Mourning the Loss of an Icon: The Disappearing Comic Book Store

Christopher Karr


When I was a kid, the only comic book shop within driving distance was a couple towns over. It was attached to the owner’s house, and it was cramped, small, and packed to the ceiling with comics. The Kentucky town in which I grew up had a profound puritanical streak, and comic books were considered violent and dangerous; they represented a threat to decency and biblical values. 


Perhaps it goes without saying that I looked forward to my Saturday morning comic shop visits with the kind of wild anticipation that only a child can understand. The store offered me my first official flirtation with “art as taboo” — an invaluable experience for a young creative. 


The store closed decades ago, and the existence of comic book shops has become increasingly rare. My Comic Shop Country, a new documentary by Anthony Desiato, explores a dozen or so stores that remain in the United States. Through interviews with store owners, comic artists, and collectors, the film examines the struggle these shops battle in order to stay afloat. Unsurprisingly, some of the owners must rely on income from a separate job to salvage their primary passion: putting customers in touch with awesome stories. 



My Comic Shop Country is a panorama; a sit-around with some of the most adamant comic enthusiasts around. What’s relatively disappointing about them is how grounded and clear-headed they are. They’re remarkably un-eccentric, and, as a result, the documentary has a mild-mannered quality that feels a bit static and nonchalant. 


The film relies heavily on these characters because the narrative is less investigative and more exploratory.


“My hope is that the documentary inspires its viewers to reflect on the places and rituals (comic shops and otherwise) that have given them a sense of belonging, as my comic shop did for me,” Desiato said in a statement.



And to the extent that the movie prompted me to reflect on my own experiences at a comic shop, it’s successful. The problem is that reflection isn’t necessarily the most engaging response to elicit from a viewer. Ideally, you want to design a story with laser-focused momentum and palpable dramatic tension. 


The scenario Desiato examines — that these stores, like many other brick-and-mortar mom-and-pops, are becoming increasingly rare — does offer a gesture toward narrative tension, but that dynamic proves difficult to dramatize onscreen.


My Comic Book Shop is a watchable, enjoyable documentary. Even so, I suspect that it will only succeed as a niche viewing experience for folks like me, who occasionally find themselves nursing the nostalgia of a different time -- an era when comic book shops served as a clubhouse for discovering contained danger.  


Author Bio:


Christopher Karr is a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine.


For Highbrow Magazine


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First Run Features

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