Sure, you can buy your comics online, but why do that when the L.A. area has so many great comic book shops? The experience of going into the comic book shop can't be beat. Maybe it's the smell of paper mixed with the idiosyncratic music choices that fill the shop as little kids make their first purchases and grown-ups build small mountains of new titles near the cash register.
Maybe the allure is nostalgic. If you're a comic book reader, you probably have memories of the local shop that informed your reading habits. Mine was the now-defunct Northridge outpost of Golden Apple. I can remember my dad taking me there when reading was still a very new hobby. Later on, my siblings and I would head to the shopping center where we could stock up on summer reading before grabbing Thrifty Drug Store ice cream cones. I would flip through the indie comics as The Smiths played in the background, discovering series like Hate and Love and Rockets along the way. If there's one thing that hasn't changed about comic book stores, it's that they'll expand your reading horizons. There's always the chance that you'll walk out of the store with something you didn't intend to buy, and that'll become your new favorite.
There's no one type of comic book shop today. Some are neighborhood joints. Others are event-driven destinations. Some focus on the superhero titles. Others lean toward indie and foreign works. Below, I've compiled a list of 10 comics specialists ready to support your reading habit.
1. Alternate Universe
Alternate Universe is a newcomer to the comic book shop scene – it's been open for a little more than a year – but it's turned into a nice neighborhood spot for comic book and game fans in the Echo Park area. The multifaceted shop sells the latest comic books and a wide variety of related toys as well as games. The selection focuses on the latest single issues, from superhero titles to more cult-minded picks like Oni Press' comics based on the animated TV shows Invader Zim and Rick and Morty. The store's big draw, though, is an event schedule that includes weekly tabletop gaming and two different, weekly Magic: The Gathering sessions. If you drive down Sunset at night, you've probably seen the crowd gathered in and around the store. It also features comedy nights and, less regularly, appearances from industry creatives. Follow the store on Facebook to keep up on the latest happenings. 1498 Sunset Blvd., Echo Park. (213) 537-0992, facebook.com/altversela.
2. Secret Headquarters
Secret Headquarters is exactly what you would expect from a Sunset Junction comic book shop; It looks like a posh home library and there's a section dedicated to Alejandro Jodorowsky. That's not a diss – Jodorowsky's comics should be on your reading list – but it's definitely not an old-school store. Titles are nicely arranged along the wall and on tables, so you'll do very little flipping through boxes. The selection features a mix of indie and mainstream titles, as well as a healthy zine section. If you're not sure what to buy, check out the $2 zines near the cash register. This is where your low-end purchase may result in a new favorite artist. 3817 Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake. (323) 666-2228, thesecretheadquarters.com
3. House of Secrets
If I were to give an award to the best-decorated comic book shop, it would go to Burbank's House of Secrets. The store is located across from the Safari Inn, in a building that's as mid-20th century as a Silver Age comic. Inside they keep the vibe going with retro-inspired decor and lots of nerdy art. There are posters on the ceiling and action figures dangling over the books, comic book-related art on the walls and covers of old comic books lining a floor that would otherwise look like it belonged to a high school classroom. True to the shop's name, vintage and modern comics abound; they emerge from the almost chaotic bounty like well-kept secrets. 1930 W. Olive Ave., Burbank. (818) 562-1900, artoffiction.com/houseofsecrets.
4. Collector's Paradise
The amount of care that goes into stocking Collector's Paradise is obvious once you step inside the shop's Winnetka location. The friendly staff members seem eager to help shoppers find what they need and explain promotions. Staff picks are accompanied by handwritten reviews posted on index cards under the books. This is clearly a store that wants to keep its customers reading; it offers subscription services online and has a Graphic Novel Club that discounts prices for members. Collector's Paradise, which also has an outpost in Pasadena, is also a vendor for both Los Angeles and Pasadena public libraries. If you're in the Winnetka store, make sure you head into the gallery and check out the mural painted by artist Jim Mahfood. Sherman Plaza Shopping Center, 7131 Winnetka Ave., Winnetka; (818) 999-9455. Also: 319 S. Arroyo Pkwy, #4, Pasadena; (626) 577-6694, comicsandcards.net.
Earth-2 in Northridge inhabits the space where Golden Apple resided in its final years in the San Fernando Valley, and it retains the old store's Wolverine mural near the entrance. Fortunately, it also retains what I remember of the old attitude. On my most recent trip to the store, the punkish-looking staff milled about the store as The Smiths played through the room. But this store is no throwback to the days when comic book shops were guy-centric hangouts. It has a section dedicated to comics that are either created by women or feature female protagonists (or both) with an intriguing selection of titles. I picked up Bitch Planet from noted comics writer Kelly Sue Deconnick and artist Valentine De Landro. Earth-2 also has a store on Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks. 8967 Reseda Blvd., Northridge; (818) 993-7804. Also 15017 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; (818) 386-9590, earth-2comics.com.
6. Meltdown Comics
Meltdown is perhaps one of the best-known comic book shops in the city for a good reason. The event-heavy calendar at this Hollywood store makes it a center for nerdy socializing. (Disclosure: I've worked with Meltdown on a few different projects, including writing for its website and DJing several events.) Meltdown University offers courses for kids and adults. The NerdMelt Showroom has become a comedy hub, known for shows like #TheMeltdown With Jonah and Kumail, and top comics creators have long been stopping by the store for various fan sessions. The comics selection includes a nice array of indie and DIY releases. It's the kind of place where you might stumble upon your friend's zine as you browse. 7522 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 851-7223, meltcomics.com.
7. Golden Apple
A Melrose Avenue staple, Golden Apple has been around since 1979. If you ever spent your teenage afternoons roaming this stretch of shops, you probably have memories of hitting up Golden Apple and stumbling upon some strange but amazing books and maybe a signing in progress. While its location has changed by a few blocks, it remains family-owned and is still a go-to spot for signings. In addition to meet-and-greets, the store hosts occasional beer-tasting nights, art events and other nerdy get-togethers. Recently, it launched a group called Jedi Anonymous, where fans can meet and discuss Star Wars without pissing off their spoiler-averse friends. 7018 Melrose Ave., Hollywood. (323) 658-6047, goldnapplecomics.com.
8. The Comic Bug
With stores in Manhattan Beach and Culver City, the Comic Bug gives South Bay and Westside geeks a place to get together. Events tend to take place at the larger Manhattan Beach shop and include monthly networking events for comics creators as well as the usual fan-centric signings. (Co-owner Mike Wellman is a comic book writer himself.) The Culver City shop, located inside a strip mall on Overland, is small but packed with good reads. Venture into the New Comics Cave and check out the section dedicated to locally made independent comics for new reading material. 1807 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Manhattan Beach; (310) 372-6704. Also 4267 Overland Ave., Culver City; (310) 204-3240. thecomicbug.com.
9. Stuart Ng Books
Stuart Ng doesn't run a traditional comic book shop. Instead he has an art-book store filled with the works of artists who tend to work in the comics and animation industries. Certainly, there are a lot of comics here. If you're a fan of French comics, this is the place to go. It's also a must on your shopping list if you're in the market for items like books signed by Hellboy creator Mike Mignola or sketchbooks from the epic Usagi Yojimbo. Be prepared to spend a lot of time here, as the store's shelves are jam-packed with unusual items. 20655 S. Western Ave., #104, Torrance. (310) 909-1929, stuartngbooks.com.
10. Geoffrey's Comics
Geoffrey's Comics opened shop in 1978 and it's since become a go-to spot for South Bay readers. Even on a Monday afternoon this store draws a crowd, and it's not hard to understand why. It's a testament to the power of superheroes. Superman pops out of a wall near the register and Spider-Man hangs down from the ceiling. A small lounge area is decorated with Superman and the Flash coffee tables and a Green Lantern chair. Moreover, it houses an immense collection of vintage comic books. If you're a new-school comic book reader, don't worry, Geoffrey's is up on all the latest releases too. 15900 Crenshaw Blvd., Suite B, Gardena. (310) 538-3198, geoffreyscomics.com.