Local Comics Store Spotlight: Isotope: The Comic Book Lounge

This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on March 8, 2017.

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The foundation of ComicBook.Com is comics. While we love to cover all aspects of pop and geek culture, our roots lie in the comics community and the plethora of characters and stories that have sprung from it. If you speak with anyone in the comics community about what has made the medium successful in North America, you’ll quickly discover one answer that stands far above the rest: local comics stores. They are the bedrock of comics in the United States and Canada, supporting fans, communities, and conventions with open doors and a dedicated staff.

This year on ComicBook.Com we are highlighting this important aspect of comics and culture by taking a look at one local comic store each week. These are stores that embody what it means to support culture and community. We hope you can visit some of them throughout 2017.

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If you’ve been following these columns throughout the first few months of 2017, you’ll notice there’s something a little bit different about this one just from the title. Take a look at the name of the store “Isotope: The Comic Book Lounge”. It doesn’t sell itself as a shop or store; there’s a unique ring to that name making it clear this is a place that desires to stand apart. That isn’t due to a superiority complex or gag, it’s the very nature of this shop that it walk its own path and you can find that in every aspect of the shop.

Isotope was co-founded by owners James Sime and Kirsten Baldock in 2001 to offer those interested in comics with a stylish and welcoming environment to discover the medium, today it features an irreplicable interior that draws readers from across the world while they visit the Bay Area. Like many other retailers it does a lot with relatively little space, including two floors of room to read and shop, an incredible array of modern comics to buy, and art displays that will keep you spinning. The thing to remember when entering Isotope is to keep walking so you don’t block the door while looking up.

That Astro City mentality is something obvious now, but it traces its roots to the earliest goals of Sime and Baldock when creating the store. The mission statement of Isotope is both heartening and entirely unsurprising for anyone familiar with Sime’s way with words, it is “to represent comics to the world as the revolutionary art form that it is.” That mission has been explored in a variety of ways since the doors first opened almost five thousand and eight hundred days ago.

Over the course of a decade, Isotope hosted their own award: the Isotope Award for Excellence in Mini-Comics. Sime said the award was “to celebrate the art of handmade xerox comics and gave us an excuse to help promote one of the more unsung corners of the comics industry.” Throughout its existence, the award helped a half dozen up and coming creators discover their first publishers and promoted a variety of great work that most comics sites weren’t even aware of.

Eventually the award ran it’s course thanks to the rise of webcomics, Kickstarters, and other new ways for creators to get their work noticed, it was a forerunner in promoting a variety of voices and art styles. That goal speaks to the heart of Isotope and is well worth discussing.

But the thing that everyone who enters Isotope will always remember is the toilet seats.

 

Isotope is an incredible store, staffed by awesome staff of aficionados ready to help you find the perfect read and an array of current comics that will make the mind reel. Yet the first thing you are bound to notice upon entry is a line of toilet seats that runs throughout the entire store, each of them covered in original artwork from the very best creators working in the medium today. If you’re skeptical just click ahead to the picture gallery.

The museum was founded by Rick Remender and Brian Wood and now includes lids by Brian K. Vaughan, Jim Lee, Bryan Lee O’Malley, Frank Quitely, Jason Aaron, Brandon Graham, Warren Ellis, Darick Robertson and many more. It has become a proud part of San Francisco’s off-beat culture and legend.

While there’s a story behind each toilet seat, the one that first springs to Sime’s mind these days is that of Darwyn Cooke’s lid featuring a portrait of Catwoman. After visiting the store, Cooke realized the owners had forgotten to ask him for a toilet lid.

The artist was sure to berate the store owners much to their chagrin, but presented Sime with one as a surprise when they met in Florida. Sime says he was delighted, but Cooke was sure to have the last joke. Sime says, Cooke “laughed with a wicked grin and pointed, ‘Hey! Have fun being the weird guy carrying a toilet lid on the airplane back to California!’”

It’s not all shenanigans at Isotope either. While the toilet lids are a lot of fun, they serve to remind everyone in shop what the focus is: comics as art. Even the strangest of places it’s possible to appreciate the tremendous accomplishments of comics storytelling. That’s something the store doesn’t just preach; it actively teaches. For more than 5 years, the shop has hosted Isotope Univerisity where professionals teach new artists about the artform. The class has featured talents including Ed Luce of Wuvable Oaf, Alex Woolfson of Young Protectors, Kelly Martin of Doctor Lollipop, and Devin Grayson of Batman fame. It’s just one more way in which they continue giving back to the community.

Even if you were to swing by Isotope on a day when there are no artists drawing on toilet seats or classes being taught or any other events occurring, the love of comics would be obvious. One thing that sets Isotope apart is its relentless focus on selling comics. They don’t stock related merchandise or board games or long rows of back issues. Isotope is devoted to selling a wide array of current comics so that any person can enter and find a story that is for them. It’s a store that promotes reading comics as its goal and brand. No matter where you look in this shop that’s clear.

Isotope: The Comic Book Lounge is different and that’s obvious from the first step you set inside. It’s not a simple matter of any one element. The lids, the classes, the awards, the wide-array of modern comics all stem from something more fundamental. Sime pins this down in romantic terms that ring true, he says, “an isotope is an element, just like any other element, but with a molecular difference that makes it much more dynamic.” That is Isotope in a single line. It’s a local comics store that has devoted every aspect of its being to making comics and the experience of reading comics better. That dynamic difference is clear with just one glance.

Store Info

Name: Isotope: The Comic Book Lounge

Address: 326 Fell Street

San Francisco, CA 94102

Phone: (415) 621-6543

Website: Isotope: The Comic Book Lounge

Twitter: @isotopecomics

Facebook: Isotope: The Comic Book Lounge

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About chasemagnett

Chase is a mild-mannered finance guy by day and a raving comics fan by night. He has been reading comics for more than half of his life (all 23 years of it). After graduating from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln with degrees in Economics and English, he has continued to research comics while writing articles and reviews online. His favorite superhero is Superman and he'll accept no other answers. Don't ask about his favorite comic unless you're ready to spend a day discussing dozens of different titles.
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