Telegraph Comics co-owner Kate DeNeveu loves watching first-time customers walk into her store on the Downtown Mall. They’ll wander in, eyes scanning the bookshelves near the door. They’ll take a few more steps into the shop and suddenly, their faces will change, says DeNeveu. They almost always ask, “Are all of these…comic books?”
Yes, all of these are comic books, she tells them, delighted by what they’re about to discover. It’s not just Batman and Superman, though the shop carries plenty of superhero comics. There are also science fiction and fantasy comics, and humor, horror, LGBTQ, kids, drama, art and romance sections.
Comics isn’t a genre of its own, but a medium, and a broad one at that.
Late, legendary comics artist Will Eisner described comics as sequential art; comics artist and expert Scott McCloud points out in his book, Understanding Comics, that, when taken individually, pictures are pictures. But when part of a sequence—even a sequence of two—“the art of the image is transformed into something more—the art of comics.” It’s a different way of telling stories.
One of the biggest misconceptions is that comics are for kids and for adults who don’t want to grow up, McCloud says; Telegraph, with its massive selection for adults and children alike, explodes that myth with a POW! and KA-BLAM!
DeNeveu and her husband and co-owner, David Murray, make a concerted effort to stock Telegraph with titles that reflect the growing diversity of the comics world. “The diversity situation in comics isn’t perfect, but it’s a whole lot better than it was,” says DeNeveu. “More publishers are willing to take chances on people that might not have had their voices heard before,” Murray adds.
It’s how they’re able to stock classics like Calvin and Hobbes and Batman alongside Ed Luce’s Wuvable Oaf, a rom-com set in the San Francisco bear scene; Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir Fun Home (Bechdel is known for the comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For); Raina Telgemeier’s Smile (“braces, boy troubles and other plagues of the sixth grade,” says the New York Times) and the new iteration of Marvel’s Black Panther series, written by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
One of Murray’s favorites, Brian K. Vaughan’s Paper Girls—a routine paper route takes a weird, “Stranger Things”-type turn—features a group of female protagonists. Representation of voice is important, DeNeveu and Murray say. Everyone should feel like they’re part of a world, and increasingly, readers can find their world in comic books.
DeNeveu says that she and Murray do “a tremendous amount” of hand-selling, talking directly to customers about their interests in order to make solid recommendations. They’ll ask what you like to watch on TV, what kinds of books you like to read. They’ll ask about your favorite movies and what sort of reading experience you want. Do you want to be scared? Excited?
Telegraph stocks posters, prints and toys, too, but most of its income comes from paperbacks and kids’ books—not at all a typical comic shop model, DeNeveu says. Most shops use pull lists—a subscription service/customer wish list hybrid —to know what their baseline monthly income will be; pull lists make up only about 20 percent of Telegraph’s total income, DeNeveu says.
You won’t find an original Superman No. 5 or other vintage comics at Telegraph—Murray says they don’t have the space to do it justice—but plenty of hard-to-find titles, such as the Introducing Graphic Guides series (fresh presentations of familiar topics like feminism, fractals, Freud and fascism), and issues of zines sold only at comic convention booths are in stock.
Peek into a comic to see into a world—familiar, new, entirely fictional—that, through the art of the comic, can surprise, delight and captivate a reader. The combination of pictures and words can be especially powerful, and both Murray and DeNeveu believe that comics have the power to deeply affect a reader, and savor the chance to facilitate that connection.
Just recently, DeNeveu says a customer came in and asked for a book that would teach 11-year-olds about what it is to be a good person. She immediately suggested March, Congressman John Lewis’ series about his own involvement with the civil rights movement and his decades-long crusade for justice and nonviolence.
“There are so many ways that a good [comic] book can impact a person’s life,” Murray says. “The right book hitting the right person at the right time can be so transformative.”
The inside story
DeNeveu and Murray share their favorite scary stories to read in the dark.
Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook
On her 18th birthday, a girl learns of her connection to the ghosts, monsters and other creatures that stalk the woods near her home.
James Tynion IV and Michael Dialynas
A high school is inexplicably transported to an alien planet. DeNeveu calls it “a teenage alien horror extravaganza.”
A spiral curse infects a Japanese
town—people become obsessed with spirals and twist and turn into spirals themselves.
A psychological thriller that DeNeveu calls “an homage to Tintin and punk parties,” the story switches between real life, where a jerk of a protagonist tries to piece his life back together, and a dark, mirror world with plenty of foreshadowing.
For kids: Alabaster Shadows and Camp Midnight (which includes some light cursing…swears, that is).
Contact Erin O’Hare at email@example.com.