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Help Kickstart My Comic Shop Country and Go Behind the Counter

Back in 2014 we reviewed My Comic Shop DocumentARy and interviewed its director Anthony Desiato. Desiato is back with a new film, My Comic Shop Country which explores “the culture, business, and fandom of comic book stores across America.”

Currently running on Kickstarter through October 20, the documentary goes “behind the scenes and capture the business, culture, and fandom of the local comic book store on a national level. The movie will feature interviews with the stores’ key players—owners, staff, and customers—and show the stores in action on Wednesdays (AKA New Comic Day), during events (e.g., Free Comic Book Day and creator signings), and in those regular, day-to-day moments when a store’s personality shines brightest.”

Desiato is a former comic store clerk himself and knows the industry enough to give a realistic take on what it’s like in today’s comic shops.

Comic shops featured include:

  • Acme Comics (Greensboro, NC)
  • Amalgam Comics and Coffeehouse (Philadelphia, PA)
  • Aw Yeah Comics (Harrison, NY / Muncie, IN / Skokie, IL)
  • Cave Comics (Newtown, CT)
  • Challengers Comics + Conversation (Chicago, IL)
  • Comic Asylum (Palm Desert, CA)
  • The Comic Book Shop (Wilmington, DE)
  • Escape Pod Comics (Long Island, NY)
  • Fat Moose Comics (Whippany, NJ)
  • First Aid Comics (Chicago, IL)
  • Interstellar Comic Books and Collectibles (Palm Springs, CA)
  • It’z Vintage (Mendham, NJ)
  • Midtown Comics (New York, NY)
  • Packrat Comics (Hilliard, OH)
  • The Spider’s Web (Yonkers, NY)
  • Undiscovered Realm (White Plains, NY)
  • Zapp! Comics (Wayne, NJ)

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to work in a comic shop and want a real take on the experience, this is a movie you want to back.

In Honor of Free Comic Book Day, Watch My Comic Shop DocumentARy Here for Free!

My Comic Shop DocumentARy is an independent, feature-length film about New York’s Alternate Realities. In 1992, Alternate Realities owner Steve Oto embarked upon a journey from lawyer to comic book retailer. It has been a journey filled with accomplishment and disappointment, friendship and heartbreak, and a dream that would become a nightmare. 

Humorous, intimate, and heartfelt, My Comic Shop DocumentARy shines a light on the colorful community that has assembled at Alternate Realities over the past two decades. From Oto himself, who dispenses his oddball wisdom in the form of pithy sayings known as “Otoisms,” to a customer who works at restaurant chain T.G.I. Friday’s but claims to moonlight as a member of an elite SWAT team, it is a community more colorful than even the pages of a comic book.

​A true D.I.Y. project, first-time filmmaker Anthony Desiato handled virtually all aspects of production on My Comic Shop DocumentARy while attending law school and working at Alternate Realities. The completed film has screened at NewFilmmakers New York (May 2011), the San Diego Comic-Con International Independent Film Festival (July 2011), the St. Louis International Film Festival (November 2011), the Buffalo Niagara Film Festival (April 2012), and the Phoenix Comicon Film Festival (May 2012). 

In July 2012, it was the inaugural entry in the “Local Element” series at Pleasantville’s prestigious Jacob Burns Film Center.

Movie Review: My Comic Shop DocumentARy

my comic shop documentaryMy Comic Shop DocumentARy is a movie, released today, that looks at the comic shop Alternate Realities, its owner Steve Oto, and the various personalities that hang out at the shop. During my mid to late teenage years, and a bit into my 20s, I was a counter jockey at a few comic and game shops. It was a great time, leaving me with numerous memories and some friendships that last to this day over a dozen years later. There’s a comradery that is often at shops, filled with social misfits, awkward individuals, and at the same time personalities larger than life. It was a half dozen years or so for me working in a shop, and I miss it.

Director Anthony Desiato attempts to capture all of that in a documentary released today on Youtube and you can view below. Desiato nails it, and some may say I’m writing this with too much nostalgia, the wacky world that is the comic book shop world is depicted accurately and quite well. It’s a movie I’d hand to someone if they ever inquired what working in a shop was like, and what it entailed. This is pretty damn close to my experience, crazy characters ana ll.

Desiato also deftly knows that there’s more to the “story” than just the individuals that go in and out of Alternate Realities. While the movie might focus on Oto, his staff, and the customers, there’s also a light shown on some of what goes into running a shop as well. Driving to the local UPS depot early in the morning to get your shipment, moving vast amounts of stock around, going through a thick monthly catalog figuring out what might sell three months down the road, it’s all here and more. That love of detail is due to the insight Desiato has from working in the shop he decided to film. And though he worked there, the film covers the shop fairly, warts and all, showing off the competition, and allowing pretty frank depictions and discussions.

While I could say there’s a script and plot, the flow of the movie is natural, broken up in segments covering certain topics. During each, we’re shown the world and individuals that inhabits the store, both inside and at outside activities and all of it is fascinating. Many of the “characters” you might recognize from your local store, showing the comic experience is universal.

For those who work at a shop, have wondered what it might be like, or want a glimpse into the rather unique world of comic book retail, this is a great film that you can walk away from with a good sense of what its like.

You can read an interview we did with Desiato here, catch a trailer of his next film a spin-off of this one, and also watch the full movie below!

Direction: 8 Acting: N/A Plot: 8 Overall: 8


Interview: Anthony Desiato discusses the movie My Comic Shop DocumentARy

my comic shop documentaryMy Comic Shop DocumentARy is a movie, released today, that looks at the comic shop Alternate Realities, its owner Steve Oto, and the various personalities that hang out at the shop. I worked at a couple of shops over a decade ago, and seeing the film brought back memories. A review will be up later today!

But, before the review, I got a chance to talk to the director Anthony Desiato about the movie as well as its spin-off follow up, By Spoon! The Jay Meisel Story. You can catch a trailer of that below, but before you get there, the interview!

Graphic Policy: You used to manage the comic shop Alternate Realities, but have since moved on to get a law degree. What got you interested in returning to the world of comic shops to make this film?

Anthony Desiato: I’ve always been interested in writing and filmmaking, but it wasn’t until law school that I found the motivation to actually pursue it. A few weeks into my first semester, I realized that I needed a creative outlet to stay sane amidst all the cases I was reading. The documentary idea emerged, and it became a goal—a light at the end of the tunnel.

I will forever maintain that my dual focus of law and film, however unorthodox it may be, has provided an invaluable balance. I think it’s fair to say that I wouldn’t have been as productive in either area without the other.

GP: How’d you come to work in the shop?

AD: I started shopping at the store during elementary school. One day during high school, the owner (Steve, the protagonist of the film) asked me how my alphabet was. He was looking to reorganize the back issue bins and needed some help. I started working at Alternate Realities that summer.

Over the years, I went from a boy whose mother drove him to the store and waited in the car while he got his comics to the guy who opened and closed each day.

Without a doubt, it was the best after-school and summer job a high school or college student could possibly ask for. I learned how to run a small business and deal with people; I came to appreciate the value of working for and saving my own money; I met some of my best friends there; and it provided an endless source of inspiration—as evidenced by the documentary and the fact that we’re talking now.

GP: What was your general experience working at a shop? Any great memories or stories you’d like to share?

AD: I loved it. As a fan, it really was the best, even if the novelty of being surrounded by comic books all the time eventually wore off.

Message boards and social media weren’t what they are now, and none of my friends read comics, so being able to talk to coworkers and customers about what I was reading was just incredible.

I also couldn’t have asked for a better boss than Steve. As the film shows, he’s certainly not without his quirks, but as an employer he was always nothing but generous, patient, and accommodating. It was a big moment when he entrusted me with a key to the store.

The customers were interesting. You know that scene in Clerks where Dante and Randal recall all the stupidity they encounter on a daily basis? I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have encounters like that, but overall it was a diverse, polite, friendly group of people coming in for their comics every week.

As for a story: In the documentary, one of the interviewees says that he plans to invite Steve to his wedding. Not only did he make good on that promise, but he also invited me and two of my coworkers from the shop. He even spoke about the friendships he made at the store in his wedding toast. This was someone who just came in every week to pick up his books, but who truly became a friend.

GP: What is it about comic shops that takes folks who generally are considered not all that social/socially awkward in other situations or with other groups, and opens them up?

AD: That’s really interesting. There’s a scene-stealing moment in the documentary where one of the customers—a good friend of mine—describes himself as an introvert, then goes on what can fairly be described as a rant about Captain America’s movie costume. He felt comfortable enough to express himself that passionately at the store.

As for why, I suppose that being surrounded by the things you’re passionate about brings out that passion. And, at Alternate Realities at least, there’s usually some pop culture discourse going on behind the counter, so I think that sort of opens the doors for the customers.

GP: So where did the urge to make a film come from?

AD: The store has always been a tremendous source of inspiration for me. I was a journalism major in college, and I wrote a number of papers about the store and the people there. One of them was an in-depth profile of Steve (Hesitation Kills: The Secret Origin of SKO, available in full at www.flatsquirrelproductions.com). That one was the genesis of what would become the documentary. It really showed me that there was a story to be told.

GP: On the flip side, I’ve found in my time working in shops and going to them, that the owners and managers tend to be very “interesting” personalities. What do you think attracts that type of person to run comic shops?

AD: Great question. I don’t know exactly what it is. Comic books are about colorful, larger-than-life characters, so I guess it makes sense that it takes colorful, larger-than-life people to sell them. Maybe it’s as simple as that.

GP: What was the initial reaction when you said you wanted to make a documentary about Steve Oto and his store?

AD: Everyone was supportive initially, but I suspect it was more of a, “sure, that’d be cool”-type thing. I don’t think anyone took it too seriously, and understandably so: I didn’t go to film school. I had never made a film before. I had no background in this, no experience.

I think things shifted somewhat when I started showing up to film the interviews and to shoot at the store and they saw that I had actually invested in the equipment.

Thankfully, there really wasn’t any resistance. As you saw in the blooper reel, there were some questions that people didn’t wish to answer on camera, but those responses became part of the story in their own way.

I can’t thank the cast enough. They gave me terrific material to work with. They showed up on time for their interviews. They let me into their homes to film their collections. With Steve in particular, nothing was off-limits. I had unlimited, unrestricted access and freedom to tell my story, and I’m very grateful for that.

GP: I find it interesting that Oto went from law into comics, while you went the opposite way, comics into law. Was your choice of profession inspired by him?

AD: This one makes me laugh, because that’s always been the joke: that I got my law degree so I could follow in his footsteps and buy the store. I can’t say that my decision to go to law school was inspired by him—if anything, he tried to talk me out of it!—but he certainly has inspired me in other ways. He inspired me creatively, obviously. But I also feel that I’ve learned a lot from him. He’s really been a mentor.

GP: How long did it take for you to put the film together from beginning concept to the finished product?

AD: About three and a half months. I had my last law school final on a Friday in mid-May, relaxed that weekend, and then started outlining the movie and researching the equipment that Monday. Shooting began in late June and lasted about five weeks. The rest of the summer was spent editing.

It was all-consuming, especially because I was teaching myself as I went—and there was no crew—but I loved every second of it. It was incredibly fulfilling.

GP: Did you go into the filming with a “story” you wanted to tell, or did that all organically come together?

AD: I had a script, though certainly things evolved during shooting, and even more so during the editing process. Still, when I compare the initial vision to the finished product, they are substantially similar.

One of the things I’m most proud of about this film is that it’s from an insider’s perspective (while still remaining accessible to outsiders). I’ve spent so much time at the store as a customer and employee that I had a very clear sense of what I wanted to do with the film. For better or worse, I told exactly the story I wanted to tell, the way I wanted to tell it, to the best of my ability.

GP: Being your first film, did you find yourself learning as you went along, and did that impact the ability to use some of the earlier footage you shot?

AD: I definitely learned as I went along. I shot a little bit of test footage, but once I began filming in earnest, there just wasn’t time to go back and re-shoot anything I wasn’t thrilled with.

Looking back on the film now, are there things that I wished I had done better or differently? Of course. But the way I look at it, this documentary was my film school. It was more important to me that I applied what I learned here to future projects.

GP: The film has screened at a few festivals and conventions, what has the reaction been so far?

AD: The reactions have been terrific. At San Diego Comic Con, it was obviously an audience pre-disposed to this sort of thing, but the responses at the non-comic venues have been even more gratifying. I was very conscious about making the film accessible to the initiated and non-initiated, and it seems to work for both audiences.

Injecting humor into the movie was also important to me—it’s something you don’t see a ton of in documentaries—so the fact that it gets laughs has been very rewarding.

GP: What’s the reaction been from the folks featured in the film?

AD: The response was overwhelmingly positive (at least as far as what they’ve told me—I don’t know what they say when I’m not there!). Steve, in particular, was a tremendously good sport. So much of the movie consists of people offering their take on him and the store, and I imagine it must be somewhat of a bizarre thing for him to watch, but he seemed to take it all in stride.

I spoke earlier about the friend of mine who rants about Captain America’s costume in the movie. Admittedly, I wasn’t sure how he would react—the last thing I would want is for him to think I was making fun of him—so I was very relieved to hear him laughing with the rest of the audience.

In the end, actions speak louder than words, so I think one of the best endorsements has been that many of the cast members have attended multiple screenings, including out-of-town ones, which has really meant a lot to me.

GP: Like any good comic, you’ve got a spin-off coming out of the documentary, By Spoon! The Jay Meisel Story. Where is that in the process and when might we see it?

AD: I’m very excited about the spinoff. Jay had a segment in the first film, but I felt he was a big enough character to stand on his own. I actually began filming his movie a little over a year ago, and it was originally just going to be a profile, more or less, but then it became something much more.

Late last summer, he found out that the flea market—where he has operated his comic book booth for 35 years—was closing, and I resumed filming to document the final days. Much of the humor that was present in the first film is here too, but the tone is also much more somber at certain points. I’m very proud of how this project has taken shape.

I expect to be finished editing in late spring/early summer and hope to bring it to some NY festivals in late 2014/early 2015.

GP: What’s next for the film and you?

AD: Since making the film, I passed the NY Bar exam and currently work in Admissions at my law school.

On the film side: I’m finishing the spinoff, I started a trilogy of short film mockumentaries about a mismatched legal duo (the first two films are at www.flatsquirrelproductions.com), and I’m trying to get my next documentary project—about an aspiring puppeteer—off the ground.

Right now, I hope folks watch and enjoy My Comic Shop DocumentARy and that it gets in front of the right eyes.

Check out the trailer for Athony’s next film, and come back this afternoon to read a review of the movie!

My Comic Shop DocumentARy Trailer

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One of the fond memories I have is working in a comic book shop during high school and college. The stories from my time being a counter jockey are numerous and most are entertaining, and if I could of made of living out of it, I probably would have continued. Filmmaker Anthony Desiato found it fascinating too and decided to make a documentary My Comic Shop DocumentARy which explores Alternate Realities Comics in Scarsdale, NY and its owner, Steve Oto.

In 1992, one man embarked upon a journey from lawyer to comic book retailer. It has been a journey filled with accomplishment and disappointment, friendship and heartbreak…and a dream that would become a nightmare. “My Comic Shop DocumentARy” is an independent, feature-length film shining a light on the colorful community that calls one New York comic shop home.

I can’t wait to see it.