Category Archives: Comics / Graphic Novels

After three decades, Astro Books faces dire financial challenge

Comic Book store at 1844 Ste.Catherine St.W, near Guy, in danger of closing.

Astro Books is one of the largest retailers of new, used and collectible comics in Canada

Montreal Gazette, RENÉ BRUEMMER

DAVE SIDAWAY Astro Books has launched a crowdfunding campaign in the hope that its loyal clientele can help offset a $20,000-plus tax bill. “If we can get through this year, I think we can make it,” says 71-year-old co-owner Betty Stock.

Love, comic books and addiction have colluded to keep Astro Books alive for more than three decades. But of late, Montreal’s rising commercial tax rates, construction and the indignities of age are conspiring against it.

After 33 years mainly in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce on Sherbrooke St., and downtown on Ste-Catherine St. a bit west of Guy, one of the largest comic-book retailers in the country is appealing to its local community with a crowdfunding campaign to help cover its $20,000-plus share of the landlord’s tax bill.

After a slow winter in which drivers who fear construction detours were reluctant to venture downtown while other customers chose cocooning over browsing, owners Paul and Betty Stock were unable to save for the tax hit. The financial situation for the siblings, for whom the store is both a lifeline and a way of life, is tight.

“If the money doesn’t come in, I think we will have to close. I think so,” says Betty, 71, who deals with customers and staff with a seasoned grumpiness offset by the twinkle in her eye. “And that’s hard.”

On top of the tax bill, Astro Books (or Librairie Astro, as the awning reads) has to deal with rent north of $3,500 a month, rising hydro and water meter bills and salaries for four employees.

The store’s dog-eared appearance and a window display featuring used books ranging from Shakespeare’s Othello to a dated copy of Lonely Planet’s guide to India belies a well-organized enterprise that sells in the range of 100,000 comic books a year, as well as CDs, videos, graphic novels, collectible cards and used books of the popular fiction variety.

Key to the comics sales is a reserve system for 400 clients (it used to be 600) for whom Astro puts aside new orders as deliveries come in each week. Most customers pick them up, while some orders are mailed out as far as Taiwan. Some clients order dozens of titles — one pays $125 a week for his comic fix — but most are in the $10-to-$15-a-week range.

It has made Astro one of the largest retailers of new, used and collectible comics in Canada, with loyal customers dating back more than 20 years. They shifted their focus to comics and closed their N.D.G. store about 15 years ago when the book market slumped.

Stock says she’s seeing a shift back toward print, both for books and comics, that is also evidenced in growing sales of printed books worldwide as the popularity of Kindle and other e-readers declines.

“If we can get through this year, I think we can make it,” she said. “Book sales are getting better, and comic book sales, which had bottomed out, are climbing. People are seeking that tactile experience.”

As customers who grew up on superhero fare have matured and evolved, so have comic books, branching out to a wide variety of genres that include murder mysteries and romantic comedies. Ms. Marvel, about a New Jersey high school girl of Pakistani descent who suddenly attains superhero powers, is the first comic to have a Muslim headliner; it was a smash hit, indicative of publishers’ willingness to reflect a more diverse society, noted store clerk David Villeneuve. Acclaimed writers like Margaret Atwood and Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk have entered the graphic-novel genre.

For customers like Sean Gallagher, it’s the ambience and the availability of new genres, many chosen for him by store employees, that have kept him coming back for 20 years.

“I like the convenience, and the atmosphere,” says Gallagher, a 42-year-old computer designer who fell in love with comics at the age of nine.

Gallagher is also picking up titles like Looney Tunes and Teen Titans for his seven-year-old son, aiding in the store’s marketing strategy of “getting them addicted.” Because comic books are written as serial novels, with storylines spanning multiple editions, once a reader has read one, they want to see how it ends.

“They find a used comic at $1 — it gets them hooked,” Stock says. Soon, hopefully, they’re following a few titles a month.

For Von Allan, both a customer and a comic-book creator and graphic novelist, much of the store’s charm lies in its willingness to support and promote lesserknown titles outside of the mainstream, including his own.

“A store that is willing to lend a hand and help rookies get started is rare,” Allan said. “And Paul’s been doing that for decades. I can’t stress that enough. For a young artist starting out, it means the world. We need more stores like this, and I’m saying that as a friend, customer and comic creator.”

The last few years have been hard on the Stocks. Betty walks with two canes, but still comes in daily. Paul, 67, got past a bout of flesh-eating disease several years ago, then suffered a stroke about five years back that left him partially paralyzed. He still comes in for a few hours a day, and works from home.

“If this store closes, he would turn into a vegetable,” Betty says. “So will I. I’m not looking for that.”

Across the street at Capitaine Québec, neither is owner Charlie Vaccaro. With three comic stores in a three-block radius downtown, the close-knit competition is good for business, he said, bringing in customers from all over Montreal.

“If Astro closes, it might be short-term gain for me in terms of getting a few reserve-list customers, but … it would be long-term pain,” he said.

After half a lifetime serving book lovers and comic-book addicts, Betty says it’s the fun she would miss.

“Generally, the comic-books community is a very nice community,” she said. “We’re nice, and a bit weird.”

A link to Astro Books’ crowdfunding page is available at their website,

A store that is willing to lend a hand and help rookies get started is rare. And Paul’s been doing that for decades. I can’t stress that enough.

Judges Select Gross, Peter, Prohias, and Seda for Eisner Hall of Fame

Voters Will Select 4 More Inductees

For a complete list of the judges’ choices and the nominees with bios and artwork, please click here.

Comic-Con International has announced that the Eisner Awards judges have selected four individuals to automatically be inducted into the Will Eisner Comic Awards Hall of Fame for 2017. These inductees are Milt Gross (early newspaper cartoonist known for such strips as Count Screwloose of Tooloose, Nize Baby, and That’s My Pop!), H. G. Peter (original Wonder Woman artist), Antonio Prohias (creator of MAD’s “Spy vs. Spy”), and Dori Seda (pioneering autobiographical underground cartoonist). In most years, the judges select only two automatic inductees, but an exception was made this year as part of the Will Eisner centennial celebration (Eisner would have turned 100 on March 6).

The judges have also chosen 17 nominees from which voters will select 4 to be inducted in the Hall of Fame this summer. These nominees are Peter Bagge, Howard Cruse, Steve Englehart, Justin Green, Roberta Gregory, Bill Griffith, Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez, Francoise Mouly, Jackie Ormes, George Pérez, P. Craig Russell, Posy Simmonds, Walt Simonson, Jim Starlin, Rumiko Takahashi, and Garry Trudeau.

2017 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards

Nominees Announced for 2017 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards
Sonny Liew’s The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye Tops List with Six Nominations

Comic-Con International is proud to announce the nominations for the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards 2017. The nominees were chosen by a blue-ribbon panel of judges.

Click here for a complete list of the 2017 Eisner Awards Nominations


Once again, this year’s nominees reflect the wide range of material being published in comics and graphic novel form today, with over 120 titles from some 50 publishers and by creators from all over the world.

Topping the nominations is Sonny Liew’s The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye (Pantheon), originally published in Singapore. It is a history of Singapore from the 1950s to the present as told by a fictional cartoonist in a wide variety of styles reflecting the various time periods. It is nominated in 6 categories: Best Graphic Album–New, Best U.S. Edition of International Material–Asia, Best Writer/Artist, Best Coloring, Best Lettering, and Best Publication Design.

Boasting 4 nominations are Image’s Saga and Kill or Be Killed. Saga is up for Best Continuing Series, Best Writer (Brian K. Vaughan), and Best Cover Artist and Best Coloring (Fiona Staples). Kill or Be Killed by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips is nominated for Best Continuing Series, Best Writer, Best Cover Artist, and Best Coloring (Elizabeth Breitweiser). Two titles have 3 nominations: Image’s Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda (Best Publication for Teens, Best Painter, Best Cover Artist), and Tom Gauld’s Mooncop (Best Graphic Album–New, Best Writer/Artist, Best Lettering), published by Drawn & Quarterly. Another dozen publications have 2 nominations.


David Brin looks at SF webcomics

From David Brin’s blog

A few years back I posted a review of my top choices in science-oriented webcomics, highlighting outstanding works such as xkcd, Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, Girl Genius, Schlock Mercenary, Abstruse Goose, Tree Lobsters, Scenes from a Multiverse, Dresden Codak, and others.

This time let’s follow-up with a selection of yet-more truly creative online comics, some serious space dramas, others satires or comedies. Many offer humorous insights as they delve into science, space, the future… and human nature. You’ll find star-spanning voyages, vividly portrayed aliens, frequent use of faster-than-light travel (FTL), but …. no superheroes here!

(And yes, I have hereby destroyed your productivity for the next two months!)

Many of these talented webcartoonists are dedicated to updating their works daily or weekly, offering their stories and artwork for free online. You can support your favorites by subscribing to their websites, pledging on Patreon (many provide exclusive bonus materials to donors), or buying their collected works.

In no particular order, this is just a selection of the marvellous stuff out there…

Stan Lee Makes a Cameo During Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns 30th Anniversary Panel

….The evening took an unexpected turn right out the gate as Miller’s panel was interrupted by an audience heckler. That heckler turned out to be none other than Marvel Comics legend/cameo king Stan Lee, who was on hand to celebrate pal Miller’s accomplishments. Lee of course demanded to know who would win in a showdown between publisher mainstays Batman and Captain America, to which Miller slyly responded “Robin.”….

Read all about it!




Football, as visualized by Jack Kirby

That Time the NFL Paid Jack Kirby to Design an Intergalactic Super Bowl

“At the height of his power in the 1970s, Kirby was commissioned for a Kirby football playerfeature in the October 21, 1973 issue of Pro! Magazine, the official publication of the National Football League. At the time, Kirby had switched to DC comics from Marvel, and presumably had a little spare time to pick up extra commissions. Hyperbolically titled “Out of Mind’s Reach,” Kirby’s collection of art depicted a future pro football match and debuted bizarre new costume designs for four different teams.

Full article is here.   Art for the intergalactic Super Bowl can be seen here.