The first sound you hear in Comic Book Heaven, a short documentary about the now-retired owner of the titular store in Queens, is Joseph Leisner’s crotchety voice as he arranges a pickup over the phone. “How you gonna come?” he asks his customer. “By motorcycle? Helicopter? …No, why would you call? You don’t need an appointment!”
Colorful service interactions aren’t the only dying breed in Leisner’s shop. More than TV, music, and movies, comics have had the hardest time adjusting to the digital age. They smack of antiquity: issues, back issues, variants, limited editions, countless different continuities. From the ’50s up until the mid ’90s, comics have put seas of ink to forests of paper. With those forests came countless shops like Leisner’s. And after two decades of struggle — between shifting business practices at DC and Marvel (very much the comic world’s own GOP and Democratic Party), the dispersal of the market due to the internet, and declining print sales overall. Many, like Comic Book Heaven, have been shutting their doors.
“The business hasn’t been healthy for a while”, Leisner grumbles. “Probably the electronics had a lot to do with it. What is it — iBox? Xbox? All the games must’ve had a big hand in it — and besides, the kids can’t read any more, they’re a bunch of morons, so what’re you gonna do.” Leisner never particularly enjoyed comics. He just saw a good business opportunity in the ’80s, when comics were still kicking — when Frank Miller and Alan Moore had sent shockwaves through the industry with their takes on classic characters and themes, and before movies based on comics overtook their source material as a colossal economic force. Collecting every issue of every series was still a lucrative investment.
“I should be outta here! I shouldn’t be thinkin’ about it!” he remarks as he checks the value of his back issues for his closeout sale; after being featured in the news, he thought it might be worth it to keep the store open for another month or two. “I should be outta here, away! Gone! Forgotten! ‘Richie Rich’ #61…let’s see what they say, ‘Richie Rich’ #61…“