Like a superhero coming to the rescue of a comic-starved community, Defiant Comics opened its doors on Sept. 5 at 7234 Madison St. in Forest Park. As its name implies, the shop defies the stereotype of the typical cluttered comic book store. The shop's streamlined shelves hold alphabetized volumes of comic books and graphic novels. Exposed brick walls and lighting are meant to give the shop a "noir warehouse look" said co-founder Don Wasilevich.
Wasilevich has been longtime friends with his partner, Brian Fisher, since they were in eighth grade.
"We had an unhealthy obsession with comic books," Fisher confessed, "We both read X-Men and Teenage Mutant Turtles." They also shared a Star Wars fixation and were hooked on other great sci-fi films from their youth. They had dreamed of opening a shop since they were teens.
Fisher had previous experience working at a comic book store. "It wasn't my vision but it gave me the confidence to do this." The partners don't yet have all of their merchandise on display. In addition to their giant selection of reading material, they plan to stock art supplies and card games. The bare brick walls will be decorated with original comic book art.
The transformation of a former lingerie shop into a book store wasn't easy. "The building hadn't been renovated since the 1980s," Wasilevich said. "The walls were covered with heavy coats of purple and green paint." They were encouraged to invest sweat equity in their new venture, though, by the recent rise in the popularity of comics and graphic novels. Hollywood movies based on comic book characters are partly responsible for the uptick.
Some of these stories and characters, though, are too dark for children, so they stock comics for kids, too. The "Fables" series features fairy-tale characters like Snow White, Old King Cole and the Big Bad Wolf. The store also has teen-rated and adult-rated material. Most are affordably priced but there are collector editions that sell for $150. Aside from sales, the owners hope to host discussion groups, art classes for kids and classes on the history of comics.
"Comics were invented in the 1920s," Wasilevich said, "And they've gone through various ages. The 'Golden Age of Comics' was when all the major characters like Batman and Superman were introduced. The 'Silver Age' was when the Marvel Comics characters debuted Iron Man, Spiderman and the Hulk. We are now in the 'Modern Age.' The quality of the paper and printing improved. Technology is now able to catch up with the skill of the artist."
One of these artists, Tony Moy, was demonstrating his craft in the front window of Defiant Comics recently.
"I'm one of the few water colorists," Moy explained. "[Water color] provides a softer more toned-down effect." While many comic books are now colored by computer, Moy's are completely hand-drawn. A writer generates the scripts he illustrates. "I'm like a movie director: I choose the expressions and angles." Moy noted that comic books are popular all over the world, especially in Japan, where anime is all the rage.
He believes the universal appeal of comics comes from the way they touch our emotions. "It's pure story-telling and people can identify with an animated character easier than with a live-action character." Moy is teaming with Menton3, a renowned artist who creates his edgy "Tome" series in oil paint, for an event at Defiant Comics Nov. 6.
A veteran comic book writer also happened to be browsing the shelves of the new shop. Rafael Nieves has been providing plots for 25 years. "I learned to read through comics," Nieves recalled, "I used to read Classics Illustrated [first] and then I'd read the originals by Poe and Shakespeare."
Nieves believes comics can be educational for everyone. He recalled that during World War II a comic book artist created manuals for soldiers. "They contained illustrations of how to repair a Jeep or prepare food. Comics can increase a person's vocabulary with their visual illustration of words."
Nieve's first comic was about a Peace Corps worker serving in Central Africa but now he writes horror comics. He is currently working on a comic version of Poe's chilling poem "The Bells." Like Moy, Nieves was very taken with Defiant Comics. "This area needed a comic book store that is clean and open and inviting," he said.
The owners are hoping that people of all ages will find their way into the shop. This includes young children. A play area is decorated with Hulk's green fist crashing through the wall. It's a great place to hang out with superheroes.