Jeff Ayers is manager of Forbidden Planet, the comic-book & collectible store that has become a landmark on the corner on Broadway and East 13th Street.
Occupation, from whence, where now?
I manage Forbidden Planet New York City. I’ve been working here 10 years. I grew up in the Bronx and in my young teen years and then on, I kind of grew up in the neighborhood, walking around, that kind of thing. I’m a neighborhood kid. My mom took me to Forbidden Planet when I was ten for the first time and I kind of fell in love with it.
Are comic books finally being accepted as literature?
Sure. Art Spiegleman’s Maus, The Dark Night Returns, Watchmen, and Chris Ware. McSweeeny’s #13 is wonderful and it’s a great gateway for me, it’s like ammunition for me. There are 24 contributors to the book, and we can expose you to the work of every single one of them. But for the majority of the people in the book, that’s either their new stuff or it’s some of their worst work—what I consider not their best. It’s great if you read that and think that’s really good, and then you get wowed by what they really have.
What books would you recommend to a new reader who’s dubious of comics?
I always ask them what they like in life, and I can get an aggregate comic for anything. Tell me a movie you like, a TV show, a favorite book. If somebody tells me Nabakov, I’d say The Invisibles, which is fairly philosophical. It’s not really a Lolita story—the emotional aggregates, the philosophical aggregates are there, but in a sexy manner. I tend not to hit people onto superheroes, but you can get really good superhero stories. The best stories are ones that transcend that genre. Ones that are about actual people with day-to-day problems and personal dramas. Dark Knight Returns [a story set in the near future, where Batman is retired] is somebody wrestling with old age, wrestling with restlessness, and fading into obscurity and how you deal with a world where satire is dead. And these are interesting times. That book came out almost 20 years ago yet a lot of the political aspects of that book pertain more today than they did ten years ago. It’s something that can remain topical, remain noble. Superhero comics have never been great comics, but the passions and the feelings and the moral lessons in them have never diminished.
What’s the best new comic out there?
There’s a new Black Hole out this week, which is the last of the series. It’s Charles Burns’s magnum opus, which has been going on since I was in high school. Charles Burns is in McSweeneys # 13, and his work is darkly romantic. He is like the Nick Cave of comics: really bizarre, really weird, really off-the-cuff. Any line that comes out of a character’s mouth, your jaw might drop. Characters that keep you on your toes, that’s what I like.
Who’s your favorite superhero?
My favorite superhero comics are usually Batman comics. You can do so much with that character.
Will the next Batman flick be any good?
I really don’t mind of the movie sucks or not, because the comics will always be there. Comic book movies are great, but they’re advertisements. Just promotions for the character, to sell the comics, the toys, the video games.
Comics and movies often times get lumped together because they’re both visual media. But comics are static imagery, and there’s so much more there. Comics are what’s between the panels, and the imagination you put into what happens in those images, and what’s between those images. And that’s where I think comics have a leg up on some cinema because it’s more involved, more engaging. Cinema is very literal, but static imagery has a different way of telling the story.
What’s the biggest obstacle hampering the comics industry’s growth?
Regression in attitudes, regression in creativity. Comics are a wonderful medium, almost as old as motion pictures, but more often than not, because it’s such a small market—even when they were huge, in the 40s, the 50s, the 80s, it was such a small market that, like any business trend that’s successful, companies have to repeat what worked before sooner or later to remain profitable. There’s not much money to be made in comics and once people realize that, they start regressing creatively and business-wise, just to keep that money going. Chris Ware does all sorts of spec work, commercial work, because otherwise you can’t make money off comics. And if he were working for Marvel, they’d give him a fat-ass contract, but they’d also make him do Micronauts.
Also, the price of paper is exponential. Nobody complains about the $14 price of On the Road at Barnes & Noble because that has some legitimacy.
If you could pass a law changing one thing about the city, what would you do?
On Thanksgiving, I decided to run for mayor in 2009. There are a number of laws I’d change and/or repeal. I’d change smoking in bars in a second, but aside from that... I decided to run for mayor because I volunteer at the Bowery on Thanksgiving and Christmas, and this year—I’ve never seen New York in such a dire economic state. If I have to serve or help another person who actually has a job but can’t afford to eat? Some people have two jobs, multiple jobs, and they can’t afford to eat in this city. It breaks my heart. And I can barely afford to eat. It’s the cost of living in this city. If you take the train home at 3 o’clock in the morning, and you shouldn’t see the number of people you see going to service jobs, and going to awful third jobs. If you take the R train, how many brown people are on the train because they have to be the ones to do the slave labor? One problem with the city is that there’s an exponential Hispanic rise and the majority of them are working shit jobs, and that really pisses me off. Yes, the city must have this kind of thing to move, to keep the ball rolling. But there wasn’t always the class distinction. There used to be a fairer balance.
So what are the next steps for your mayoral campaign?
My first action as mayor will be to ride around in a helicopter screaming the national anthem in the original Klingon through a bullhorn. I’m still looking into how different bureaucracies, how different legislation works. How they work in direct contact with City Hall. I understand it’s not just the mayor. I hate his guts, but it’s multiple people. I think if you work on a platform of fairness to everybody, and you make sure that no person is neglected, no person is not cared for—make that your philosophy and in every decision you make, enact that. That’s the way to go.
What’s your favorite bar?
I love the Library on Avenue A, where you can get multiple Rheingolds for nothing. I like dive bars. I love Rory Dolan’s in the Bronx, up in Woodlawn.
After the Twin Towers, what bygone place or thing do you wish were still around?
I regret the gentrification of some neighborhoods. Sometimes it’s not so cool to have a saccharine universe. This neighborhood [Union Square] used to be all small businesses, it’s corporate now—Virgin Megastore is all right, but more and more this neighborhood’s turning into Times Square. The residents don’t like it, but they don’t matter. This neighborhood used to be a demilitarized zone at times. After 8 o’clock, it’d be “I’m going for milk. Cover me.” A lot of the people in the neighborhood don’t like the fact that everything’s gone condo and everything is bright and loud at night. Come to this neighborhood at 2 o’clock in the morning and it’s louder than Saturday at 8 o’clock.
Best celebrity encounter?
At the time Eddie Vedder was like my idol, and he was right in front of me and I didn’t know it was him till I looked up. The first words he said to me were, “Fuckin’ women.” He hung out upfront talking with me for about half an hour. He bought light sabers and Dan Clowes’ Eightball comics.
The world is ending tomorrow; what do you do with your last 24 hours in New York City?
I would go to the Museum of Natural History, I love that place. I’d try to fit in the Bronx Zoo. I would try to hit on as many chicks as possible. Try my best to fit as many into one evening as possible.