Originally published to Happening in DTLA September 2016
When first stepping into comic book and pop culture haven A Shop Called Quest, it’s hard to decide where to focus your eyes first. Its tasteful wood-paneled walls and concrete brick allow the neatly lined art pieces, comic books, figurines, backpacks and more to truly decorate the space. downtown la comic book store
Unlike your average comic book shop, the gang of A Shop Called Quest doesn’t stuff their selections in cardboard boxes lining the walls. You don’t have to dig through piles of papers to find what you’re looking for, and your favorite comic series is most likely on display the way it would be at an independent bookstore — rested neatly on a painted wire rack. This was Ray Duran and others’ glorified idea of a comic book shop, one that honored the artists behind the comics.
Ironically enough, A Shop Called Quest, back then branded Comic Quest, was originally that same cluttered classic concept of a comic shop back in Redlands, California over 20 years ago in 1991. When owner Lee Raymundo decided to pass down the space to his employees, they then expanded an additional location to a vibing sector of the Inland Empire, Claremont, but with a new name and vision.
“Comic quest was still kind of a 90s dated cliché name,” explains the store manager/co-owner Ray Duran, who helped open the new Arts District location. “There’s Comic Quest in the Philippines, there’s Comic Quest down in Orange County. We didn’t want to necessarily move away from our base that understood we were still a comic quest but at the same time, we were like, ‘Hey. How do we get out this new image that we’re trying to push out?’ With word play and a homage to Tribe (Called Quest) and throwing things around we were like, ‘A Shop Called quest?’ and as soon as it was said, it fit.”
The tribe, consisting of members Duran, Jason Washburn, Jason Duran and Jamie Hendon, soon started answering their phones with the new name and incorporated it onto the logos of their bags, creating a steady yet refreshing transition into the new shop. With a welcoming new community of comic book geeks and appreciative DIY artists, they were then able to fully launch into the brand we now see in our downtown hub of new restaurants, boutiques and galleries in the One Santa Fe community.
As previously mentioned, A Shop Called Quest isn’t limited to just comics. It’s a haven for all things pop culture as well as a base for artists to display their work. Art had always been a part of their vision when it came to expanding Comic Quest into other markets.
“What we wanna do primarily with our vision is global domination,” Ray half jokes. “In order for us to grow and try to have our art shows have a bigger base, we understand that if we come out to Los Angeles and start hosting art shows, it’s going to be a lot easier for us to knock on doors and have people open up to us and say ‘Yes, I’d love to do it’… We enjoy what we do so our passion of being able to do fun shows definitely is now paying off in that everything I like to do is [coming together].”
The space is currently hosting kooky, neon-painted illustrations of cats and pizza from LA and London-based artist Bob Motown, as well as elaborate, minutely-detailed prints from Austin-based illustrator Tim Doyle. With themes similar to those found in comics, the shop plans on switching out artists regularly and hosting gallery nights for them too.
Additionally, A Shop Called Quest is a mall of enamel pins, t-shirts, backpacks and figurines. Here, you can pick up a sassy pin from the quickly growing Valley Cruise Press, an adorable Pop! figurine, or a shirt dedicated to your favorite comic book hero. The colorful selections allow true nerddom to settle in and outside of the shop.
Lastly, but most importantly of course, is the wonderfully overwhelming selection of comics available at the shop. Whether you’re into classic superhero comics like Batman and Superman or adult-themed comics from artists like Adrian Tomine, chances are that you’ll be able to find them here. Duran gets hundreds of new comics sent in every week, and he selects what goes into the shop himself.
“For me, I look at reading comics as food. So it’s kind of like you have to cleanse your palette… There are enough different genres here that you’re able to pick up everything, every different genre. There’s really good work that’s being written right now, so to have all these good written works come out, you’re able to keep yourself sane with stuff,” he explains.
This being said, Duran spends a good 10-12 hours at the shop daily digesting the new material.
Yep, one man. 200+ comics every week.
In addition to achieving world domination and becoming a destination art and pop culture hub, Duran and A Shop Called Quest simply want to turn others onto the beloved and rapidly evolving world of comics. They want to help others find that new series that they end up falling in love with.
“I grew up on them [comic books]. That lies into the culture of A Shop Called Quest. Whether it’s music, comics, film, it all ties into this pop culture that we live in. I have a fascination and love for all of it…I try to stay up on the new stuff for comics, art, music. It’s so much fun when you’re seen a good film. It’s refreshing to see something you’ve never seen before, so the same goes with reading. It hits on different senses. If I can incorporate all of that, then I’m going something right,” Duran excitedly states.
Looking for a hand picked recommendation from the comic book guru? Check out Paper Girls #9, a Stranger Things/80s suspense-type adventure from artist Brian K. Vaughan. You can find this one and heaps more at their newly opened space on 300 S. Santa Fe Avenue.