Carlisle is a strange, small city. And I mean this in a good way. An English town where the accents are sometimes slightly Scottish, slightly Geordie, and sometimes, old-school Cumberland. When you drive around the city it dawns on you that this is somehow a wealthy place to live. When Cumbria was constructed in the seventies, Carlisle was made the administrative centre which was odd as it is really about as remote as it is possible to be.
Why am I boring you with this nonsense? Well, Carlisle is home to a comic shop, Imagination Station. Yes, I know if you Google this information, you'll be as suspicious as I was. With no internet footprint whatsoever, or even a listed telephone number, I had decided that an investigative road trip was in order.
Imagination Station, Carlisle's Comic Centre, is upstairs above a charity shop and seems to pride itself on it's anonyminity, and this is a truly, brave thing. As a business, it seems to be doing very well- thank you very much, and that's not to be sniffed at in the UK retail market. I'm serious, you could walk past the front door over a thousand times, and ignore the cardboard sign, that sits above the doors advertising what lies inside. No sandwich board outside, no sign next to the door, no green hulk painted on the side of the building, take a look at the Streetmap picture (CA3 8HJ, for you SatNavers). Squint, a bit and you'll see what I'm talking about.
As you enter the front door, you are heralded by a large sign of where you are on the left hand side. Then you go through another door, that approaches a staircase (here, is where you're more than likely to break your ankle as the base of the stairs is a below the flooring level) and as you go up the stairs you trigger a doorbell, just after you head past a 'don't run on the stairs' (which you can't as you're probably suffering the effects of a broken ankle) sign, and then you start noticing wonderful Jim Lee posters!
Limping inside the shop there are three main rooms, of which only the main one was actually for customers, and these are where all the new releases sit. The first thing that strikes you is that you can tell that this is a long running shop that has adapted to it's dominant DC clientèle (according to the owner nearly 90% of his standing orders are DC). Green Lantern, Superman and 'DC52' posters are everywhere. The two side rooms, however, caught me attention because there are loads of alluring longboxes, and these were sitting in 'Staff Only' areas.
There's a host of wonderful signs to customers. 'CASH ONLY' the most blunt, and another blaming the rise in oil prices as to why Bags, Boards and Boxes, have risen in price. I got the impression throughout the visit that the regulars were like feral beasts that would regularly besiege the owner on random occasions (I could fit in a joke here about the Scottish, but that would be a cheap shot). So it was either these signs, or waving around a big pointy stick at them, I wondered?
To be honest, I had no idea what to expect going to Carlisle, so I gambled by bringing my wish-list, and I got lucky. I told the owner straight out that I was after back issues, noted that he had loads, and asked what his protocol was (hell, you never want to piss-off a comic shop owner by just piling in- manners, may help you get a deal!) in getting at them. So he takes my list, and I tell him which ones I have prioritised upon, and less than ten minutes I'm standing at the counter chuffed that I had just filled a number of annoying holes in the collection. As back issue prices go, they were an average of £2 a pop (London, is still the cheapest place I've found to pick up back issues...), but I didn't care, I was happy. Then for the next twenty minutes we talked shop. And especially about the mayhem of the DC52. That the inevitable result of Diamond sell-outs is that it will annoy all of the fanboys who originally claimed to boycott the DC52, only to change their mind a week before the event (so watch for the venomous, putrid bile, by the unwashed geek minority to hit the internet over the next couple of weeks, focusing on DC52 availability).
So to conclude, Carlisle is still in middle of nowhere, and yes: Imagination Station does exist. And it's pretty good, just watch your ankle, as you go up the stairs.