If our recent awesomeness on the larger ice surface in Sochi showed the world anything, it's that Canada continues to produce some of the finest hockey players on the planet. I was in between sessions at the Reading for the Love of It conference in February, where I was presenting on comics in education, when I decided to do the patriotic thing and watch our women's hockey team go down to what appeared to be inevitable defeat in the finals at the hands of the Americans. There were only about five minutes to go in the game. Not long after, about 300 of us were absolutely losing it in the foyer of the Sheraton Conference Centre.
While Canada continues to produce great hockey players, however, you might be surprised to discover that we also apparently produce some of the finest comic book stores in the world. I'm not just talking about good stores but great ones. If this is the case, then, why aren't we taking our students to them?
When we teach Shakespeare we'll sometimes take our kids to a play. When we study poetry with them, we might invite a local poet to do a reading. However, if we're teaching a graphic novel, how many of us are doing a field trip to the local comic book store?. I mean...why shouldn't we?
Here are three of the best in Canada:
THE BEGUILING, Toronto, ON
When I first took my three boys to The Beguiling, I did so with the promise to them that they could buy any book they wished. However, I found myself having better luck than they did as I lost myself in the tightly packed aisles filled with graphic novels and autographed Chester Brown titles (he's rather fond of the place, as it turns out). However, my kids are pretty traditional Marvel and DC junkies and I was having trouble finding these until someone behind the counter kindly directed us upstairs.
"Oh sorry," I said to the guy. "I didn't realize you had an upstairs." But sure enough they did, and so I rather sheepishly made my way up to the second floor with my kids. When I got to the top, I stopped.
"Dear God," I thought to myself, "they have everything."
I think the mark of a great comic book store is that it's packed, with narrow aisles that make it like an awkward social mixer for nerds like me. It should feel claustrophobic, and you should be sitting there in a corner with your Hulk-obsessed twelve year old 45 minutes after arriving trying to figure out which of the twenty Hulk comics he should buy because they're all, of course, awesome.
And that's exactly what The Beguiling is. It's awesome.
STRANGE ADVENTURES, Halifax, NS (and elsewhere)
A colleague of mine recently told me that she was moving back to Halifax. Most people in this situation would instinctively know the right thing to say. Not me.
"Oh my God," I said, "You're moving to Halifax? They have like one of the best comic book stores in the world! I'm so freakin' jealous!"
Strange Adventures is now a small franchise, with shops in Halifax, Fredericton and Dartmouth, but like with The Beguiling, negotiating the narrow aisles in the Halifax shop a few years back was an absolute joy. You went down into what seemed like a small bunker and then were just overwhelmed with an awesome array of titles. When it comes to Strange Adventures, it's hard to do much better. You want a comic book? It's there. You want a book about comic books? It's there. You want a weird board game? It's there. And when you're in the store, you can't possibly deal with nicer people.
You also can't help but feel that as comic shops go, this one is pretty amazing.
THE DRAGON, Guelph, ON
And then, of course, there's The Dragon. I ran into the owner, Jenn Haines, when she gave a session at the 2013 For the Love of Literacy Conference in Burlington, ON. The Dragon advertises itself as a women and kid-friendly comic book store that sells graphic novels, board games, self-published comics, manga and a whole host of other things. Oh, the other thing you should know is that in 2012 it won the Eisner Spirit of Comics Retailer Award.
Yeah, it won that one.
Haines has worked as an educator (at the Linden School in Toronto) and the store just looks and feels the way an awesome bookstore should look and feel.
So, if you're in the neighborhood and want to check these stores out, click the link below and you can find them.
If you're not in the neighborhood, or if the stores I've just described are at least a plane flight away, let me be the first to say how very sorry I am.
Still, if you love comics and want to inspire your students to love them to, take them to a comic book store today!
Dr. Glen Downey is an award-winning children's author, educator, and academic from Oakville, Ontario. He works as a children's writer for Rubicon Publishing, a reviewer for PW Comics World, an editor for the Sequart Organization, and serves as the Chair of English and Drama at The York School in Toronto.
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