A longtime showbiz journalist and fan's thoughts on comic books, movies and other cool stuff.

Comic-Shop Memories: Fragments and an Alpha Flight mall Fantasy, Edmonton, Alta., 1985-1986

There were a few other Edmonton comic shops from the time that I visited but no longer remember. I’ve hunted online for any trace of these shops and they are, I’m sure, long gone and exist now only in the memories of those who shopped at them.

I recall one shop located on Stony Plain Road that I visited some time in 1986. I know the year because the woman who was working there was having a loud conversation with a friend about how much she was enjoying both Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and John Byrne’s The Man of Steel. There were plenty of back issues in this shop, which is what I remember the most. And I remember scoring a beautiful copy, that I still own today, of this pivotal issue of X-Men:

X-Men #166 (Feb. 1983). Cover by Paul Smith.

This was my first issue with Paul Smith art and, when I got it home, I loved it. Loved, loved, loved it. It was double-size, had all kinds of amazing stuff happening in it, and it concluded the long-running Brood saga with a satisfying punch — and still ended with a cliff-hanger that ensured next issue was going to be even better. This was a high point of writer Chris Claremont’s long run and did a lot to cement X-Men as my favorite comic book.

The other shop I recall was located in West Edmonton Mall. For those who don’t know, WEM was as much an amusement park and tourist attraction as it was shopping mall. When it opened in 1981, it was just a nice mall. Big for the times, but nothing too special. It had the usual anchor stores, food court and movie theater (six screens!) where I saw Time Bandits more than once. In 1983, the mall doubled in size and exposed its ambitions, adding an NHL-size skating rink, even more movie screens, a huge McDonalds, and an amusement park area called Fantasyland that featured a handful of rides and attractions for mostly younger kids. In 1985, it doubled in size again, adding a third set of movie screens, a second food court, submarine rides, a dolphin tank, a replica of Christopher Columbus’ Santa Maria, miniature golf, a massive water park with a wave pool and slides, and two theme streets: Europa Street, which evoked a European feel for high-end fashion stores as tenants, and Bourbon Street, with restaurants and bars for lovers of the night life. There was a hotel with theme rooms planned, and Fantasyland doubled in size, adding a triple loop rollercoaster and “drop of doom” style ride for older thrillseekers. Yes, it was a lot. And legal action from Disney did prompt a name change from Fantasyland to Galaxyland.

Cover to Power Pack #1 (Aug. 1984) by June Brigman and Bob Wiacek.

When the second phase opened, it included an area for smaller retailers who sold things like sunglasses and jewelry. I forget the name of that part of the mall, but it was located above the massive video arcade in Fantasyland. You’d take an escalator up from Fantasyland, and then if you went to the immediate left, there was a small comics shop that sold new issues and had a modest selection of back issues. I remember buying there a copy of Power Pack #1 for $3, which was a good deal at the time. And the store ended up being drawn by former Edmonton resident John Byrne into Alpha Flight #26 (Sept. 1985).

Alpha Flight #26 (Sept. 1985). Cover by John Byrne and Bob Wiacek.

The issue starts with Alpha Flight — newly reunited in the previous issue with its founder, Guardian, who was believed killed in Alpha Flight #12 — undergoing a training exercise with the Canadian Military near Red Deer, Alberta. This takes up 12 pages of the issue’s 22 pages. Guardian then gets a message from his wife, Heather Hudson, that Alpha Flight is needed at West Edmonton Mall! They arrive and some man in a suit tells them everyone was chased out of the mall by these super-powered types who called themselves Omega Flight! The team splits up and each member is defeated by a member of Omega Flight — with help from a mysterious benefactor. Finally, we find Heather, who’s in front of the mall’s real comic shop when Guardian finds her.

Heather Hudson strolls past a comic-shop in West Edmonton Mall in Alpha Flight #26 (Sept. 1985).

Byrne draws the shop pretty much exactly as I remember it, though there appears to be more Byrne issues on sale there than I remember them having.

The story concludes with Guardian revealing himself to not be James McDonald Hudson, but the android that previously posed as Delphine Courtney in the death of Guardian arc. The story continues into Alpha Flight #27 (Oct. 1985), Secret Wars II #4 (Oct. 1985) and concluded in Alpha Flight #28 (Nov. 1985), which was Byrne’s last as writer and artist on the series.

The comic shop eventually moved to a larger retail space on the lower floor. There, it was the last comic shop I visited prior to our family’s move to Arizona. I distinctly remember that visit, and buying copies of the just-released X-Men #213 (Jan. 1987) with Sabretooth fighting Wolverine on the cover, and a copy of The ‘Nam #2 (Jan. 1987), which I had seen in a report on one of the American network news shows and decided to give it a look.

The only other comic shop I can recall was in the now-defunct Heritage Mall. It was mostly a gaming store, but they did have a small rack of comics and I recall thumbing through copies of Star Wars #104 (March 1986) and Power Pack #21 (April 1986) there, likely while just killing time until the next bus home.

And that’s it for Edmonton comics shops. I’ll do one more post on my newsstand experiences there, then move on to shops in Arizona.

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3 Comments

  1. Ron Grant

    Hi Thomas ,
    The store on Stony Plain Road was Tumbleweed Books and it owned Comic Master on Whyte Ave.

    • Good to know! Thanks, Ron.

      • Hi Thomas. I actually worked at Tumbleweed Comics on Stoney Plain Road from about 1985 to 1990. The lady who owned the store was named Jennifer (her husband Lee owned Comic Master on Whyte Ave. as Ron Grant mentioned) and one day when I was about 13 years she offered me a job on Saturdays – which was handy since I was there every week. 🙂

        I started out just doing a bit of tidying up, running a vacuum over the store before it opened, helping to keep the rack filled from the back storeroom, pulling the new issues for the regular customer files, etc. I was basically paid in comics (she did give me cash… but I never left the store with any!) What a dream job. Eventually I worked the cash register and then worked the slower Sunday shift as well. I still remember the weekend we had to move the entire store two doors down. So great! Like you, I’ve got a bunch of comics that I can still remember pulling off the shelf. I remember grabbing Legion of Super-Heroes #45 (30th Anniversary issue!) and becoming a hardcore Legion fan… I also clearly remember getting my very first manga story… the Viz comics Area 88 issue #1 and reading it in utter amazement on my bus ride down Stoney Plain Road…

        Jennifer did indeed really like The Dark Knight Returns… but I think she was keen on Man of Steel mainly because we only sold about 8 copies of Superman a month before John Byrne took over. 😉

        The book she was the biggest fan of though… was Love and Rockets.

        The store at West Edmonton Mall was called Graphic Fantasy. As you said, it started out in the International Marketplace area above the Fantasyland amusement area and then moved to a bigger location on the main floor later. I can remember the first comics I pulled off the shelf there… Fury of Firestorm #30 and Flash #339… but my greatest purchase was Crisis on Infinite Earths #1… it was on the display wall above Heather’s right shoulder in that pic from Alpha Flight. It was a pricy $10 I think… but I just had to have it. I remember practically galloping home with that prize. The picture is actually quite accurate. Byrne must have actually been there at some point. The shelf behind Heather’s left hand was full of lead D&D miniatures… and it doubled as the door to the cash kiosk. So many many great memories.

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