Scroll Top

Comic Shops of Yesteryear

Photo by CT Lim. Comics World at Parklane Shopping Centre.

One of the most popular threads on SCC is about the old comic book shops of the 80s and 90s in Singapore. We all have our own memories of Leisurecraft, Comics Mart, Comic Art Gallery, Comics World, The Comic Shop and the uncles and aunties behind the counters – Mrs Wong, Raymond, Uncle Bill, Carol and Ming, and especially this individual by the name of Carlos. Most of us have our own Carlos story. I have mine, which I will share later.

The story of the first comic shops in Singapore is similar to the development of comic speciality shops in America with the rise of the direct market as a result of convention organizer and comic dealer Phil Seuling approaching comic publishers in 1972 to purchase their titles directly from them on a non-returnable basis. This was different from the traditional distribution model of selling comics at newsstands and drug stores, which allowed unsold copies to be returned. The latter system had the disadvantage of collectors missing out on issues if the distribution to newsstands was erratic. Comic specialty shops had better guarantee of standing orders and also direct only titles, which allowed DC and Marvel to experiment with bolder storylines with some adult content, bypassing the Comic Code Authority. These were printed on better quality Baxter paper, more pricey and did not have the bar code on the bottom left hand side of the covers. They were deemed more collectible and valuable in the long run as compared to newsstand editions of the same comic.

Bill Teoh, who opened Comics world at Paradiz Centre in 1987, now Singapore’s longest surviving comic shop, opined that even back then, some comic fans were savvy enough to want to collect the direct market issues. This demand for more sophisticated titles and awareness that comics have ‘grown up’ were brought about and generated by the comics columns in The Sunday Monitor (1984 – 1985) and later, BigO magazine. Finally, fans had a space to voice their opinions about their favourite titles, exchange information and even sell comics to other fans. Comics columns serve as a marketplace and fans got to know each other from writing letters to the columns. In the pre-internet days, these columns were important in building a sense of community and that one was not alone in wondering whether Phoenix or Elektra truly deserve to die.

When there is demand, there are business opportunities.

With the direct market distribution network and business model of selling comics, it was not unexpected that some shops in Singapore took the chance to bring in independent titles. Leisurecraft at Orchard Point started out as a gaming shop, but its proprietor, Mrs Wong started to get requests for certain comic titles not brought in by the Singapore Book Distributor (SBD) for the newsstands and bookshops. The shop was one of the first few to experiment with independent titles like Elfquest, American Flagg! and The First Kingdom. Direct market comics have finally arrived and proved to be a hit.

Other shops soon followed like Comics Mart, Pan Comics Galleries, Comics World and Comic Art Gallery. The era of the comic specialty shops in Singapore has started.

Insights By Bill Teoh

Reminiscences of the early days of comic shops in Singapore by Bill Teoh

I started Comics World at Paradiz Centre in August 1987 at the age of 53, after a career in the police force and later, private sector. I have been a comic fan all my life, starting from Beano and Dandy when I was growing up in Ipoh. The irony was that during my police force days in the 1970s, I was on the censorship board committee that banned comics like The Avengers, X-Men and Spiderman. But I was never against them. So imagine in the 1980s when I had to go to the Singapore customs to collect my shipment and some of the laws that prohibited some of the titles that I was trying to bring in, I had a hand in them. Such is life.

I started Comic World when I was paying too much to buy comics. So I started my own shop.

There was a comic shop boom in the late 1980s and early 1990s because readers were speculating and hoping to make a fast buck. Those who opened after me and Comic Mart thought that it was easy money when they used to see long queues in my store for certain ‘hot’ items. Many of these stores are gone now.

Photo by CT Lim. Bill when he was a policeman in the past.
Photo by CT Lim. Bill when he was a policeman in the past.

I moved Comics World to Parklane Shopping Centre just down the road in 1999.

The market has not grown. The movies help but there is not much increase if you are thinking of a sudden surge of readers. I still sell more singles than trade paperbacks. Some shops have moved into merchandise like toys and games. For me, it’s comics and nothing else.

What is the readership like these days? More adults now, those who grew up buying comics from my shop. Yes, it is still male dominated, but there are very encouraging signs of more female readers.

Sure, digital comics can pose a challenge. But it’s a different feeling to have a comic in your hands. And the human connection. Like a mother thanking me for getting her son to read comics and he became the best writer and speaker in his school.

What do I still read? Batman, of course.

Recollections By Lim Beng Ann

Reminiscences of the early days of comic shops in Singapore by Lim Beng Ann

In 1990, when I was 18 years old, I went to Bras Basah Complex with my NYJC Pugilistic Society members to buy weapons and Lion Dance equipment. That was when I stumbled upon the love of my life, COMICS.

I walked into Comic Art Gallery and was impressed by the myriad of comic covers on display. My first purchase were works by Ryoichi Ikegami, followed by the works of Jim Lee, Adam Hughes, Michael Linsner and Tim Vigil, just to name a few. I visited the comics store everyday and immersed myself in the fantasy world of comics.

When I have spent all my savings on buying comics, I decided to work part time for Raymond at the comic store to support my hobby.

During my army days at 35 SCE, I would buy boxes of trading cards to form complete sets to sell to other fans. With the profit I made, I would spend them on comics. I would spend my entire book out day at the comic store.

During my NTU days, I chose not to stay at the hostel so I could continue working at the comics store and be surrounded by like-minded comic collectors.

absolute comics
Photo by CT Lim. Beng Ann started Absolute Comics Pte Ltd with his sister, Adelyn, in 2003.

I noticed that some highly sought after items were not available in Singapore. So I started sourcing and importing the items to add on to my own collection and to sell to other collectors. We would meet outside my home for the transaction and that special meeting place was fondly named Comics Garden. This was after Raymond retired and sold Comic Art Gallery to Eugene.

I started consigning comics and merchandise to other comic stores with some success. I joined Comics Asylum at Orchard MRT as a co-owner and later, an additional outlet was opened at Lucky Plaza.

In 2003, I started Absolute Comics Pte Ltd with my sister, Adelyn. The name, Absolute Comics, was chosen to reflect our vision of being a one stop shopping for comics lovers. We were at Bugis Junction till 2013 and are now at Plaza Singapura.

Key factors for running a successful comic shop? Don’t order titles you like, order those that the customers want.
I still read indie titles like Crossed. I still get a thrill opening the cartons from Diamond and seeing these new titles and merchandise for the first time.

absolute comics
Photo by CT Lim. Absolute Comics at Plaza Singapura.
“Is he coming back?”

I remember visiting Carlos’ shop at Lucky Plaza in the early 90s. There were a couple of tourists in the shop with me. All of a sudden, Carlos stood up, stepped out of the shop, closed the shutters and locked us in. We were all quite stunned to do anything. One of the tourists asked, “Is he coming back?”, looking worried. A few minutes later, Carlos came back. He had to take a leak. No explanation, no apologies. We all acted cool.

Comments (1)

[…] Origins are arbitrary. A starting point is as good as any. The comics scene in Singapore started more or less in the early 1980s with the comics column in The Sunday Monitor, one of the many newspapers in Singapore in the pre-Singapore Press Holdings era. It had articles, reviews, news, comics listings and a letters column. When The Sunday Monitor folded in 1985, its editors started BigO fanzine, which continued the comics column. At around the same time, speciality comic shops surfaced in Singapore with the games shop, Leisurecraft importing direct editions of mainstream comics and other independent titles. (see the article on the early comic shops in Singapore) […]

Leave a comment