By Liam Barnes & Andrew Nowell
A new sci-fi and comic book store in Manchester is bringing a blast from the past to a close-knit and friendly scene defying its harsher stereotypes.
Cineheroes, in Lever Street just off Piccadilly station, is run by a group of friends and enthusiasts, focusing on retro-films, comics, nostalgia and rare memorabilia from shows such as Doctor Who and Star Trek.
One of the major players in the new store’s creation is Boltonian Dave Baber, a long-standing enthusiast on the North West comic book scene.
Since his earliest days in the scene, Dave has been heavily involved in fan conventions such as the latest Sci-Fi, Film and Comic Memorabilia Fair in Manchester, which took place at the Days Hotel on March 27.
He organised the first ever sci-fi convention in Manchester in 1974, aged just 18, before going on to run stores in both Manchester and London.
During this time, he became well known amongst sci-fi fans and the shop attracted a few famous visitors.
“Elizabeth Sladen and Caroline John from Doctor Who both came to do fan signings, and Tom Baker came to our London store for an unofficial visit. He just dropped in one day, and really liked the shop,” he said.
“Tony Wilson also interviewed me for his TV show, and he was really impressed.”
Dave is excited to be bringing retro sci-fi and comics back to Manchester, and also hopes to provide for people who might not be thought of as a comic book store’s target audience.
He says: “I want to do more for children, have people dressed up in costumes and model Daleks running around the walls, that sort of thing – tying together all aspects of entertainment.
“It’s all about the fans,” adds Ian Openshaw, another Cineheroes stalwart, whose collection spans 30 years and is valued at over £1,000.
Fellow Cineheroes mover and shaker Ken Hampson, who worked with Dave at Salford shops Fourth Dimension and K9 in the mid-90s – as well as playing a big role in organising conventions across the country – was also optimistic about the shop’s potential.
“These events are getting known, our shop’s getting known,” he said.
He hopes that appearances from famous actors will help the store and conventions to thrive.
“It’s about time something like it did open in Manchester,” said comic collector Frank Wright at the recent convention.
Tony Taylor, a former accountant from North Manchester who has been trading comics and memorabilia for 20 years, agreed with Frank’s punter’s-eye-view.
“You very rarely get pure comics shops these days – they need to attract a variety of interests,” he said.
“As a collector as well as a dealer, you’ve got to have the shops to buy things people can remember. It’s about nostalgia.”
Cineheroes has also attracted well-wishers from other shop owners in Manchester’s friendly and busy science-fiction and comic book neighbourhood, much more of a community of friends than one would expect from shops competing in a niche market.
Haroon Mushtaq, 29, joint manager of Travelling Man store, said: “It’s good to have greater choice, as people will come from further afield if there’s more to look at.
“We have no problem at all supporting them, we have their flyers on the counter,” he added.
“The scene is far too small for any animosity.”
At nearby Fanboy, which specialises in role-playing games’ (RPG) merchandise and regularly hosts packed tournaments attracting nationwide competitors, assistant Dom Pastore agreed.
“There’s a great community feel,” he said. “We have our little tiffs now and again, but we’re still a community.
“When Cineheroes started up they came here, and started a dialogue with us. Although there’s not much overlap between us and them, we still have a lot of the same customers.”
Each of the Manchester stores has a particular speciality in the plethora of platforms in the science-fiction and comic market, which helps to avoid too much overlapping and to thrive with independent flavours.
“Travelling Man and Fanboy have been great with us,” said Ken.
“We do the old collectibles, they do the modern stuff, we don’t tread on each other’s toes.”
Such is the energy, variety and conviviality of the community that it seems perversely ironic how comic and sci-fi fans suffer with a reputation for being anti-social and awkward, the perennial teenage boy in his bedroom.
“You get certain people with similar interests to yourself – you get involved, you build a kind of fellowship,” says Ken, a view shared by Travelling Man’s Haroon.
“People have things in common, they get talking, and next thing you know you’ve got mates,” he said.
“Those of us who collect nostalgia, we’re not football hooligans, we have the same love of the past and we like to talk about it,” said Tony Taylor.
Stretford trader Cindy Walker was also struck by the rapport between apparent rivals, saying: “Even though they’re in competition there’s a lot of friendliness.”
Such good feeling and communal aid continues outside the shops, as budding artist Donna Evans testified to at the Convention.
She said: “A lot of artists and dealers are very friendly, and everyone looks out for each other at these events.”
Cineheroes, with its nostalgic, throwback feel aided by Dave, Ken and Ian’s long experience in the North West scene, fits in well alongside the slicker, more modern presentation of the likes of Travelling Man and the RPG specialisation of Fanboy.
It may still be an awkward financial climate in which to attempt to gain a foothold in a city-centre, aiming at a specialist market, but they could not have chosen a better location.
The best thing for fantasy fans, comics’ collectors and sci-fi enthusiasts is not just that they have a favourite shop to call their own, but several shops in which to browse and peruse, all within walking distance of each other.
Cineheroes, rather than just another sci-fi shop, is one more place for people of whatever tribe, trend or tradition to ‘live long and prosper’.