Proud Lion in Cheltenham is easy to see, because the sign is bloody massive. That’s good. I’ve had my fill, to be honest, of shops that hide. I liked them in the past.

This picture is from google street view, and it looks kind of… ehhh… but stay with me. Google doesn’t know everything.

I’m in a new house in a new county. I don’t know the area, I don’t know the towns–all I have to go on is my search box. “Comic shop” + “Cheltenham”, which is the nearest city, gives me–a big hopeful “maybe” right away, because that’s a real proper blog. It’s got opinions on it. They’re quite long. And if you check the contributors list, look! A lady! TWO ladies. That’s certainly more than none. Their header features Saga, not Green Lantern or… Wolverine-with-bone-claws, or something. I like Wolverine, sure. But I want to know that’s not all a new shop is about.

It’s not a problem to get to Proud Lion’s door from Cheltenham’s central shopping area. My Christmas shopping–loosely based around the Promenade–easily encompassed a trip out to Albion Street and back.

Once you’re in, there’s a wall of current floppies to your left, stairs leading up a couple of metres ahead of you, and to the right a room (with clerk) full of… you’re not sure what, because there’s a bottleneck into it created out of cabinets and shelving, and stepping through is a tiny bit like going on stage. The clerk is on a raised seat behind the counter, against the far right wall, and he’s said hello in a friendly and welcoming way. If you’re comfortable wandering around in view of him before you get comfortable in this environment, go ahead. If not: hop up the stairs like I did.

Pass the xxxpensive Iron Mans and other figures, and you get to the back issue long boxes. These are important in a comic shop. There’s no point going into a charity shop if you can’t have a rummage and that’s true about comic shops, too.  You gotta feel the books, recognise some and discover others, before you can find your command of the atmosphere. There’s no obvious security up here beyond a Dredd cutout and fairly spooky life-size Darth Maul, and I like that, because it’s good to feel trusted. I don’t know that anybody would ever try to pinch old individual Cable issues, or The X-Men Do Australia, but it’s the principle of the thing.

From the website’s About section:

Proud Lion is Ben [Fardon]’s first venture of his own and stocks everything from American comics and graphic novels to Japanese manga along with toys, action figures, games, t-shirts and much more.

There was no noticeable difference in his manner when Ben dealt with my questions as opposed to my mister’s–for the record, I was wearing furry earmuffs, a caramel coat and golden jeans. Not superfemme, but more “like a woman” than “like a nerd”. He answered both of us with knowledge and aplomb, willing to look up prices for books he didn’t stock, do research on how best to collect the New Mutants (original flavour), and brainstorm with us regarding family christmas presents. If he suggested a title and we rebuffed it, he would nod and consider our reasons quite amenably. We all talked about having been at Thought Bubble. He’s clearly a guy who ~loves comics, in the good way. Proud Lion is a positive retail experience.

Adventure Time and My Little Pony comics are on low racks by the counter–easy for children to reach, all together where no comic book nasties can creep in while big sister’s looking the other way. There’s a nice range of trades and GNs to look through. An acknowledged tendency towards angst and darkness doesn’t mean there’s nothing gentle to find, and creator-owned and self-pub ventures are definitely welcome on Proud Lion’s shelves. I mentioned Elaine M Will’s Look Straight Ahead in a previous post, for example: Will contacted Fardon directly, pitched her project, and he took a chance. During our conversation Fardon mentioned several Kickstarters the shop has backed, with a voice full of enthusiasm for the comics, comics, comics!

I’ve never been in a really bad indie comic shop, but none of the proprietors I’ve met before have been quite so immediately welcoming or quite so obviously proactive about building a better industry, or a better community. The feng shui is not quite right, but for the timid that this may put off… I hope I’ve expressed how much you needn’t worry.

Okay? You’ll be fine.