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Dean Haspiel

History

13th February 2019

10:45pm: St. Mark's Comics
I don't remember who gave me my first comic book but, when I was twelve, I discovered a newsstand that sold comics in front of a church across the street from where I lived in the upper west side of Manhattan. A few times a week I visited that newsstand and picked up new Marvel & DC superhero comics. The Fantastic Four, and Marvel Two-In-One were my favorite. A few years later I discovered comic book shops like West Side Comics, and Funny Business. Later on, I discovered Judge Dredd at Forbidden Planet, and American Splendor, and Yummy Fur at Soho Zat. And then I became aware of St. Mark's Comics.

I don't remember meeting Mitch Cutler but I can't recall St. Mark's Comics without thinking of Mitch. He looked like a bespectacled, mild-mannered guy and knew comics well. The first retailer I could talk to honestly about the state and business of comics before I ever got published.

After being an assistant to Bill Sienkiewicz, Howard Chaykin, and Walter Simonson on The New Mutants, Elektra: Assassin, American Flagg!, and Thor, respectfully, in 1985, I produced my first published comic, a co-creation with writer Martin Powell called The Verdict in 1987. But, it wasn't real until I saw it on the racks at St. Mark's Comics. I remember how proud Mitch was of me. I went from fan to professional in St. Mark's Comics. But, the truth is, I'm still just a fan. We all are.

I spent many years shopping at St. Mark's Comics, famous for its punk rock yet knowledgeable staff. My fondest memory is my first signing there when St. Mark's Comics moved down to the street level. I can't remember what comic book I was hawking but a table and chairs had been set up for me and, I believe, a few other cartoonists. Again, the comics and talent escapes my memory. But, I remember, distinctly, the jarring sound of a baseball bat slamming down on the floor, over and over again. Not in rapid succession, but intermittently. Out of the blue. The slamming of wood on linoleum would suddenly interrupt a thought or the punchline to a joke. Mitch was walking up and down the aisle with a baseball bat, tapping the floor as hard as he could to ward off potential thieves and criminals.

At the time, I felt Mitch's tactic was annoying. Disrupting the signing. I suspect a patron or two might have picked up a comic and fearfully returned it upon Mitch's threat and kindly exited the premises. I was a tad perturbed but, oddly, it remains my favorite memory of St. Mark's Comics.

On the heels of learning that St. Mark's Comics is closing after an honorable 36-year run on the lower east side, as the lower east side transitioned into something culturally unrecognizable and, frankly, abominable, I'd like to think that Mitch was acting as comics' guardian. A defender of cool and what is good in life. Like Marvel Comics' Heimdall, maybe Mitch was an all-seeing god, doing his best to protect the sanctity of comics while disguised as a bespectacled, mild-mannered comic book shop owner...with a baseball bat.

Thank you, St. Mark's Comics.
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