Aardvarks Over UK, art, Austen, Cerebus, Comic shops, comics, Cynthia von Buhler, Dave Sims, Dickens, Downton Abbey, Escape Pod Comics, Hugo, Huntington, Huntington Arts Council, J.M. DeMatties, Lucy Knisley, Maus, Menachem Luchins, Page 45, Rocketship Comics, Sailor Twain, Sondheim
Escape Pod Comics, in Huntington, NY, provides an interesting take on the traditional comics shop. In fact, it’s owner, Menachem Luchins, proclaims it “the future of comic book stores.” We took some time to ask Menachem about his vision:
Derek Mainhart: So, Menachem, what’s the concept behind Escape Pod Comics?
Menachem Luchins: The concept behind Escape Pod is that there is a comic for everyone. Despite the fact that comics are becoming more and more popular, people still see them as a niche medium. They think all comics are super-heroes, or at least fantastical. While that may be a small majority of the books there really is something for every taste and age group.
More than just believing in this, we want the FEEL of Escape Pod to reflect it. That’s why if you walk in to our shop you’ll see books by genre, a HUGE kid’s section, chairs and table for reading and a whole slew of discounted used books. We want you to browse, to be comfortable. We also want to educate and investigate, which is why we’ll be offering classes and events on how comics work.
DM: Where did the idea for this kind of store come from? Give us some background info.
ML: Well, for a few years I used to travel from upstate NY to Brooklyn just so I could shop at Rocketship Comics on Smith Street. When they closed I actually cried. I also bought out a lot of their stock and fixtures, including a spinner rack of my own. I used to joke about opening my own store with all the stuff I bought from them. A year later, I was re-reading Dave Sim’s Cerebus but this time with all the letters, articles, etc and came across Mark Simpson and Stephen Holland’s manifesto for their store Page 45, which they created after putting together the Aardvarks Over UK tour for Dave and Gerhard and something just clicked… Here I was, commuting to a teaching job that I was just too burnt out to enjoy and these guys were talking about selling comics to EVERYONE. A year later I went for it and here we are.
DM: Ah yes, I know the pain of losing a beloved store. Which brings me to another question: You’re opening up a comics store?! In this economy?! Are you crazy?!!!
ML: Well, the simplistic answer is that I’m not looking to strike it rich or even make “a lot” of money, I’m just planning on making enough to get by (with a wife and three kids…). I’ve never really been a very money-centric guy. If I was, I could tell you how comics are the only print medium that actually had INCREASED sales in the last year, how people buy entertainment and escapist works MORE in a recession. I would point out that thanks to the economy, a 90-minute movie costs about what a 200+ page comic costs and that a paperback novel is closing in on that price-point as well. I could also, getting off the money issue, go on and on about smart buying as a store and how our cultural events, classes and signings are going to make us much more than just a shop, but a community center. All of that is an explanation but none of it is really the answer. The real answer, honestly, is a combination of all those things and many more. But to more directly and succinctly answer your question: Yes, I’m crazy.
DM: Heh. Tell us a little bit about the classes you’re offering.
ML: Funny you should ask… We’ve got the incomparable Derek Mainhart lined up to do some classes.
DM: That guy’s a hack.
ML: My current plan for that is to give Derek the store space every Saturday. Space will be cleared and he will be free to teach however many classes he wants, or bring in other people to teach at the same time or at different times, whichever. We don’t have a firm date on this, but we’re looking at the summer.
Until then I’m going to be calling in some chips: the legendary comic writer J.M. DeMatties has already agreed to give a lecture or class one day. So has Lucy Knisley. Cynthia von Buhler, who is kind of my patron saint, has agreed to come down for something, and to sell some of her comic’s original art through us.
Just today, a gentleman who wandered in, insisting he didn’t read comic books but was wondering if I sold “illustrated novels, like Maus,” suggested that I teach a literature class for adults once a month. When people wander in off the street I like to give them my full attention; since the store doesn’t really need anything immediately, I’m able to explain my plans and goal better and just chat.
Chatting with this guy and his wife led us all over: from Downton Abbey to Hugo to Dickens to Austen to Sondheim… After which, he made that suggestion. I insisted that it would have to be a comic class, but could easily be a literary one. He was all for it, was ready to sign up then and there. His wife too. Hmmm… Sailor Twain, maybe?
DM: Sounds like an impressive lineup (other than that Mainhart guy). You also mentioned hosting “cultural events.” What sorts of things do you have in mind? Anything in the works?
ML: Well, I’m currently working with the Huntington Arts Council on their exciting Spark Boom program, which is starting in spring and running until the end of the summer. There are going to be all sorts of events at various locales and stores in the area and we may even be hosting a few in the store.
Aside from that, I’m talking to some artists (none very firm yet) about doing small shows in our space. There are also lectures planned to educate the average person on what exactly comics are. After all, they’re not just for kids anymore…
DM: Amen to that! So, education, lectures, art exhibits: sounds like you really want to be part of the local community. To paraphrase Homer (Simpson): Is there anything Escape Pod Comics can’t do?
ML: Well, we won’t be selling toys or t-shirts… So there’s that. Frankly, a good book store, whether it’s solely devoted to just comics or to the written word or both, SHOULD be all those things. In recent years the Internet and franchises have destroyed the literally thousands of stores that used to exist like this all across the USA. Our goal is to bring the comfort of a joyous shopping experience at a place that knows you, your town and your interests, back. But I guess you’ll have to stop in to the store to see if we’ve been successful.
Escape Pod Comics. Check it out.