practices out there, I think it always needs to be gauged against the specifics of your situation.

When we had our books rung up (the S.O. found a couple unusual cookbooks to her liking) the clerk scanned the barcodes using, I believe, the POS system made available through ComisPRO. They're not ignoring what other shops are doing to improve their inventory and ordering systems; they've just made a business decision to cater to a crowd who appreciates a different aesthetic.
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ethan said...

That's definitely a shop I wanna visit eventually, my comic shop bucket list. I crossed 'Isotope' and 'Comix Experience' off my list after San Fran.