By Andre Bennett
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Locust Moon Comics may not have been the first comic book store in West Philly, but it is the only one left, and that’s a distinction co-owner Josh O’Neill takes very seriously.
“I think it’s really important for there to be a West Philly comic shop to serve the universities and the community, and we feel like we’re the West Philly comic shop, and we like that.”
For O’Neill and fellow co-owner Chris Stevens, it’s important to maintain a strong link to the city’s creative community.
“There’s an incredible comic book scene in Philly. There’s little clusters of people all over the city who have their own scenes making their own books. But we really wanted to make a place where all those different scenes could sort of come together and we could work with people from the city, from beyond the city, from all over the world. And it’s been a real privilege to be this place where people can really come together and make connections that they wouldn’t be able to make otherwise and create new projects that wouldn’t have happened otherwise.”
That connection helps set them apart from their comic shop contemporaries in a big way. Locust Moon, at 40th and Chestnut, isn’t just a comic book store, but a comic book publisher too.
“We are cartoonists and writers and publishers. We make our own comics here. And we really wanted Locust Moon to be a hub for people in comics and creative people, a place where people can really come together. We did a book with Dark Horse called ‘Once Upon a Time Machine’ that came out two years ago. We did a book with the underground cartoonist Rob Woods called ’36 Lessons in Self-Destruction.’ We do a quarterly comics magazine called Quarter Moon. We’re doing this book called ‘Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream,’ a tribute to [Little Nemo creator] Winsor McCay. So it’s a real opportunity to work with so many different talented people and explore all the different approaches people have, the different ways they have of telling stories.”
According to O’Neill, Locust Moon also works to bring the comics community in Philadelphia closer together through its events, including their biweekly “drink and draw” parties.
“Every other Thursday, we just invite artists and fans and everyone who’s interested in coming and have a little BYOB get-together where people draw some pictures, play little games, just hang out and talk about their work. It’s a really, really fun event.”
O’Neill says they use their gallery space, not only to showcase artists and their work, but to give them a social space where they can work.
“We do art shows in there. We sell prints and original artwork. We also have some drawing tables in there so we often have cartoonists who are also working on our projects, who are working right in the store. Cartooning can be a very lonely thing. It takes a lot of hours for somebody to draw a comic and it’s something you have to do sitting at a table. So we love having these parties and it gives people a chance to get out of their heads when they’re working on all of these things, and see what everyone else is working on.”
But their biggest event is hosted outside of the store: the annual Locust Moon Comics Festival held at the Rotunda at 4014 Walnut Street.
“The festival is a huge part of our plan to build Philadelphia into this comics mecca. It brings people from all over the country, sometimes all over the world. It’s a very intimate but very well-attended festival that’s really about making comics, loving comics. It’s about design and illustration. The only real comic convention that there is in Philly of any significance is the Wizard World convention, which is great in its own way. It’s not really about comics though. It’s about geek culture and movies and all this stuff, and comics is one sort of small part of it. We love this medium. We love these artists and we wanted to make something that was really about comics. We bring in artists from all over the place. It’s gotten better and better every year.”
While all of these things help distinguish Locust Moon Comics from other retailers, it is still a comic book store. However, as O’Neill explains, it’s a store that services a diverse comics audience.
“People from the neighborhood, college kids, and then we’re sort of, I think, a destination store for a lot of people, because we carry so many indie books and self-published books you can’t find at other shops. We have customers who come here from Baltimore once a month just to stop by the store.”
O’Neill think that audience could always be broadened further though.
“I believe that every person would love comics if you showed them the right comic. Comics are this incredibly versatile medium. So much of this incredible work has trouble finding an audience because so much of the market is just dominated by superhero books. So we do consider it part of our mission to expand the audience that’s into comics, not just superheroes and geek culture, the same way everybody’s into movies and everybody’s into music.”
In the end, everything Locust Moon does, from retail to publishing to events, has one purpose, to make Philadelphia a comics haven.
“To us, having this sort of brick and mortar location in an age when it gets harder and harder to run these places is a real chance to bring people together. You’re competing with Amazon, you’re competing with all these big box stores, so we want to offer people something more than just a place where you can get a product. This is a community we’re sort of building and we’re very proud of it.”
Locust Moon is located at 34 S 40th Street. For more information, visit Locustmoon.com.
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