Fare Thee Well, Happy Harbor

Me in a Shawna Roe and Jay Bardyla sandwich, just after midnight on New Year’s 2019 at Happy Harbor Comics. Photo: Dean Welsh.

Just before Christmas, Happy Harbor Comics announced that it would be closing. A few days later, it made a second announcement. The plan to close the store was reversed: Happy Harbor had been bought by a northern Alberta games and comics retailer called Wonderland.

These few days prompted a flood of emotions for me. I’ve survived other comic shop closings, and I’ve switched comic shops due to moves by the store or by me. But Happy Habor has been more than a store: it’s also a community, which I hope will continue after the store changes hands.

Under the ownership of Jay Bardyla and Shawna Roe, Happy Harbor has promoted local talent, organized 24-hour comic jams, established a school visit program, created Canada’s first artist-in-residence program for comics, tossed huge parties and celebrations for Free Comic Book Day and other events, hosted readings, talks, autographs, and group gatherings for all things comics and related nerditry.

They also organized an exhibit called Visions of Comics to showcase comics-inspired artwork. After the death of my best friend, arts journalist Gilbert Bouchard, a Happy Harbor supporter and a great promoter of comics as art, the store added the name “Gilbert Bouchard Memorial Art Show” to the title. Thanks to Wonderland keeping the store open, this year’s show will go ahead as planned in March. The theme of the show is Mentors, which is what Gilbert was to me, and what Happy Harbor has been to many a comics artist and fan in Edmonton and beyond, as the store* started in Jasper, Alberta, and ships far and wide.

(*Originally, I committed a typo so this sentence read: “The story started in Jasper, Alberta”. The store *does* have a story, and I’m glad that it will continue in the form of the art show, the artist-in-residence program, and any other activities that will go on in the Happy Harbor corner of the “new” store.)

I have also come to count Shawna and Jay as personal friends of mine. They’ve supported me through some tough times. I’m thrilled that they will be able to turn over their business to a group that has committed to continuing their legacy.

Finally, I thank Jay and Shawna for creating so many excuses for me to write about Happy Harbor or Happy Harbor events. I’ve collected them all in the list of links below (let me know if I’m missing any!). When you look the photos I’ve taken, you’ll notice a familiar background: the Happy Harbor store.

The last official Happy Harbor party takes place tonight. This will be the last gathering of the community the store has built over the past two decades. But it will also be the first celebration to welcome the new owners: Happy Harbor Comics will become Wonderland Edmonton. I think of it as a regeneration event.

About Happy Harbor

Happy Harbor Volume 3, Edmonton, Alberta: From creating a niche to developing a comics community
May 12, 2008

Pop Print 2008: Bridging the Fanboy Brain and the Academic Brain
November 10, 2008

Artist Appearances

A Modern Historical Murder Mystery: Interview with Ben Rankel
July 16, 2018

Developing a Photobooth Biography: Meags Fitzgerald
November 10, 2014

The Nostaligist: Ray Fawkes
July 18, 2011

Friends and Heroes: Nat Jones
June 6, 2011

Andrew Foley Writes Things: On Creepy Comics, Alien Movies and More
November 22, 2010

Visualizing a Pioneering Legend: James Davidge and Bob Prodor
May 17, 2010

Artist-in-Residence Program

From Horses to Horror: Cindy Gauthier
July 30, 2018

Making Her Own New Thing: Catherine Dubois
December 11, 2017

Joanne Wojtysiak: A Gothbunny Recharges as an Artist-in-Residence
January 30, 2017

Comic Book Artist-in-Residence: Daniel Schneider
September 12, 2011

Name Check

I’m including this link as an example of one of the things Happy Harbor has done to support local comics creators: carry their books. Independent artists and publishers can sell their wares online, but it’s important to have the printed works in stores. For a reader looking for something new to check out, the experience of perusing a display of comics, picking them up, flipping through them, and talking to staff about them is invaluable.

The Anthology Project: Joy Ang and Nick Thornborrow
June 28, 2010

Happy Harbor / Wonderland Edmonton

Btw, here is the store’s website!

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