After 44 years, Kitsilano's Comicshop enters its endgame

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      Although superheroes may be doing big business saturating screens in theatres and at home, a long-running local purveyor of the pages from which these characters sprung has not been benefitting from this superpowered surge in popularity in comic content.

      In fact, Kitsilano's Comicshop, located at 3518 West 4th Avenue (near Dunbar Street), has been facing several challenges and is shutting down after 44 years in business.

      Ken Witcher and Ron Norton started the business in 1974 at 3638 West 4th Avenue. After Norton died in 2016, Ron's wife Angie Norton took over the business.   

      It relocated in 1979 to 2089 West 4th Avenue near Arbutus Street before moving to its current location in 2010.

      On October 24, the Comicshop announced that new shipments from their comics distributor were on hold until issues about ownership were resolved. 

      On December 7, the shop, which has gone into receivership, announced that they would be shutting down although a specific date remained unknown.

      The Comicshop

      In a phone interview with the Georgia Straight, manager Keith Bickford said that although a specific closure date remains uncertain, they most likely will remain open until late December or early January.

      Unlike other businesses that have closed, Bickford said that rent wasn't a major factor contributing to their closure.

      One of the major factors he cited as contributing to their decline in business has been a change in demographics. In the past, he said that they tended to have a lot of kids as customers but their clientele has primarily been comprised of adults, which he says the industry has also shifted towards in terms of content.  

      In other industry market changes, he also pointed out that because comic books tend to be compiled into graphic novels, the graphic novel versions are also now sold in bookstores, unlike in the past.

      Unfortunately, the heightened popularity in superhero movies never translated into increased sales of comic books. Bickford said they never saw any growth in interest or sales in the wake of the release of movies like the Avengers.

      "In general, we don't see much of a 'blip' on the sales from those," he said. "What we'll see is an interest in t-shirts, posters, or toys and stuff like that."

      However, he said that cinematic adaptations of non-mainstream, adult-oriented, or lesser-known titles like Watchmen, Sin City, and Hellboy usually do spark new interest.

      "That's where we actually see an increase in sales on those because the average person didn't know that they were comic books," he said.  

      The Comicshop

      While the store has been struggling, several feature hit blockbusters and TV series based upon comic books have been or are being shot in Metro Vancouver, including Deadpool, starring Vancouver-bred celebrity Ryan Reynolds; the DC Comics–based Arrowverse TV series, such as Arrow, The Flash, and DC's Legends of Tomorrow, and Supergirl; and Riverdale and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, which are adaptations of Archie Comics. 

      In fact, the locally shot TV series Deadly Class, itself an adaptation of a comic book series, used the location for filming from December 2 to 5.

      In contrast to the present day, assistant manager Brent Stratichuk explained in the December 7 closure announcement how Norton and Witcher's business concept was groundbreaking for its time.

      "Prior to their fortuitous 'team-up' in the summer of '74, the landscape for local aficionados of all things comics and sci-fi/fantasy could be described as 'haphazard' at best—essentially used book stores and corner grocers. Their idea to gather all of their favourite hobbies under one roof (originally at 3638 West 4th Avenue) can be seen as truly visionary today, paving the way for future 'brick and mortar' establishments, all sharing the same desire to impart their love of this special medium with others."

      Stratichuk went on to explain how they attempted their best to keep the store going as a passion project.

      "When Ron essentially 'passed the torch' to us back in 1999, we continued to strive to do everything in our power to keep his legacy alive, regardless of personal reward or recognition. We simply did it for the benefit of our loyal customers and the love of The Comicshop itself and the ideals it stood for. We can't possibly express to you just how sorry we are that it's come to this."

      The good news it that Bickford said he is contemplating the idea of opening a new store sometime in the new year.

      "I think the industry is still viable," he said.

      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at @cinecraig or on Facebook