Coming out was really difficult for me. It took a lot of courage and months of deep introspection and engendered a fear of rejection that I found positively crippling. But then that fateful day arrived, when I stood up at a friend’s house party, put down my fruity mixed drink and announced to a group of gay men, “My name is Serafin, and I have an inventory of comics and superhero collectable action figures that would make William Shatner wet himself.”
Thankfully, there are plenty more like me. It seems that queers and comics are truly a match made in heaven — a hypothesis reinforced during my weekly visit to One Million Comix. On any given Wednesday (that’s when the new issues arrive) the savvy homo can spot such gay Toronto glitterati as Brad Fraser or Scott Dagostino browsing the aisles.
“I see a lot of my gay comic friends there,” Fraser says. “It’s a real change from when I was a kid and we were all ashamed to be seen in the comic shop.”
Fraser has been patronizing One Million since its early days in a smaller storefront just south of its current Yonge and Wellesley location. He says his habit is a combination of artistic appreciation and fond nostalgia.
“I first got into them because it was one of the few things I had in common with my father,” he says. “Also, we moved every year until I was 14 years old. But no matter where we went, there would be a drugstore with that round, metal, turning stand, loaded with comics. They were a kind of stabilizing influence.”
Although he recently divested himself of an expansive collection, the playwright still keeps tabs on his favourites of the spandex crowd. His current read list includes the Marvel titles X-Statix (an off-shoot of the X-Men series) and The Avengers, as well as more indie-minded fare — Mark Waid’s Irredeemable series and Garth Ennis’s The Boys.
Fraser says he’s stayed loyal to this local shop not only out of convenience (he lives nearby) but also because of the friendly, accepting atmosphere. “The feeling I get from all of them is that they don’t judge you. They’re respectful and friendly. That’s not true in all comic stores.”
Certainly the guys that run One Million have upped their gay cred over the years, particularly after a brief stint onscreen as the local comic shop in the Queer as Folk series.
“Yes, that probably bumped it [gay patronage] up a bit,” says Alex Giancoulas, who owns the store with his brothers Chris and Kostas. “And over the years we’ve seen tourists coming in because they saw us on the TV shows.”
The Giancoulas boys keep a massive stock of archived issues along with a comprehensive selection of comic-related toys, games, DVDs and clothing. Comic companies recently began offering same-day digital releases of their series, but Giancoulas feels One Million offers perks that will attract the cost-conscious customer.
“We offer a lifetime membership where you get 20 percent off practically anything in the store,” he points out. “It’s a one-time fee of $19.95, and it includes a pull service in case you can’t get in to pick up your regular comics.”
That’s a great plus, but for me the main appeal will always be that sense of cozy wonder I get while perusing racks of brightly coloured books about heroic people doing magical things. As Fraser puts it so perfectly, “I become a very young person again.”