Click through to read our impressions of Floating World Comics, located in Portland’s downtown Chinatown district.
I just got back from a weekend in Portland to see a childhood friend who was on a limited teaching engagement in the city (read about her Hong Kong dance school here).
Portland is in a geographical no-man’s land for me: It’s far enough away from Vancouver (BC, not Washington) that commuting/driving to the city can take anywhere from six to eight hours, depending on the volume of traffic at the Canada-US border. But it’s close enough that flying in for a social call feels like a ridiculous extravagance. In the end, I ended up taking the bus to Seattle and hopping on a train to Portland, with the whole trip taking about eight hours.
Anyway, what does any of this have to do with comics? Well, we did an informal walking tour of downtown Portland Saturday afternoon, and one of our stops was the Floating World Comics store on Couch Street. [DISCLOSURE: Regular readers of the Geeksverse and my Tumblr will know that I frequently share press release info from Floating World Comics, but rest assured that neither I nor the sites I write for have a commercial relationship with the establishment.]
It’s in a great location in Portland’s Old Town Chinatown area: It’s within walking distance of the transit hub and attractions like the city’s Riverwalk, the seasonal Portland Saturday Market, and the pubs, restos, and shops of the waterfront district.
In terms of size, it’s roughly comparable to Vancouver’s Golden Age Collectables. It might actually be smaller than Golden Age in floor area measurements, but the efficient use of space and effective use of natural and artificial lighting make it look airy.
Inside, the store is laid out cleanly and clearly. There is enough space between shelves that one can browse comfortably without getting in the way of other customers. There’s a common-sense logic to how titles are arranged and grouped on the shelves. Superhero comics have their own dedicated shelf, which frees up the rest of the store to display a wide variety of titles that cater to other interests. There are also tables and shelves for featured authors and works.
Store staff are knowledgeable and balance a laid-back vibe with a helpful attitude. Like a lot of comics shops these days, Floating World Comics has in-store music. The music on Saturday afternoon featured what I think was late-1980s punk, while the music on my return visit late Sunday morning was some world music that might have been of South Asian origin. In both instances, the music wasn’t so loud so as to be an annoyance or get in the way of normal conversation, while still making the store feel inviting and casual.
Floating World Comics also shares floor space with the Landfill Rescue Unit, a small retail concern that sells old and rare vinyl records. I know some of you store-owner types out there reading this article might think that this kind of cross-product arrangement makes for a confusing first impression, but it is done smartly in Floating World’s case. The records occupy a clearly delineated corner of the store, and customers wholly uninterested in classic vinyl need not go through them to get to the comics. And if nothing else, the record shelves, designed to look like repurposed garbage bins (appropriate to the Landfill Rescue Unit name), make for an interesting visual:
I considered buying something location-appropriate from the shop, like Greg Rucka’s Stumptown (a detective comic set in Portland) but I already had those books in digital, so I decided to go for a book that’s been getting some great reviews from all the right people: Last Man by Bastien Vivès, Michaël Sanlaville, and Balak.
I actually picked up Last Man, vol. 1 on Saturday afternoon, devoured it that night and liked it so much that I went back late Sunday morning at store opening to get the second book minutes just before my bus’s scheduled departure for Seattle—a real-world example demonstrating the value of the store’s proximity to Portland’s transit hub. If I had to risk missing my bus to get the second volume, I would have just waited until I had arrived home and gotten it from my local comics shop.
Anyway, if you ever find yourself in Portland with a hankering for funnybooks, hit up Floating World Comics at 400 NW Couch St.—It’s got a welcoming vibe and a diverse, easy-to-navigate selection of comics of all sorts (superheroes, manga, indie and international stuff, local ‘zines).