Northern Ireland’s newsagents put some of England’s to shame when it comes to Comics Retailing

Back in 2015, Oink! Blog creator Phil Boyce wrote a post in the early days of December encouraging readers to go and explore the comics shelves of their local shops, whether they were newsagents, supermarkets, comic stores or local corner shops, or to look into independently published comics and maybe go online and explore the world of digital comics that’s exploded these past few years.

Phil says he really enjoyed that post and the positive reaction it received, so he’s happy to be back now to add a little bit of an addendum to it… albeit nearly two years later, which he’s very kindly permitted us to cross post here on downthetubes….

Following the likes of Lew Stringer and his Blimey! comics blog and John Freeman of the Down the Tubes website, I often see photographs of messy comics shelves in the likes of Tesco etc., with many of the titles hidden, no promotion given to the comics whose publishers had paid for special spaces, comics thrown onto high shelves out of the reach of the target audience, some comics kept behind the counter out of sight, new titles lost with no chance of discovery… the list goes on.  Basically, they often seem shoved out with no thought and certainly little care.

It’s heartbreaking, because we know the comics and comic-magazines are there but the kids aren’t getting the chance to discover them.  It’s like self-sabotage on the part of the shops.  If they don’t display them properly they won’t sell, and if they don’t sell the shops don’t care.  A vicious circle.

The children's magazine section of a typical mid-range WHSmith, July 2017. Because WHSmith have given over much shelf space to non-magazine items in this store the comics are cramped and many are at adult height, limiting purchase choice for younger buyers - a far cry from past decades when all comics were within easy reach in newsagents to encourage a pocket money spend.
The children’s magazine section of a typical mid-range WHSmith, July 2017. Because WHSmith have given over much shelf space to non-magazine items in this store the comics are cramped and many are at adult height, limiting purchase choice for younger buyers – a far cry from past decades when all comics were within easy reach in newsagents to encourage a pocket money spend.
Comics in an ASDA store in England. Photo: Lew Stringer
Comics in an ASDA store in England. Photo: Lew Stringer
Comics in an ASDA store in England. Photo: Lew Stringer
Photo: Lew Stringer

EASON

Now obviously these are just the shops visited by Lew and John and may not be indicative of the majority of comics shelves in England, but it’s a tale comics fans hear again and again from many sources.  Sadly, from comments left on such photos it’s quite possible it could be a widespread issue.

But I’m very glad to say it doesn’t appear to be the case this side of the Irish Sea.

Belfast may not be the biggest city in the world and we may only have one main newsagent these days, but Eason’s is such a superb shop I doubt anyone would be able to compete!

Have to say Belfast looks awfully picturesque here!
Have to say Belfast looks awfully picturesque here!

Located right in the centre of the city a stone’s throw from City Hall, it’s a big store with a massive book department and coffee shop in the basement and, more importantly, a large magazine section clearly visible from the moment you set foot inside:

Eason’s, Belfast. Just one of the two floors packed with reading material
Eason’s, Belfast. Just one of the two floors packed with reading material

I took some photos of the comics shelves a couple of months ago, with every intention of writing about them here at the time but I just never got around to it.  But it’s actually worked out for the best. Since then I’ve been back quite a bit so can happily say the day I was in originally taking photos wasn’t a one-off, it really does look like this every single day of the week.  No matter how busy it is, or how big their deliveries of new magazines are, it’s immaculately kept.  Also, the delay has given me a chance to take an additional photo of their kids’ annuals in the run up to Christmas.

I present to you how comics and comics-magazines should be presented:

The main selection of kids' comics. All of Eason's shelves aren't too high and are within reach of children, unlike some supermarkets where the shelves can even tower above adults.
The main selection of kids’ comics. All of Eason’s shelves aren’t too high and are within reach of children, unlike some supermarkets where the shelves can even tower above adults.
The latest from Marvel/ DC/ 2000AD take pride of place on their own end display along with related titles and comics strips
The latest from Marvel/ DC/ 2000AD take pride of place on their own end display along with related titles and comics strips
The opposite end has the titles which are still aimed primarily at younger girls. A bright, attention-grabbing display for potential readers
The opposite end has the titles which are still aimed primarily at younger girls. A bright, attention-grabbing display for potential readers
During a more recent visit I was very pleased to see Dandy and Beano annuals beaming out at passersby. This is the display amongst the comics and magazines, but Eason's is also a book store and the lower floor beneath this one is chock full of annuals!
During a more recent visit I was very pleased to see Dandy and Beano annuals beaming out at passersby. This is the display amongst the comics and magazines, but Eason’s is also a book store and the lower floor beneath this one is chock full of annuals!
Finally for Eason's a couple of related shelves with other magazines which we know contain comic strips, as well as the partworks which also include graphic novels and the like. All easily found amongst the main displays.
Finally for Eason’s a couple of related shelves with other magazines which we know contain comic strips, as well as the partworks which also include graphic novels and the like. All easily found amongst the main displays.

Eason’s, Belfast December 2017

ASDA(!)

The exclamation there is because you don’t usually expect supermarkets to really care about the comics displays judging by what many say online.  However, I live right next door to an Asda store and as you can see below the attitude of Eason carries on here too.  Again, they’re arranged properly, like-minded titles side-by-side, nothing is out of reach of the kiddies so they can decide what they want to read (rather than the parents choosing which plastic toy inside to buy) and it’s neat and tidy with everything visible.  This photo was taken on a Friday evening, a busy time for the store:

This Belfast store is an absolute credit to Asda. Also worth mentioning the Tesco store right smack in the city centre has a much smaller selection but they are equally well-kept
This Belfast store is an absolute credit to Asda. Also worth mentioning the Tesco store right smack in the city centre has a much smaller selection but they are equally well-kept

LOCAL NEWSAGENTS (THE BOOK NOOK, LARNE)

There’s certainly not anywhere near as many local newsagents anymore these days.  The shop I bought all my comics from as a child in the seaside town of Whitehead is now a Victorian knick-knack store.  But down the coast in Larne town The Book Nook is still going strong.  A nice long display of magazines greets the eyes as soon as you walk in, along with separate sections for partworks and specials.  The shelves do go quite high up, but all of the children’s comics and magazines are kept down at their level and well organised.  It’s not strange to see children flicking through them and browsing to find out what they want to read… before grabbing one and making their way to the large sweet displays naturally!

On Larne Main Street and doubling as a Post Office, it’s a busy wee shop too.  It just goes to show it’s not only the places with plenty of staff that can look after their comics displays:

With only one or two staff on at any one time, this busy local newsagent does a fantastic job on this front!
With only one or two staff on at any one time, this busy local newsagent does a fantastic job on this front!

THAT’S (NOT) ALL FOLKS!

With all this above and Belfast adding to its comics stores this past year it’s a great time over here!  As well as chain store Forbidden Planet there’s two independents, the latest of which is called Coffee & Heroes and is a great wee store where I recently bought the new Ghostbusters Answer the Call comic and the graphic novel of Vampire Free Style (oh I haven’t mentioned that yet, have I?  More soon!).

Even Atomic, the vintage comic, book and toy store has moved to better premises and I’m hoping to feature it in the New Year on the blog.

The moral of this tale?  There’s no excuse for messy comics shelves.  Take care of your comics and people will buy them!  It’s not rocket science.  If this tiny part of the UK can manage it and see the results, so can the mainland.

• Is your local newsagent or comic shop better at displaying comics than many a WHSmith? Why not sing their praises by leaving a comment below?

• Phil Boyce started The Oink! Blog in 2013 with the sole intention of covering every issue of my first ever comic, the classic, anarchic British humour title Oink! on their original release dates. However, it soon took on a life of its own. Check it out at the-oink-blog.blogspot.co.uk

John Freeman

The founder of downthetubes, John describes himself as is a "freelance comics operative", currently working as a freelance editor for TITAN COMICS, as Creative Consultant on the new DAN DARE audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the LAKES INTERNATIONAL COMIC ART FESTIVAL and LANCASTER COMICS DAY. John has worked in British comics publishing for over 30 years, starting out at Marvel UK, where he edited a number of the Genesis 1992 books with Paul Neary. His numerous credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine at Marvel and Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine at Titan Magazines, where he was Managing Editor. He also edited STRIP Magazine and worked as an editor on several audio comics for ROK Comics, including TEAM M.O.B.I.L.E. and THE BEATLES STORY. Most recently he is writing CRUCIBLE as a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and DEATH DUTY and SKOW DOGS with Dave Hailwood for the digital comic 100% Biodegradable.

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