Comical nostalgia…

A visit to an old haunt has sparked a few memories for Steve Broster…

In ‘The Man from Venus’, one of the characters works behind the counter at Nostalgia and Comics, “Birmingham’s premier film, TV and comic shop”, as Mervyn (our central character) likes to describe it. Our story is set in 1994, when it was still an independently run shop, three years before it was bought out by Forbidden Planet. 

In the 22 years since then, N&C has managed to keep its Indie vibe, and it’s always a good place to visit when you’re in the area. It’s not the shop I remember from my younger days – there’s rather too much in the way of action figures, and I couldn’t see a Doctor Who section at all when I popped in today. 

I did have a chat with the chap behind the counter – they’ve just finished a referb, and will be doing a grand re-opening on April 13th, offering discounts on all of their stock. But the big news is that it will not be called Nostalgia and Comics for much longer, which I’m really rather upset about. With WH Smiths having recently moved premises, N&C was literally the only shop still standing and recognisable from my formative Birmingham shopping years in the late 1970s and early 80s.  

a bulging bag of goodies, circa 1994

Nostalgia and Comics started out as a tiny shop in the long-demolished underpass next to its current location. It was founded by market stall holder and comic fan Phil Clarke, who had been getting a supply of cut-price American Marvel and DC comics from someone he knew at Greenham Common US airbase. 

In fact, there were two key Sci-Fi shops in Brum at that time – Andromeda Bookshop was the other one (firstly on Summer Row, but then moving to Suffolk Street Queensway). I met Douglas Adams there, and Terry Pratchett on several occasions (while obtaining signed books as surprise presents for my wife!), and it was the one place from which you could buy niche fanzines, in their rather claustrophobic upstairs section.

When I got into the Birmingham Doctor Who scene around 1985, there was a period of two or three years when you could go into Nostalgia and Comics at around midday on a Saturday, and be guaranteed to bump into a familiar face or three. A bit of chatting, perusing and buying would be followed by a visit to ‘the Crown’ pub around the corner, for more chatting, a game of pool and a few pints of Springfield Bitter (in my case – other drinks were available. Our crowd was partial to a Lager Top, a Snakebite or a Pernod and Black!). 

Nostalgia & Comics also co-ordinated the Doctor Who aspect of the Keep Birmingham Tidy day on Chamberlain Square in May 1986, and a group of us were involved in manning the N&C stall or dressing up in monster costumes (Nostalgia and Comics had a selection of props and costumes they’s bought at an auction, including a full Mandrell outfit!). Special guests that day included Patrick Troughton and Bonnie Langford.

When I came to write the original ’The Man from Venus’ script in 1994, it seemed entirely appropriate that the key character of Tracy should be working behind the counter in ‘Nostalgia and Comics’. The place has been such an integral part of being a scf-fi or comic fan in Birmingham over the last 40 years, and I was keen to play tribute to it. By the time of our release date the place may no longer be called ‘Nostalgia and Comics’, but the spirit of the place will live on.