In Times Square, beside a neglected vendor’s folding table displaying dozens of comic books (with hundreds more in browsable boxes), you’ll find passersby turning their heads toward some young men gathered around a high-speed chess game, each player swiftly smacking his timer button after every strategic move. Franklin Crowe is a sidewalk comic-book salesman, and he’ll play you a round of chess.
Occupation, where are you from, where are you now?
I’m selling comics out on the street, and I work at the White Horse Tavern at night. I’m from the Bronx, Puerto Rican, and still in the Bronx.
So, what’s going on here? Comic books and chess?
I set up a table at 41st and 7th Avenue, right next to Red Lobster. Come by, shop some stuff, buy my books. It’s a big market, people are interested.
Why are you hidden on 41st, when all the traffic is up a block?
Most traffic is on 42nd, but cops don’t want anybody over there, even though you see a lot of vendors there. I’m thinking of going back.
Do you always have a chessboard set up beside the comics?
Entertainment, yes. It’s common ground--sometimes people buy a comic to play a game. Or play a game after buying a comic. It’s good for the mind, makes you think. Figure out little puzzles, tricks, tactics. You become friends with people you never would’ve become friends with. Every day, certain people stop by to play a match. Some people have invited me to their homes, parties. I would like to get more into chess, but it takes a lot of time.
Which is the bigger draw for passersby, the comics or the chess?
The chess. Unfortunately, the chess. They come to watch a good match. People stand and watch and wait to play. I used to charge a dollar, then went to a tip jar … but it’s better if I don’t charge. I’d rather people bought a comic. Sometimes you get a big crowd of people just watching a good chess match.
Girls are suckers for chess players, right?
Sure, if you want to believe that.
How many regular chess players come by?
I get a lot. There’s six or seven who come by whenever they can for a quick match.
How long have you been playing?
For about a year and a half, two years.
Do you usually win?
No. Against average players, yeah, but against good players like him? [Referring to one of the regulars.] No. I get lucky sometimes and he makes a mistake.
Where do you get your comics? Is this a personal collection?
I buy to resell. People call, offer me books, I’ll buy four or five boxes’ worth at once. Fix ‘em up, haul ‘em out onto the street. All together I’ve got about 40 boxes, so … 12000 books.
Old stuff, new?
Key issues, older stuff, modern stuff. Stuff from the 60s, and what just came out yesterday.
Anything really rare?
Sure. Right here is the Spider-Man issue, “The Death of Gwen Stacey,” Incredible Hulk #181, Uncanny X-Men #10 …
How much do the rare books sell for?
It depends on the condition. Some go for $100, 200, 300…
People spend that on the street?
Yeah. Some do. The ones who are looking for that specific title to complete their collection.
How long have you been selling comics?
Six years now.
Has the Internet made an impact on sales?
A lot of people base their pricing with me on what they find on eBay. Some feel I can get this on eBay cheaper, but they don’t want to go through the hassle of shipping and handling, waiting, and you find out the condition wasn’t what you thought it was. With me, you buy it right here and now, you see the condition, right in your hands. You can flip through the pages. People like that personal, one-on-one thing better than the computer.
Marvel or DC?
Marvel. Better characters, better artists. Although, DC has been doing its thing recently.
What’s happening at the White Horse Tavern?
I am a doorman there. Check IDs, sometimes help them with the tables.
Is the legend true that Dylan Thomas drank himself to death there?
Yes sir, yes, he did. I think he had 18 shots of whiskey. Nobody knows what he drank for sure. They say his ghost still lives there.
Favorite bar or restaurant in New York (besides the White Horse)?
I like to go to Webster Hall. Nice crowd, young, four floors, good music.
You’re out in Times Square all day, what’s the craziest thing you’ve seen?
Wow, what have I seen? Fights. Hookers. Whenever they get caught hooking, they gotta do community service. They put them right back here on the street, cleaning up. I see people kissing, touching each other, doing other dirty stuff late night. A lot of fights. Bloody fights.
Best celebrity encounter on the streets of New York?
I’ve seen, right around here, Andre 3000, Andy Martinez, Bill Cosby, Jadakis, Roseanne. Everybody’s walking around Times Square. None of them bought a comic though.
What place or thing would you declare a landmark?
The strip on 42nd between Broadway and Eighth Avenue. That whole strip, it’s awesome. I love it.
Any advice for Mayor Bloomberg?
I think he’s doing all right.