I have heard, through the traps, that the owner of Sydney’s Comic Kingdom, Steve Smith, has passed away. It has brought up a swell of old memories for me. Comic Kingdom was a very important place for me.
As a kid in Sydney, I remember passing the shop on Liverpool St many times. It was near Chinatown, and I wondered what was inside long before I would go in. But when I finally did, around 1990/1991, it was a wonderland. A confusing wonderland, but a wonderland.
I know it was 1990/1991 because I remember what I bought. It was the era of some of the most seminal comics of all time. Todd McFarlane’s Spider-Man #1. Claremont and Jim Lee’s X-Men #1, all four covers. Death of Superman. That first wave of Image Comics. I remember bundling upstairs where the super hero comics were. Leaving my school bag downstairs, of course. And scanning the new releases lined up across the floor.
Comic Kingdom was a strange store. It seemed like most of the time they didn’t want you in there. It looked more like an adult book store, with a small side door and no way to look into store from the street. Half of the upstairs was this strange rarities section, roped off and out of bounds. The bottom floor back room was full of strange games and fanzines and again, you’d get asked why you wanted to go in there. And the comics on the ground. The mess everywhere.
Somewhere along the line, Comic Kingdom fell behind the times. I think it was in Scott McCloud’s Making Comics, where he talks about the Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons, and how the grains of truth in that character had to go if comics were to survive. As comic stores became more family friendly, girl friendly and just generally friendly, Comic Kingdom did not. That small hidden door. Leave your bag downstairs.
Their cross town rivals Kings Comics seemed to understand the changing world of comics better, and thrived. I discovered comics at Comic Kingdom. But I held my standing order at Kings for many years. Other stores that felt like secret clubs, like The Land Beyond Beyond, went away. But somehow, without changing or updating, Comic Kingdom survived. I pass it all the time, but I never go in. I still, now, don’t want to impose.
That facade did a great job advertising comics to Sydney. It’s so faded and out of time. You can’t see into the store. The only change was when they stopped trading on Sundays and the sign says Open 6 Days. But it was in a prominent space, that shop held a promise of fantastic stories and great heroes. In a time when superheroes are such a big part of culture, it is sad to think that one of the key pioneers in Sydney has gone. At some point, so will that wonderful store facade.