I have said it before and I will say it again: I love The Copacetic Comics Company. (3138 Dobson Street, Third Floor, in the Polish Hill section of Pittsburgh).
I can barely finish the last syllable of “Let’s go to Copacetic,” before my son throws on his hat and coat and is standing by the front door. He loves nothing more than breathing in all the comic book smells (even when it makes him sneeze) and the muttery comic book chit chatter.
A short drive up Route 380 towards Bigelow Boulevard. When I have to pause at the traffic light at the intersection of Herron Avenue and Bigelow for more than a few seconds, I intuitively flashback to my younger self. Beat up car, hopelessly lost, trying to find the Electric Banana, (is it on Baum or Bigelow?) desperately hoping to find the club in time to see one of my friends’ bands, or at LEAST make it there before the last act. A decade or more before GPS, only handwritten maps on slightly used napkins to guide us. I had myself convinced that they kept moving the location, like some sort of secret society or musical prohibition era speakeasy. As I drove back and forth with angered purpose in my 1985 Plymouth Reliant scouring the area for this dive bar beacon of music, I would comfort myself by imagining there was a guy who moved the giant banana that adorned the front awning of the building to a new “secret” location every weekend.
• • •
Copacetic is housed on the top floor of a three-story walk up with a record store and coffee shop on the lower floors. Usually when we enter the building, Jack ascends the stairs and plops himself down just outside the indoor entrance of Copacetic. Crossed legged on the floor and focused on his own little pile of self accruing comics, he rummages through the piles of 50 cent and free comics, hoping to find a gem. When Jack finally emerges from his stash and decides to go through the main door to the cash register, the owner, Bill Boichel, takes the time to ask him about his favorite authors and book series, which in turn gets Jack even more excited about his Technicolor world. They aren’t very long talks, but Bill makes him feel a part of the scene and scenery in the best possible way. At the end of their last exchange, there was mention of a future tense possibility of a comic internship at the store, that is, “if he is still into such things as a teenager.” As if there is any doubt.
“I have decided right now, as a kid, that I am gonna be a comic book writer and illustrator… and you are gonna help me.” Jack’s declarative statement of career/occupation as we descend the stairs, past Mind Cure Records and out the front doors.
• • •
Misty introduced us to the world of Copacetic a few years ago. It is a place that became deeply rooted in her childhood back when it was a simple storefront in Wilkinsburg. A die-hard comic book fan, she would spend hours, days, etc. with her Dad at the old location. Those moments fueled her love of comics and cemented a deeply personal relationship.
She, like Jack, sits crossed legged in front of the comics. Our boys listen to her stories. My old college friend’s eyes beam with excitement when she spoke of the that tiny place of her youth that has since expanded to the little less tiny space it is now.
“Bill was always so cool. He really liked my dad because he was such a geek. They’d talk about titles forever. Bill also carried records. Vinyl. Great finds, from Jazz to fabulous imports.”
A few years ago, she gave Jack a copy of Marvel Fantastic Firsts. For several months, we read a character origin religiously every night until completion.
Comic friendships run deep.
• • •
Jack and I went to Copacetic on a whim right before the holidays. He was hoping to kill sometime before a dentist appointment. I was hoping to score a copy of “Hip Hop Family Tree” by Ed Piskor. Due to my work schedule, illnesses, small paychecks, and other acts of God and of the Universe, I missed all of the Piskor signing events. I knew this comic was gonna be a tough find due to the fact it already sold out of its first printing. Bill, who I realize now, totally reminds me of the 4th doctor from Dr. Who, told me that he would take my name down and if a copy became available he would call me. I never expected a call but I received one right before New Years. That kind of customer service is one of the many reasons I dig this place.
• • •
I don’t pretend to be as deeply embedded in hip hop culture as the Piskor, but I have been following his illustrative process through his online posts and blog sketches since 2010 when he was an artist in a show that I guest curated. His passion for his art is the kind of passion and dedication that I see in so many of the local artists in our area. (Seriously if you have not already done it, you MUST check out some of the amazing artists of Pittsburgh.) Perhaps that was one of the other reasons I felt almost compelled to track down one of these hard to find books. I love supporting our local art scene.
Or maybe it is just knowing that the Homestead/Munhall area that Piskor and I once shared was such a huge influence on this project. Piskor is from Homestead and I spent eight years of my life attending elementary school in Munhall. Our shared regional borders of residence and education merge and blend together so seamlessly that when I was growing up I never knew where Homestead ended and Munhall began. Back then, I also never realized that the Homestead High Level Bridge was the only thing that separated us from the city of Pittsburgh. The city seemed so far away from where we were. Especially knowing I had to cross yet another bridge into my hometown of Duquesne. Either way, all of the nostalgia, the art, the comics, our roots, my dear friend, and all of our shared homesteads leads me somewhere. To a short drive over a long bridge, reminiscing:
Kickball on 10th Avenue in knee socks and plaid jumpers; Blue Bonnet bakery on 8th Avenue; The church at the end of the street where Liturgy was chanted in Slovak and in the basement there were 25 cent donuts prepared by little old ladies in hair nets; Sitting on the curb at recess while the boys played football and we listened to Run DMC and Licensed to Ill for the first time on a boom box that the nuns miraculously allowed us to have; To Another boom box in the back of our school van where the older kids played Roxanne’s Revenge, Slick Rick, and Grandmaster Flash. The older kids would sing along with the words and change the dirty ones, (I specifically remember a girl changing creamy thighs to creamy pies in Erotic City), screaming those alternate rhyming words so we wouldn’t get the boom box taken away by the van driver (not that he was really even paying attention.) We would kneel on the seat and face the older kids in the back, the cool seat. We were in awe and laughter as one by one we were dropped off to our destinations throughout the Mon Valley. Bouncing and humming and talking all the way home. Thinking on my next term paper: A Walkman, oversized headphones, LL Cool J and George Michael. A 1980s world to myself.
• • •
A few snippets from my journey. (Homestead/Munhall/Polish Hill)