Forest City’s first comic book store shutting doors after 38 years due to declining sales and changing times

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It was death by a thousand cuts.

The Comic Book Collector — the first comic store in London, and possibly one of the first in Canada, if not North America — is closing at the end of the month.

It wasn’t the fierce competition in the Forest City that has forced owner Tim Morris to close down.

It wasn’t the fact Marvel Comics has neglected its print products in favour of blockbuster movie adaptations featuring Wolverine, the Avengers, Captain America and Iron Man.

It wasn’t the summer construction east of Adelaide.

It was all of those things.

“It’s not making any money,” Morris said.

The store’s third owner, Morris, 60, says he simply can’t afford to sink any more cash into the venture.

The store, located on Dundas Street, opened in 1979, founded by Eddy Smet — who has been in the headlines the last few years for donating parts of his vast comic-book collection to Western University, and picking up awards for his service to the city’s geek community.

That was a time when most kids (it was kids who read comics, not thirtysomething and fortysomething men) bought their comics off spinner racks in places like Sherwood Forest Mall and Westown Plaza Mall, not specialty direct-market outlets like the Comic Book Collector became.

The store passed to other hands in 1986.

Steve Jewett sold it to Morris, a self-described “huge geek” in 2001. He regrets it’s closing before what would be the Comic Book Collector’s 40th anniversary in 2019.

Among the customers who passed through its doors were future graphic novelists Diana Tamblyn and A Jaye Williams.

“My sister, Alison Williams, and I have been regulars at the Comic Book Collector for almost 40 years! It was our first discovery that you could get all the comic books you love in one special store,” Williams said. “(All three owners) all supported our venture into the indie comic-book industry too, carrying the books we created under our banner SillWill Studios.”

One of the biggest factors in the sales decline, Morris says, is the proliferation of needless, low-quality books the last few years from Marvel Comics especially. “Marvel Comics has been doing a bunch of crap for the last five years,” he said. So where there was once a single monthly title starring self-reflective mutant antihero Deadpool, there are now four. “Give me one good Deadpool book,” Morris said.

There’s also a disconnect between the company’s comic universe and the cinematic one.

“(Fixing) continuity would bring a lot of people back,” Morris added.

He’ll have customers come in the store fresh from the multiplex who are confused because they don’t understand why the Hulk’s alter ego, Bruce Banner, is dead.

And Spider-Man is Hispanic.

And Thor is a woman.

Indeed, one could argue superheroes have never been more popular, thanks to the movies and video games, while the dwindling comics audience has been cannibalized by too many “event” storylines aimed at collectors, not fans.

Even a city like London now sports two annual comic conventions, Forest City Comicon and London Comic Con, more proof comics are mainstream.

“They’re bringing in their kids now, trying to get them hooked on comics,” Morris said of the original generation of Comic Book Collector shoppers.

But many of those children and teens don’t want to read about Batman, they want to be Batman, which immersive video games allow them to do.

They don’t need the books.

One of the most bizarre days at the shop that Morris remembers came in about 2012, when a raccoon plunked itself down on the rug adjacent to the front counter.

This was in October of that year, before Rocket Raccoon became a big deal thanks to the Guardians of the Galaxy movies.

“Best. Halloween. Costume. Ever,” somebody typed under the raccoon’s photograph online.

“Each store has its own flavour, its own thing,” Morris said of competitors like Heroes, L.A. Mood, Worlds Away and B.A.’s Comics.

Morris is discounting his stock by as much as 40 per cent until the end of August so he goes out with a bang, not a whimper.

And of the Old East Village, he is philosophical. “The neighbourhood’s crawling back,” he said.

Only he won’t be in business to witness its future shape.

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