When news broke late last month that St. Mark’s Comics would be closing its doors forever at the end of February, many customers and fans were shocked. A fixture of NYC’s St. Mark’s Place, the store has been in operation for 36 years, catering to a loyal customer base. The Beat has posted our own remembrance for the shop, and now we’re proud to present one from T.J. Shevlin, a longtime customer of St. Mark’s who also worked at and managed the store from 2006-2014.
On January 29th, St. Mark’s Comics announced, after 36 years of business in NYC, it will be shutting its doors for the final time at the end of February. New Yorkers as well as comics fans often lament change for a multitude of reasons; being both of those myself, this closing hits really hard.
I grew up a few blocks away from the shop. So many of my interests came from hanging out on St. Mark’s Place. Kim’s Video cultivated my love of horror movies, Sounds showed me that Man Or Astro-Man had more music than just the theme song to Space Ghost: Coast To Coast, and Coney Island High developed my love for the New York punk rock / hardcore scene. All of it was meaningful, yet none of it had an impact like St. Mark’s Comics. It’s tough to see the store I bought my comics from as a teenager go out of business, but this loss is additionally magnified because of the nearly ten years I spent working in the shop.
Many others have already said some wonderful things about the store, from its loyal customers over the last thirty years to some of the biggest creators in comics, including Brian Michael Bendis and Neil Gaiman. I certainly can’t compare to those industry giants, but having spent a decade working there, I’d like to talk a bit about what my time at St. Mark’s meant to me.
I started at St. Mark’s in 2006. My father had suddenly passed away and I needed extra income to keep myself financially stable. I was very close with my father so it was an especially difficult loss. I lost my mother as a little kid, so it was just me, my sisters, and my niece, and we suddenly found ourselves with lots of changes happening all at once. One of my best buddies, who was working at the shop, suggested I get a second job there. I had been shopping there for years and was always friendly with the staff, especially the ones I regularly saw when I’d come in for my books and figures. I went in for my interview with Mitch and midway through it, I started crying. I explained everything that had been happening and my emotional/mental situation to him. I left feeling certain that I bombed the interview. I was shocked to find out later that I had gotten the job. Looking back on it, I think I only got the job because, like Mitch, I’m a Mets fan.
My first day was on a busy Wednesday (which, as every good comics fan knows, is new comic book day). I didn’t know what to do or where to stand. I felt like I was in the way. All of this awkward uncertainty only added to the emotional roller coaster I was already feeling. In trying to be more aware of my surroundings, I bumped into a ceiling high display of 12-inch boxed NECA figures—and, of course, they all came crashing to the floor, hitting customers in the process. Needless to say, I was mortified. I apologized, hastily cleaned up the mess, and ran downstairs to compose myself. From that first harrowing (but hilarious in retrospect) day forward, my life was never the same again.
On and off, I spent the majority of my 20s on the St. Mark’s Comics staff (honestly, more on than off, natch). Working with all of the misfits and weirdos, I felt like I finally belonged. It was the first time I truly felt like I belonged anywhere. I truly understood what it was to be a member of the “St. Mark’s Home for Wayward Children.” Every one of us came from some kind of damaged past or difficult life situation and we found family in one another.
After a short while, I was made store manager. I felt like I was a part of this secret society (of super villains?) where I was let in on the handshake. I was in a position where my formerly useless knowledge of comics became suddenly useful. My love of Golden Age DC Comics became a major part of my red arrow arsenal and being able to name every Teen Titan in the order they joined was no longer just a nerdy party trick. At the same time, my affinity for 1980s indy titles grew into a full blown love thanks to all the time spent working the back issues. I felt so proud that this deep knowledge and passion for a medium I hold so dear was something that the store could use to its advantage.
I learned that anything could be held together with the right amount of push pins and packing tape. I learned how to make parodies of songs on the fly. I learned that we were the hardest working staff in any comic shop anywhere. I also learned there’s no easy way of telling someone that their Spawn #1 and Superman #75 weren’t going to be their retirement fund. In spite of that, I loved talking to our customers and cultivating that relationship into more than just their purchase. The recommendations I made weren’t just to make a sale. If that was all that was important, I could’ve just handed them a copy of Watchmen or The Dark Knight Returns. I wanted to tailor the books I was putting in their hands to their specific interests, especially for the customers who were new to comics. There was no greater feeling I had than when they would come back, tell me they loved the book, and ask for what else we had. Many of our regular customers eventually became friends and a handful of those became like family to me.
The only thing that compares to all of that were the wacky moments in that store. There was the time an old lady—I’m talking 80 plus years old—hit on 25-year-old me as she was picking out an issue of Shazam! (“You can be the pitchfork, I’ll be the hay”—EXACT QUOTE!!) Or, the time Dan DiDio made a special surprise appearance in our Brooklyn store just to troll me and my love of Nightwing. And then, there was the time I lost by one character to Geoff Johns in a lightning round of “DC 1st Appearances” (a personal favorite moment). These are all very different ends of the spectrum, but that was the thing about working at St. Mark’s Comics—you never knew what would happen on your shift.
The person I am today is because of my time at the shop. I’ve had the best experiences of my life thanks to that store. I’ve met the best friends I will ever have. I had crazy adventures. I worked long, LONG hours. I left. I came back. I got sick of hearing Led Zeppelin every hour. I laughed. I left again. I came back again. I cried. Eventually, I left for the final time. It’s now been five years since I left the store and moved across the country to San Diego. Since then, I worked for IDW Publishing and some pretty amazing things happened—I helped open the San Diego Comic Art Gallery, working alongside Kevin Eastman. I got to manage art exhibits featuring the likes of Walter Simonson, Stan Sakai, Howard Chaykin, and of course, Kevin himself, amongst many others. I got made into an official Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles character (“Dr. Shevlin,” who is in the most recent issue! Go buy it!). I’m currently working for Super7, running a rad store filled with cool toys and apparel, as well as consulting on internal projects. I’ve done nothing but get to live my dreams….
…and none of it would be possible without St. Mark’s Comics: the BEST job I’ve ever had.
Thanks to every single person I ever worked with there. All of you made that job even better than it was, and it was already pretty damn good. Most importantly, thank you, Mitch Cutler, for helping me find who I am and helping me realize my full potential. I couldn’t have done this without your guidance and friendship.