By Jason Strangis
It's one of the most famous comic book stores in the country, and this year Golden Apple Comics in Los Angeles is celebrating its 35th anniversary. While other comic book stores have come and gone over the years, Golden Apple is still shining bright. In the following interview, owner Ryan Liebowitz talks about the secret origins or Golden Apple and what makes it so special.
Jason Strangis: This year, 2014, marks the 35th anniversary of Golden Apple Comics. What is the secret of the store's success?
Ryan Liebowitz: Good family values play a large role, but ultimately our great selection of products, customer service and reputation for amazing in-store events and promotions seem to be the key to our long lasting history in Los Angeles.
JS: Golden Apple is unique in that you're able to attract many well-known comic book writers, artists, and celebrities in the L.A. area. Who are some of the biggest names in comics you've had come in over the years?
RL: The rogues gallery of creators over the last 35 years is mind blowing. Growing up in the business, I didn't realize how cool my parents were. I was able to meet and hang out with every big name in the industry from legendary people like Stan Lee, Bob Kane and Jack Kirby to pioneers like Will Eisner, Matt Groening and Harvey Pekar to revolutionaries like Neil Gaiman, Alex Ross and the Romitas, all before I went to college. From the 1990s to now we've hosted comic launch events with creators like Jim Lee, Mark Millar and Todd McFarlane to celebrities like George Romero, John Carpenter, Public Enemy and the band KISS.
JS: First-time visitors might be surprised to see that Golden Apple is a relatively small but quaint comics store. Although comics fans can get pretty much what they need – new comics, back issues, graphic novels, T-shirts, etc. – any plans to expand the store or move to a bigger space?
RL: I think what we lack in square footage we make up in selection, customer service and reputation. I actually downsized the store a few years ago. We are located in a prime real estate area on the high-profile shopping district corner of Melrose and La Brea in Los Angeles. Rent is expensive and I realized that I could offer the same level of service in half the space without having to move the shop. It seems to have been the correct call.
JS: What are the origins of your store? How did the name Golden Apple come about?
RL: There is a long story about our name. The short version is this: My dad Bill opened the shop in 1979 with a partner that owned a cigar shop in town. His partner already had a ton of merchandise bags from his cigar shop that were printed with the words "Golden Apple," so they planned to use that name until the bags ran out. One day legendary writer Ray Bradbury walked into our new comic shop. He walked right up to my dad and said profoundly, "I can't believe you named your comic book shop after my book Golden Apples of the Sun." My dad answered, "Yes we did Mr. Bradbury," and the name stuck from that day forward. Many years later after my dad had passed, I asked his original partner why he had bags stamped Golden Apple and he told me it was named after his favorite play, Golden Apples of the Sun (which Bradbury adapted in 1953). So what was thought of as a happy accident was true all along.
JS: How did the idea of writers and artists coming to your store for signing days come about?
RL: My dad was a pioneer in the comics industry. He had a lot of experience in promotions and events before he opened the shop which he continued throughout his career. The marketing concept of providing a long lasting experience for customers by meeting the creators in person would translate into loyalty and repeat business. Nowadays it's the backbone of Golden Apple. We host local up-and-comers to A-list celebrities on a weekly basis.
JS: For the longest time the comic book industry was mostly male-dominated. Have you noticed an increase in female fans? How about at your store?
RL: Absolutely! The percentage of female readers has increased drastically over the last 10 years. These days, females and kids make up almost 50 percent of our current customers.
JS: What's hot right now with comic book readers?
RL: Anything related to comic movies. For instance, now that Marvel announced their "Phase 3" plans for the next round of movies, we can't keep those titles in stock. Books like Civil War and Age of Ultron are flying off the shelves. Also, the vintage comics that have the first appearance of these characters are in high demand and are increasing in value daily in anticipation for the movies.
JS: Prices for comic books have risen quite a bit over the past two decades. Do you worry the cost might become too high for many fans?
RL: It is a concern for most industries. Why is coffee $4 and pizza $20 these days? I am hopeful that (comic book) prices will stay under $5 for at least another five years so inflation can have a chance to catch up.
JS: In general, how do you view the current status and health of comic book stores around the country? Any long-term concerns?
RL: The L.A. market is booming. Just recently some prominent local shops have expanded by taking over and/or buying some older shops. Also, many new shops have popped up in the last few years. Thankfully, we still have our foothold in our section of L.A. The city is so large and spread out that there seems to be enough customers for all to survive. As for the future, I don't fear digital. Our customers are pure collectors. They buy every issue and every variant cover of some comics. They like to touch, feel, smell, read and own these collectibles and will do that until the end of time.
Jason Strangis is a freelance writer and longtime comic book collector currently based in Los Angeles. He loves attending comic book conventions, especially the larger ones such as San Diego, Chicago, and now Comikaze in L.A. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.