Filmmaker Crosses America to Document Comic Book Store Culture

My Comic Shop Country
Credit: Anthony Desiato
Credit: Anthony Desiato

Almost two years ago, filmmaker Anthony Desiato began traveling the country to record the phenomenon of comic book store culture, raising money through a Kickstarter campaignto create a documentary about what he discovered.

Now Desiato has finished the project – and he’s just released a trailer for the new film, titled My Comic Shop Country, in hopes of finding a distributor.

For the documentary, Desiato traveled the country and interviewed comic book store owners and well-known comic book editors and writers, like Paul Levitz and Mark Waid.

What emerged was a documentary that Desiato says explores the business, the fandom and the community of the American comic book shop. In the era of billion-dollar blockbusters about comic book characters, Desiato says this is part of the comic book story that most people don’t know about.

A law student-turned-filmmaker, Desiato gained attention back in 2011 from media outlets like The New York Times and New York Daily News for his acclaimed project, My Comic Shop DocumentARy. The film, which explored his own local comic book store, won awards over the next few years as it was featured in film festivals nationwide.

Eventually, Desiato started a podcast (My Comic Shop History) about comic book retailing, talking with store owners from around the country. That spawned the idea for the My Comic Shop Country film, which was funded through a Kickstarter campaign in 2017.

Newsarama talked to Desiato to find out more about My Comic Shop Country, what audience he’s hoping to educate about comic book stores, and how readers can help him acquire distribution.

Newsarama: Anthony, I think the last time we spoke, you were hoping to make this movie, but you didn’t have the funding yet. Now that your crowd-sourcing project is done, you’ve got it done, right? Can you tell us about My Comic Shop Country?

Anthony Desiato: Yeah, the last time we spoke was when I had a Kickstarter campaign, which ended up being successful. And I shot the movie over the spring and summer, and then I pretty much spent the fall and winter editing the movie.

The three pillars of the film are the business, the fandom and the community of the comic book shop.

It’s not a series of profiles on stores or anything like that. It’s really telling the larger story about the comic shop as an institution, and doing that through the examples of 20 stores coast to coast.

Nrama: I think people who shop at comic book stores forget that there is a huge segment of the population who doesn’t even know this culture exists. Are those people the audience for this? Or is it meant for those of us who already exist within this unique culture?

Desiato: Really, it’s a combination of both. Ultimately, it will be for the audience to decide this. But from my point of view, I think the movie accomplishes what I set out to do, which is just as you said, to really speak to both comic book fans and people who know about stores, but also the non-initiated as well.

In the filming, and in the editing especially, it was a really fine line to walk. For people who know all this stuff, I wanted to be able to find new and interesting angles and make it interesting for them. But for people who are not as familiar, I wanted to make sure I provided enough context and guided them into the stores.

I think I was able to walk that line. So if you’re a comic book fan, you’ll get to see all these different stores and really, some amazing shops and personal collections as well.

And you’ll get to hear from people like Mark Waid and Paul Levitz and all of these retailers.

But if you’re not, I think there’s still a lot that you can sink your teeth into, because it really is such an interesting industry.

Again, it’s a side of an industry we don’t see a lot of.

Nrama: Do you go into the history of the direct market at all?

Desiato: Yes. It’s a small part of the movie, but I couldn’t have asked for anyone better to explain it. We had Paul Levitz. He kind of carries the ball during that section of the movie.

I commissioned an artist to draw some art for the movie, and it sort of takes you through a little bit of the evolution of what led to the comic shop.

Nrama: And so now, you explore the state of comic shops and what they’ve evolved into? I mean, I’m sure you ran into a lot of different types of comic shops.

Desiato: That was one of the most interesting things for me, about doing this. In a number of the interviews, a lot of people spoke about stories having very different business models, and not that I disagreed or that I didn’t believe it, but it was really when I got out there and filmed and put it all together that I was really able to see it.

There’s a lot they share in common. But you really do see in the movie how stores are doing different things to stay relevant and to stay part of people’s routines. And you know, it takes a number of different forms.

It’s really interesting. I mean, it’s interesting visually but also on a more analytical level. And we even get into the business side of it. How do you make it profitable? How do you make it viable? It was really fascinating.

Nrama: You know, when I was first reading comic books, most people didn’t know these characters. But now, the world is aware of who Iron Man is, or Aquaman — characters nobody cared about. Yet I feel like they still aren’t aware of comic book stores, and they certainly aren’t flocking to them nowadays.

Desiato: Yeah, if you watch the trailer, there’s the imagery of the packed movie theater and then the deserted comic book shop. I thought that was important to address in the movie, because I felt like that was a question that, especially the non-initiated would have. I feel like some people would just think, oh, I’m sure comic shops are doing well because these movies are so popular.

That’s not the case.

In the interviews, we explored some of the reasons why maybe it’s not translating. So that was interesting. I have a day job that’s completely unrelated to the documentary — I’m in law school admissions. My co-workers here have been following my documentary pursuits, and they’re very nice about it. And when they watched the trailers, that stood out to them the most — this whole questions of the movies and why it’s not translating.

It really is a weird part of all this.

Nrama: OK, so you made the film. What’s next?

Desiato: I’m doing as much as I can to get the word out about the movie, hopefully to get comic fans excited but also people who might not be as familiar with this to get them excited as well.

My next step is trying to secure distribution. My ultimate aim is for this to find a home on one of the streaming platforms and really get as much exposure as possible. The trailer launch went great. People seemed really into it.

And I felt all along, and even moreso now, that there really is an audience for this.

What I’m working on now is trying to get this into the right hands and in front of the right people so hopefully we can get it onto one of these platforms, ideally.

Nrama: How can people help? Just look at the trailer?

Desiato: That would be great. Go watch the trailer. Share the trailer.

With my past products, I ended up self-distributing. But for this, I really would like to take it to the next level. If people are looking to get involved and help in any way, watching the trailer, sharing it, telling someone about it. If their uncle works at Netflix, sending it to them! Seriously though, any of those things will help.

You know, DC has their app and there’s a Disney one coming out, and there’s the Bill Finger documentary on Hulu, and a Grant Morrison documentary on Amazon. I really feel like this is the right time for this movie. The characters are out there more than ever, but you’re not seeing that translated to the shops. There’s this whole other story that hasn’t been told in full. I really think it could find a home somewhere.

Twitter activity