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Where All the Geeks Went Out to Play: Comic Kingdom

Know who `the man without fear’ is? Have a favourite X-Men character? Appreciate Harley Quinn more than Poison Ivy or Cat Woman? Want to slap someone in the face when you hear them ask who Frank Miller is? If you answered yes to any of the above then you, like myself, are a comic book geek. And by some sign of faith from the comic book gods above, we’re considered relatively cool at the moment thanks to the success of the Batman, Spiderman, Ironman, Hell Boy, Fantastic Four, X-Men and other film franchises.

But it wasn’t always this way. Before super-hero merchandise appeared in department stores and shiny, new comic book shops started sprouting up in hip, Sydney suburbs, there was one treasured spot us geeks could go to get the wholesome goodness of Marvel and DC – Comic Kingdom you can find out more about the cultural treasure that is Comic Kingdom. Squeezed between a trendy cafĂ© and a convenience store on Liverpool Street in the Spanish Quarter, you could be forgiven for walking past Comic Kingdom a few times before noticing it. With a lone Batman image standing guard at the entrance and a faded red and yellow sign that you can guarantee hasn’t been cleaned since the store first opened, it has become somewhat of an underground icon in Sydney. First opened in the late 70s, Comic Kingdom is the Sistine Chapel for comic book geeks, with thousands having made the pilgrimage through its doors and into the pop culture haven within.

Greeted by rows upon rows and shelves upon shelves of every obscure fan magazine or forgotten comic series you can think of, the first look inside Comic Kingdom can be a little overwhelming. As you make your way down the aisles crammed so full of content it’s spilling out in piles on the floor, there’s many a treasure to be found. For myself, that treasure was an immaculate copy of Cinefantasique, a now redundant film magazine that was wedged between some old Archie comics and manga novels. The issue in question was from the early 80s, and dedicated entirely to Alfred Hitchcock’s classic The Birds, one of my favourite movies of all time. For just $8, I was able to pick up this gem, complete with hand drawn illustrations of the film and ridiculously comprehensive interviews. It now has a treasured place on my mantelpiece, along with a book on the history of female superheroes I got for a measly $20. Like a garage sale on steroids, in Comic Kingdom, one person’s trash is literally another one’s treasure.

Encased in glass cabinets are superhero figurines, badges, limited edition stickers, key rings and all sorts of other cult toys, including complete collections of McDonald’s paraphernalia. Yep, you heard me right. Happy Meal toys from 20 years ago are considered valuable in some circles, and not just for the kitsch-factor. Dangling above are fan t-shirts, emblazoned with slogans ranging from the recent Twilight craze to old school throwbacks like Mr T’s B.A. Baracus from The A-Team. True misanthropic psychopaths will revel in the mint condition action figures from every possible cult, sci-fi, action movie known to man. Still in the box and nailed to the wall like some fabulous wall paper, you can have your very own Mark Wahlberg action figure from Tim Burton’s craptastic Planet Of The Apes remake. In fact, you can have the whole cast if you so desire, including Tim Roth as ape warrior Thade. It’s hard to believe anything could be funnier than Roth dressed as a gorilla in the movie, but the action figure sure comes close.

You might be surprised when you actually realise there are clerks behind the store counter – with the disheveled appearance, glasses and comic book in hand, they blend in flawlessly with the scenery. But as one of them informs me from his cosy corner behind the counter and strategically near the vintage Playboy’s, that’s just how they like it.

“People who come here generally know what they’re looking for and we don’t need to help them,” he says, preferring not to give a name. I suggest he use the pseudonym Oliver Queen (aka Green Arrow), but after rolling his eyes he tells me he would prefer to stay anonymous.
“They just want to browse without being bothered and we’re happy to let them do that.
“Besides the odd tourist, most customers are pretty quiet, get what they want, and leave.
“Yeah, I guess we have a loyal buyer base since we’ve been here so long.”

Oh, and FYI by the `odd tourist’, he would be referring to the regular flow of human traffic that tend to take a photo, utter the words “aw look, a real comic shop with toys, and posters, and stuff,” then leave.

Those willing to dig a little deeper should head out the door, turn around and head up the stairs to the second level of grande comic goodness. From Spiderman and Daredevil concept art to iconic Tales From The Crypt covers, you’ll feel oddly in awe as you make your way up through the walls lined with framed posters of classic comic covers. While downstairs may be for the casual fanboy and odd peruser, upstairs is where the experienced comic-book fiends go. With classics from Will Eisner and Jack Kirby to the very latest from Joss Whedon and Mark Millar, this is where you find Sydney’s die-hards. While clean and spiffy looking establishments like Kings Comics may have all the mainstream editions and newly released memorabilia you’re after, nothing can beat Comic Kingdom’s range and unrivalled collection of back issues, the most valuable of which are kept behind a velvet rope, accessible only to staff and select customers (presumably the Pope).

So, for all you kitsch collectors, urban splunkers, hunter and gatherer types out there, Comic Kingdom is the pad to find all things rad. I mean, really, where else can you find the latest edition of Buffy The Vampire, Season 8 AND a 90210 colouring book under the same roof? Nowhere, that’s where. It’s even open six days a week.

words: Maria Lewis


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