Mohammad El Chamaa
Superheroes made a short appearance in Beirut on Saturday September 19 at L’appartement, marking the first vintage comic book exhibit in the area organised by the newly established The Comic Stash.
Troves of vintage comic books, wrapped in protective covering to insure they stay in mint condition, were categorised into different series and genres. They were placed in boxes on the floor space for fans to roam over, and in particular, the more ‘valuable’ issues were put on display. Almost every comic book series could be found in the collection, everything from classics such as “Batman” and “Daredevil” to lesser known ones such as “Justice League Europe” and “Lando”. Anthony Sargon, co-founder of The Comic Stash, stated that it has always been a dream of his to bring comic books to Lebanon on a huge scale.
Held at the boho-chic L’appartement, a relatively new multifunctional space in Beirut’s Achrafieh district, the event drew in the rarely-heard-of comic book crowd.
Spectators at the event browsed through the plethora of plastic-wrapped “Star Wars”, “Superman”, and many other comics. Parents stood aloof on the sidelines, wallets in hand, while their children compiled rare pieces for their comic collections.
Sargon’s energy could be felt throughout the event as he went out of his way to help spectators find specific editions of what they were looking for. He was impressively able to track down any hero, villain, or tragic event using the comic book database in his head.
Over on the fringes of the exhibit, people mingled with drinks in hand as an overhead projector screen played episodes of the 1960s Spiderman cartoon.
Spotted at the event was movie critic Anis Tabet. “Anthony’s a friend, we saw a movie together in New York, and he said that he was going to do this in September,” he noted. Tabet ended up buying a crossover issue of “The Amazing Spiderman” that featured Ironman.
Zach, a USEK student, spent a whopping $150 on thirteen comic books, stating he looked forward to reading them and that he was not concerned about keeping them in mint condition. He added that he planned on sharing his new find with his father, who also shares an affinity for superheroes. Hady, another shopper, on the other hand, bought only one comic and wasn’t planning on opening it. “This is Red Hulk’s first appearance [in the “Incredible Hulk Series”]; it’s definitely a relic.”
Prices varied from $4 for a “Spiderman” comic, to a $100 “Archie” issue from the 1950s, to $700 for Back Panther’s first appearance in a “Fantastic Four” book put on display. “The reason ‘Fantastic Four’ issue 52 is really expensive is because it’s a game-changing issue, and it’s quite rare” said Sargon.
Not all the buyers were hard-core comic book fans. Vana, an animation major at ALBA, bought a bulk of indie comic books to get inspired for a future project. She didn’t care if they were the runt of the industry.
Ryan, another shopper, was less concerned with the content of the comic books and more attracted to the cover art. “Frank Miller, Todd McFarlane, Joe Kubert,… those are my heroes, they inspire and save me as a graphic designer every day.” He bought several comics of their work, including Frank Miller’s iconic cover of Daredevil aiming his pistol with the caption “No more mister nice guy”.
Ryan’s feelings were also echoed by Anthony: “Why hang a poster on the wall when you can frame a really good comic?”.
As the night died down, I got a chance to speak with Sargon on several critical issues surrounding The Comic Stash.
What is your relationship with comics, and how did it inspire you to hold this event?
It all started with “Tin Tin” and “Spiderman”. I really identified with Spiderman- he was shy around girls and he didn’t have much money.
It was really hard to find comic books here. My dad and I would drive around Lebanon looking for some. Whenever I’d visit family in the States, I would take an empty suitcase with me so I could have extra room for all the comics I would buy. That’s why we want to bring comic books to Lebanon on a massive scale, so people like me would find a place to cater to their comic book needs. This exhibit was just a cornerstone for something much bigger. We wanted to get a feel of what the comic book community is like in order to help bring it out of the shadows.
But you are aware of the current economic situation we are in?
Yes, and we’re terrified of it. I told my partner that we’re not making any money at first. It’s really hard work, especially in the digital age. Comic book stores in America are closing up really fast, and interest in them is waning. Ironically, our target audience is “millennials” because I’ve noticed that they’re the ones who are trying to hold on to the past, like me. I still buy vinyl and Blu Rays and paperbacks. Hopefully, this trend will resonate also in comics. We’re not doing this for the money; I mean, I left my job in the States to do this, I had healthcare and dental. Hopefully, our passion and hard work will seep through. I’m hoping for the best.
So, is there going to be a store opening soon?
No, not yet, we’re event-based for now. We don’t know if people are going to buy comics every week. People are losing interest in them, although comics are a great help whenever a new superhero movie is out. Hopefully, people will see the value of comics, and vintage comics, too. Out-of-print stuff can be very valuable. For now, it’s just events, and you can also reach us through social media.
What do you want your store to be like?
In a place people usually hang out in. Ideally, it would be a store in Hamra or Mar Mikhael. The place would be crammed with comics; they’d be lined up everywhere. It would be filled with all kinds of nerdy things. I would be comic book guy from “The Simpsons”. A place people can read in and just be geeks without worrying about the outside world.