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Committed: Oxfam is a Good Comic Shop (?)

It turns out that Oxfam is a very good comic shop. This statement won’t be as surprising to American comic book readers as it was to me, but imagine that I just said Goodwill is a very good comic shop” because that’s basically what it is, the English version of Goodwill. Admittedly it is a slightly nicer, cleaner Goodwill store (at least nicer and cleaner than the ones I’ve seen) and one dedicated to selling only books and comics, but it is basically that type of store.

Around this time last year I took the same trip I’m on now, back to London to visit friends and family. At that time the trip elicited all sorts of thoughts and feelings about the culture, and the British propensity for flawed, decidedly non-superheroic heroes. This time however, for some reason my first glimpse of the gray, wintery “sunlight” (let’s be kind and pretend there’s a sun involved somewhere) elicited slightly different feelings. Years ago when I first moved to San Francisco, one of the first things that captivated me was the yellow, Californian sunlight. This jubilant quality of light really does affect everything, and my return to Britain brought this idea home to me. “This” I thought ruefully “is the real world, no sunshine, no bright colors, just gray austerity.” Now keep in mind that I was getting off an all-night flight I hadn’t slept on, with only one rather poorly chosen comic book to read; A manga called 7 Billion Needles. I chose this book because the cover had the look of an old Penguin paperback from the 1960’s, which while beautifully designed is actually a rather simplistic and bleak story about about warring disembodied god-like creatures, one good and one bad, possessing and eating young schoolchildren. Combining this bleak tale with my hatred of early mornings, and you begin to see why the dim British light, filtering through the heavy cloud cover was getting me down. The last 15 years in California felt like a fantasy, this was not the perkiest way to begin my London vacation.

With these strange feelings rumbling around my head today, I went for a brisk walk to try and shake off the ridiculous mood. My parents suggested looking in to the used bookshop down the road, “They even have comics!” they offered cheerily, so of course I took a look and was very happily surprised. In the years since I left London, the charity organization Oxfam have enterprisingly realized that a lot of people read a book once, then don’t know what to do with it. These donated books are so plentiful that they have enough for many dedicated used book shops, with all the proceeds going to charity. Within these donated books there are a fair amount of donated comic book collections, random and varied, which make up a decent enough collection to happily browse at 80¢-$3 each.

Most of us remember the childhood pleasure of idly flipping through giant boxes of random comic books, blissfully losing hours in the concentration of searching for the odd treasure amongst all the weird comic books. It was a complete surprise to me to realize that the most time I’ve spent in years thumbing through random back issue bins is in Oxfam, a place usually associated with cast off clothing and unwanted random kitchenware.

In my rummaging, I found a 1982 Marvel Annual, which despite being named “Marvel” was actually all Hulk. I expect that is because he was on TV at the time. The art was horrible. Black and white, the thing looked like it was printed on sugar paper. I thought about buying it for a while, mostly for the amazing/terrible cover. I even pulled it out and held on to it, but then realized it was rubbish and left it. I also didn’t buy (but now regret it) a hardcover 1978 2000AD Annual. This was so early that 2000AD was still mostly soldiering and gore instead of the space and science influenced violence I’d come to expect. Half in color, this gem might be something I have to go back for, even if I end up giving it away later to more appreciative American friends (who didn’t get to see this stuff growing up.) More pointlessly, there was a copy of the 1988 Shadow Annual by Andy Helfer and Kyle Baker. This was great, I remember when it came out and I bought it the first time. For about $1.80 I bought it to give away. I know that sounds silly, but I like it so much that I want someone else to read it too, someone who might otherwise have no interest in it.

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I did buy a little pocket-sized, British “boys” comic book called Time-Warp Warrior, part of the “Commando, War Stories in Pictures” imprint. Too funny really, this terribly drawn little black and white comic looks ridiculous, with a combination of time traveling folks from the future, a medieval battle and both the first and second world wars, but it was worth it. The title alone is pretty hysterical, but the interior is even better. I’ll definitely give this away when I get back to the states, it’s too funny not to share. There were also a handful of really early back-issues of Hellblazer. I considered buying these for quite a while, even though I have them somewhere, just because digging them out is a giant hassle and I want to read them again. After careful consideration I decided not to, just because I sort of hope that someone who’s never read Hellblazer might pick up that whole run (there were a lot of them) and it seems churlish to just buy the early ones and screw over anyone who buys the rest of them.

In total this was not a very big haul, but I’ll probably go back since it is just a short walk down the road. Most of all it felt great to spend time quietly and methodically going through the bins, just as I used to when I was a little kid, something I haven’t made the time to do in a long while. In many ways this indulgence helped me to stop categorizing this visit to London as a simple trip, and to begin thinking of it as an actual vacation.

As someone who’s often asked what to do with unwanted back issues of comic books, I can see the beauty of encouraging people to hand them over to charity. Why isn’t this a more common practice? I know a lot of people who want to get rid of their comic collections, but don’t know what to do with them. Some comic book stores will buy random comic book collections, but usually only by weight. I know of a comic shop that buys for 75¢ a pound, at which point you wonder why you’d bother selling them. It is essentially nothing, and in some ways we’re lucky that the comic shops don’t charge us for buying the damn things, since it is more and more unusual for people to buy them. With more compilation reprints than ever and now comic books being produced digitally for iPads and other readers, people just aren’t buying back issues. With all that to contend with, the best and most satisfying bet is to hand them over to Oxfam, who will not only sell them to benefit people, but also ensure that the marvelous books don’t just end up in landfill. I would love to see this become a practice in America too, as I would gladly give them 1 or 2 long boxes of entirely random comic books that I have lying about just taking up space. Clearly donation is something I need to look into on my return home next week.


A couple years ago I donated about 3,000 Valiant Comics to the local Goodwill. It helped me free up the space, and it would be nice to think some of those books made it into hands of people who will enjoy reading them.

Thrift stores are great for finding old comics and books. My local Goodwill has an entire shelf of comics for 25 cents each. At another shop I found some really great older Marvel and DC comics for 50 cents each. And at a Salvation Army I found a ton of old Dell paperback novels for a dollar each. I have enough reading material from these places to last me for years!

I’m pleased for you that you found this. Unfortunately none of the charity shops near me seem to stock anything at all in the way of comics (and in the area of Cardiff I live in I am literally surrounded by charity shops).
On a visit to Glasgow though I did find an Oxfam that has quite a bit of comics. Odd pricing policy though, everything was a blanket £1.50 regardless of the content, quality or condition. This can make for the occasional bargainous find, but is generally just annoying.

I see several people beat me to it. My first thought was, “Y’know, Goodwill’s a pretty good comics shop too,” at least around here. In a dive-in-the-quarter-box-and-dig sort of way, anyhow.

I agree totally with Rhod’s point about about Oxfam/ charity shops charging about £1.50 for random back issues, I think they are still under the mid-90s impression that “comics are valuable”. I virtually never buy single issues when I see them in Oxfam cause they’re to expensive to buy just for the hell of it. It’s not really a ‘quarter box’ if there almost the same price as a new issue oof Dectective Comics or whatever. I do occasionally find some interesting trade paperbacks in there though, I got a Penguin paperback collection of Tank Girl stories from the 90s recently.

Oh, if you are still in London, I’d gladly have that Shadow annual off you! I’ve fallen in love with Kyle Baker from Wednesday Comics and Deadpool MAX and I wish his Shadow stuff was easy to get hold of.

That Helfer/Baker Shadow stuff was amazing. I wish the franchise rights would align so that someone would reprint it (preferably not with “modern coloring” imposed on it, though if that’s the only option I’ll grit my teeth and put up with it)

In Glasgow, there is a bookshop-style Oxfam on Byres rd. that has a lot of good comics like The Invisibles, New Teen Titans, JLA, a load of Ultimate titles, 2000ad reprints, Spider-man, you name it-all priced at £1.50! That’s Ok, even if they have a load of Free Comic Book Day ones in there too, but the Graphic Novels are a complete joke in terms of the price, they had part 1 of Kurt Busiek’s Secret Identity priced at £10, presumably because it had a deluxe cover and looked more like a collection than a single issue. I also spotted a Bendis and Finch Avengers TPB for an unbelievable £25!!! Actually, a lot of the collections just sit there, rather than get sold which is a shame, because i know Oxfam do get TPB’s in and plenty of people go in to look through the floppies hoping to fill gaps in their collections, but never buy the insanely overpriced TPB’s. Ultimately, I think this means the sorting centre doesn’t send as many graphic novels there as they do other Oxfam bookshops. I am not criticising those who run the shop, incidentally, rather i am expressing a wish they would get someone with a clue in to price the comics realistically.

Hell yeah. Itchy’s flea market (hand to god) was my major haul.
Weekly trips all over the city was my M. O.

Plus: not moldy = ten times better.

You know what’s a really good comic shop? The public library. They’re practically GIVING books away! For now, anyway…

I actually got the almost- complete “not brand eech!?!?!” at an salvation army

I tend to use charity shops like Oxfam (although not Oxfam itself as it tends to be more expensive than the rest) for random music & movie finds, but occasionally discover book & comic gems. That is how my collection of Dennis O’neill’s The Question began years ago.

dnwilliams is also right that some libraries have good graphic novel sections. A couple of City centre ones near me (Liverpool & Birkenhead) have good collections, however, a year or so back, I found my local library had books like Sandman in with the children’s collection!

Rhod, is the Byres Rd Oxfam that jimjokk is talking about the same one you refer to??

And buttler (‘I ‘ate you, Butler!’ – obviously I don’t; it’s a quote from an exceedingly old British sitcom!) I hate ‘modern colouring’ too!

And, dammit this is the last post, promise! I got that 2000AD annual for my Christmas, when I was 8 – it’s a cracker! Round about the same time I also loved Commando, but I read one recently and Jesus Joanie it was awful.

Blair – yes it is.
I don’t know if their pricing policy for TPBs has changed between me going and jimjokks visit – a few years ago I was in there and saw an almost complete set of Exiles TPBs for £5 each. Typically though they didn’t have the one volume that I was looking for.

I work at a library. When I get tired of comics I bring them in to work and put them in our magazines for sale. Everything in the bin costs 5 cents. The comics are usually gone in a day or two.

Always think of your local library, people! :)

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