Comics are for everyone. That’s the firm belief of Escape Pod Comics founder Menachem Luchins.
Luchins discovered comics as a pre-teen. He dove in to the medium headfirst, and those comics were his passion until—well, until they weren’t. “I aged out of the most popular books,” he said of those early years, “and there wasn’t anyone really helping me learn how much more was out there.” It wasn’t until his senior year of high school, after reading Neil Gaiman’s graphic novel, Sandman, that Luchins rekindled his love for the medium. Through college and beyond, he made it a priority to search deeper into the genre. I “was rewarded profoundly with so much great stuff,” Luchins said. “New and old.”
Though he began his career as a high school English teacher, after 10 years Luchins found himself burning out. He entered a state of depression; “the sort that makes you reconsider many of your life choices,” he said. So, he returned to a longstanding dream. “My plans of ‘one day’ opening a bookstore/cafe/comic shop got a lot more solidified, very quickly.” In February 2013, Escape Pod Comics opened its doors in the heart of Huntington Village.
The shop’s name pays homage to one of Luchin’s favorite comic book stores, Rocketship Comics, which closed its Brooklyn location in 2010. “I saw us as a sort of escape pod from that rocketship, carrying on a remnant,” he said. He felt the name fitting on many levels, saying, “Even without the backstory, escapism is an important part of any storytelling medium.”
Escape Pod Comics runs on two phrases: “A different kind of comic shop,” and, “Comics are for everyone.” In both cases, Luchins said his slogans are not revolutionary, and are instead meant to notice and challenge the public’s assumptions. “The general conception of a comic shop comes from popular culture,” said Luchins, citing the Comic Book Guy character from Fox TV’s The Simpsons as a prime example. These characters often leave people thinking the world of comics entails exclusivity, competition, and belittling. But Luchins firmly believes those stereotypes misrepresent. “We used the simple phrase, ‘a different kind of comic shop,’ to imply that people should not expect The Android’s Dungeon when they come in.”
As for inclusivity and accessibility, Luchins said options were, are, and will always be there for all. “There are, and have been for years, comics made for every kind of person about every kind of thing,” he said. “We have striven to show off that breadth in the shop.”
It seems that breadth is catching people’s attention, on Long Island and beyond. Comics and graphic novel sales hit a North American high in 2018, with consumer sales surpassing $1 billion. Last fall, a record-breaking 250,000 people purchased tickets for New York Comic Con. Comics and graphic novels are even finding interdisciplinary footing, as schools nation-wide incorporate graphic novels into their curriculums. This year, Huntington Union Free School District’s summer reading suggestions went so far as to include a sub-section of graphic novel suggestions.
“I think any school not using comics is doing their students a massive disservice,” said Luchins. With the presence of screens and social media, he claims today’s children connect to and understand iconography as a visual medium. This forms a bridge to comics and graphic novels, which combine creativity, artistic expression, and meaningful content to tell stories based in both fact and fiction.
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