Neighborhoods are only as great as their (comic)bookstores.
There’s a wonderful smell that engulfs you in one. It’s similar to what you smell in a regular bookstore, but with its own distinct notes. Perhaps it’s all that color ink, or the plastic of the collectibles. Galaxy Comics, right here in Bay Ridge, has it in spades.
The fact that any comic-book store would have been able to survive the turmoil in the industry, along with rising rents, is a testament to comics’ fans. Clearly, Bay Ridge has many such diehards, and Galaxy Comics (6823 Fifth Avenue) is the proof. Nestled in the northeastern edge of our neighborhood and fortuitously positioned next door to Alpine Cinemas, this gem of a comic store has held on and looks great. You won’t find dusty shelves and confusing organization (Midtown Comics, I’m looking at you); instead, you’ll find a surprisingly pleasant layout, clear aisles and helpful staff. It opened in the 2000s, a sister store to the one three miles up Fifth Avenue, in Park Slope; ownership changed in 2007 and, from what I hear, it was for the better—an improvement over the once loud, smoky and disorganized space. Now you’ll find a diverse selection of titles, toys, posters, collectibles and gear (anyone need a PEZ dispenser of The Flash?), along with a super-powered candy selection for the kiddies, in a quiet, well-lighted store.
Since the dawn of big-box bookstores, digital media and online shopping, local bookstores have taken an Amazon-sized hit to their business, turning brick-and-mortar stores into quaint shops frantically clinging to their customers. It was inevitable that bookstores would shutter and get turned into more Dunkin’ Donuts franchises. Comic-book stores were at even greater risk, with a niche market servicing aging collectors and a vast, impenetrable mythology that’s daunting to newcomers.
Comic collecting and sales hit their zenith with the Tim Burton Batman films in ’89 and ’92, and the upstart Image Comics’ heyday in the mid 90s. Then, the collapse. Just like baseball cards in the late 80s, saturation took its toll on the comic-book market. Poor management, unimaginative films and a lack of quality story arcs to draw new readers threw Marvel into near bankruptcy, deflated Image Comics and left DC treading water. Marvel struggled so much that it did the unthinkable, selling off many of its most popular characters’ film rights to stay afloat. The small, corner comic-book stores felt the brunt of this failure; at least three in Bay Ridge that thrived in the early 90s are long gone.
It’s hard to imagine that just a few years ago comic fans were dismissed by pop culture, before the rise of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Comic characters are now ubiquitous on big screens, small screens, T-shirts, toy-store shelves and bookbags (and my apartment), but the comic books themselves still remain somewhat of a limited market.
Our small bookstores are so important to the culture of the neighborhoods they inhabit. Without options, we will continue to draw inward, into our homes and our electronic devices and our Amazon accounts, and forget that we can browse shelves filled to the brim with legendary characters with legendary super powers fighting enemies both terrestrial and extraterrestrial—a place where we can commiserate about how an artist chose to draw Captain America, or how a writer portrayed Doctor Stephen Strange, or when we can expect the newest Frank Miller Batman sequel (Fall 2015!). This summer, when you’re at the Alpine waiting for Age of Ultron, or Ant-Man, or Fantastic Four to start, be sure to stop next-door and leaf through some of the rich literary history of what you’re about to see on the big screen.
As for now, I’ll curl up with my daughter and read Green Lantern: An Origin Story (purchased at Galaxy Comics, obviously), and we’ll dream of Oa.
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