Perhaps trumped on the outside by the neighbouring quirkiness of James Smith and Sons' umbrella shop, Comicana (237 Shaftesbury Avenue) is definitely a place worth visiting - not just for the comics, but for the old-style ambience and knowledgeable staff. We spoke to proprietor Alex Alexander, the ultimate comic book geek.
So, tell us more about Comicana
Well, the business has been around for 15 years, but we have been in London for about 7 years. We specialise in silver age, golden age, and bronze age comics - which is like 1940s to 1970s. We have collectable toys, collectable comics, collectable graphic novels, basically anything collectable for the fans. [We stock] 40,000 to 45,000 comics.
Are you still collecting and if so, where do you source them from?
Oh yeah, we are always getting new collections. People bring their own collections in. We get them from house clearances or bought in charity shops sometimes. They are mostly US comics - Marvel and DC - like Dark Horse, Image, and independent markets as well.
Do comics get quite expensive?
Yes they do. Anything from the ‘40s to the ‘60s...are expensive, because most of them were only available from the States and when they came over here they were damaged, so then they are sold as second hand. If it is a popular character, its origin, its first appearance, then yes, it would be expensive. For example, Amazing Spider-Man #1, in 1970s was worth between £300 to £400. Now, in nice condition, in what we call ‘high grade it can be worth at least $15,000-$25,000. So it is a good investment - if you have the money for it. Each year they go up by at least 20-30%.
What are the most popular characters?
Mostly what people grew-up with. If you are a Marvel/DC fanboy, you are used to Superman, Batman, X-Men and Spiderman. But...as people get older they want to branch out to other things, but we obviously have those people from the 50s, 60s and 70s that keep their collection, and buy-up certain issues.
Are new comics as good as the classics?
The market has changed now. People want more hard-edged stories. But if you are a collector from the Marvel/DC age you will stick with the criteria. Some people don’t like the stories now. Some people just collect it out of habit. Some people collect it simply because they love the characters; it is as simple as that. If they can’t afford a comic, they buy the graphic novels. These are the things people want to get - special editions - stories in one book.
What are the rarest comics you have here?
Hulk #1. Green Lantern #1. Justice League of America #1. Early Spiderman and early Daredevil comics. They can range from £10 to a couple of hundred, maybe more.
Do you think that film ruins the personal relationship that individuals have with these characters?
Depends if you are a true fanatic. At the moment, as long as the films are adequate then you will enjoy it. So the people who grew up with Marvel comics now take their kids to see the films. So basically the film is another avenue for people to learn about the characters. It might not be the same thing as having read it, but people enjoy it.
Who do you think is the greatest comic book creator?
I don’t know. There are many out there. Stan Lee. Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby, Marshall Rogers.
The Punisher. He is a Vietnam vet. It is from the 70s. Basically, his wife and kids got killed in Central Park. He swore vengeance against the gangland and made it his goal to take out criminals.
By Helen Soteriou