Saturday, 29 May 2010

Comic Shop Interview: Philippe & Philippe (Arkham, Paris)

Philippe & Philippe, comic purveyors extraordinaire

Sure, Paris might be world-renowned for its beautiful museums, awe-inspiring architecture and history, but (call us crazy) one of our favourite things to do whilst in the city of lights is visiting comic shops. With a whole host of stores offering a vast array of bandes dessinées, it's a real paradise for lovers of Francophone comics. Standing apart from the crowd in the city's 5th arrondissment is Arkham, which offers something which many would not necessarily expect: English-language comics, and plenty of them.

Helmed by the fearless team of  Philippe and Philippe (listed in alphabetical order), Arkham has one of the most impressive selection of North American comics found this side of the Atlantic. Putting even UK comic stores to shame with shelves that include titles from all levels of the publishing industry, everything from The Incredible Hulk to Jimbo is there and on offer to patrons.

Undeterred by the terrifying connotations of its name, we invited Paris' own dynamic duo to talk a little bit about the store as well as their outlook on the industry and their recent forays into internet television and Youtube. 

Arkham’s a pretty interesting store, in that it is something of an inversion of expectations: an American-style comic shop in the middle of Paris. Is this an integral part of Arkham’s identity?

The aim has always been, above all, to mix mainstream superhero and more independent and alternative comics, as well as comic heritage and reprints. That being said, there isn't really any strategy. The bookshop is, so to say, in our image; we like the different styles within the American comic scene. Our very specialised business structure is the only hope against the "culture supermarkets"! We never forget that we are a bookshop foremost, though; the superheroes and action figures only represent a small part of our activity. We like a challenge!

A selection of the diverse books on offer at the store

Tell us more about how you got into the English-speaking comics scene, in the first place. 

Like many Frenchies, we were gorging ourselves on the translated comics (published by Lug, Arédit, Sagédition, etc.) which were distributed by newsstands when we were younger.

The pioneers of importing comics in Paris were shops like Futuropolis, Temps Futur and Actualités, which have since disappeared. The specialised import comic shops were an important landmark for us as readers. Let's not forget that it’s thanks to these kind of shops that the works of people like Alan Moore, Frank Miller, Chris Ware and many others, became popular. It's in those comic shops that their work was discovered. In short, the job of a bookshop is about more than just selling merchandise.

Diplomacy aside, which are your favourite North American publishing houses, past and present?

Dark Horse and Vertigo continue to release interesting titles, as does Marvel, even though those books often get lost amongst the others. Other than those, there are the usual suspects: D&Q, Fantagraphics, Top Shelf and IDW for the reissue of old strips (and Aardwark Vanaheim, to the death!).

Generally, quality has considerably increased since the beginning of the 2000s. Basically, up until the end of the 80s, we used to follow characters; the 90s was the era of artists and chromium-foiled variant covers, which contained content that was usually quite poor; then in the 2000s came the era of  writers. Readers now follow writers, so they happily go from one series to another depending on who's writing it. Also, works of pioneer creators that previously had gone out of print are now being republished, often in elegant books.

We read a few times on the blog that you weren't big fans of the adaptation of comics on the big screen. Do you think that it is impossible to adapt comics to the big screen sucessfully?

No, it's not that comics are impossible to adapt on screen, it's just superhero movies that are never very good. This plethora of movie adaptations (comics, TV, videogames, bio-pics and remakes) seems to reveal a crisis of creativity amongst screenwriters, producers and movie studios. We also feel that the ease of modern cinema techniques doesn’t make the situation any better.

Ghost World is a good movie. Kick Ass isn't bad... but superheroes just work better in comics.

What do you think about the upcoming Scott Pilgrim versus the World?

[Philippe #1 steps forward] The few pieces of footage from the adaptation I've watched made my eyes bleed.

 Teaser for the upcoming episode of LCDLS via Arkham Tivi

Talk to us about the idea behind Le Comic de la Semaine (The Comic of the Week). Is it going to replace your newsletter?

Like everything that we do (or almost), the idea of LCDLS came naturally to us, with the feature starting as a series of articles. As we’d been involved briefly in a similar segment on a show devoted to comics ("le duo comics" for five episodes of No Life) and we've made short videos just for fun for more than three years and to expose ourselves on the internet, it was obvious that LCDLS would eventually end up in the 24 fps format.

LCDLS doesn't replace the niouzeletter [phonetic translation of the English word]. The niouzeletter informs our clients of the news and announces a few books that caught our eye. It also shows a book of our choice in more detail. Then again, there isn't really any rule; it can be a new book or a series from years ago that's just been republished.

Initiatives of this kind are multiplying, which is for the best. You can now find many blogs and websites dedicated to comics: news sites, forums, in-depth articles, video shows... launched a show called Fantasy Tavern which is dedicated to literature, TV series, cinema, videogames... with us presenting their comics segment. Maybe we're finally going to get rid of this "cult" image that we're stuck with (despite what some say), which scares people who don't know much about comics and makes them think that comics are obscure and difficult.

Do you see many young people or children in the shop? 

Yes, our audience is getting younger. They usually start with comics translated into French, although we also notice that some teenagers only read comics in English. The youngest (like kids) are more inclined towards superheroes and Star Wars figures or Pokémon cards.

Our secret and diabolical aim is to slide them towards the original English version, and then towards the most obscure underground comics... [diabolical laugh]

The shop was opened in 1996; now a scarily long time ago. How has the shop evolved over that time?

The only real rupture was in 2005, when we moved premises. We were the only two that stayed from the previous Arkham team, and as we said, the activity really re-centred around the books themselves, whereas merchandise and vintage toys had more of a prominent role.

Our tastes about comics haven't changed: we like good ones!

So, monolingual English-speaking comic fans rejoice! If you ever find yourself stranded in Paris, you know where to get your weekly fix. Located at 7 rue Broca, 75005, Arkham is open Tuesday-Saturday between 10:30 and 19:30 and features all manner of awesome things for your eyeballs to slam against. We at ATF hope that you've enjoyed this new feature, and we hope to publish more interviews with comic shop owners in the near future. 


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