Down Calle Tribulete, just a few minutes from Plaza Lavapiés is Cómics El Coleccionista, where it has stood seemingly forever. Opened in 1993 by a pair of friends who met each other through their mutual love of comic books, El Coleccionista has remained virtually unchanged throughout its 27 years of existence, as Rishabh Agrawal recounts…
Entering the store, I’m struck by the amount of comics and graphic novels they’ve managed to fit in such a cozy space. From floor to ceiling, the walls are adorned with every well known comic series you can imagine. To the right, I spot various editions of Marvel and DC comics and, on the counter, there’s the entire collection of the Tintin series. Oh and is that Asterix and Obelisk there in the corner?
Cómics El Coleccionista is run by owner Santiago Beitia and his long time friend José Luís Aguado (pictured above). The two met early in the 90s when Santiago was working at a comic book store in Madrid, to which José was a regular customer. When Santiago was let go from the now-defunct comic book store, he decided to open El Coleccionista in Lavapiés. José helped him with setting up the store, and it’s been just the two of them ever since.
Speaking with José, he tells me about Spanish comic book culture…
Spain has had a strong culture of reading comic books since the 1920s. It isn’t like in the US where people search for the first print of the first edition so that they can keep it in their protective plastic and watch it grow in value.
He shows me this edition of El Vibora, a comic which was banned during the time of Franco’s regime, as it spoke of issues like censorship and sexuality.
This culture of prioritising reading over collecting has allowed José to read “an uncountable number (of comics and graphic novels), at least more than 3,500” since he began reading them at 6 years old.
I grew up surrounded by super heroes. I would not be able to do this job if I hadn’t started reading comics when I did, there’s just too much to read. When customers come in, they ask me to give them suggestions based on their interests. I wouldn’t be able to do that without having read as much as I have.
I ask José of the changes he’s seen in the barrio, seeing as their store is situated in a rapidly gentrifying neighbourhood.
There have been huge changes since we opened here. In the 90s, there was drug trafficking and violence everywhere. Now, in the last five to six years, things are calmer, the roads are clean and safe, and there’s much more foot traffic coming through the store. There’s even a movie being shot outside in Plaza Lavapiés today. Everyone wants to come here now!
Incidentally, the ‘movie’ being shot was actually an advertisement for Coca-Cola…
Although there’s a higher number of passers-by who walk into the store, the majority of their business comes from avid comic book readers who know what they’re looking for. Customers range from teens all the way up to 85 years old. José tells me of an 80-year-old man who comes into the store almost every morning to sit down, chat and buy comic books.
Many more women visit the store nowadays too.
Before, it was rare to see a woman walk through the store, but things are changing for the better.
José shows me a graphic novel called Persepolis, written and illustrated by an Iranian woman that is very popular with women readers.
Despite the changes in the world outside, El Coleccionista has remained untouched and is likely to stay that way. The rise of Amazon and other online sellers has thankfully not affected business as much as one would think.
Amazon has never really been much of a competitor in this field, our customers prefer to come here and search for things themselves. We briefly tried adding a few things to the store: board games, DVDs, CDs and such, but it never really caught on. So we’re happy with things staying the way they are.
In a world of continuous change, it’s comforting to know that constants like El Comics Coleccionista will be around for years to come.
This article was written by Rishabh Agrawal, an American-born Indian studying and playing semi-professional football here in Madrid. He feels happiest when in India, or on any football field, or, of course, in a no-frills bar talking about overthrowing the bourgeoisie.