6 Aug 2015

RIP Silver Snail (Ottawa) - Comics

A friend was the first to send me the notice. Throughout the day people brought it up when we met. Folks at work asked if I had heard, and my news feed on google slowly filled up.

It seems my history with comic shops has led folks to think I’d care about the ‘crazy’ news. The Silver Snail was closing.

When I was 12, I found work for Anne Billows who owned Orleans Gum Cards and Comics, her husband Don Billows owned Capital City Cards and Comics (it was on Sparks Street across from where Lady Bear work's today!). Each week I earned a half dozen or more comic books, two or three bags of candy from the bulk shop nextdoor, and the odd five dollar bill. When you’re in the seventh grade getting bulk candy and new comics every week was a fucking dream. Over the two years I helped out, I ran into the fine folks from the Comic Cave (now a minor part of the Hobby Center – but still the same gents) at the local comic conventions in the years that Superman died and Image Comics became a thing.

After the Billows shut their pair of doors I worked (for money) for Curt at RGB Comic Corner when I was 14 and 15. After a falling out around 16 years old, I helped out at Comics Xcetera in Orleans working for Murray alongside Serge who also got me working the odd shift at the St Laurent location for Paul. Paul owned the St Laurent location of Comics Xcetera and half of the Orleans location. Murray over ten years ago bought out his store completely and renamed it Entertainment Ink. During this time I also helped out at Kindred Cards and Games which replaced RGB Comic Corner when Mr. B (Greg) bought out the place and after a year closed shop. It was sad to see him close the doors since he's the most pleseant shop keep I've seen over the counter in a comic book shop.

Another alum from the St Laurent location of Comics Xcetera is Dave who owned the Wizard’s Tower at the University of Ottawa, University Center and was forced to relocate. He now runs his shop in Barhaven. Since moving Dave's sold his stake in the Kanata location, to be bought up by the fine folks who owned the other half and since renamed the shop Kobolds Corner. I’ve hung out but I never worked with the gents from the Comic Book Shope, I always take time to chat with Randy (who plays the 40k with Ontos and Rocko) from the Merivale location and last time I saw Paul (not the same Paul from Comics Xcetera) from the Bank Street location, I was coming off a flight from BC and he gave me a big old hug (this is a big deal – I dislike touching folks) and we jabbered before his sister surprised his two kids when she came off her flight.

So I am familiar with comic shops and the ones in Ottawa in particular. I've seen them come and go. I've seen them change names, move locations, and die out - softly with grace or suddenly and without warning.

So the Silver Snail in Ottawa is closing down after 25+ years. Due to the popularity of comic book stories in mainstream media and the age of the store, folks are making such a big deal about it's closing. If this store was so important, all of these people crying lamentations for the Silver Snail should have bought from that store. If they would have done that, the shop would still be open. That's sad about this - it's only getting attention because of Hollywood and the popularity of the comic book 'based' films and not because it's some 'pillar' in the nerd community.

The passing of a comic book store is not uncommon. It’s a niche market, low volume, requiring a hefty collection of both new issues and old ‘back issues’. It costs a lot of money to run and keep a comic book store afloat. Now that comic books are part of the zeitgeist, online shops like Amazon and major box stores like Chapters are now competing for the comic book reader's dollar. The wee shop is now outnumbered and outclassed in weight. Many folks no longer collect individual issues and instead wait for the collected trade paper backs.

I rarely pick up singles (aka the individual issues) these days. 22 pages of great story and art is filled with to another ten pages of print ads. Beside storing the wee fuckers is not very friendly. TPBs, Trade Paper Backs are far simpler to shelve. When I was low on cash I used electronic media systems to buy and read my comics. For the first time in years I’ve no longer have a sub – aka subscription, or ‘pull list’. I’m only picking up the Invincible TPB with any regularity and my last sub was the Blade of the Immortal TPBs.

Funny story about Blade of the Immortal, Dark Horse the publisher printed the series in single issues until issue 100 while also printing smaller format TPBs. Due to the low sales of single issues they stopped the singles and only printed TPBs. There was a bit of an outrage from the fans but alas the internet was not as 'troll' filled or teeming with outspoken fanatics on every wee subject and interest.

Comic shops have had to bring more than singles and TPBs to their shops. Murray (Entertainment Ink) has a slew of stuff but sports team paraphernalia over the winter holiday season brings in half of his yearly income. The Comic Book Shope has expanded to board games, DVD’s, cards games and other collectables. Dave (Wizard’s Tower) is now one Canada’s largest Magic the Gathering online singles shops. The comics that used to take up a third of the store is now three book shelves of TPB’s and a single short wall of single issues.

The Snail kept to their guns, holding onto their roots as an almost ‘pure’ or comic 'bookstore'. The Toronto shop is a legend in the sphere of Canadian comic book shops, but the Ottawa annex is a lack luster old school community center for the comic lover. Anyone who’s worked behind the counter would tell you that this was a long time coming. Those who love the comic shop will tell you they are one of the last places where you could jabber with clerk for hours (sometimes to their loathing) on the minutia of the various picture stories that littered the shop.

I love my old things: My old TV shows (Banacek, McMillan and Wife, McCloud, and Quincy MD). My old movies (3 days of the Condor, TAPS, Rosemarie’s Baby, Her Majesties’ Secret Service). I love my mid-century style of three-piece suits, and the swagger of 1960's-70's tweed jackets and denim. I smoke a pipe in the summer on the deck of a cottage or while I’m out at my other job. I read and collect books alongside Lady Bear as a Library Technician. I love my copy of Flowers for Algernon, the poetry of Langston Hughes and Rudyard Kipling, and the music of Simon and Garfunkel and Led Zeppelin.

This love is over the fragile quality of these things – they will not last forever and that ‘mortality’ is what makes them that much precious. The comic bookshop, is now a rare thing. The comic book shop as we know it sells much more than the single news print single issues of DC Comics, Timely Comics (to be Atlas Comics, and later Marvel Comics) and Harvey Comics. The comic book shop as we remember it will change as time goes on – it will not last.

After 25 years of sticking to its guns, the Silver Snail has slowly crept away from Ottawa. Do not lament its passing because comics are popular, or simply because something is passing away. If you are invested in this facet of our culture and you want to see it preserved go buy your next TPB or single issue from a local shop and skip the odd discount from Chapters.

Only with your dollar will you be able to keep places like the Silver Snail open. We are why it survives and we are responsible for letting it go.