Joe Leisner, the 80 year old former owner of Comic Book Heaven, a comics shop in Sunnyside Queens and the star of the above short film, is a character. An authentic New York character, as they say, and someone who’s been running a comics shop for 50 years, long before it became fashionable. So long that having a Shrek poster hanging in his store, or pondering the price of an issue of Moby Duck is the same to him as the latest Convergence title. If you watched the film,, you’ll definitely see a comics shop as it once was, and many still are: a little messy and timelost, a kingdom of ragged long boxes, but a friendly place for the regulars.
Leisner was 80 when the film was made in late 2013, and since then he’s closed down the shop and retired, but before the end he has old man complaints about the industry that couldn’t be scripted. “The business hasn’t been healthy for a while,” he says at one point. “Probably electronics had something to do with it.” His reminiscenses are also priceless. The “girl at Marvel” who suggested that new comics would one day be a profit center rather than back issues most probably refers to Carol Kalish, a pioneer of the direct sales market credited with getting shop owners to use cash registers. (Comic Book Heaven has one.)
E.J. McLeavey-Fisher directed the short, and it’s shot and edited beautifully. It’s an honest but indulgent tribute to a way of life that is going away fast. In fact, Jeremiah of
Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York, a site I often turn to for heartbreaking news about some deli or bar closing, has an interview with McLeavey-Fisher:
Q: Something I like most about the film is its depiction of what might be called “a real New York character.” Can such a breed still exist in the city? And can they still run a successful business?
A: That breed can definitely still exist, but I don’t think they can necessarily run a shop like Comic Book Heaven without making some serious tweaks over time. To me, Joe’s “New York character” comes from that defiant, stubborn outlook that often gets equated with the overall NYC attitude. That’s the charm, of course, but when it applies to a business model, it’s not so sustainable. The conflict now is that people get a kick out of Joe and appreciate his efforts in a film like this, but when it comes down to it, they might still prefer a new coffee shop in that storefront.
Some might think it’s a good thing that old school stores like Comic Book Heaven are closing down, but it’s wonderful to have it preserved in this film.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.