Best Of :: Shops & Services
The onset of the Marvel movie empire has spawned a new kind of nerd: one who has seen all the movies and collects all the toys, but has never run straight from school to a local comics shop in search of the latest issue. Tucked into the corner of a long, commercial strip of Metropolitan Avenue in Forest Hills — Peter Parker's own stomping grounds — Royal Collectibles has managed to survive this evolution, offering a robust collection of vintage and modern comics for the loyalists, alongside graphic novels and an impressive array of toys. Back when the store opened in 1992, it attracted as many sports fanatics with its collection of memorabilia (since relocated a few doors down) as it did comics fans; today, a booming interest in collectible toys has led to one entire wall being devoted to Funko's popular Pop! cartoon figurines with oversize heads. Still, the shop hangs on to its quiet Queens charm: On a recent Saturday, co-owner Mike Giordano was hand-packaging comic books in plastic sleeves while his brother-in-law worked the register. A father followed his kids around the store, noting aloud that he loved them but — and here he glanced longingly at the stacks of comic books — had maybe had them a little too soon. Wander around awhile and you might mistake his nostalgia for your own.
96-01 Metropolitan Avenue, Forest Hills, Queens
Under a vintage Williamsburg sign advertising Italian, French, and Sicilian breads, Gabe Fowler's gluten-free Desert Island Comics (540 Metropolitan Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-388-5087, desertislandbrooklyn.com) has been a heady source of colorful graphic wonderment since 2008. Alongside DC's and Marvel's latest high concepts, hot-selling titles from Daniel Clowes (Patience), BoJack Horseman lead illustrator Lisa Hanawalt, and Simon Hanselmann (Megahex) serve as gateway material for much more obscure and artistically challenging printed matter.
"I cast a pretty wide net for a small store," says Fowler. "I have children's books along with the freakiest art books you've ever seen. I've got mainstream comics and indie comics. They're all important to me, because I like maximum diversity. It's a comics store, but I also want to have extremely experimental work in there." His inventory ranges from dollar Archie Comics and $30 graphic novels to rarities like Raw magazine No. 1 for a couple hundred dollars.
Fowler was working as an art handler for David Zwirner Gallery when he decided to open a comics store. The shop's name suggests the cream of the crop, and Fowler translates aesthetic stumpers like "What makes something a comic as opposed to an artwork?" into a living by concentrating on artists who are, as he says, "riding that edge."
It turns out that comics, like food, tend to be seasonal. Asked what's new and great, the consignment-friendly proprietor says, "My forte is extremely elusive stuff, so it depends on what's happening with the more obscure publishers." Desert Island has become a rare local source for booklets from artists and publishers working with the au courant Risograph printing system, a digital duplicator that delivers warm yet inexpensive analog-quality results. Publishers like Tiny Splendor, Colour Code, and London's Breakdown Press are working this particular cusp of comics and art books.
In Marseille, France, Pakito Bolino's Le Dernier Cri is producing handmade, screen-printed, small-edition art books crammed with imagery that will curl your toes. "I get a mother lode of stuff from him once or twice a year," Fowler says. "That draws a little heat whenever it happens, because I'm the only guy in New York selling that stuff," which goes for between $15 and $150 at Desert Island.
Fowler gets a kick out of blurring the distinction between comics and art by selling them under the same roof. The same could be said for the material in Smoke Signal, a semi-quarterly, 10,000-copy newsprint anthology Fowler publishes as a labor of love. "I want to make something good enough that I would buy it — but give it away for free," he says. The latest Signal contains work from Mad magazine pioneer Will Elder, indie star Dash Shaw, and little-known Montana underground comix master Jay Rummel, among a lot of other great art.
Fowler also champions underrepresented creators by producing the Comic Arts Brooklyn festival, which will occupy Williamsburg's Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church once again this November. This smaller and weirder alternative to the big costume-party conventions is free to the public and features some 115 exhibitors winnowed down from five times as many applicants. Buzzing with the seriousness of artists at work and children at play, the annual convocation of indie comics legends, newly discovered whiz kids, and the print freaks who love them most resembles an explosively supersized version of Desert Island Comics itself.
At a shop in the heart of Noho, Ashley Carment is calming the nerves of a twentysomething facial-piercing virgin. A tatted-up Queen Midas, she leaves everyone she touches with something gold (or silver, or titanium) embedded in his or her body. "This will pinch a little," she'll say right before sticking a needle through her client. And she's usually right. Between the adrenaline and her light touch, the piercing process is just a blip before the grand reveal.
Carment started her apprenticeship at Revolver Tattoo in New Jersey nearly a decade ago and has since become one of the most trusted piercers in New York, hooking up everyone from teens with squeamish moms to Soho-hopping celebs like Anna Paquin. While the vibe at her current home of Venus by Maria Tash (653 Broadway, Manhattan) is more highbrow, with the ornate, often imported pieces that make it a boutique rather than a shop, Carment brings a youthful and disarming ebullience, like a Powerpuff Girl with a piercing needle.
Her goal is not just to comfort customers while encouraging physical modes of expression, but, she says, to "make people love themselves a little better" by adorning parts of their bodies with jewelry crafted from high quality metal. "People come in and they want to add something to a body part that maybe wasn't their favorite before," she says. "I get to help them do that." Carment sees piercings as extensions of her clients' personalities, allowing them to become the most authentic versions of themselves.
Her own favorite piercing? Her inner conch, the central cartilage of the ear, which boasts a small stud — a piercing that she notes was a less painful experience than some in more innocuous-looking places. Carment is a nontraditional ear piercer, and her Instagram (@acarment) boasts countless pictures of piercings everywhere but the lobe — conchs, traguses, and rooks galore.
Carment also serves as a mystical medicine woman — the one you want to drop in on if a piercing is acting up. "That just looks a little angry," she'll say about something grisly. "I'm pretty sure I can fix it." She's genuinely concerned, offers natural remedies ("Dr. Bronner's Baby Unscented soap is the best," she claims), and commiserates, which is just the right antidote if an infection hits.
In a city where piercing spots are as prevalent as bodegas, the process sometimes tends to be cold, and piercers even colder. Carment squashes that stereotype, adding softness and ritual to what seems mundane to her peers: penetrating metal through human parts. And as many times a day as she does it, she'll still make you feel like the only one.
Not all Suits are Squares. That's the draw of Bindle & Keep, which specializes in working with LGBTQ customers to create customized suits that fit and flatter all body types. When Daniel Friedman started Bindle & Keep in 2011, it was mainly a traditional bespoke suitmaker, and the clients were primarily cisgender male bros. But that changed when Rae Tutera, who identifies as transmasculine, saw downtown drag king Murray Hill sporting a Bindle & Keep creation. Tutera began working with Friedman, and the pair ended up finding a niche. Cut to 2016: While befuddled male grooms and hip banker bros are still making appointments for fittings, the company has become the go-to for customers who don't necessarily feel comfortable walking into Brooks Brothers and discussing how testosterone shots will change the way their jacket fits. This past year, Bindle & Keep became the subject of the Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner–produced HBO documentary Suited, which celebrated the sensitivity the company brings to a process that, for many gender-nonconforming or trans clients, previously entailed a high level of angst. An appointment at the Clinton Hill studio, where pronouns are never assumed and the female and male dressmaker dummies feel conspicuously gendered, veers between a therapy session vibe and a discussion of details like angled versus straight pockets.
Address available upon appointment
Unlike other bridal experiences, this one starts out with a decided lack of glamour. Brides and their attendants arrive at Basia's fourth-floor Upper West Side walkup huffing and puffing from the climb. Inside, they find Basia, a little woman with a little dog, in a room crammed with cascading tulle in various stages of veil-ness. Adept at gently phrasing her strong opinions about wedding style, Basia conducts appointments that feel like visits with an eccentric but tactful older relative. Quick to extol the benefits of rent control ("I couldn't stay in this neighborhood otherwise"), Basia is vague when it comes to almost everything else. How long has she been making veils? Oh, a long time. How do people find her? Word of mouth, and Yelp, she assumes. How did she get into the field? Her parents were artists, she says with a shrug. But one thing's for sure: Basia knows from veils. After urging the bride to take a seat at an old-school vanity table covered with a lace tablecloth, she asks a series of specific questions about the wedding and the dress while taking notes and sketching on a legal pad. Basia's final verdict comes with the conviction of experience. After trying out a few options and suggesting extra accessories like custom-designed hairpins, Basia quotes a figure that, rare for anything wedding-related, is lower than anticipated. The bride leaves feeling like she is in good hands, armed with the promise that a made-to-order headpiece will be ready in time for the wedding — even if nothing else is.
304 Columbus Avenue, Manhattan
If you need something stuffed in the five boroughs, there's only one man to call: John Youngaitis. With a majestic white beard, a body covered in tattoos, and an unmistakable old-school Brooklyn accent, Youngaitis is an artist carrying on a family tradition. His father opened Cypress Hills Taxidermy Studio in 1958, where Youngaitis lived above the shop and was always surrounded by stuffed friends. Today, he's moved the studio from Brooklyn to Middle Village, where his display room hosts everything from monkeys to boars. Hunting season keeps Youngaitis busy, with deer heads to mount and bear rugs to assemble. He also serves bereaved pet owners and the odd request to stuff roadkill. While his work isn't for the faint of heart, there's a fine craftsmanship required by Youngaitis's line of work that you can't help but admire. And Youngaitis loves what he does, spending hours obsessively placing and perfecting each of his specimens. His services aren't cheap — a taxidermied bear will run you $1,600 — but if New York can have only one taxidermist, be glad it's Youngaitis.
71-01 Metropolitan Ave, Cypress Hills, Queens