Comic books are all over popular culture these days, from television and film to music and fashion. And while it’s no secret that blockbuster movies like Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy and The Avengers made a killing, the craze has contributed a boost for the source material as well over the past few years, although the industry is well outside its heyday. So, if you’re a new reader, where do you start? And what’s the best comic book store for you?
In order to really answer those questions, we have to first define what a comic book shop is. There are all sorts of places in Louisville where you can buy comics, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a comic book shop. Here you can buy single issues — new every Wednesday — as well as the latest trade paperbacks (graphic novels if you want to sound brainy) and other comics-related paraphernalia. So, a place like Books-A-Million or The Peddler’s Mall is not a comic book shop, despite the fact that you may find some there — neither place specifically caters to the clientele, it’s just a byproduct of big business.
There are nine places that fit the criteria in Louisville, and they each have their own flavor. This article is about those nine. In most cases, I had pre-existing, and often-extensive knowledge of the shop, although I revisited each prior to writing this. In a few cases, I was pleasantly surprised by something new. Read on to find out how that manifests itself and where you too can find the best deals in town. And maybe something off the beaten path.
The Great Escape
2433 Bardstown Road
Superficially, the Great Escape isn’t much. The awning is fading, and the interior is dimly lit and crowded. The space is small and often difficult to navigate if they are even relatively busy, which is usually the case. The staff that works there is often impersonal, attending to the matters at hand, without offering much in the way of conversation. But all of this adds up to one of, if not the, best comic book store that I’ve ever had the good fortune to patronize.
I’ve been to a lot of comic book shops, in and out of Louisville, and not one has matched the used trade selection at The Great Escape. Comprised of two enormous shelves located in the back of the store, the used trade selection has helped pad my collection for years at an affordable rate. There are so many, in fact, that a few years ago they had to expand their used trade selection into several long boxes just to contain the overflow. And the selection is remarkably up to date, and prone to regular growth; they get in new used trades often, so if you don’t see what you’re looking for now, be patient.
Of course, their new selection is equally remarkable and economical. In order to compete with Amazon or other online ordering services, every trade in the store is 25 percent off every day, with even better deals popping up on a regular basis. Their new single-issue collection is equal to any other store in town, although it’s ordered by publisher, rather than alphabetically, which can be a bit more difficult to navigate if you’re unfamiliar with the system. I would argue that a composite of the two systems — by publisher and alphabetic — might be optimal for everyone. At least they don’t leave up old issues of single issues, which can get a bit confusing unless you follow the industry closely.
In addition to comics, The Great Escape has a ton of other great stuff. There is an enormous wall of DVD’s, and one of the best used music sections in town. That section includes both CD’s and vinyl, with an extensive collection of both. They also stock Magic cards and other gaming-based items, although that is definitely not their primary specialty. Still, their stock is robust and seems to be regularly replenished. Unfortunately, the same cannot be always said for their new trades selection, which tends to lack in some of the bigger titles that people may want. The selection is large, just not always as complete as you might like it, specifically for newer titles. All things considered, The Great Escape is a perfect and cozy little store that has so many hidden gems. You can spend hours there if you don’t pay attention.
Who Should Shop Here: Anyone interested in hearing all sorts of music and being left alone to shop for hidden gems.
Pet Shop Comics
6234 N. Preston Hwy.
Located on the edge of Zoneton and Hillview in Northern Bullitt County, Pet Shop Comics is the only real option for comics in the area. Having gone through a number of location changes, the current space, a strip mall off Preston Highway, is a fraction of the size of the previous two. The result provides as much space to gaming as it does to comic books. Unfortunately, that means that the new comics don’t even have any wall space, existing solely on a few spinner racks stationed near the entrance in a relatively cramped area. It’s a little tight to find the newer things that you’d like, and the selection seems to be geared towards the big two —Marvel and DC —without a lot of indie stuff.
The majority of their comic selection exists in back issues housed in long boxes. About half the store or so is comprised of these, which are in alphabetical order, stacked on top of one another. The problem though, is that because the space is so tight, it’s kind of like doing yoga to see things that are under the tables, which is not typically the strong suit of a comic book store’s patronage. There are some trade paperbacks there, but it’s a pretty limited selection, which seems less to reflect the store’s desire to carry a wider stock, and more on the relative size of the space in general.
It’s clear when you walk in, that this is a store by and large dedicated to gaming. There is one central gaming table set up, with several taller tables set up for miniatures. There is a small concession area with food, the healthy stuff that nerds want like Cheetos and the like. Guilty as charged for me.
Despite the fact that the owner had a rifle above his cash register, he was easy and not-at-all-intimidating to speak with. He didn’t bother you unless you spoke with him, but was polite in his conversation. You got the sense that he really wanted to make the most of the space and it’s clear that despite his limitations, he did just fine. He confessed that he could no longer do Magic: The Gathering tournaments, as there was some sort of anti-gambling thing that is heavily enforced outside of Louisville for the rest of the state.
Who Should Shop Here: Neighborhood kids using their imaginations to escape suburbia.
Roll of the Die
1950 Bonnycastle Ave.
One of the newest stores in town, Roll of the Die has made a lot of smart moves to entrench itself in the local comic book/gamer community. Located in the heart of the Highlands —technically in the Deer Park neighborhood — Roll of the Die is an easy place to find and an even easier place to shop. Second only to The Great Escape in terms of their deals, Roll of the Die offers a buy two, get one free on trades and a 25 percent off discount for anyone with a holds file. (For those that don’t know, a holds file, or just holds, is when you specify to the shop which comic you want and they hold that comic for you until you purchase it, and in this case give you a discount.) A lot of shops offer this particular option, but only some offer the discount.
The store itself is a pretty interesting place. There is an authentic, original Star Trek Captain’s Chair at the doorway, which is a nice companion to the door opening sound — also from Star Trek — that is triggered when you walk in. They recently rearranged their layout a bit, adding more shirts and comics-related memorabilia, a discounted comics table and a few displays meant to highlight various companies. They have a wall dedicated to variant covers, all marked considerably higher than the cover price for issues that just came out, which I find to be an unfair practice. This isn’t uncommon, but it seems disrespectful to fans that a comic shop can receive a random variant on a cover and then charge you three times the cover price for the same issue; there is no opportunity for you to have ever received this at the original price, which means that the value is artificially inflated for collectors.
Roll of the Die’s online Google calendar indicates that they have weekly weekend Magic tournaments and various other gaming-oriented events, and that’s apparent when you walk in. The back of the shop is comprised of a few large open tables in a reasonably-sized space, the perfect spot for gaming. There is Magic paraphernalia all around and they look to have a decent selection of Magic cards. They also have a wall of interesting looking board games. How can a Firefly-themed game of Clue not be fun?
Now that we’ve gone through all that, let’s talk about how optimistic Roll of the Die is about nerd sex. It’s the first time that I’ve been in a comic book store that had a free condom station. I’m a nerd and I know plenty of nerds who have a healthy sex life. Still, an active sex life, at least one so vigorous that you have an urgency for condoms after picking up the newest issue of Squirrel Girl or kicking ass in a Magic tournament, is not something that I ever really associated with nerd culture or a comic book store. This isn’t about shaming nerds or anything, because get it if you can, I guess, it just seems strangely out of place. You know where to grab some free rubbers though, the next time you’re out comic book shopping prior to getting laid, so there’s that.
Who Should Shop Here: Gamers, comic collectors with a holds folder and sexy nerds.
5031 Shelbyville Road
The absolute newest shop in town, The Destination is a clean, well-organized store, where the stock reflects its age. The trades that line the shelves are all more recent titles, without many older ones available, regardless of their cultural significance. Still, their stock seems particularly solid and pretty well-kept. The same goes towards their new issues, which line an entire wall in the small store — a significant amount of the available space. The opposite wall, the first one that you see upon entry, contains a number of very cool looking toys and some pretty interesting and, I believe, locally-created artwork.
There are plenty of toys around, and while I don’t collect toys, they looked pretty great, including an epic Juggernaut toy — and perhaps an even more incredible Apocalypse.
Ultimately, there isn’t anything truly remarkable or that stands out about The Destination. It’s a particularly homogeneous store that synthesizes the most general of comic themes into an easy pill to swallow. Other than the artwork and toys, which account for only a small portion of the merchandise in the store, there didn’t seem to be anything that really stood out. There are no discounts or deals, or, if there were, they weren’t clearly advertised. And the in-store stock is the same as virtually every other store in town. This is neither a bad or good thing, just an observation that this is a perfectly run-of-the-mill store that seems to have some decent business sense, but not a lot to set it apart — at least yet. There is space in the back that seems under-utilized, the perfect location for gaming of any variety or an expansion of their goods.
Who Should Shop Here: Pop art enthusiasts and casual comic book fans.
Book and Music Exchange
5400 Preston Hwy.
Of all the places on this list, the Book and Music Exchange certainly feels the most dubious. There are several locations in town, but only the Preston Highway store meets the appropriate criteria to be considered a comic book shop. You can get comics at the other stores, but the Preston location is the only place that actually gets in new comics on a weekly basis — every other store only carries used comics or trades. Of course, the Preston location also carries used goods and sometimes you can find some great deals there too, but it seems like that stock of used trades and single issues isn’t quite restocked all that often, and stays relatively stagnant.
The wall of single issues is a colossal mess. The most recent comics are all shelved toward the back of the store in a seemingly random order. Every Wednesday, those comics are put on the shelf in front of, or sometimes next to, the previous issue that came out. The end result is a confusing morass of maybe the most recent, or maybe an issue that came out two or three months ago. I spend too much time on comic book websites, so I am pretty knowledgeable about what has come out, but I have to wonder about the casual fan. Not to say that you can’t figure it out by the info on the cover, but if you’ve got older issues in front of newer issues — as has sometimes been the case in my experience — I could see getting mixed up on what might be the most current comic.
Like every other Book and Music Exchange, there are plenty of other things besides comics. A hub for used media, you can find a limited used gaming section, Magic: The Gathering cards, used DVD’s, music, video games, and, well, books. The beauty of the Book and Music Exchange is the completely random gems that you may find lining their shelves. To be clear: these new finds may be infrequent — I’ve gone years between good finds. But when you find something worth finding, it’s often affordable and accompanied by several other worthy finds. The Book and Music Exchange functions acceptably as a comic book shop, albeit by the most basic criteria, but you can definitely find some interesting gets there if you persist, and their used media selection is exemplary.
Who Should Shop Here: Folks that already know what their looking for and patient treasure hunters.
Comic Book World
6905 Shepherdsville Road
My formative years were spent haunting the doors at Comic Book World. In a quiet strip mall on the outskirts of Okolona, Comic Book World has been a neighborhood institution since the late-80s or early-90s, which corresponded with the explosion of creator-owned comics and consumer gimmicks. This was the heyday of money in comics, with issues seeing sales of more than one million, so business was robust and likely had at least some impact on the expansion of the store. What was once a bit smaller and cozier location is now an open floor plan with what seems to be equal space dedicated to comics and games.
The walls, lined with comics arranged per publisher, are lined up in almost a panopticon; you are being watched. As such, the room is a bit antiseptic with an almost hospital-like calm, not especially comforting when you’re shopping for an item that is largely meant as a solitary obsession: you read to tune out the world, a difficult task in this environment.
Not that you necessarily can. The graphic novels are all sealed in plastic. During my early twenties — a time generally not spent pursuing comic books — I visited my old stomping grounds to explore something new. I found what I wanted, but couldn’t determine if the collection I desired had every available issue. I asked the owner, and was given the wrong information, which resulted in an unnecessary purchase that overlapped a single issue with the trade.
Whether intentional or not, this was not surprising. Despite having spent 100 percent of my pre-teen income there, money I legitimately worked hard at earning, I was never met with much warmth or friendliness. My money, spare change and all, was eagerly accepted, but there was little kindness put my way. Not that I necessarily wanted to carry on a conversation, but even at such a young age, I felt like nothing more than a commodity, not a wide-eyed kid wanting to immerse themselves in comic books. It’s not the responsibility of any shop owner to really engage or to do anything other than to act as a sales clerk, but it never felt good to feel so unwelcome in a place of business, despite such keen interest.
Who Should Shop Here: People close by and without transportation.
291 N. Hubbards Lane
Over the years, The Zone has evolved from a quiet little shop, tucked away in the heart of St. Matthews next to Laser Blaze, into a comparatively homogenous location now located in a completely different strip mall off of Hubbards Lane. At the old location, The Zone was a small shop that felt homey. The walls were painted vibrant colors, and everything was compacted into a small area. Despite the moderate size, there was a lot to take in from a hearty selection of new comics, to a regularly restocked trades selection, with plenty of toys and other nerd culture ephemera tucked away too. If I recall correctly, there was even plenty of gamer fare there as well, including the space to play, should the need arise.
The move to the new location took away some of that soul. The space appears immaculately clean and the layout is much more spartan. Gone are the extensive trade collections, replaced by toys, comic-related clothing and a vibrant back-issue stock. The owner is especially chatty, which is certainly meant to be pleasant, but has in my experience veered towards cumbersome (read: political) topics. It’s always a bit disconcerting to find someone extroverted at a comic book shop though, so this just may be a bi-product of the culture.
That extroversion is put to great use though. While they have a meager trades collection, their new issue selection features an employee suggestion for issues that they deem relevant or interesting to a larger public. This simple act not only renders the employees at The Zone as curators to the medium, but encourages new readers to possibly pick up something new or unheard of. It’s a nice touch that does a lot to make new customers feel welcome.
Who Should Shop Here: Anyone who doesn’t mind a small trades selection.
Wood N’ Hope Chest
3429 Breckenridge Lane
Walking into Wood N’ Hope Chest is a strange experience. This comic book store/curio shop hybrid feels frozen in time and somehow a bit intimidating. Located discreetly in the corner of a shopping center at Breckinridge and Six Mile Lane, Wood N’ Hope Chest has a bizarre assortment of wares. Here you’ll find plenty of comic books, both new and used, and plenty of related toys or games. In addition to that though, are tons of odd bits of cultural ephemera, like beer steins, vinyl records and old electronics, as if a comic book shop decided to open up in the middle of a Peddler’s Mall. Perhaps most disconcerting is the collection of porcelain dolls or what looked to be doll clothes in one far corner of the room. Combine that with a lack of a music and a completely silent shop keep and my visit was a weird one indeed.
Their new comic books are all in sealed plastic, making it impossible to comb through anything that might catch your eye. While this may ostensibly be to appeal to collectors, it is a huge turn off to anyone that may be a casual fan, a breed of comic book reader that has to still exist. Given that this is located in a residential area, it stands to reason that kids would have to venture in here at times only to be met by this complete denial of skimming any prospective purchases. And their trade selection is laughably small, with an assortment that seems completely arbitrary, barely occupying one small shelf located inconspicuously on the floor near the entrance.
The beauty of the store though, is just in how completely random everything seems. I stumbled across a Miles Davis double vinyl for $5. There were some pretty great beer mugs. In fact, there were all sorts of things just strewn about that looked worth checking out. And this is all on top of their comic book selection. Unless you live in the area, it’s a bit of a drive, but definitely one well worth your trouble, if only to see whatever it is that they’re peddling today.
Who Should Shop Here: Anyone who wants to find a Mogwai.
Empire Comics & Games
1636 Slate Run Road, New Albany
This is the only shop on the list to give me anxiety nightmares. The store is divided into two rather distinct sides: one for comics and one for games. The section of the store dedicated to games/gaming is a relatively open space, with tables available for in-store gaming. There is a back room too, also with available tables and plenty of space for tournaments of whatever variety. Unfortunately, Indiana law doesn’t prohibit smoking in bars and Empire Comics & Games is located next to one, which means that the entire store has a stale smoke-scented air that creeps into all of their products. It’s especially strong in the back gaming room, which given the rather dingy quality of the atmosphere seems especially unpleasant.
The side featuring comics is definitely catastrophic. If there is any order or reason to the arrangements of comic books, single issues or trade paperbacks, I was unable to discern it. It didn’t seem to be sorted by either publisher or alphabetically, although a helpful clerk informed me that there was some kind of method to the madness. Still, whatever that method was remained beyond my comprehension, made only worse by older issues sitting out aside newer issues in whatever sequence was there, as if Jackson Pollack personally threw these comics onto the shelf at his discretion.
When I arrived, a store clerk who seemed enthusiastic about her job greeted me. She sweetly explained that as this was a Tuesday, some of the comics sitting out specifically in one area of the store were new comics that needed to be stocked on Wednesday, and that as such, they were unavailable for purchase. I was told I could read them, but not buy them, which I did. She was kind enough to offer her help in sorting through the store, and even offered to give me suggestions on what to read — all nice things.
I was prepared to buy something, and despite the haphazard array of comics and stale,smoky atmosphere, there was something cozy, or at least somewhat inviting about the room that made you want to look around. Unfortunately, of the three trade paperbacks that caught my interest, none were available until the next day. The store clerk was kind enough to offer to hold them for me until that Wednesday, but since I live in Louisville, and closer to two other shops, it wasn’t a feasible decision.
Everyone there seemed very kind, and despite my aesthetic or environmental frustrations, there was an air of community. The patrons seemed happy to be there, like regulars and friends. More than any other shop I’ve visited, this is the store most like “Cheers,” although I can’t say who the Sam and Diane were in this scenario. There are a lot of games and gaming materials, including Magic: The Gathering cards. There was a meager used bin for trades. If I lived in the neighborhood, I’d probably want to shop here, although I’d have reservations about the smoke filtering in through the wall and opinions on the abstract ordering system.
Who Should Shop Here: Those willing to dig to find gold. Gamers and people in search of their tribe. This is that spot.