Thanks to Amazon and reading apps like Marvel Unlimited, it’s never been easier to buy and read your favorite comics. But this leads to an interesting conundrum. All of this easy access undermines the importance of comic book shops. I probably don’t go to my local shops nearly as much as I should. I’m sure many of us don’t. This is part of the reason why comic book shops are turning into something of a dying breed. This is exactly what director Anthony Desiato wants to highlight with his upcoming documentary, MY COMIC SHOP COUNTRY.

We spoke with Anthony back in February of 2018. He’s joined us once again to discuss his progress on MY COMIC SHOP COUNTRY, his creative process, the current relationship between comic book films and the books themselves, and his plans for the future.

MY COMIC SHOP COUNTRY
Courtesy of Flat Squirrel Productions.

Chatting with Anthony Desiato

ComicsVerse (CV): First and foremost, Anthony, thanks for chatting with us here at ComicsVerse once again. It’s been a while since you last spoke with us, and more specifically with Andrew Rivera from CV. As a quick refresher for the readers, could you briefly detail the synopsis for your upcoming documentary, MY COMIC SHOP COUNTRY, and tell us about the progress you’ve made on the project since February 2018 when we last talked with you?

Anthony Desiato: Sure! Thanks for having me back. I’m happy to report that, since our last discussion, I filmed and edited the documentary–the movie is done! Here’s the official synopsis:

In 2015, New York’s Alternate Realities closed after 23 years in operation, setting filmmaker–and former AR employee–Anthony Desiato on a quest to explore the comics retail industry from coast to coast. Comic book characters are box office gold, but why isn’t the same necessarily true for comic stores? See how the 20 shops featured in the film are turning the tide, one customer at a time, seven days a week. Plus: Learn the fate–and future?–of Alternate Realities.

CV: How has the process of seeking out distribution been for you? Is there anyone you’ve been aiming at specifically working with, or is it more of a “take what you can get” situation?

Anthony Desiato: Ideally, I’d love to find a home for this film on one of the major streaming services so that I can reach as wide an audience as possible and create a platform from which to launch future projects. That being said, I think the most important thing is finding the right outlet–one that believes in the film and its ability to connect with an audience. The DC Universe app is interesting, for example. I’m not sure if they’re even planning to enter the documentary space, but being able to get the film in front of that many comics fans is appealing.

At the moment, the doc is currently in consideration at a small number of film festivals, and I’ve been reaching out to distributors and sales agents to try to find the right fit.

MY COMIC SHOP COUNTRY
Anthony in the Torpedo Comics shop vault. Courtesy of Flat Squirrel Productions.

CV: As part of your documentary, you traveled across the States, speaking with comic book shop owners, and even a few comic book creators. How’d you go about picking and choosing where to go and who to speak with? Was there anyone specific you were really hoping to land an interview with?

Anthony Desiato: All of the groundwork I laid while doing my podcast the year prior to filming was tremendously helpful in terms of casting the movie. Most of the shops featured on the podcast are also in the movie, along with a bunch of new shops as well.

Ultimately, it was a function of story (which combination of stores demonstrates a cross-section of the comics retail industry?), marketing (where do we need to go for the movie to live up to its name?), and, candidly, logistics (what stores can I hit while traveling for my day job)? In the end, I ended up with a very strong mix of stores in terms of geography, tenure, and area of specialization. There are always more stores out there, of course, but I never felt that this was a numbers game. The stores I put in the movie all fit together to tell a larger story about the industry–where it is, as well as where it may be going.

You mentioned the creators. That was an important piece. The retailers are very much the driving force of the movie, but I knew from the start that I needed to represents the other stakeholders (creators, publishers, and customers/collectors) to really do this film justice.

CV: In the trailer for MY COMIC SHOP COUNTRY on your website, we see a brief clip from your interview with writer Mark Waid. I’m a huge fan of his work. What was it like speaking with him?

Anthony Desiato: Same here! Big fan. It was kind of surreal, to be honest. I’m sure you’ve experienced this too when you interview creators whose work you’ve enjoyed for years. In this case, he came to the hotel where we were staying in Burbank to film. My phone rings, and on the other end, I hear, “Hey, it’s Mark Waid. I’m in the lobby.” When I was reading Superman: Birthright or Kingdom Come, I never imagined I’d be in a position to be interviewing the writer of those stories for my little movie. Let me add, though, that he couldn’t have been more generous with his time or a better interview. The insight he shared as a creator and retailer (as one of the owners of Aw Yeah Comics) was invaluable.

MY COMIC SHOP COUNTRY
Is Anthony one of the biggest Superman fans around? Possibly. Courtesy of Flat Squirrel Productions.

CV: A recent argument that’s come up in the face of massive blockbusters like AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR and ENDGAME, and with things like Disney buying assets from Fox, is that the film industry is losing some of its individuality. Meaning, smaller, more artful films and documentaries, like yours, may fall off by the wayside since the industry is becoming oversaturated with so many all-star cast action flicks. What’s your take on that?

Anthony Desiato: I sure hope that’s not the case! But it’s true that it’s probably getting harder for smaller movies to break through and stand out. At the same time, documentaries in particular seem to be hotter than ever, with Netflix and the other streamers making a major push. I think outlets and release strategies may be different for a movie like mine, but I certainly believe there’s still a place for it.

CV: To go off of that, in the trailer to MY COMIC SHOP COUNTRY, it comes up how comic book films pull in millions, if not billions of dollars at the box office, yet the comic stores hardly make a fraction of that amount. With films like the aforementioned two, do you think that problem’s getting worse, or is it improving?

Anthony Desiato: That’s a key question addressed in the doc (and previewed in the trailer). A couple of our interviewees actually bring up some very valid points about why the movies don’t feed the comics the way you might expect them to. Ultimately, the general public’s awareness of these characters has never been higher, and I can’t see that as anything but a good thing.  You could argue, I suppose, that someone might not try comics because the movies are scratching that itch. But, absent the movies, would that person really be a comics reader? Tough to say. In the end, I don’t think the movies necessarily hurt comics or comics shops, but I 100% get the frustration at the gulf in audience size between print and film.

AVENGERS: ENDGAME shattered box office records in a matter of days. Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

CV: As a quick aside, since the film just came out, and I can only assume you’ve seen it, can we get your thoughts on ENDGAME?

Anthony Desiato: Really enjoyed it. I found it to be a completely satisfying payoff to both INFINITY WAR and this entire era of the MCU. It takes a lot to really surprise me, and the filmmakers made some bold, interesting choices that I wasn’t expecting.

CV: From my own experiences traveling in Europe, I know there’s a plethora of good comic shops over there. And I would imagine the guys over there are dealing with the same things the guys over here are. Have you thought about doing another documentary like MY COMIC SHOP COUNTRY and perhaps expanding outward to comic shops around the world?

Anthony Desiato: Ha! So, the short answer is yes, I have thought about it. The longer answer is that this documentary was challenging enough from a logistical standpoint that an international version would be quite daunting. This was a very independent production — the crew consisted of me & my wife. If I were to attempt My Comic Shop World, there’d need to be some serious backing behind us.

MY COMIC SHOP COUNTRY
Give Anthony your money so he can make an international comic shop documentary! Courtesy of Flat Squirrel Productions.

CV: Where do you see your podcast, MY COMIC SHOP HISTORY, which has been very well-received through all four seasons, headed next, particularly following the release of your upcoming documentary?

Anthony Desiato: I’m very excited for the new season, which kicks off in June. The theme is “My County’s Comic Shop History,” and I’ll be revisiting the lost shops of Westchester, NY, that used to define the area. The idea is to sort of capture a microcosm of the industry during the pivotal 90s era. On a personal level, these other stores I used to frequent (before Alternate Realities) represent the final piece of my comic shop history, so I expect this season to have a very full-circle feel.

CV: Beyond MY COMIC SHOP COUNTRY and your podcast, what’s next for you? Have you thought about writing your own comics or opening your own comic shop to help keep the business alive? Are there any future film/documentary ideas you can maybe share with us?

Anthony Desiato: To be honest, I’ve been so focused on this film and the podcast that I haven’t given a ton of thought as to what might come next. I genuinely enjoy telling stories through documentaries, so I know I’ll do more. After the scale of this movie, I’m kind of thinking something more personal and intimate for the next round may be the way to go. As far as writing comics, I know I have at least one good Superman story in me, but for now, I’m content to just read ’em. And opening my own store? Hmmm…

MY COMIC SHOP COUNTRY
Courtesy of Flat Squirrel Productions.

CV: What have you gained from working on this documentary?

Anthony Desiato: Aside from a few more grey hairs? No, in all seriousness, this has been the most challenging and ambitious creative undertaking I’ve ever attempted. Tackling a cross-country shoot and balancing the demands of the film with a day job was taxing, to say the least, but what I’ve gained is a finished product that really exceeds the expectations I had for it. It takes you behind the scenes, presents a variety of perspectives, offers (what I believe is) an even-handed examination of the key issues facing stores, and, in the end, shows the power of the comic shop to foster community. Plus, I met some terrific people who have genuinely become friends and not just film subjects. That’s such a gift.

CV: To close things out, when can we hope to finally see MY COMIC SHOP COUNTRY?

Anthony Desiato: Hopefully later this year or early 2020! I will be sure to keep everyone posted about screenings and distribution via my social media pages (My Comic Shop History on Facebook and @DesiWestside on Twitter and Instagram). I also encourage folks to sign up for release news at my website (www.flatsquirrelproductions.com).

A huge thanks to Anthony for speaking with ComicsVerse again! We wish him the best of luck once MY COMIC SHOP COUNTRY releases!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *