Peter Birkemoe

The Beguiling

If you're a comic fan in Toronto, chances are good that you already know about The Beguiling Books & Art , which The Toronto Star refers to as "Toronto's most discerning comic shop." Located in the Annex's Mirvish Village, the shop is clean and well-stocked, and has a reputation of having titles that other comic stores don't (or won't) carry.

Seth cartoon of Peter

Peter Birkemoe is the owner of the comics, manga and graphic novel specialty store. The illustration to the right is courtesy of Peter; it was drawn by Toronto artist Seth for Wimbledon Green .

Peter was kind enough to answer some of my questions about his store:

How did you get involved in The Beguiling?

I had worked at occasionally at The Beguiling for a few years during my undergraduate years at U of T, taking shifts when people needed days off -basically, just enough to feed my own comic book habit. When the founding owners decided they were ready to sell and move on, I happened to be in the right place at the right time. Having studied to be a chemical engineer, I never imagined a career in retail, let alone in comic book retail. But when the comics bookstore I considered to be the best in the world was offered to me, I could hardly say no.

The philosophy of the store in the early days seemed to be, "look at what other comic shops are doing and what they are stocking, and do something else." The store has never focused exclusively on super-heroes and mainstream titles, and it quickly made a name for itself as a place you could go to get interesting comics.

Comic racks at the Beguiling

Photo courtesy Photosapience

How does your store differ from other comic stores?

The biggest difference between The Beguiling and other comic stores is our commitment to the diversity of the medium. Whether it's graphic novels, manga, bédé (bande desinée as comics are known in French), underground and alternative cartoonists or illustrated art books. We were behind (and hand-selling!) early works by acclaimed artists like Chris Ware, Chester Brown, and Seth, well before they were internationally-renowned, best-selling authors. Likewise, we're always working to discover and promote the next generations of cartoonists and helping them make it to the "big time", whether it's Canadians like Jeff Lemire and Zach Worton or international cartoonists like the Kramers Ergot crew. There's also the fact that the staff here read comics. A lot. We each have a specialty and area of interest, unlike the staff at cookie-cutter bookstores, so if you want to a recommendation within comics, within a sub-genre of comics, you'll get one.

Inside The Beguiling

Photo courtesy Photosapience

What regular events do you host?

Our regular event is "Industry Night", a drink-up/get-together for comics and arts-industry professionals, at the Victory Café on Markham St. It usually includes a reading or presentation component. But really, just subscribe to our mailing list for a week and you'll see that we've also got our fingerprints all over events in the city. This month alone I think we sponsored, promoted, or outright organized more than 10 comics-related events in Toronto... Not to mention our founding-sponsor support of the Toronto Comic Arts Festival , a free, bi-annual comics festival in Toronto that just saw an attendance of over 6,000 people.

Do you do mail order?

We provide mail-order for comics and graphic novels of all stripes to many customers around the country, from Mississauga to Iqualuit. There are so many communities without a decent comics shop! We also exclusively represent the original art sales of a number of our favourite comics artists through our website . Christmas is just 60 days away...

It's clear that you're hugely supportive of Canadian cartoonists, authors and publishers. How many of them frequent your store?

A good portion of the Toronto comics creator community does shop at the store, not only because we do support local talent, but also because our stock is very reader-oriented as opposed to collector-oriented. We have subject sections that appeal to cartoonists and others with a professional interest in comics or illustration. And big names as varied as Jonathan Lethem and Michael Chabon to Art Spiegelman, Robin Williams and Rutu Modan made a pit stop at the Beguiling when they come to town. Also: we have very cool t-shirts.

Comic stacks at The Beguiling

Photo courtesy Photosapience

Graphic novels have been taking off in recent years, even with

mainstream publishers. What do you think accounts for this surge in


At The Beguiling, we tend to attribute the rise in mainstream popularity of comics and graphic novels to a couple of different ideas. The big one is that the population of Baby Boomers, raised on the belief that comics are all 'kids stuff,' have moved out of the prime retail demographic, meaning that the most recent generation or two have grown up surrounding by comics--and loving them--for their entire lives. Kids are reading Bone , teenagers are reading Naruto and Fruits Basket , adults are reading literary titles like Persepolis and Epileptic , there's something for everyone. And that leads into our second idea about the upward swing in comics' popularity--the volume of solid, enjoyable material making it to store shelves. We've reached a critical mass of great comics with more and more being released every week. Even if you spent $50 a week for the rest of your life, you'd never run out of books to read. That's how you know you've got a medium, and not just a "hobby."

Who are your clientele, typically? e.g. ratio of men vs women,

typical age, etc. Have you noticed this changing over the years?

The clientele at The Beguiling has always been more diverse than your average comic shop, again by trying not to have a fannish approach to the medium. Men, women, children, teen girls and boys. As I've mentioned though, the age spread has been widening as the material available to us has been becoming more diverse and our original client base has started to have kids of its own.

I notice that The Beguiling made an appearance in the first season of

the television series, Blood Ties . How did that come about?

The lead writer and creator of the TV incarnation is a regular customer of the shop, and we were happy to lend him our exterior for the production. It was great exposure for us and we have already had some pilgrims in to see the store.

Any awards or other info you'd like to brag about or have mentioned?

There is only one international industry award of note for comic book shops: the Will Eisner Spirit of Retailing award, named after the graphic novel pioneer. The Beguiling won it in 1993, the first year it was awarded. That alone brings people from out of town to the store.

We're quite proud of the vast array of events and programming that we participate in the city, and we'd like to thank our partners at Harbourfront and The International Festival of Authors , The Word On The Street , and The Toronto Public Library , for helping us spread the word about great comics and graphic novels. If your readers are interested in finding out about the best comics events in the city, we'd like to invite them to sign up for our mailing list at . The more successful--and well attended--these events are, the more we can do!

Hours: Open Monday-Thursday, 11am-7pm, Friday 11am-9pm, Saturday 11am-7pm, and Sunday 12pm-6pm

The Beguiling

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