Parisian Culture: Wine, Cheese, and Comic Book Shops
Nestled in the Latin Quarter of Paris (named after the Latin language that was widely spoken in the area because it was the intellectual centre of Paris back in the middle ages) you’ll find Rue Dante. It’s a 4-500 metre (approximately) stretch of road five minutes south of Cathédrale Notre-Dame just off the Seine that should be a not-so hidden gem for Comics enthusiasts roaming around the city who want their fix of French comics.
Rue Dante is pretty special, it’s both on (it’s really close to some major tourist attractions) and off (it doesn’t seem very busy compared to the pace of the rest of the city) the beaten path. The nature of the street invites exploration, which is a good thing because there’s a lot of comicdom to find here.
Claire tipped me off that I would find a nice shop here, but I didn’t expect to discover eight pretty unique comic book (or comic-related) shops on this relatively small street.
I love, love, love superheroes and toys, so the first store that really caught my eye was Pulp’s Toyz. I mean LOOK AT IT (below). You’d be hard pressed to find a recent superhero toy or bust that they don’t carry.
As great as Pulps Toyz is (the stock is superb, the staff is wonderful, and the store is beautiful) it was their sister store, Pulp Comics, that really caught my fancy.
It’s run by Anne, Claude, and Arno (below) and is a bit of a North American island in the otherwise French comic sea that is Rue Dante. The day I visited I got to meet Arno, who seemed like a really stand up guy. We spoke a bit about his store, the Paris Comics Expo, and some other stores on Rue Dante (and further afield) that I may be interested in. That’s one thing I’ve noticed about each of the shops I’ve visited so far—they are all super friendly and very willing to recommend another shop if they don’t have what you’re looking for. Even though the stores are all competitors in close proximity, they really seem to support each other and respect the unique parts of comicdom that each store occupies.
Since I’m here kicking around in Paris for the next little while we here at WWAC thought it might be fun to review a few of these shops and get some interviews whenever possible. I love superhero comics, so I thought I’d start with a shop, namely Pulp’s Comics, that deals with the style of comics closest to my heart.
What’s the history of your shop (when did you open it and why)?
We opened Pulp’s more than 15 years ago. Why, because we love comics—it’s as simple as that.
I noticed at least eight different retailers on this small (I’m guessing 500 metres) street. What is it about this street that attracted you to it?
The more similar stores there are in an area, the more attractive it is for customers. They can find lots of stores with different types of comic books and are more likely to find what they’re looking for in case one (or more) shop(s) don’t carry a specific book.
Do some (or all) of the retailers on this street work together on anything? What about shops in other parts of Paris?
Nope, but we redirect customers depending on what they’re looking for.
When we first spoke you mentioned that you’re involved in the Paris Comics Expo—could you provide a little bit more information on that for our readers?
How, why, and when did you first get involved?
Anne, Claude, and I are the owners of Pulp’s and the ones behind the show. We created it three years ago. There was an attempt to create a type of “comic con” in Paris, but it was attached to a big Japanese convention, which meant that as much as the organizers were familiar with the manga world, the American comic book part of the show was a terrible experience. Almost all the editors were from Japanese publishers and there were no retailers except for a couple . . . huge empty halls were filled with very disappointed people, including some who travelled very far for this show. We thought Paris deserved a real show where Western comics could occupy a legitimate place of their own, which led us to try it.
What exactly is your role?
A little bit of everything, we’re still a little team involved in most aspects of the show.
What sorts of events does the Paris Comics Expo include?
We were very happy to have been able to include most French publishers since the first show. Besides the retailers (both French and international), we also have cosplay contests, a big artist alley, and a wide range of panels for both the general public and comic book fans (our “See What’s New in Store for 2014” is just one example).
What’s in store for Paris Comics Expo 2014?
More small editors, many more artists, an art auction, an exposition by Brian Cronin with a “Best of” his “Comic Book Legends Revealed,” which will focus on some funny aspects that even the fans could have missed like, for example, cameos of Clark Kent in Marvel comic books and those types of things.
Do you host, sponsor, or participate in any other sorts of comics/popular culture events? If so, which ones and what is your role?
FCBD and a “Pulp’s day” with crazy sales where people left the store carrying as many books as they could.
Do you see yourself as part of a larger community? If so, what sort of community?
Yep, the community that can’t wait until Wednesday for new comics.
What sorts of customers do you generally attract and do you do so purposefully?
The nice ones. We’re lucky for that.
Does your shop have a “core philosophy” of any kind?
Hummmm, we’ve tried for a very long time to carry every book we could but sadly now, with all the different editions and the fact that our store is in central Paris and not let’s say . . . central Kansas, it has become more and more difficult. We try to find and use as much space as we can, but we can’t push the walls.
What factors have influenced the way you’ve set up your shop?
Fill it with as many books as possible.
What do you sell and why?
Everything we can and everything we love even more.
What sells best right now?
Saga keeps doing better and better, but Batman andThe Walking Dead occupy the top spots for single issues and trades respectively.
What sorts of things do you recommend to new customers?
Depends of what they’re looking for. Classic complete runs for super heroes like Astonishing X Men from Whedon, classic Batman stories like The Long Halloween, Brubaker crime books, and lots and lots of Vertigo series . . .
Do you stock any self-published stuff? If so, what and why? If not, why not?
A little bit, usually some French magazines and some comics. Right now, I’m trying to get our hands on Demeter from Becky Cloonan. Relatedly, we’ve co-published a lot of artbooks with our friend Alberto Ruiz under the Trinquette label during the last couple of years.
What do you think of the “mainstream” depictions of comic-book shop owners, employees, comic fans, and shops in general?
I can’t help laughing at Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons, but not so much when television does direct its attention toward us because, as usual, it’s done in a very stereotyped and stupid way. Example: last year, for Paris Comics Expo, we had a big channel on the floor to do a quick presentation and they described our very mixed audience by saying something like “mostly teenage guys” in complete contradiction to the images that were proving the opposite. They have a precise idea of what they’re looking for and they don’t want to see anything else.
What are the major challenges of being a comic book shop owner in today’s market?
Find the time to create the most events possible to keep attracting more and more readers.
What would you say sets you and your shop apart?
We try our best to please all our customers. All of them. And our staff is great—they love comics but, most importantly, they want to share their passion. They’re hard workers and they’re nice. I know, you’re going to laugh and say “hey, that’s the minimum for a store,” but go check the competition . . . hahaha.
Do you take any specific steps to create a space where women, minorities, or LGBTQ people feel safe and welcome?
Not at all, I honestly believe our store is the kind of place where everybody feels welcome and there’s no need for a sticker on the door to convince them to enter without fear. Hey, if MLP Bronies feel safe and welcome in our store, I think that’s a good sign that everybody should.
Where do you see yourself in the history of French comicdom?
I hope we’re the ones that will succeed in creating an American comic book convention in Paris . . . if not, at least we’ll be the ones that tried hard 😉
And lastly, what are some French comics you’d recommend to our (mostly North American and British) readers?
You know what, I barely have time to read all the American comics I want, so French ones . . . I can only recommend what I know. Let’s say an hidden gem from Vertigo that has never been reprinted: Gifts of the Night by Paul Chadwick and John Bolton.
And if you really want an European book, get Paracuellos by Carlos Gimenez . . . If you don’t feel sorry for these little kids, your heart is made of stone.