Legendary Zanadu Comics closing


The vanishing of comic’s once sacred places: Zanadu Comics gives up the good fight.

For those of us who can remember an age before the MCU and the mainstream explosion of superheroes, before big-budget blockbusters and the myriad of quality shows featuring masks and do-gooders that now populate the networks, before fans of the genre were counted by the millions, the humble comic book store was something of a sacred site.

Like the Christian catacombs or the hidden groves of the ancient Druids, these places were often dark and inaccessible, known only to a few, dedicated to the preservation of secret entities that the world-at-large knew nothing about.

Our gods were Swamp Thing and Spawn, Ghost Rider and Mr. Mxyzptlk. We gathered in small groups of a dozen or so in the cramped confines of humble stores that smelled of ink and paper– sandwiched, as they were, between beauty salons and pizza parlors, the air inside them heavy with the kind of furtive excitement that only comes from revelation–to revere these unknown heroes, to fear these whispered villains.

We didn’t know then if it would last, this thing: comics. Eternal and ancient, certainly, pre-dating most of us, they’d been proclaimed dead and brought back as many times as Ra’s Al Ghul, and we always worried that this might be the one, the real end. So each new issue felt like it might be some deathbed prophecy, handed out to our devout group of disciples in these unremarkable, often shabby buildings.

We did more than carry The Word. We carried the images, too. Like all good prophets, we never considered ourselves special, but we knew the value of what we carried, and, more, we knew those seemingly innocuous buildings for what they really were–temples.

One of the greatest and most beloved of these ancient sites, Seattle’s Zanadu Comics, announced it would be closing this past week, effective January 2018, after 42 years of business.

The store announced the decision on their Facebook page, stating, in an emotional post, “The dream has ended… The good guys don’t always win…the money coming in does not equal the money going out…The industry has changed, our clientele has diminished…”

I only went to Zanadu once, during a trip to Seattle while I was in college, but I still remember it. Zanadu was something of a Mecca, even then, and I remember being surprised by how small it was. Similar to seeing the Mona Lisa in person, it made me wonder what all the fuss was about. How something so little could have such an impact?

As was, and still is, my way, I quickly found myself browsing. After shelling out a few dollars, I was seated inside reading a comic I’d never heard of that grabbed me right away. It was 100 Bullets by Azzarello and Risso, and if you’ve ever read it, you know that I didn’t move from my seat until I’d finished it.

After that, I read another, and another, the bustle of the store flowing around me, its familiar culture embracing me, as passersby inquired about my reading or nodding enthusiastically in support of my Watchmen t-shirt, and I was struck–as I often was in comic stores at the time–not at how different this legendary place was from my hangouts back home, but by how similar they all felt, as if every store was some Infinite Earth copy of itself: backward or upside down, yellow instead of red, but the same in the important ways, each store a beating heart in a living, breathing religion.

One we hoped we could keep off life support.

When I heard the sad, impossible news about Zanadu, it was during a week that saw the continued dominance of Thor Ragnarok, the highly-anticipated reveal of Justice League, and the premiere of Marvel’s Runaways. With a press of a button I could bring up a dozen streaming television shows, three times as many on-demand movies.

Yet, here was this venerable store–a once proud bastion against the encroaching bleakness that would be a world without comics–shuttering its doors for lack of interest.

It was a most unexpected tragedy for me and those like me–the aging devotees of a now world-wide, mainstream phenomenon–an all too common one lately. Another store closed, one more church burned to the ground.

We never imagined in those dark, dangerous days that our faith would grow and spread, change and adapt, become something bigger (dare I say better) than we ever dreamed, but that in the transformation we’d lose our intimate rituals, our sacred places.

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I cannot speak for my fellow devotees, but there is an irrepressible sadness in me at this loss, and at the unavoidable prospect of future losses, even as I rejoice at the newfound options staring up at me from out of my various electronics and handheld devices.

We have won the war, my friends. Superheroes have not only survived, but thrived.

Yet, even in the face of this unprecedented success, we’re still losing battles, losing sites. And if you’re anything like me, there are times when, unexpectedly, you miss the struggle of those hard days, when you would trade all the streaming and the CG, the blockbusters and the A-list actors, for one quiet afternoon in the corner of these lost holy places–for one more trip to Zanadu Comics.