2012 Hero: The Beguiling
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2012 Hero: The Beguiling

Nominated for: supporting independent graphic arts for 25 years.

Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains: the very best and very worst people, places, things, and ideas that have had an influence on the city over the past 12 months. From December 10 to 19, we’ll unveil the nominees, grouped by category. Vote for your favourites from each batch, every single day! On December 19 and 20 the winners from each category go head-to-head in the final round of voting, and on December 21, we will reveal your choices for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.

The Beguiling has come a long way since it opened in 1987. From its humble beginnings on Harbord Street, it has grown into a world-renowned source of alternative comics, graphic novels, zines, and artwork.

This year, it celebrated its 25th anniversary with a big bash at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema. That’s 25 years of being arguably the best comic shop in Toronto.

The Beguiling has weathered changes over the course of its quarter century of existence. At first, it was considered controversial, because it sold unusual material that no one else would carry. The idea of dealing in non-superhero comics was unheard of. But the shop’s focus on comic-oriented artwork—starring everyday people rather than caped crusaders—honed in on what would quickly become a new niche.

As years passed, the store’s wares began to gain mainstream acceptance. In 1992, it relocated to 601 Markham Street (where it remains to this day), and in 1998 Peter Birkemoe bought the place. He remains The Beguiling’s owner, and its public face. In 2011, he made a business move that epitomizes the current enthusiasm for the comic medium: he opened a second store, catering only to children.

Venturing through the densely packed aisles at the original store, one can find reprints of comics from as far back as the 1930s, as well as freshly minted hardcovers from contemporary artists. If there’s a title that no one else has, Birkemoe either has it, or can track it down. Ask a graphic novel fan in Europe to name a comic shop in North America and they will likely name The Beguiling.

It’s so respected that it has been mentioned in some of the comics it sells. And in days past, when comics ran editorial sections in their back pages, The Beguiling frequently received shout outs directing people to check out the store for more good reads.

The Beguiling, today, is a hub for local graphic artists looking for an outlet to sell their work. The bookshelf next to the front counter overflows with self-published black-and-white comics and zines. Some are made on home printers while others have the crisp edges of a professional press. Some artwork is sold on consignment, so the artist gets the bulk of the proceeds.

Over the years, The Beguiling has hosted hundreds of book launches, artist signings, readings, and other events with big names—like Neil Gaiman and Robert Crumb, to name a few. Some artists owe the store a debt of gratitude for promoting their work when few others would. It’s a special niche that needed to be filled by someone. Hopefully, The Beguiling will continue to do it for another quarter century.

See the other nominees in the Culture and Sports category:

Bloor Hot Docs Cinema

A rare home for first-run documentaries.
  Academy of the Impossible

Making education accessible, and breaking down barriers.
  Sarah Polley

Staying true to an uncompromising path.

G 98.7

Making commercial radio worth listening to again.
  Alex Anthopoulos

Building the Jays into a team to be reckoned with.

Cast Your Ballot