Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Isotope Comics in San Francisco: James Sime, Toilet Seats, and Doctor Strange, What A Wonderful Store!

James Sime, owner of Isotope Comics (Dec 2009)

After years of reading about Isotope Comics in San Francisco and reading various interviews with the owner, James Sime, I finally indulged myself in a trip to his unique store.  James was sitting at the counter when I arrived, as friendly and enthusiastic about comics as I am.  It’s a good quality for an owner to have.  I had a brief feeling of Déjà Vu after meeting James, who is well known from CBR, Flickr, Twitter, and various podcast interviews.  Never before had I met a store owner who is well known on the Internet!

Doctor Strange costume at Isotope Comics

Within seconds of my arrival we started talking about Doctor Strange—after I spotted his costume hanging in the balcony.  We both agreed that the current Strange series is somewhat lacking.  In fact, James’ theory is that anything with the title “Strange” isn’t all that good.  There was the JMS series a few years ago where Marvel attempted to reboot the good doctor.  And if you remember the 1990s era comics where Doc split into two entities—one called Strange—this theory seems spot on!  We both agreed that Brian K Vaughan’s The Oath series was one of Doc’s finest tales.

View from balcony at Isotope Comics in San Francisco

Isotope’s interior design is equally friendly.  There are no long white boxes that you have to step over as you walk around.  It does not look like a refuge for seedy characters.  It is a store where you feel comfortable looking around at cool things  The store is brightly lit, there are comfortable seats where you can read stuff, and they have interesting graphic novels on display everywhere.  They have new comics as well as mini-comics.  There is also a selection of original art on display.

Gallery of toilet seat covers at Isotope Comics

Isotope is famous for having unique events where creators come to do signings.  James can really think out of the box and tries to make these events special—by offering limited edition pint glasses for Darwyn Cooke or scotch tastings for Warren Ellis.  James started getting these creators to create a drawing on toilet seat covers; I’m sure it started off as a lark, but now Isotope’s upper wall is covered with dozens of them.  And James has so many, he can’t display the entire collection at once.  There’s a Warren Ellis piece featuring Spider Jerusalem right next to one by Darick Robertson, and Mark Millar drawing his rendition of Superman.

Darwyn Cooke toilet seat Catwoman at Isotope Comics

This toilet seat drawn by Darwyn Cooke makes me supremely envious.  It’s just perfect and captures everything great about Cooke’s style.  I showed this picture to my wife Teresa (who is not a comics fan) and she instantly recognized Catwoman.  That’s a testament to Cooke’s ability to draw the character in an iconic form.  Teresa wondered why no one has made a business out of selling toilet seat covers with images?  There probably is one, but not with comic characters.  I’d certainly buy this one if DC made this a licensed product.  But I wouldn’t use a backhoe to steal it.

I only spent an hour at Isotope before I had to return to work.  I bought a few great collections, Northlanders (vol 1 & 2, awesome stuff) and Criminal (2 volumes).  If you work in the financial district as I do, it’s really a convenient trip.  You can get on any outbound Muni at Embarcadero, travel to the Van Ness stop, walk up to Fell, make a left and walk 2-3 blocks to the store at 326 Fell Street. 

When I was in my 20s, I always had a fantasy vision of what my ideal comics store would be like.   I always imagined a place where collections were readily available, top-notch creators would come and socialize with fans.  And perhaps share a drink or two on special occasions.  James Sime is my idol—he not only dreamed about such a place, he made it into a reality!  Nuff said!

Links:  Isotope Comics, James Sime on Twitter

Update: Comments on my old MT blog...


Yeah. I stumbled upon Isotope while making my way back to my dad's after a super long walk to another comic shop. I partied there at the APE Mayhem parties both nights this year. And one of my personal goals in this business is to have my own toilet seat on the Gallery Wall. No awards, no huge accolades. Just a throne.
Isotope is easily one of the coolest if not THEE coolest comic book shops I have ever been in. In a city known for its distinction of culture and art, Isotope stands tall in the City by the Bay.
I wouldn't dare piss over the woman cat on my toilet seat. And those eyes fixed upon you all the time in moments of privacy...
This guy awfully resembles ambassador Molari from the Babylon 5 series.This helps explain the alien design of the products.


  1. I had the pleasure of stopping by Isotope a couple of years ago. James was an excellent host to me (the comics artist/teacher/historian) and my girlfriend (none of that). The managers of other comics shops told us we had to see Isotope -- and they were right. Next time you're in San Francisco, please visit this wonderful, local business. Thanks for this terrific post.

    Dave Marshall
    Comic Book Author/Writer and Teacher

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