Surely the platonic ideal of an indie comics store, Atomic Books is pretty much the be-all and end-all for comic fans of the non-superhero variety. While the shop hardly confines itself to comics, it is the likeliest place to find lots of underground stuff, from small-press single issues to DIY mini comics and zines. Its mail order business is legend, and we pore over the place’s weekly newsletter. Purists may turn up their noses at the wide range of other products Atomic sells: literary novels, art books, design toys, crafting guides, music, DVDs… etc. But what matters is that its entire stock is meticulously curated by its whip-smart staff, which means the junk quotient is minimal. Their wonderful events feature readings, a weekly knitting night, and a book club. Their blog is actually worth reading. And just in case you weren’t impressed yet, Atomic is also the only store in the world that has been given the esteemed privilege of collecting John Waters’s mail.
Forbidden Planet – New York, NY
Before you enter Forbidden Planet for the first time, take a deep breath. The aisles are going to be packed with people. You are going to have check your bag. And you’re going to want to buy everything. But what Forbidden Planet lacks in atmosphere it makes up for in pure breadth of selection. If you’re into Marvel and DC, they’ve got you covered. If you’re a toys and gaming freak, this is your stop, too. Manga heads will also find Forbidden Planet to their liking. There’s even a decent selection of graphic novels for any stray indie kids who wander over from The Strand, down the street. In the entirely likely event that you are the victim of brusque service, try to remember that this shop may well house the busiest comic shop staff in the world.
Comic Relief – Berkeley, CA
This Berkeley staple bills itself as “the comic bookstore,” and we can see why. It’s got a huge, apparently well-organized selection of collectible issues. But Comic Relief isn’t just for nerds, as book (that is, trade paperback and graphic novel) sales make up over half of its business. Consequently, the store, which has been around since 1987, caters to a diverse clientele, and has earned many shout outs for the depth of its workers’ knowledge and the quality of their customer service.
Bergen Street Comics – Brooklyn, NY
Image via Brownstoner
Bergen Street is not a big store, but it is perhaps the most “zen” comics shop we’ve ever had the pleasure of frequenting. Only a few years old, it’s located on a Park Slope street, where its polished wood floors and exposed brick recall the interiors of the neighborhood’s brownstones. There’s a steady supply of indie comics and graphic novels, although folks looking for a place to take their subscription or to grab the latest issue of a mainstream favorite won’t be disappointed. Perhaps the best thing about Bergen Street is that it’s a labor of love for two Brooklynites, Tom and Amy Adams, who are friendly as hell and always happy to make a recommendation or chat about a purchase.
Secret Headquarters – Los Angeles, CA
Image via Yelp
Located in the depths of Silver Lake, Secret Headquarters caters to the neighborhood’s hip crowd with graphic novels, indie comics, and original art. Fans praise its “boutique-y” vibe, with tasteful decor and minimal clutter. If you don’t happen to have a Ph.D. in Green Lantern, the friendly staff is less likely to laugh at you than to make suggestions tailored to your interests. Secret Headquarters also hosts signings and art openings, many of which feature free drinks. Just sayin’.
Arcane Comics – Seattle, WA
Image via Yelp
With two locations in the Seattle area, Arcane Comics — what a wonderful name for a store — is a local favorite. Customers are on a first-name basis with the staff, and they have a great Best Reads program, in which they offer the first volume of a quality series at up to 40% off. Comics buffs also praise the store’s discounts on regular subscriptions. Sure, they may have plans to set up gaming nights in the basement of the West Seattle location, but rest assured these shops are safe for non-gamers, too, with a wide selection of graphic novels.
Austin Books & Comics – Austin, TX
There is a reason local alt-weekly The Austin Chronicle has crowned Austin Books & Comics Best Comic-Book Store nearly every year for the past two decades. According to this year’s entry, it’s “where the hippest of the geeks and the geekiest of the hip go to get their print-issue superhero fix,” with a huge stock and, unlike many other comic stores, is actually a pleasant place to hang out. In fact, they even color-code their merchandise based on how new it is. And don’t be fooled by the store’s name: It’s gone through some changes since it opened, in 1977, and is now devoted mostly to comics, graphic novels, trade paperbacks, and the like.
Quimby’s – Chicago, IL
Image via Wonkavision
While some argue over whether Quimby’s is a legitimate comic shop or merely a bookstore that sells a lot of comics, we prefer to avoid the semantics debate in favor of celebrating this awesome spot. Since 1991, it’s been a clubhouse for local notable artists — and yes, those signs whose style looks so familiar were painted by the one and only Chris Ware. Along with stocking a wide range of comics, books (there’s a section known simply as “Mayhem”), zines stationary supplies, and even an adult section, Quimby’s hosts readings and a monthly Works in Progress meet-up.
Floating World – Portland, OR
In a small city with a relatively large number of comic stores, Floating World stands out for the sharp, cool aesthetic of its owner, Jason Leivian, who says he wants the place to have the feel of a record store. He caters to both your standard comic dudes, curating the best of the Marvel and DC stables, and indie types, as small publishers appear to be Leivian’s own personal favorites. The store also stocks art and design books and hosts exhibitions. And their website is beautiful. Leivian’s spirit is DIY through and through. As he told one interviewer, “We do zines, consignment and I never turn down anything.” For real, though we are based in New York, which has some of the best comic stores in the country, this one makes us jealous.
The Laughing Ogre – Columbus, OH
A friend who knows about such things clued us in to The Laughing Ogre (which also has two Virginia locations), and he explained his love for the shop this way: While stores in bigger cities (say, for reasons of limited space or quick turnover) don’t keep a whole lot of obscure back stock on hand, a place like this, in a city like Columbus, feels little pressure to clear out its old merchandise — which means it’s got a whole lot of random, weird, wonderful stuff that’s hard to find elsewhere. Customers praise the shop’s cleanliness and organization, the friendly employees, and the breadth of the stock, from new issues of mainstream series to handmade comics by local artists.
Honorable mention: House of Secrets – Burbank, CA, St. Marks Comics – New York, NY, Meltdown – Los Angeles, CA, Desert Island – Brooklyn, NY, Heroes Your Mom Threw Out – Elmira, NY, Crescent City Comics – New Orleans, LA