Prior to and alongside being a slavishly pedantic, feverishly committed music freak, I was also quite enamored of comic books. I was predominantly a fan of Marvel titles like "X-men," "Howard the Duck" and "Ghost Rider" (all three series having since been respectively degraded by cinematic adaptation), but pursued a few D.C. titles like "The New Teen Titans," "Sgt. Rock" and "The Green Lantern Corps." I was also into a few arguably esoteric, indie comics like "Elfquest," "American Flagg," "Cerebus the Aardvark," "Captain Canuck" and the original "Judge Dredd" books (lovingly illustrated by the great Brian Bolland). This stuff meant the world to me.
Initially, when I was first getting into comics, I just got my latest issues at a local newspaper joint on Lexington Avenue, but I soon changed my tune. I was over at my pal Sean's place, and he'd started keeping his comics in crisp, neat plastic bags (instead of just storing them in sloppy stacks under his bed, like I'd been doing). In my gradual transformation into a full-on comic collector, Sean and I started seeking out the specialty shops.
Unlike NYC's dwindling community of mom'n'pop record and disc shops, there are still quite a few comic shops scattered around the city today, but most of my original favorites are gone. I've spoken about it before, but Sean and I were particularly fond of an establishment on East 58th Street between Lexington and Park called The Comic Art Gallery. Despite the cache of the address, the Comic Art Gallery was through a suspicious-looking doorway and up a graffiti-slathered flight of stairs. Once you were inside, the place was a cramped, chilly little cell (I remember the sales staff all wearing down vests to stay warm in the winter months). They may have skimped on paying the heating bill, but the dudes behind The Comic Art Gallery knew how to utilize every square inch of their space. The place was packed from floor to ceiling with lovingly presented troves of carefully-preserved comic books. It felt like such a clandestine operation. Our furtive missions to the Comic Art Gallery to procure vintage issues of "The Fantastic Four" and such made us feel like we were involved in some covert drug ring. Fittingly, we were indeed addicted.
The other big spot to get our comics fix was a little shop on the corner of East 84th Street and Second Avenue. Supersnipe -- named after the secret identity of fictional Koppy McFad, the kid with the most comic books in America -- was another richly-attended shrine to all things comics. Much like the Comic Art Gallery to its south, Supersnipe occupied a pretty small space, but made the most of it. I remember the walls being red and the shop having a surprisingly high ceiling, or maybe that's because I was just much shorter at the time. But once you were inside, the visual stimuli was almost overwhelming. There were comics and meticulously framed comic book art absolutely everywhere. It was hard to know where to even begin looking for whatever rarified title you were after.
There were other places. I remember place further north on Second Avenue that was there for a bit called Action Comics. Then, of course, there was my beloved Forbidden Planet way downtown. But Supersnipe was really a special one.
I don't remember when Supersnipe closed its doors, but I have to guess at some point in the mid-to-late `80s. I was pretty bummed out. The Comic Art Gallery closed around the same era, only those guys ended up moving downtown to a bigger space on Sullivan Street, which hung on until the late 90's so. But still have nothing but fondness for those original shops.
Today, the building that housed the 58th street Comic Art Gallery is no more, and a parking facility stands in its footprint. Up on East 84th, meanwhile, the address that hosted Supersnipe now rents space to a Two Boots pizza outlet.
I'd searched for years for photographic evidence of both of these shops, but to no avail. It's not surprising that I've never found an image of the old Comic Art Gallery, given how hidden away it was (no sign on the door or on the street-facing window ... you either knew where to find it, or you didn't). But just the other day, I randomly found the picture below of the old Supersnipe storefront, and I practically wept. Eagle-eyed comic geeks could probably slap a year on this given the titles on display in the window (click on it to enlarge). But, anyway, this was Supersnipe, thanks to this blog.