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TCAF in the Toronto Star

Updated March 28, 2003

Mar. 27, 2003. 07:41AM

Peter Birkemoe shows off some of the titles in his comic store, The Beguiling. The shop, around the corner from Honest Ed's, will host the inaugural Toronto Comic Arts Festival this Saturday.Battling comic book fear
Store welcomes everyone, not just the devotees

Peter Birkemoe, co-owner of The Beguiling, generally acknowledged to be among the top comic book stores in the world, knows how to handle the superhero set: With caution.

"We've got it all upstairs," he says, gesturing to a stairwell generously plastered with posters, heroic and not. "But we try to lay things out so as not to scare away the kind of person who might be frightened walking into a normal comic book shop."

Frightened, Peter? Of what?

"Well ..." he says, sighing. "There's a certain aesthetic that goes with the whole superhero thing men in spandex, girls in bikinis and a person who's not exposed to that doesn't necessarily feel welcome. I'm not playing to the lowest common denominator, wanting to be a shop for everyone, but I'm also trying not to have that effect."

Not for everyone, indeed being among the best comic shops in the world ranks up there in terms of distinguished obscurity with the frontrunners for world championship in two-man luge. But The Beguiling's small-but-mighty reputation is built on its own aesthetic not the segregated superhero dreck and it's here, on the ground floor, that it becomes clear.

Think High Fidelity, comic-book style: Rows of independent works from high-brow comic publishers such as Fantagraphics and Drawn and Quarterly, which favour subtlety of tone, narrative and art over the splashy formula of the super-hero genre. If the following for such material is tiny, it is devoted. And the ground floor of The Beguiling, huddled next to Honest Ed's Warehouse in a non-descript two-story house on Markham St., is their temple.
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