Published on April 17, 2017 | by Alexander Handziuk Photography by Alexander Handziuk0
Come for the Comics, Stay for the Company
Every Friday night in a small comic store nestled in the heart of Etobicoke, three friends eat teriyaki together. And on this particular Friday evening one of them is complaining.
“Ugh I should have stayed with the chicken, this beef one tastes like mystery meat,” says Robert Chin with a laugh. Luckily he and The other two men, Chris and Vick the Teriyaki isn’t the main course, the comics are.
Chin is the often grinning owner of Excalibur comics, a shop that is, against many odds, celebrating its 30th anniversary in a couple weeks. He opened Excalibur comics back in 1987, while the comic industry was enjoying a major boom in sales.
“In the late 80’s, anyone who opened a comic book store, did pretty well because it was the heyday of the comic industry,” says Chin.
“The death of Superman in ‘92 was huge. DC (Comics) did a great job of advertising the event and we ordered 500 copies of the issue and we sold out in less than two hours.”
However in 1996 the comics industry crashed, due to a number of reasons including over saturation of the market, and a jump in personal debt among Canadians. Comic series like Superman which a couple years before sold millions were now lucky to break two-hundred thousand.
Carlo Pleggi, a longtime customer and friend of Chin’s for over 25 years, opened a comic store a year before the markets crashed in 1996.
“It was a dream come true, but it was tough because after the market crashed there was no more Canadian distributors, so we were at the beck and call to the American ones and there was only one or two so they had a monopoly and the U.S exchange killed our profit margin to like nothing. And I had to close down three years in,” says Pleggi.
By 2009, the industry still hadn’t recovered from the crash and Chin had his worst year in his then 23 years of business. As a result, in early 2010 he decided to close down Excalibur Comics once and for all, but had a change of heart due to his customers.
“I was closing down in 2010, and some of these [collectors] I’ve known for years decided that they’d give it up, so I felt bad and said okay, if you prepay two months ahead on your order, I’ll stay open and unfortunately they called my bluff and paid me so I stayed open,”says Chin laughing.
Chris Mackenzie has been a friend of Chin’s since Excalibur opened in 1987. He says that with the emergence of Amazon and eBay, shops like Chin’s are hard to find.
“It’s basically the last decent comics shop in the city (…) And I just get a good vibe off of people and I get a great vibe off of this lovable lug right here,” says Mackenzie.
Now, almost thirty years later, Excalibur isn’t about making money anymore, but instead a reason for him to “get out” of his “wife’s hair” and to see some of his best friends.
“Everyday’s a great day, we have such great customers. Just dealing with them and talking with them it’s…my favourite thing in life and my favourite people,” says Chin with hearty laugh.
Chin will celebrate Excalibur’s 30th anniversary on April 16, and while it may not be a Friday night, there still promises to be lots of food, fun and laughs. And if there’s one thing he’s sure about, it’s that beef teriyaki will not be on his plate.