As one of the primary foci of the underground comics movement beginning in the 1960s, the Bay Area has a well-documented tradition of fostering comics creators large and small. Robert Crumb (Fritz the Cat, Zap Comix) lived in San Francisco throughout a key period of his career, and just across the bay in Oakland, Daniel Clowes (Ghost World, The Death Ray) continues to create complex pictographic narratives. It would follow that San Francisco and environs would boast a strong collection of comic book retailers -- and indeed it does, including a handful that have been nominated for the prestigious Will Eisner Spirit of Comics Retailer Award. Here are our top eight comics outfits in the city.
8. Two Cats Comic Book Store
320 West Portal (at 14th Ave.)
Having just opened in March, this small but charming West Portal shop is a little cramped, but its location and friendly atmosphere are conducive to browsing -- and the selection is big enough to allow for a little discovery-making. The narrow, bright space manages to make room for independents, along with several racks' worth of new issues.
7. Amazing Fantasy
650 Irving (at 8th Ave.)
This small but well-stocked Inner Sunset shop boasts a display of Iron Man helmets along the left wall as you enter, showing the progression of this hero's design over the years, from anthropomorphized garbage can to ultra-slick corporate shill. Lots and lots of new issues and the biggest heroes get their own shelves. There is a decent selection of independents and back issues toward the rear of the store.
548 Castro (at States)
The Castro's comic shop is a single, high-ceiling room containing a deceptively large inventory of graphic novels, new releases, and back issues. Although independents are not much in evidence, mainstream shoppers are certain to find what they are looking for in this cool, quiet space.
5. The Comic Outpost
2381 Ocean (at San Leandro Way)
On the south side of Balboa Terrace, The Comic Outpost is, as its name suggests, one of the city's more remote comics shops. It's also among the most atmospheric. Its high ceilings accommodate big displays of classic back issues going all the way up each wall. Deep into the shop, you'll find old (but functioning) arcade games, a couple of TARDIS mock-ups, and expensive-looking life-sized figures of Superman, Spider-Man, and the Silver Surfer. The selection leans heavily toward mainstream comics, but the unique décor more than makes up for any lack of breadth.