The Labyrinth brings hot graphic novels to the Annex

At the tail end of my Free Comic Book Day this year, I was slogging through the Annex en route to The Beguiling, towing a pregnant woman, a not-so-pregnant man, and a backpack full of comics that weighed about (in my mental recollection) a hundred and eighty pounds. All of which were good enough reason to want to get where I was going as quickly as possible... and then we spotted The Labyrinth.

The Labyrinth is a new graphic novel and art book specialty shop that has recently opened its doors near Bloor and Dalton. "New," on the Free Comic Book Day in question, meant "opened that weekend." And in spite of the 180-pound backpack, the pregnant woman, and the novelty of the surroundings, I still spent a solid half-hour poking around. I eventually even got gleefully sold into buying a gorgeous graphic novel that only exists in Chinese and French - quite a feat of salespersonship, given that I speak two words of the former and only about eight of the latter.

I've now been back to the store a couple more times and had the opportunity to ask some questions of Dan Merisanu, the responsible gentleman who managed the Chinese/French up-sell mentioned above.

On first glimpse, the Labyrinth seems like a regular comic book store - until you notice that there aren't any comics on the shelves. What made you decide to specialize in graphic novels and art books rather than single-issue comics?

We actually started out by selling comics 19 years ago. The decision to focus on graphic novels, rather than traditional comics was based on the fact that we didn't have a store up until now. When we started, we used to go to a comic show each month. Comic fans bought new and back-issue comics in droves. By the late 1990s, comic sales shrunk, comic shows were less frequent, and back-issue sales fell quite a bit.

Without a regular spot for comic fans to pick up their books, it didn't make sense to keep stocking single comics. Graphic novels, on the other hand, had a much longer shelf life, and so made sense for a traveling book company like ours.

I was actually looking forward to selling comics again at the [new] store - but when we got our current location we realized it was too small to properly showcase all the product we wanted. We do however, offer comics by subscription. Customers order what they like from a catalog of 5000 items each month. We offer a great discount and everyone benefits.

We have one of the largest selections of manga in the city. Manga is the Japanese word for comics. On a typical day customers can expect to find close to 5000 manga on display in the store. We also have close to a 1000 graphic novels on display - but in both cases, whatever we don't have, we would be glad to order for a customer.

Tell me a bit about yourself - who's running the store? What's the background?

The store is run by my wife Jessica who is an awesome people person. She remembers names of many of our customers and is super friendly.

For my part, I work as a full time animator - so only help out in the store part time and as the store buyer. I grew up from the age of 8 collecting comics and watching cartoons. In college I studied Japanese and Chinese and fell in love with manga and anime. A lot of the flavour of the store comes from our unique selection which is driven by my picks as the buyer.

In addition to your web site, you run a blog (animationroadshow.blogspot.com) as well. What is the focus of the blog? What kind of coverage can we find there?

Currently the website is a modest 1-page with store hours and directions, but will soon be a full service retail website.

I created the blog as a way to keep in touch with many of the people we met on our traveling book fair. Right now, I use the blog to announce news of new product, as well as store events like our upcoming art shows. First show will be June 30th to coincide with the book launch of Subway Sketches. We will be hosting Bob Chiu, [and the book] features drawings made on the TTC.

You bring a lot of material into Toronto that I haven't seen on the shelves of any other graphic novel store in the city. What's your favourite thing in the store right now? What should every self-respecting reader be looking at?

Half our customers are fans of manga and graphic novels. The other half are working artists, animators, illustrators and students in these fields.

We work very hard at sourcing sketchbooks and other books by animators and illustrators -including many self-published items.

Right now I am very excited about the new Art of Surf's Up. It's a gorgeous book from Sony animation. We also just got in some incredible new books on modeling and texturing as well as life drawing that you won't find anywhere else.

The Labyrinth is located at 386 Bloor Street West, a couple blocks west of the back door of Spadina station.

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