Shop visit: Proud Lion, Cheltenham

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

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.

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Claire Napier

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  • Ian Tiller
    February 5, 2014, 6:04 pm

    I was a fairly avid comic book reader when I was a kid, but it sort of fizzled out as I got older. About 3 years ago I went with a friend (who is a massive comic book fiend) to Proud Lion on free comic book day. All I got on that day were the free comics. Ben was great that day and made me feel I was appreciated as a customer even though I wasn’t technically buying anything so I was perfectly happy to go back again in the future.

    Specifically, I started with Superman – War of the Supermen. Not the best story, good but not great but this was enough to rekindle my interest in comic books and make me into someone that’s not quite a regular at Proud Lion as I can’t get in all that often, but somebody who takes advantage of the reservation service that Ben offers. I now have Batman, Superman, Action Comics & Batman Superman in my folder. I quite like the movie tie-ins that are done as well. Ben knows this about me and always puts them in my folder without me needing to ask.

    The same can also be said about the recent villains issues with the lenticular covers from the New 52 DC comics. All the ones I regularly collected Ben put by with no obligation for me to actually buy them if I didn’t want. I did want to and I think I ended up spending around £75 that day on comics alone. The other great thing is if something’s coming out that Ben thinks I may like he tells me about it so I can decide in advance if I want it or not. If it weren’t for this I would have missed the first few issues of Batman Superman.

    The bottom line is I know every time I walk in that shop, I always feel welcome, I always receive great customer service and I will always walk away happy and feeling like I am a valued customer.

    It also helps that Ben is an all round nice guy too. If you haven’t been to Proud Lion, you need to go.


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