The Island Now

Dr. Tom Ferraro: Famed comic book shop no WP fantasy

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Posted: Thursday, April 4, 2013 4:30 pm

There is a lot we don’t know about this town. 

For instance did you realize that we have a nationally known comic book shop right here on Hillside Avenue?

I sure didn’t. My buddy Bob Micelli called me and asked me to do a piece on Grasshoppers Comics located next to Hildebrandt’s. 

Why not?  I set up an interview with the owner John Riley for Saturday at 11. I got there a little before him and had a chance to browse the store at my leisure. Leapin’ Lizards Batman! It seems that the world of comics has grown up! 

The store has its fair share of Archie comics and Superman but that is only the beginning. Everything from the Walking Dead, The Hulk, The X-Men and more. There are gaming tables, graphic novels and toys galore.  All this stuff is very highly produced with lots of corporate money backing up the industry. We’re not in Kansas anymore.   

John is a soft spoken and polite man with an undergraduate degree in English literature from Drew University and an MBA in business from SUNY Stony Brook. This is not some lower class confused kid who happens to like comic books but a well-educated and thoughtful guy with a good business sense. 

He got into the business while in grad school to earn some extra money. He had a huge collection of comics since he was a kid and to make some extra money while in school he and his wife went to weekend conventions and sold his collection off bit by bit.  He enjoyed the process so much that he opened a store at 76 Hillside in 1992 and it has been growing ever since. At this point his store is visited and contacted by collectors from around the country. 

He holds an annual charity party around Christmas that has gotten big enough now to donate $10,000 per year to the John Thiesson Children’s Foundation. 

I had a chance to talk about the interesting history of the comic book. The comics are an American idea. Back in the 1930s the newspapers needed to keep the presses working so they printed their comic strips on newspaper size paper and gave them away to Shell Oil gas stations. The station owners folded them to the size they are today and gave them away to customers. One day someone put a 5 cent sticker on them and they sold out every time. That was the beginning of comic books.  

The golden age of comics was from 1935 to 1960 when we saw the birth of Superman and Batman.   He told me that the greatest illustrators and comic book writers are from Long Island. Maybe the best artist of all was Jack Kirby who lived in East Williston.   

From the Golden Age we now have a giant industry with many movies growing out of comic books. These would include the obvious like the Superman, Batman, X-Men, the Hulk and the Spider Man films. The not so obvious films that come from comics include Road to Perdition starring Tom Hanks and History of Violence starring Viggo Mortensen. 

John explained that comics are liked by the film industry because they have are exactly like film story boards and tell their tales visually just like films do. Hollywood producers already know how these films will do by watching how well the comic story sells. They use sales like a focus group. 

John told me that European comics are very different from American in that they tell more real life stories and Asian manga comics use more comedy and romance. 

He said that in early May there will be a Free Comic Book Day in his store where you can bring the kids and get a free comic. I have my own comic book published in Korea entitled Yin & Yan: Tales of Neurotic Golfers and so I am very happy to have met this kind gentle soul who loves the world of the comic.  

Maybe someone should do a comic book entitled “Williston Park.”  I know I could write it. All I need now is an illustrator. We could have characters like Harry of Harry’s Hilltop Deli, Susan and Bryan Acosta of Hildebrandt’s, Luigi Suppa and maybe even Monsignor James McDonald. 

Hey this could be fun! Any good illustrators out there?

Welcome to the discussion.