Part one of a two-part post (sorry no variant covers)
It was a rainy Monday morning, I left my corporate traveller hotel in El Segundo, just south of LA. Rain is unusual for LA, so people were stood under the small veranda at the front looking at the sky. I’m English, this weather is amazing.
I take out my phone to request an Uber and a taxi driver appears out of nowhere. ‘Need a ride?’
I get in, without a prompt he starts ‘This is bullshit … there is traffic 24 hours a day in this city’ The driver is called David and quickly works out I’m English. He puts Careless Whisper by George Michael on the Stereo … LOUD … followed by Adele. All I need now is his Dick Van Dyke impersonation.
I’m going comic book shopping and my first destination is Secret Headquarters.
Progress is slow, and without warning, it feels like I’m halfway through a potential kidnap, I calm irrational thoughts and look out of the car window. LA is flat, VERY flat. The road is heavy with traffic and lined with apologetic palm trees, shabby, tired and layered in pollution.
I’m jolted back to the car by LOUD Elvis, followed by Chris De Burgh ‘Lady in Red’, David keeps turning the volume up and down, up and down, but I can’t quite hear what he’s saying. I realise we’re mid-Sunset Boulevard, down at heel … lined by strip mall after strip mall punctuated by Psychics and Pizza men. The LA dream is tired and shabby on Mondays.
David has reached the finale of his DJ set, and he’s playing ‘Hotel California’, I bet he’s an awesome wedding DJ, maybe the second marriage. Not the first.
Stop 1, we’re here.
Secret Headquarters, 3817 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90026
I’m just going to address this right now. Secret Headquarters is for Hipsters. Maybe it’s not even cool to use that word, but f@#k it. It is. Trying so hard to be cool, so so hard. Imagine a Victorian era parlour, sans the thick smog of ready rubbed tobacco, and smoking jackets.
I expected there to be a half drunk glass of Port on every surface … like a downscale Ollivanders Wand shop, a reading room on The Titanic or a fitting room from a Saville Row tailor.
I stop, not sure I feel comfortable here. It’s empty, it’s Monday morning and an almost invisible employee at the back is playing Aladdin Sane by Bowie, Loudly #hipster.
The shop itself is smallish, with a wall of single issues on your right as you enter, arranged like a sorting office in some finely manicured cubby holes. As you can imagine, it’s hip. On the left a wall of trades and graphic novels, finely ordered and manicured.
Imagine Gap for comics, in 1845
Secret Headquarters is painfully self-aware, it feels like a vanity project, in the attempt to be authentic it’s entirely fake but maybe that’s the point. The employee nestled at the back reminded me of Millhouse from The Simpsons (so that’s a plus). In terms of selection, it’s deep and varied and I picked up The Last Days of American Crime by Remender and Tocchini amongst other things. This book is really great, you should read it.
In summary, Secret Headquarters feels like a place where the customers want to be seen, with a sterile manicured environment that lacks excitement. It’s not for me.
I call an Uber and we set off across town to Meltdown. The day was getting hotter, and we wove between psychotic bus drivers, past increasingly seedy studios (a.k.a Porn), ramshackle tattoo parlors whilst listening to Janet Jackson in the cab, cruising past Fat Sal’s Deli we pulled up outside to see two irate Germans getting a cabriolet ticketed right outside. Bam. That’s an entrance.
Meltdown Comics & Collectibles, 7522 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90046
Meltdown is huge and is suitably ramshackle for the area. It’s part museum, part comic shop, some of the inventory must have been on a shelf for years. There are random action figures peppered amongst the shelves.
It’s a cornucopia, that you could lose yourself in for hours. Real, authentic. it’s legit.
There are subsections for games, action figures, a fantastic selection of kids books, tables are arranged by theme and shelves are arranged by publishers. The atmosphere was open and friendly and the soundtrack was straight out of ‘Pretty in Pink’.
In the centre is a panopticon with a surly employee wearing black. Of course, he’s wearing black.
There’s a little more that whiff of high fidelity about this place. Next door is http://www.nerdistschool.com which seems a bit Kids From Fame for me, and the popular Nerdist podcasts are done out the back somewhere. I pick up the Brian K Vaughn Doctor Strange run and head out of the door to find lunch.
Another quick Uber and I’m there.
Pinks Hot Dogs, 709 N La Brea Ave, Los Angeles
Ok, so this isn’t a comic book shop, and I don’t want this to turn into a written episode of Diner’s, Drive-Ins and Dives, but if you are ever in LA, you have to visit. It’s not the worlds best dog, but the place has buckets of personality and has been an LA institution since 1939. The chilli cheese dog is a speciality, what’s not to love? I went big and had chilli cheese fries too.
One small heart attack later I was back on foot to just around the corner …