Nestled alongside the steep Sackville Street at the base of Halifax’s historic Citadel Hill, is Strange Adventures, one of the Maritime’s most well known comic book shops. It offers something for everyone: wall-to-wall comic books, shelves of manga, numerous cases of gorgeous figurines many of us only dream of owning, and every other inch and corner covered with all the things cool, fun and geeky in all the best ways.
Walking into Strange Adventures for the first time is an interesting experience for sure. Going down a few small stairs, you step into a short and often surprisingly small room that is taken to its limit when it comes to filling up with stuff. While the set up doesn’t allow for the most mobility when there are lots of people, otherwise it’s a dream. Everywhere you turn there’s stuff, stuff and more stuff; the kind of organized clutter that gives you something to stare at, play with and purchase for your own collections at every turn.
Some specifics, personal nostalgia and an interview with the store’s owner after the cut!
Comic books of all genres, era and style litter the walls and shelves when you first enter (along side boxes of free swag for the taking including toys, posters, manga and back issues). There are several turning racks of manga, updated with tons of new titles each week. Don’t hesitate to ask for any recent titles that may be hidden away in the backroom! There are so many manga titles and comics out there and only so much display space after all.
In the back of store are lines of T-shirts, wall scrolls and weird merchandise from everything from Invader Zim to Dr. Who. Head on over to the other side and find a wall of art books and compilations that’s impressive (enough that I require the presence of my tall friends for each full exploration of its numerous titles). Next to that is one of the favourite little spots for anime fans, a shelf that boasts random figurines, key chains, accessories and special art books that the Strange Adventures staff believes their visitors would enjoy. Did I ever expect to find the limited edition Shiki figurine from the violent boys’ love sim Togainu no Chi, which most have never heard of, nestled in my local comic shop? Heck no. But was I pleasantly surprised it was? Oh yes.
The staff are always friendly, helpful and informed, which needless to say is a great thing to find in a comic book shop. I’ve been into ones where every member on staff can’t tell their Spidermans from their Narutos. Try explaining how to order books that aren’t on their shelves to ‘those’ people. No thanks. You want it and Strange Adventures will get it if gettable.
Was I the envy of fellow high-schoolers back when I was the only one who could get a hold of CLAMP no Kiseki thanks to Strange Adventures? Not exactly, but that’s because they didn’t appreciate CLAMP! We flooded Strange Adventures with our wants and needs that credit card-less teens could never hope to find elsewhere and I still go to them now, looking forward to my occasional trips to the city to pick up my latest batch of special ordered swag.
It’s also always great to have someone to talk to about the epic new superhero movies in theatres (or cringe over the less-than-epic attempts at a superhero movie) when your usual acquaintances just “don’t get it”. Not to mention staff members, who even if they’re not fans themselves, know where to direct me to find the newest issue of Forgotten Realms graphic novel adaptations, boys’ love title or Batman the Animated Series pez dispensers.
Suffice to say, I spent (and still spend) much of my time in Halifax there at Strange Adventures. I always find lots of surprises and great new discoveries when I enter it, so long spelunking sessions and random drop-ins are a definite recommendation. And don’t forget to pop in for those special deals! The store has ever-changing special discounts and freebie deals running all year round.
Strange Adventures also attends local and regional events as vendors, such as at the anime and gaming convention, Animaritime. They also host the largest Free Comic Book Day set up on Canada’s East coast. Now expanded to a nearby church hall as of 2006, the event gives out thousands of free comics, manga and random fun little gifts to visitors of all ages each year.
Other bonuses to the store include it’s humorous and diversely expressed mascot character, Super Snipe and occassional visits from the friendly store-dog Baloo (sidekick to Super Snipe). Calum Johnston’s daughter, Addison, also makes some visits and is super sharp for her age! She’s recommend a good series to me before and was a fun conversationalist. If she plans to follow in her Father’s footsteps of taking care of this store, then I have confidence it’s going to be in good hands for years to come!
On my previous visit, Calum Johnston, the store’s owner, kindly agreed to answer a few questions for me about himself, Strange Adventures and his customers.
Care to share a little about yourself? And what is your position within Strange Adventures?
I’m the owner and founder of Strange Adventures Comic Book Shops. Started in Fredericton, NB, in 1992 after having worked at many other jobs and for several other comics dealers in Quebec and the maritimes. I’m 41 years old and have been a graphic designer, newspaper editor, radio programmer, tropical fish salesman, ad salesperson, chef, waiter, bartender, farm-hand, health care worker, labourer, reporter, actor, and several other jobs.
Can you give readers a short history of your store?
The Fredericton shop opened in 1992 in a tiny second floor spot. Worked it myself for a couple of years, getting a friend to help out on some weekends. Moved to Halifax in 1994 for a contract job doing production work for a magazine. Had my friend fill in for me while I was working in Halifax. It was a one year contract and had planned to move back afterwards but during the year, I met a nice Nova Scotia girl who had a good job here and I couldn’t ask her to move so I opened the second Strange Adventures in Halifax in 1995.
The Fredericton shop has moved into larger space and has two full-time staff and the Halifax shop has a couple of full-time and part time staffers.
As a business, who would you say is your target demographic?
Everyone, and I mean everyone. Not just folks who can read. The Owly comics have no words. They can be enjoyed by anyone!
Would you say your store has changed much in the last five years?
It’s certainly gotten a lot more crowded. We carry a lot more stock in-store than we did a few years ago. Some product lines have expanded, others contracted or deleted entirely. We used to have room for two couches, a couple of chairs, a TV and a fish tank!
Have the types of customers changed in recent years also?
Not really, just more of them. We’ve always strived to reach all types of people as I firmly believe there’s a comic for every taste. It’s our job to find the person and the comic and act as a sort of matchmaker.
How do you determine which items to bring into your store for sale?
Research – reading the solicitation info, contacting creators, publishers, sales agents. being familiar with the creator’s other works or similar products so one can gauge its potential. Sometimes emotion also plays a part. If there’s a book or item that I just have a good feeling about, or if it’s by a creator I particularly admire, I’ll want to support it.
Do you find the Internet is a useful tool for keeping informed on what’s currently “in”? And what do you find is the best source for this kind of information (employees, customers, etc.)?
Word of mouth will always be the best. Talking to employees and customers about what excites and interests them is very important. The internet is a terrific source for info as well, though much has to be tempered with reasoned judgement as one doesn’t always know the source or veracity of the information.
Approximately how much of Strange Adventures’ business is anime/manga related?
It varies from five to twenty percent, depending on the time of year, products available, etc.
How does this amount compare to five years ago? Was this change reflected in both store locations?
It’s roughly the same as it was. Manga and anime peaked during the Sailor Moon and Pokemon craze, especially due to the fact that manga and anime was much harder to come by in chain bookstores.
Which type of anime/manga items would you say have been the most popular in terms of sales and expressed interest?
The Naruto head-bands and the death note journals are probably our best-selling anime/manga related items. The figure keychains of various characters are always popular, too.
How is your store adapting to recent changes with the Canadian dollar in terms of pricing?
We have always gone by proper exchange rate in pricing our books, so there’s no real change. When the canadian dollar was worth 40% less than the american, some of our books had to be stickered with the correct canadian price. Over the last few months, the exchange rate has been between 2 and 5 % so we’re just using the american price and saving our stickers. If the dollar falls or rises, we’ll change our prices accordingly. Rest assured, we do not want to raise prices; it’s only done when the price we pay goes up.
What kind of changes do you foresee Strange Adventures going through in the next five years?
Well, I’d like to revamp the store to better display our products. New shelves, a full re-design. The shop may still have to move at some point, so I’m also looking for good retail space in the downtown area. A second store in HRM is also a possibility. Anime and Manga will always be a part of the shops as they have been from the very beginning. Anime sales have dropped off considerably as so many more outlets carry the DVDs and downloading has put several anime suppliers out of business. The manga is still growing and the audience for it is growing as well despite the scanlations on the web. Once the audience hits a plateau, then you’ll see the manga sales falter. It’s already happening with Tokyopop.
Do you or any employees care to make any recommendations for some things visitors should check out while visiting Strange Adventures?
Well, when in Halifax, be sure to check out Freak Lunchbox on Barrington Street – an amazing candy shop. Taz Records is around the corner from us and has one of the best selections of new and used music in the country. If it’s summer, walk a block down to pizza corner for a slice or go a block further to the library for some Bud the Spud fries or a hot dog from Bud’s brother Bill!
When at the shop, take your time to browse. No, we don’t want you to stand there and read everything, but we do encourage you to check out the selection of books. Monster, Death Note, Nana, Vagabond, Lone Wolf & Cub, Domu and Kindaichi Case Files are some of our favourites.
Thanks very much for taking the time to answer some questions! Anything else you’d like to mention to readers?
Keep reading and keep encouraging your friends to read. Share your manga because the more folks reading it, the better the industry as a whole!
So if you’re in the neighbourhood and have a geekish itch to scratch, or are just looking for a fun place to browse, then check out Strange Adventures! You never know what you may find. I’ve enjoyed every trip there for years and I’m sure I’ll continue to do so for years to come.