|Photo credit IS Magazine|
May 2011 - Oct 2012
Sometime last year, I chanced upon this really cool concept of a bookstore called Harris Planerds. It was operated by the Popular Bookstore chain, and sold - you guessed it - comics, graphic novels, art books, toys and collectibles for geeks galore. I wasn't sure how it was going to survive, as it was located right smack in the heart of town in 313@Somerset, a rather swanky shopping complex. My skepticism, I felt, was justified - In Singapore, a shop like this can only exist as a quaint little niche in some corner of our island, and not as a flagship bookstore space in Orchard. Nevertheless, I visited this rare mecca of imagination frequently, making lunch-time stops just to browse its endless rows of comics, books and toys. (Their stuff came at reasonable prices too.) Along the way I even signed up for a membership.
|Credit: Collateral Damage Studios|
Sadly, just about one or two months ago, Harris closed its doors. I received a letter from Popular apologising for the closure, and offering a conversion to membership at its mainstream outlets in exchange for my terminated Planerds privileges. Did it come as a surprise? Obviously, no. Still I was crest-fallen. I had a mixed bag of feelings - sadness coupled with a vague sense of anger. Anger not at the bookstore but at the lack of support that was given by customers. Was it because of the open-browsing concept that allowed cheapskate readers to have their free fix without buying anything? Or was it simply that the store was too big and just in the wrong part of town to sustain itself? Who knows...
But the demise of Planerds had me thinking about how little faith I have in my fellow Singaporeans when it comes to depth of imagination and appetite for fantasy. It's an old chestnut, probably revisited to death by people in our arts and theatre community, but perhaps seldom viewed from the perspective of a hidden class or a subculture if you will - the geeks. And I'm not ashamed to say I'm one of these. Maybe it's just down to mathematics - Japan and the US have big populations. And somewhere in those hundreds of millions you'll probably have a sizeable pool of dreamers - the geeks, nerds and hobbyists. Then again, look at Hong Kong. It isn't a vast country. It's comparable to Singapore. And yet they have a toy culture and a gunpla standard that is probably the closest in the world to Japan's. So - where are our geeks; our dreamers? Where are they? Or do they exist only in transient forms - the 14-year-old gawky teenager who hasn't yet discovered girls; the lonely and slightly creepy singleton who can never get a date? Where are the fully matured, balanced, working adults with perfectly healthy lifestyles and families, but who have retained their childhood spark of fantasy? I'm inclined to think that there is something about our system or society that doesn't allow for such people to exist in great numbers. Call it pragmatism, materialism or just plain boring, the demographic of such people - I call them the dreamers - just isn't very large in a fast-paced, paper-pushing results-oriented society like ours.
And so it is with Planerds - I have no idea who was behind it, and I'm pretty sure he or she will never read this, but whoever you are, I applaud you for the seed that you planted, even if the tree was chopped down before it ever bore fruit. Your creation was born without much fanfare, and likewise, died without so much as a whimper. While the media reported about the closure of the Harris chain and other beloved bookstores such as Borders and Page One (which, if I may be so bold to say, is another alarming endemic problem - doesn't anyone here READ anymore???), Planerds came and went unnoticed.
I shall always remember those cosy times spent among the endless shelves of comics, poring over pages bursting with art, and having the very pleasant dilemma of deciding which volume I should take home with me. You will be missed.