Best Comic Book Shop 2016 | Ash Avenue Comics & Books | Goods & Services | Phoenix

With comic book heroes headlining so many summer blockbusters, the market for superhero stories has never been bigger. But one of the best things about Ash Avenue Comics & Books in Tempe is that while the staff stocks and totally gets down on whatever Superman, Batman, Captain America, Wonder Woman, and Deadpool are up to, their knowledge extends to a wide variety of comics outside of the Big Two publishers, from creator-owned independent books and science fiction to horror and autobiographical alt-comics. Community-minded, Ash Avenue also hosts readings like the Untidy Secrets storytelling series and monthly book-club readings, where books like Neil Gaiman's Sandman can be digested and discussed.

Mesa has blossomed into an arts destination these past few years, with music festivals and new venues popping up to complement the city's thriving art scene. And then there's Asylum Records, the best record store in the Valley. The store has a surprisingly well-stocked collection of classic rock records, and its metal collection is pretty terrific, too. Browse through the funk and soul records and you'll find the classics, from Funkadelic to Etta James. If the selection isn't enough for you, this is also the only record store in the Valley we know of that has a store cat welcoming visitors and bugging the friendly ones for head scratches.

Need that one Mötorhead live CD to complete your collection? Most likely, you can find it at Zia Records. There really isn't a better place to buy new and used CDs in town. Zia's selection is just that much bigger — there really is no competition or comparison. If you are looking for a hard-to-find CD, Zia is your best bet (unless, of course, you are hip to this little thing called the internet, which is probably just a flash in the pan, anyway). If the price is important to you, the bang for the buck at Zia is usually pretty great for the new and used CDs you must have before the medium completely goes away for good. Buy, sell, and trade CDs with the best in town at Zia.

Bizarre Guitar founder Bob Turner passed away last year, but it would seem his legacy is in good hands, as the shop has continued on, maintaining his high standards. Famously featured in a Miller Beer advertisement that ran during Super Bowl XLIV in 2010, Bizarre Guitar doesn't have that impersonal, warehouse-like feel that makes other places so nightmarish. Instead, the staff is attentive and quick to answer questions about the new and vintage guitars, amplifiers, pedals, and drums. The staff values connection, whether you're picking up a starter Squire or a deluxe Gibson ES 335; the company's Facebook page routinely features happy customers posing with their recent purchases, all smiling faces and gleaming six-strings.

Step aside, boys: This one's dedicated to the ladies. Young ladies, to be specific. In 2007, a group from Portland, Oregon, decided to reach out and expand on a little idea they'd had for a while — a rock 'n' roll camp for girls. Recognizing that rock is too often a male-only pursuit, camps have sprung up across the country (and even internationally) with the idea of allowing girls to form bands, learn to play, and then perform live before an audience. This year, Girls Rock! Phoenix hosted its first-ever summer camp — and brought down the house. The weeklong day camp included screen-printing instruction and a zine workshop, as well as performances by local bands and the aforementioned musical training. The final show, held at the Nash on Roosevelt Row, was standing room only. Women from all over the Valley stepped up to volunteer their time and talents, and the tiny band members did them proud. Girls about to rock, we salute you.

Pop quiz, movie buffs: Which Hollywood legend performed his most iconic film scene with a 100-degree fever? In Jaws, Steven Spielberg named the mechanical shark after whom? The answers, and plenty of other fun facts, behind-the-scenes stories, and juicy Tinseltown gossip can be found at FilmBar Film School, the popular series hosted by screenwriter, ASU professor, and cinephile Joe Fortunato. Film School is offered approximately once a quarter; past offerings include Citizen Kane, City Lights, Casablanca, The Graduate, and Dr. Strangelove. Each screening begins with introductory remarks by Fortunato; then, audiences watch the film while he provides commentary. After the credits, you can stick around for a post-show discussion, or go out into the night replete with enough movie trivia tidbits to dazzle everyone at your next cocktail party. (And for the curious: Gene Kelly, Singin' in the Rain; Bruce, Spielberg's lawyer.)

Ever wanted to study the art of improv? You totally can at the Torch Theatre, where a dedicated cast of improvisers will walk you through the ins and outs of live, spontaneous comedy. Director of education Jacque Arend leads open classes on the art of taking an audience suggestion and building on it for hilarious results. The crew at Torch help make sense of the character building and dialogue required to construct comedy gold in front of a live audience, absent the safety net of a script. Class sizes are small and intimate (and we highly recommend the kids' program), but the potential for yucks is great.

If you've ever wanted to feel like you were walking into a Lisa Frank print, try La Moda just north of 16th Street and McDowell Road. Around since 2007, La Moda specializes in dresses ideal for weddings — offering bridal gowns, bridesmaids' dresses, and flower girl getups — plus proms, baptisms, holiday parties, and of course, quinceañeras. Think ruffles, beads, and skirts in every cut and color of the rainbow. La Moda is an authorized dealer for formal quinceañera vendors like Vizcaya by Mori Lee, Bella Sera, Diana Ponce Boutique, and the Quinceañera Collection by House of Wu. Accessories must accompany a dazzling new quinceañera dress, and they've got sparkling shoes, tiaras, scepters, masks, and more. And just so you know, tuxedos are also available here, provided by Jim's Formalwear and Formal Knight Tuxedos.

Need a cool gift for that person who has everything? Love browsing a store where you will always find something new and different, even if you were just there a week ago? Mexican Arts Imports is the place. The cool (and very funky) store at the southeast corner of 24th and Polk streets, across from the Arizona State Hospital, is definitely a destination even if you didn't know you needed a cool bronze sun with a mirror in it. Or a small statue of a lucha libre star from years gone by. Talavera, Day of the Dead, religious items ... it's all there in the jam-packed store. Warning: You can easily get lost here. But what a way to go. Viva la Mexican Arts Imports.

Don't be fooled by the sparse exterior of the building; La Nueva Piñata has the best hand-made piñatas around — and for totally reasonable prices. Need a three-foot-tall Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle piñata or one that looks like a Bud Light bottle? This place has you covered. It sells Disney characters, unicorns, the Cardinals mascot, SpongeBob SquarePants, and traditional giant stars. The owners make everything on-site, and if you bring along a photograph of what you want, they'll make it for you. So next time you throw a party, whether your guests are children or a bunch of bridesmaids, consider adding a piñata to the mix because, let's be honest, who doesn't like a game that ends with a shower of candy?

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