Bookstore of the week: Secret Headquarters


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Secret Headquarters is no secret. The boutique comic-book store, located on Sunset Boulevard in Silver Lake, was named one of the world’s 10 best bookstores in 2008 by the British newspaper the Guardian, alongside much bigger bookstores in Argentina, Japan and an 800-year-old converted Dutch church.

The store’s interior, all warm browns with deep-chocolate wooden racks, looks something like a well-stocked home library crossed with a classic men’s club. ‘We wanted the store to be inviting to anyone, not just people interested in comics,’ says co-owner Dave Pifer.


Pifer and David Ritchie, friends since high school in Florida, opened Secret Headquarters in 2005 (they later opened Vacation Vinyl, now located next door). Pifer says Secret Headquarters stocks an equal number of mainstream comics and independents.

Some indie picks he’s currently enthusiastic about: Catch Me if You Can by local artist Martin Cedreda; Spotting Deer by Michael Deforge, a record album-sized comic that reads like a Wikipedia entry for a deer that doesn’t actually exist; and the newly arrived, long-awaited Crickets #3 by Sammy Harkham (who owns the bookstore and gallery Family on Fairfax -- but that’s another story).

‘We weren’t sure what kind of store we’d end up being,’ says Pifer. ‘Hipster people come in, and I’m expecting them to buy Harkham or more indie, but they’re buying Marvel like they did when they were kids.’

Those early brand allegiances are strong among comics readers -- Marvel fans stick to Marvel, DC Comics readers stick to DC, etc. -- but getting the younger generation enthusastic about any of them is a challenge. ‘These days,’ Pifer says, ‘little kids aren’t picking up comics,’ he says. ‘Video games are more intriguing.’

The store is well stocked with many graphic novels and collections, books geared for adult readers. From time to time, it showcases artwork by the people whose books sell in the shop. And it also caters to collectors: More than 100 comics readers who want every installment of a series have subscribed through the store, which gets deliveries and carefully sets the next issue aside. In October, Secret Headquarters presented a limited-edition set of prints designed to promote the AMC TV zombie series ‘The Walking Dead,’ based on the comic book by the same name. Jordan Crane, Lisa Hanawalt, Johnny Ryan and Jon Vermilyea each drew a creature on an imaginary shooting range target practice sheet for Georgia law enforcement. A few are still hanging in the shop; each print is $40.

Secret Headquarters isn’t the kind of store that will scoff at browsers who don’t know that Crane, Hanawalt, Ryan and Vermilyea are alternative comics stars. ‘I want people to be interested in coming to our store,’ Pifer says, returning to the importance of the store’s welcoming environment. Secret Headquarters, open seven days a week, packs a lot of comic books, graphic novels and welcome into its 500 square feet.


-- Carolyn Kellogg


Bookstore of the Week: Village Books, Pacific Palisades Bookstore of the Week: Barnes & Noble, Pasadena