Sunday, August 18, 2002

Just Another of Philippine's Eccentricities...

Jeeps as public utility vehicles. Walking sari-sari stores (the peddlers who sell newspapers, cigarettes, mobile phone accessories, and whatever else they can carry). Zagu. These are phenomena that are unique to the Philippines, as far as I know. Let's add one more "uniquely Filipino" to the list, that of the comic shop.

While I whine about the state of bookstores here in the Philippines, perhaps comic aficionados have something more to grumble about. The typical comic shop in the country is similar to a newsstand. Shelves of comics are behind a saleslady (it?s always a saleslady if it?s not the manager... sexist?) and in front of the saleslady is a glass counter displaying more comics. This is basically the essential set-up, bigger comic shops having more glass counters and more salesladies. There's a rift between the customer and the comic. If you want to browse through a comic, you have to ask for the salesladies, who in turn either give you a terrifying stare as if you're a freeloader who has no intention of buying the comic, do it lazily and hand it to you with little enthusiasm, or take several minutes locating the comic you want even when it's right in front of her.

A comic shop is also seldom "just a comic shop". They usually sell other merchandise such as used books, romance novels, old and new magazines, action figures, anime wall scrolls, anime laminated cards, anime videos, anime CDs, Gundam model kits, Mage Knight tabletops, Magic: The Gathering cards, and RPG modules. Comic shops become focal points for other pastimes: Collectible Card Game (CCG) fans, Roleplaying Game (RPG) fans, tabletop gamers, anime enthusiasts, magazine subscribers, book readers, and random passersby. To some, this is a good thing. To others, it's not. For me, at least it's a one stop shop.

There's also the fact that comic shops are known and expected to stock the genre which they became famous for: superheroes. Thus, a lot of shelf space is devoted to that genre. Little is left for Indies like Strangers in Paradise, Blue Monday, and others. Sure, there always seems to be a Sandman in stock but that's only because Gaiman is really popular. You won't see Maus on the Filbars rack and if you're interested in obtaining it, you still have to place an order from Comic Quest. What little shelf space is left that could have housed those comics are filled with binders of Pokemon cards, magazine subscription placards, or rows and rows of DVDs, VCDs, and VHSs.

Comic shops also tend to be crowded since they're seldom larger than your own room. I mean with all the glass counters and the flashy displays, what's left is a small aisle for customers to pass through. Of course some of the larger stores usually hold events like CCG tournaments or hosts an RPG game or two, so even then, space is scarce. Occasionally though, there are artist signings and comic debuts, so the space isn't really wasted.

If you want a lively chat with a person who's familiar with the comics, you have to be fortunate to meet the store owner while he's IN the shop. I mean there are three famous comic book chains here: Filbars, Comic Quest, and CATS. More often than not, the salesladies don't have initiative and don't talk to the customers unless spoken to. Even then, a rare few really know what they're selling. It's only the owner who can tell you the ins and outs of this comic, what to expect in the next shipment and whatnot. Filbars, the most popular of the three, will never be a sociable atmosphere. Comic Quest and CATS has hope as some of the people who manage the place not only know what they're selling but what the customers want. But those are the exceptions rather than the norm.

Let's not get into prices. The fact that we got most of our stuff from the U.S. is already hard as it is. Shipping costs, taxes, etc... all compound to give us one big headache. Don't expect the big time retailers to have the "free comic day" promos the Westerners have simply because shipping it here isn't free anymore.

Yes, comic shops here are vastly different from the comic shops abroad. They're distinctly different, perhaps even distinctly Filipino. I can sympathize with the pains of my friends who love comics. I should, considering I borrow their comics rather than buy them from the store.

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