Don’t be fooled by that chiropractic-office sign—this Parkdale storefront is keeping the comic book-shop tradition alive on Queen West.
While Queen West recently lost its most iconic comic shop, Silver Snail, to Yonge Steet, a little further down the road, deep into Parkdale, West End Comics (1590 Queen St. W.) has opened up shop, offering a new westward destination for the city’s superhero-obsessed.
How it got started: West End Comics’ origin story traces a neat line from owner Kirk Sutterfield’s beginnings as a collector to his current role of proprietor. “I’ve always liked comics, collected comics, been into comics and had been selling them online for a couple of years,” he says. “I’m a general contractor, so I’m usually slow in the winter and [selling comics] became a secondary income. Then one thing led to another and I ended up amassing about 250,000 comics by buying up a couple of larger collections. That then went into developing an idea that finally worked out last fall, which was getting ahold of a space that was affordable and reasonable, setting up contacts with distributors, and lining up enough cash to buy the merchandise.”
Location, location, location: From the very beginning, Parkdale had been Sutterfield’s neighborhood of choice. “I’d been looking for about a year,” he says. “I looked around in other areas, but I focussed on this area—I live here and I’ve grown up here, so I know this area and I love this area.”
Sutterfield feels fortunate to have gotten into the rapidly gentrifying area when he did. “As Queen Street has slowly gotten consumed over the last couple of decades, there’s not much left of it,” he says. “All those tired old buildings are disappearing pretty quickly. And the rents are not inexpensive at the best of times. Fortunately, I have a really good landlord and we’ve gotten along really well.”
Building the business—literally: Sutterfield’s experience as a contractor has served him well throughout the process of opening his own store. “It’s a natural fit, in that I want to keep making stuff and building stuff,” he says. “But I became a contractor because I’m an artist—I’m a painter—so I needed to supplement my income, obviously. So really, this fits my character so well, because it satisfies my collecting impulse, my aesthetic impulse, and my building impulse.”
In an effort to open in time for the Christmas shopping season, Sutterfield completed the relatively extensive renovation project in just six weeks. “It’s called an organic build—you have a general idea and you just keep working it,” he says. “It’s not like, ‘Here’s the plan, go and execute it, this is my designy-designy store’—that’s not the idea here. I could have waited forever until everything was perfect or I could just open and say, ‘Hello, this is me and this is what’s happening over the next six months, year, three years.’ There’ll always be something going on here. The more I’m working on the place, the more fun it’ll be for people when they come back.”
Despite the store being something of a work-in-progress, Sutterfield feels he’s hit all the aesthetic touchstones he was aiming for. “The basic concept was a mix between a 1950s UFO and a 1970s muscle car with a bit of H.P. Lovecraft thrown in there.”
What’s in-store: In addition to actual comics, Sutterfield also stocks comic-themed merchandise, such as action figures, salt-and-pepper shakers, cookie jars, night-lights, and more. “Just trying to do one thing, you’re going to suffer a slow, lingering death,” he says. “I initially thought to just do comics—I’ll throw out my 250,000 comics and see how it goes—but the more I thought that through, the more I was like, ‘No, that’s not what I want to be, that’s not what I am, and that’s not what I want to offer.’”
So far, it’s been a successful strategy, drawing in a wide range of customers. “It’s been a total mix,” says Sutterfield. “I have a ton of kids coming in here who save their allowance to buy an action figure, and I have tons of guys my age who buy Batman cufflinks or Silver Surfer bottle openers. You can spend $200 or $300 as well as $2 or $3 and walk out with something. There’s something for everybody.”
More to come: While West End Comics does offer a wide range of merchandise and back issues of comic books, it will be another six to eight weeks before new titles start appearing on the shelves regularly. “I always joke that I’m the only comic-book store in the city that doesn’t have any [contemporary] comics,” says Sutterfield. “I’m starting with the cornerstones: Superman, Batman, Spiderman—all those standard titles that people are generally looking for—and then branching off into more interesting stuff. A lot of people have been asking for Image comics—everybody wants The Walking Dead.”