The chronological continuation of recollecting my comic book shop patronage moves from Bristol to Canterbury in England’s garden, Kent. After my undergraduate degree at Bristol, I went to the University of Kent at Canterbury (its full title) to do some post-graduate work for several years. Even though it’s only 90 minutes from London, I was worried that there would be no comic book shops (not a factor in my decision, you understand); I needn’t have worried.
When I first moved to Canterbury in the early 1990s, there were two places to buy comics. The first was Siegi’s Comics, a small shop near Marlowe’s Theatre. It was a very basic unit, just a small square room, but completely filled with longboxes of old comic books – in the middle of the room and around the walls, box upon box of old books that could take many hours to peruse. There were shelves for new comics, but I think that the owner (the Siegi of the name) tended to work with subscriptions more than people coming in to buy things. There were was some merchandise, and even trade paperbacks and graphic novels, but the shop never really cared about that – Siegi was a living embodiment of the Simpsons’ Comic Book Guy, a hugely overweight man with some facial hair and a coterie of friends who hung out in the shop to talk about comic books and other pop culture ephemera, creating an unfriendly atmosphere for any outsider who might accidentally venture inside. Luckily I was accepted, knowing enough to not seem stupid (even answering questions I would overhear) and buying sufficiently ‘cool’ books to be seen an insider. Unsurprisingly, the shop didn’t survive – they weren’t turning a profit on my purchases (it was the time I began my maturing in my tastes; I recall buying lots of back issues of Sandman, Black Orchid, Animal Man and other of their ilk), and Siegi had to close down about a year or so after I moved there, and I had to look elsewhere for my comics. In doing a bit of research for this post, I discovered (on the 2000 AD forum) that Siegi had passed away; perhaps not unexpected due to his size, but still a shame nonetheless.
The other place to buy comics at the time was a stall in a covered marketplace, run by a friendly chap called Manny who called his operation Whatever Comics. It was a small unit, enough for only two other people to look through the longboxes with Manny there, but he had a good collection (at good prices), was chatty and approachable, and it was only a matter of time before he expanded. This he did before Siegi closed down (1992, according to the website), opening a well-laid out and well-presented shop on Burgate Lane near the north wall of Canterbury city. The new comic shelf was large (and with a wide variety of different comics), neatly arranged and always kept tidy. The longboxes expanded to fill the rest of the shop, but again everything was neatly organised and easy to peruse – as I did, for many hours, filling the gaps in my collection (I seem to recall picking up almost the entire run of Suicide Squad for 25p each). I returned to Canterbury recently, to find that he has expanded again, moving to new premises on the high street, St Peters Street (see the photo above), which is a great location. The shop is again a well-presented facility: large shelves of new comics, longboxes with old comics and trade paperbacks, and a lot more merchandise (especially in the window – being on the high street means more casual shoppers dropping in). It was great to see such a good shop and Manny doing so well – I felt that I almost helped him make the move with all the books I bought from him. Not that he needs it anymore – there were plenty of people in shop when I was there, in the middle of a weekday, both casual shoppers for the merchandise and comic book fans looking through the boxes and buying trades.
The strangest aspect of the new location is that it is literally (and I used the word ‘literally’ in its correct sense) around the corner from the other comic book shop in Canterbury, Incognito Comics, on The Friars up from the Marlowe Theatre. Before, these two shops were at either end of the high street – now, they are next-door neighbours. Incognito came to Canterbury some time after Whatever Comics opened into the shop – I think about 1994, but I’m not sure – which came something of a shock; I was just getting used to only having the one shop in town. Incognito is a small and cramped shop – it hasn’t changed since I was last there but I don’t remember it as well because I didn’t frequent it as much as Whatever. On one side, the shelves of new and recent comics (lots of them, a good selection); on the other side, longboxes of trade paperbacks – I think they leave the back issue selling to the online shop. There is lots of merchandise of all sorts, from busts to lightsabres, filling every other available space on the walls and behind the counter – comics may be in the title of the shop but it’s not the focus. The staff are very friendly – they were entertaining a family looking to buy a lightsabre – and the shop, although small, was full and and had a nice atmosphere.
I was delighted to see so many people in both shops – they can obviously survive the competition, and I hope they do for many a year. I have fond memories of both shops, and my collection has many books from them too, and I’m glad they’re still around. It was a shame that Siegi couldn’t stay around, but three comic book shops in a city as small as Canterbury (and trust me: having lived there for over three years, it is small) would never have worked. I was spoilt for comic book shopping during my time there, I know that, but you should try it: there’s something very nice about having two comic book shops on your doorstep.