9th Feb 2012
Battle of the Bookshops: Page 45 in Nottingham
Page 45 is the best comic book shop in the world. If you are tempted to dismiss this as hyperbole, take a walk up Nottingham’s Market Street until you reach the black shop-front that brims with lovingly crafted installations based on some of the finest graphic novels available, and then wander in.
You will now find yourself surrounded by the widest variety of excellent comics imaginable: neatly stacked on shelves, atop a display table, facing you cover-first in the ‘always recommended’ section for the choicest morsels. You will begin to browse.
At some point, as you are a new customer, whoever is behind the counter will give you a welcoming smile and politely offer any assistance you might require.
If you take them up on the offer (and you should) you will be gently quizzed regarding your general reading tastes and particular interests, and then shown perhaps a half-dozen entirely suitable volumes for you to peruse.
Any and all requests for a recommendation, on whatever subject takes your fancy, is usually assured of at least three different choices for your consideration.
Their ludicrously varied stock covers all aspects of the medium, from reams of manga to journalistic reportage from a war-torn middle-east, from the exploits of the most famous spandex wearing superhero to the output of the smallest of small comic publishers, noir comics, historical tales, biographies, political comment, surrealist humour, epic tales and three-panel funnies.
All comics life is here, and the atmosphere and character of the shop is as far removed from the stereotypically uninviting geeks-only image of the comic book store as it exists in pop culture as can be imagined. This is a shop whose stated goal is to get everyone reading comics, not to cater to an increasingly small demographic of neckbeards.
The second time you go in, they will probably remember you, and, possessed of the uncanny knack for remembering names, faces and foibles of their customers, will be able to reel off new recommendations perfectly tailored to your tastes without prompting.
All will be related to you with infectious enthusiasm, encyclopaedic knowledge of the medium and a bone-deep love of comics. More than once I’ve gone in to pick up nothing more than a single issue, only to leave, some time later, lugging a bag weighed down with purchases I had no intention of buying but by then couldn’t wait to read.
A casual conversational opener from whoever is behind the counter that starts with “have you read …” will result in an experience akin to the politest and most pain-free mugging in the world.
Founded 18 years ago by Stephen Holland and the much-missed Mark Simpson, Page 45 remains the first and only winner of the Diamond Award for Best Comics Retailer in the UK. It is a plaudit entirely deserved.
Bit by bit, the store has built up a loyal and ever-expanding roster of customers with their fierce commitment to the idea that comics are for everyone, and that no matter what your interests there’s something in the medium for you.
They produce weekly batches of informative, witty and honest reviews of their continually expanding stock (made available on an excellent website adorned by nifty illustrations drawn by the artist Nabiel Kanan).
A book of the month club provides its members with the opportunity to pick up a hand-picked latest release at a discount, and signings by such luminaries as Posy Simmonds, Bryan Talbot and Bryan Lee O’Malley draw lines that stretch down the street and into the nearby square.
One Christmas, stumped for a gift idea for my nephew, I came away with a graphic novel (volume one of David Peterson’s fine Mouseguard series) they assured me would go over well with him.
Sure enough, his somewhat bemused grandparents found him reading it by torchlight under the duvet at 1am the night he received it. What finer testament to their taste and customer service could you ask for?
Guest post by Robin Lewis