Philadelphia's surely got more comic shops than a city of that size requires — and book and record stores for that matter. And of course I love the city of brotherly love for it. I stumbled upon this fact by accident, traveling there for week between jobs a few years ago and cataloging a massive walking trek to all corners of the city, focused on each and every comic place I could find in between. I liked the sentiment enough to repeat it last week before starting my new gig at Yahoo — though a nasty post-CES flu abridged the trip length significantly — and the number of comic shops visited as well.
I did manage to visit few, however, like the delightful Brave New Worlds, which was two blocks from the Old City Sheraton where I spent the night. BrickBat is more a bookstore than comic store, but it's too terrific not to include here. They've got a sizable graphic novel section in the dimly-lit rear and walls covered in books that seemed to have manifested their own existence though sheer awesomeness, like Dislexicon, an illustrated glossary of silent film lingo — a slim tome well worth an admittedly pricy $20. And then there's Wooden Shoe Books on South Street — again, more anarchist bookstore than comic shop, but it's got a decent collection of minicomics and the Mend My Dress zine collection. (They also have a pamphlet with the subhead "On the Biotechnological Prosthesis of Pokémon as Considered Against Deleuze and Guattarri's A Thousand Plateaus.")
But the real gem of the bunch is Locust Moon. It was about half-built the last time I made the journey (the picture frame aquarium turned out real nice, by the way). I met the owner that first time, and he was talking up all of the artwork his buddy Farel Dalrymple was contributing to the store, so it was fitting that I picked up a copy of the cartoonist's new AdHouse collection, Delusional, which is a bit sketchbook and sometimes disjointed, but held together by some really phenomenal artwork.
Here are some of the other books I bought in Philly (save for the first, which actually no one will be able to buy for a couple of months, but is by a guy who lives there, who I interviewed for an upcoming episode of my RiYL podcast.)
Andre the Giant: The Life and Legend
By Box Brown
The truth is a pretty tough nut to crack in pro wresting. Every bit of analytical writing on the subject seems to be preempted by comments on why so, so many people chose to believe something so, so fake. Like Tinkerbell, if everyone didn't believe in it at once, it might die. But there's an equally interesting, infinitely starker story below the surface. (According to David Shoemaker's book The Squared Circle: Life, Death, and Professional Wrestling, the best one can hope for from a professional wresting career is a moderately-sized home, some AA chips, and still being able to walk by the time its over.)
It should be noted that Andre the Giant: The Life and Legend, dead by 46, had health problems unrelated to his carer in the ring. (You don't grow to 7'4" and 500 lbs without picking up a few preexisting conditions.) Box Brown's love for the sport and the titular giant are both clear, and he does his best to inhabit the wrestler's brain in spite of an absence of primary source material, explaining how ongoing health concerns affected his life in and outside the ring. These internal moments contribute nicely to an overall narrative, as these sorts of biographies too often fall into the trap of merely stringing together anecdotes. It's a breezy read for 200+ pages (in part due to the minimalist style the artist has cultivated), but definitely recommended for fans and future fans alike.
By Annie Mok
Bare Bones Press
I kept seeing these all over Philly comic shops with the first name crossed out in Sharpie and replaced with "Annie" as written above, to reflect the cartoonist's change in gender identity since the book's first printing, a fact addressed in the editor's note at the end. But that's neither here nor there. The book kicks off with a wonderful but too-brief exploration of Jim Henson's life that ping-pongs back and forth across time. Man, I really wanted that part to last longer — maybe we can convince her to spin it into something more substantial? Consolation, however, can be found in a couple short Muppet comics and anecdotes in the zine.
Man oh man, I love Brandon Graham's artwork. It's not entirely out of place from a publisher like Image, but it has none of the sort of self-seriousness that can sometimes trip up artists in that stable. The lines just seem to drip from his pens and the utterly nonsensical worlds evoke the incongruous weirdness of Jaime Hernandez's early Love and Rockets world and the strange touches that made Dragon Ball entertaining in those rare times when they weren't kicking the crap out of each other. I picked up his Picturebox book Walrus and was a little disappointed by the lack of narrative (It was my fault for not realizing it was a sketchbook until I bought the thing — I'll fess up to this). Certainly not a problem here. There's plenty of journeyman organ smuggling (I'm only using this semi-euphemistically, mind) and excess punnage crammed into this collection.