Interview & Photography Etienne Gilfillan
“We’ve benefited enormously from the custom of those working in the creative industry that keeps Soho buzzing”
With a 30-year track record in the industry and enthusiastic, knowledgeable staff, Gosh! is one of London’s must-visit stores for anyone who loves the medium of comics. Stocking everything from European bandes dessinées to superhero graphic novels, stylish children’s books to cutting-edge small press publications, Gosh! has something for everyone. Journal spoke to owner Josh Palmano about his comics emporium’s ongoing Soho success story…
Tell us a bit about the beginnings of GOSH! and your own background.
My first exposure to comics as a kid was through the Beano. I joined the Denis the Menace fan club and remember keeping my membership wallet, replete with furry Gnasher badge and other membership paraphernalia, in a crawl space in the cellar of my parents’ home – a space where no-one else in the family was small enough to go. I graduated to war comics, very popular in the UK in the 1970s, and then had a fleeting flirtation with the American superhero genre. But at that time the opposite sex came fully into focus, and comics fell by the wayside.
It was at a Specials gig in 1979 that I met a guy who worked at a comic shop called Forbidden Planet, which was then in Denmark street, on the edge of Soho. We gelled, and he told me there was a Saturday job going, if I was interested. So, it was the lure of cash that drew me back to comics; what I learned was that as well as being entertainment, they were also a business.
A little further down the line I was dealing in comics independently; and seven years later, with school finished, I opened Gosh! opposite the British Museum in Bloomsbury. I was 19, and though I had a reasonable amount of comics knowledge under my belt, I had very little life experience. The first years were quite a learning curve!
Tell us about the look of the new Shop in Soho.
In 2011, the building we were trading from was sold and my new landlord’s plans didn’t mesh with my own. Also, the area had changed markedly; the interesting book shops disappeared and were replaced by touristy trinket shops and cafés. In fact, we’d long outgrown the unit we were in anyway, so I started to look in earnest for a new site to relocate to.
I looked at 1 Berwick Street at the behest of a lettings agent. While the rent was in excess of what I’d budgeted for, the space and the location just felt right, and I was convinced I could make the figures work.
The unit was an empty shell, ready to be stamped with our new identity. I went online, looking for a designer who would be sympathetic to my sensibilities and found an article in which Callum Lumsden discussed the process he’d taken when designing the Tate Modern book shop. When I called him up, he was busy designing the retail spaces for Harry Potter World. I’m extremely grateful to Callum that he gave me his time, ear, expertise and I’m pretty sure, a keen price for my project. We ended up with a beautiful, spacious interior which was a big departure from the classic image of a comic shop. We were in a much better position to serve the industry in the way I’d envisaged. We have space to hold signings and book launches. We’ve hosted film screenings, talks, workshops, live music and more. We run a number of regular events, such as Drink & Draw, where anyone who is interested can get the chance to create with professionals, our monthly book club, Reads, and an occasional Feminism and Comics discussion group run by Let’s Talk Intersectionality.
Do you get a different mix of customers in Soho than you did in Bloomsbury?
We hung on to our regular customers when we moved, and oddly, we see as many overseas visitors now as we ever did. The British Museum holds the accolade of the UK’s most visited tourist attraction, but Soho sees its fair share of visitors. We’ve also benefited enormously from the custom of those working in the creative industry that keeps Soho buzzing. We thought that when we moved, that given Soho’s reputation, our small children’s book section might dwindle. It’s actually gone from strength to strength and we recently had to reorganise our ground floor to give it a little more space.
Any memorable anecdotes from the multitude of amazing signing events you’ve hosted?
The Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill events would sometimes run for seven or eight hours, with seriously long queues. I remember at one Saturday morning signing – for the release of a new League of Extraordinary Gentlemen book – the madam from the brothel on the other side of Peter Street came down to complain that her customers were shying away! “We’ve usually broke even by this time on Saturday; my girls are up there twiddling their thumbs!”
You specialise in European, underground, indie comics/graphic novels as well as beautiful illustration books from publishers like Nobrow. What are particular favourites of yours or big bestsellers at the moment?
A deserved bestseller is Nightlights by Lorena Alvarez. It’s aimed at the 7-10 age group, and tells the tale of a young girl overcoming loneliness with a vivid imagination. Baking with Kafka by Tom Gauld is doing extremely well – and his Moon Cop was our bestselling book of last year. Like me, customers are lapping up Tom’s gentle, thoughtful and touching look at life. Jillian Tamaki’s collection of short stories, Boundless, offers up more of her masterful blend of emotion and humour.
What are your favourite Soho haunts and shops?
I love my food, and I love to cook. Lina Stores have some great charcuterie and offer key ingredients to create a knockout risotto. Old Compton Street’s Algerian Coffee Store and Gerry’s provide most of my liquid refreshment and I often find myself dawdling in the aisles of Chinatown’s supermarkets looking for that rare ingredient for my next adventure in the kitchen. My most recent discovery is dried bracken fronds, which were rehydrated and added to my Dolsot Bibimbap. Favourite place to buy my morning coffee: Timber Yard – lovely staff and great coffee.
Any future plans for Gosh!?
Our focus over the next few years will be to continue to develop our own exclusive lines. We work with artists to produce exclusive prints, either digitally or as screen prints. We’ve commissioned art from Jamie Hernandez (Love & Rockets), Mike Allred (I-zombie), Charlie Adlard (Walking Dead), Kevin O’Neill and many more.
Last year we took an iconic Brian Bolland panel featuring Judge Dredd and Judge Death from a back issue of 2000AD and created a stunning A2 screen print limited to an edition of 200. We sold out pretty much immediately, with orders coming in from many countries around the world.
I currently have a couple of favourites in our range. ‘Amour de Soi’ by Alessandra Criseo is a repeat pattern piece depicting the artist herself. The depth of the screen-printed colours beautifully accentuates the artists simple style. And ‘Octopus Salad’ by Junko Misuno – my girlfriend’s a chef and this piece is Junko’s interpretation of a recipe she supplied. Each print comes with a copy of the recipe!