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Cardiff Character: Kristian St John Barry

Christian Barry“I’ve lost over 20 stone” Barry smiles, spinning in his swivel chair. “It’s the last few I can’t shift!”

Kristian St John Barry is the owner of Comic Guru, one of Cardiff’s premier independent comic book retailers.  A stocky man of 43 and a former children’s entertainer, Barry has been trading for nearly 15 years and has seen everything and knows everyone in the business.

“I helped out at a friend’s shop for three years first,” he said. “I made an offer to that friend to buy the place off him and our relationship went downhill very quickly. A year later I bumped into a few friends, and they said ‘we all miss you – open up.’ People’s generosity broke me out of the funk I was in, and I was able to move on from there.”

It seems Barry has never liked being under anyone’s thumb. “I’ve never been very good at being told what to do,” he admits. “I can’t handle people being deliberately stupid. I got fed up of patronising attitudes towards me, but I like the people and I enjoy my hobby. And that’s what it’s really about when you get down to it. The hobby.”


The Hobby.

Comic books being referred to as ‘the hobby’ may seem strange to some, but although many comics are still being made for children, the demographic has undoubtedly changed to an older clientele now that generations fuelled by comics have reached adulthood. But Barry remembers his first comic from a very early age.

“I was 18-months-old, it was Uncanny X-Men #1, and it tasted awful. That comic was about the price of a small house now, and I really did eat part of it! My father reckons I destroyed Action Comics #1, although I don’t believe him!” he says, revealing that his father’s valuable collection was his introduction into the subculture. “I think I was influenced by my parents. Some people are, others rebel, and some go both ways,” he grinned. “Innuendos are a great way of relaxing me.”


The Business.

Although Barry himself is of a cheerful disposition, it’s in stark contrast to the amount of work he packs in as an entrepreneur attempting to keep pace with the larger chain of stores, Forbidden Planet.

If it was just the two of us, I would have beaten them years ago” he laughs, referring to Planet’s parent company, distribution giant Titan. “But for me, actually paying someone is impossible. I can barely pay myself. I get friends and volunteers to help, but the one component of self-employment that cannot fail is yourself. Unfortunately, I’m only human.”


The Bailiffs.

Barry has had some near misses over the years, especially before he was in his current location. “When we were having some trouble in the Wyndham arcade, the landlords walked in with the bailiffs and took over £360,000 worth of stock. Bailiffs are terrifying and frightening, and while most of them just want to get paid, with some of them, you can’t trust their word. But I kept trading.”

Barry takes his comics seriously. When asked about popping his head into one of the biggest comic events of the year, the Cardiff Film and Comic Con, his response was simply “good God, no.”

"I've got more comics in this room than the entirety of Cardiff Comic Con."

“I’ve got more comics in this room than the entirety of Cardiff Comic Con.”

“For three years those conventions had been built up by a very small group, and then Showmasters [a sizeable company specialising in collector events] walked in with very deep pockets and said ‘we want it’. If you’re going to set up a different event, there’s no need to bully-boy others out of your way.

“There’s more dressing up than actual comics. I have more comics in this shop than in the entirety of that room. I get narked at this greed, in this climate. Comics are the hobby. It should be preserved.”