My local comic book store, Escapist Comics on Claremont Avenue in Berkeley, CA is right down the hill from me. It is in an elitist neighborhood of million dollar plus homes not far from the grand old Claremont Hotel. There’s a small section of commercial establishments on Claremont including the infamous Star Market where it is a badge of honor to be one of those with an account. You know you’ve arrived if you’re able to remark on the eccentric bookkeeping thereof. Several doors down you can get the best BLT ever (and this from a southerner) in Semifreddi’s bakery not to mention their superior baguettes and such.
Last year, when I first encountered Paul Purcell, the manager at Escapist, he wasn’t clear who the hell I was or why it mattered but true to the inclusive People’s Republic of Berkeley view of life, he was enthusiastic and welcoming. The store is a classic comic book store—cluttered, unkempt and a little overwhelming for the novice. It has the timeless air of all the bookstores that ever were of the possibility of being lost in the imagination rampant on the shelves.
It is cheering to come into the store and see neighborhood dads with their kids, academic types from nearby UC Berkeley and comic book aficionados of all kinds and persuasions. The staff is friendly, enthusiastic and knowledgeable. Every time I come in searching for just the right gift for the small children on my family list or teenagers who help me with heavy lifting or birthday presents for friends, someone on the staff knows exactly the perfect item. I am always happy when Jessica is there because I know she understands my loss at the sheer volume of material and will steer me in the right direction. That’s a wake up call, you comic book guys—hire women!
My friend Kim Munson, artist, art historian and comic book historian pronounced Escapist a treasure trove upon coming to the recent event that Gerard Jones and I held there. Kim managed to snag some Jack Kirbys she was in search for and was more than happy to have made the trek to our little corner of the world. (And if you don’t know who Jack Kirby is, you will soon enough if the Supreme Court decides to hear the case of his heirs vs. Marvel about creator rights.) Escapist is indeed a treasure trove and just about anything you could possibly want is there from books to please the children in your life to the obsessive comic book fan.
The estimable Jim Friel holds forth in the loft and has the keys to the vault for those who are serious collectors. Occasionally he has some pulps and understands the equally obsessive nature of those who collect in that genre.
There’s always something interesting happening so if you’re anyway near you should be on their list. My best friend Claire who is a serious literati New Yorker type of dame and I gnashed our teeth when we discovered we missed the incomparable Roz Chast there about a week ago. About a month ago I did catch two of my favorite San Francisco comic book elites—Trina Robbins and Steve Leialoha. I went over the budget because besides the must have Pretty In Ink, Trina’s history of women cartoonists, I also had to have Trina’s edition of Miss Fury by Tarpe Mills. It is gorgeous and inspiring. And then of course, there was no way I could pass up Steve’s beautiful illustrations in the Eisner award winning series Fables.
Several months ago at Escapist I met Kurt Wiebe, co-creator of Peter Panzerfaust and the Rat Queens—a terrific series that is feminine friendly in all the right ways and has a wonderful story line. I would probably not have come across his amazing work otherwise.
Paul and the gang made the store available to my co-author of MWN’s bio Gerard Jones and me on Saturday, June 21st. Mel Gordon, an author of a wide variety of books from subjects like the Stanislavsky method to Weimar Germany came to lend support along with Thomas Andrae, notable comics scholar. They were co-authors on Funny Man, a book about a series created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster of Superman fame. Tom has written a number of books on comics history and will soon have a book out with a whole new view of Siegel and Shuster. I was happy to have them in the front row to help with gaps in my memory about dates and such. Marc Greenberg, one of the smart guys in the intellectual property know how, a lawyer and a writer was there with his wife the afore mentioned Kim Munson. I was interviewed by Kim for the Comics Alternative blog and I really appreciated her insights. My cycling buddies, neighborhood friends, writing pals and interested comics fan all showed up to cram the place all the way to the door. It was standing room only and couldn’t have been a nicer crowd.
I did a little short history of my grandfather, Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, his military career and his pulp adventure stories.
Then I read a few excerpts from the recently published collection of some of MWN’s adventure stories, The Texas-Siberia Trail published by John Locke of Off-Trail Publications. John does a super job with publishing pulp reprints. The stories we chose for the reprint are based on the Major’s real life adventures in the military on the Mexican border chasing Pancho Villa, in the Philippines fighting the Moros and in Siberia during the Bolshevik Revolution. My friend and brilliant artist Howard Cruse drew the inside cover depiction of “the Major.” John and I contributed Introductions and the ever wonderful Michael Uslan, producer of all the Batman movies along with Gerard Jones gave us great blurbs for the back cover. It’s doing well and has gotten great reviews on Amazon. Here’s how you can get yours.
It was one of those times when all the right ingredients are there—perfect place, great group of people and at just the right moment. Everyone listened intently and asked interested questions after Gerard held forth about our upcoming bio on the Major. It was pretty close to comic book and pulp nirvana. And watched over by none other than Batman and Robin!
Escapist may not look exactly like the ideal of what people think they want in a comic book shop but I think it comes the closest to the ideal of what everyone says is important in a book shop to come back again and again–a friendly knowledgable staff, interesting events with the best people in the industry from classics to new innovative material and an unbelievable inventory of almost anything you could possibly want.
Gerard and I were grateful for the opportunity to give our “show”a tryout in such a friendly space with good friends and colleagues to support us. Creative people need venues to present their work. How wonderful is it to do so in your very own neighborhood in such a welcoming space. Thanks guys! Support your local comic book and independent book store. I mean it.