A Brief Ode to Foyles

Like most other vaguely literate twenty-something book nerds living in the provinces, I really like Foyles. There's something about going there - although I am at perfect liberty to do so whenever I please - which feels like a bit of a treat. The Jazz Café. The enormous poetry section, which was willing to sell me the collected works of Anne Sexton when a) neither of the Plymouth branches of Waterstones would and b) it was probably a bad idea to do so. And, of course, the really excellent selection of comics - far better, especially in terms of indies, than many dedicated comics shops outside of the capital.

And now they've turned the hoardings in front of their main shop on Charing Cross Road into a giant comic detailing the history of the Foyle family and the store. John Miers kicks things off in 1903, when the Foyle brothers failed their Civil Service exams and made rather a lot of money selling their textbooks, Donya Todd brings us up to the present day with a charming, witty literary salon, and Rian Hughes illustrates the future of the Foyles site. In between, there are panels from Karrie Fransman, Steven Appleby, ConSequential sweetheart Hannah Berry, Bryan Talbot and a whole host of other artists.

It's fantastic. And if you don't want the hassle of going to London, the entire thing can be read here from the comfort of your own home. The building works behind the hoardings are now partially blocking the pavement, which meant that a lot of angry people gave us very pointed looks when we stopped to read the comic properly, but it was totally worth it. I'm a huge fan of anything which uses public space to display artistic or informational content, either entirely visually or using text, instead of selling it for advertising. Sure, this is technically Foyles advertising themselves, but they do so in such an engaging and interesting fashion that this comic straddles the frontier between public advertising and public art. I'd rather there was more of this sort of thing than more pictures of David Beckham in his underwear, but I don't have a lot of influence in those spheres.

There's an entirely different blog post to be written on what this says about the rising status of comics in British culture, and how the explicit endorsement of retailers like Foyles (as well as the tacit endorsement of everyone who walks past it and doesn't recoil at the fact that their visual space has been infiltrated by cartoons) is contributing to the validity of the medium within society, but I promised that this ode would be brief, so I'll leave you with that as a thought and say no more.

Get thee to London, dear reader, to see this lovely thing and to do a spot of learning while you're at it. Bonus points if you can convince some of the rushing masses to slow down and read along with you.