The experiences we used to love in local bookstores (or the experiences we imagine we would have loved) are still accessible in comic shops: people who know their wares and get to know their customers, and a selection small enough to explore but big enough to satisfy and surprise. But to fully reap the benefits of small store shopping, you need to become a regular. Maybe you go out of your way for the store with the best staff or selection, or maybe you just set up a pull-list at the place on your way home. If you want quality and convenience, consider Jim Hanley’s Universe.
One block east of Herald Square off an alphabet soup of subway lines, Jim Hanley’s impressive inventory is shelved in a clean, open space on ground level, making it one of not-many NYC comic shops Professor X could easily patronize. The big two’s comics start on the left wall and snake through the shelves, with other publishers (Dark Horse, Image) mixed in. Somewhere around the middle, you’ll find graphic novels from specialty and mainstream presses. Straight back, there’s a section of mini-comics: self-printed or micro-printed gems, many from local artists, that feel like paper and smell like ink, and past those, a rack of horror, sci-fi, contemporary art, and comic aficionado magazines. Finally, you’ve got your standard nook for back issues in boxes, a respectable-looking manga section, a kids section, and an adult section. Reflecting the sensibilities of proprietors who consider craftsmanship along with content, this last section is separated but not segregated.
Touring the shelves on a slow-ish Sunday, I witnessed the staff greet two regulars, one whose wife was waiting outside in the car, and direct tourists to their desired title with lightning speed and pinpoint accuracy. At the register, Aimee signed me up for their free rewards plan—.60 off a $4.00 comic right away!—and gamely answered my questions about the store (which also hosts Magic gaming nights on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday), the comics she’s reading (Animal Man, Aquaman, Swamp Thing, Rasl, andRachel Rising, to name a few), and upcoming events (like Walt Simonson’s signing Avengers 25 April 18th). As for recommendations, the staff is proud of their ability to tailor suggestions to your tastes, even if those don’t usually include comic books, or books for that matter.
Sitting in nearby Greely Square, I could turn my head and see a building that gets smashed by a spaceship the comic on my lap: another perk of buying and reading comics in New York.
Jim Hanley’s Universe. 4 West 33rd St, (212) 268-7088, most lines to 34th/Herald Sq. or 34th/Penn