Comic store provides sanctuary above Sanctuary
After the ThunderCats, a band of cat-like humanoid aliens, escaped their doomed home planet Thundera, they landed on a mysterious new planet called Third Earth.
Barry Mitchell, his girlfriend Marrey Guzman and his parents Sophia Mitchell and Chris Lewis believe this story parallels their experience with opening their comic store, 3rd Earth Comics, last April.
“It was kind of a new start for them, and it’s a new start for us,” Barry Mitchell said.
Barry Mitchell always loved comics and dreamed about buying a comic store of his own, but his journey to reaching this goal took quite a few turns.
After graduating high school, Barry Mitchell lived in Kentucky, Virginia, Texas, California, Georgia and Maui, served in the military, worked as a retailer, home remodeler and HVAC technician, studied massage therapy and criminal justice and raised three children — all in a period of 13 years.
Life brought him back to his native New Jersey, where serendipitously, the owner of Sanctuary overheard Barry Mitchell and Guzman talking in a comic store. He offered to sell the couple a space above the 135 Easton Ave. eatery, and it now serves as the current location of 3rd Earth Comics.
3rd Earth boasts a large collection of all types of comic books, from Batman and Superman to My Little Pony and Kiss, the rock band. The store also sells action figures, posters, video game consoles, clothing items and everything “geek-related.”
Barry Mitchell said the store owns some rare collectibles, including X-Men Issue Volume 1 No. 6, valued at $600, and the original, first-print edition of Fantastic Four Volume 1 No. 12, “The Incredible Hulk,” valued at $7,500.
The owners frequently rummage through yard sales and vintage shops. Sophia Mitchell recalls discovering a Star Trek Barbie Doll set from the 60s, which is now worth a couple hundred dollars.
“Literally I climbed in someone’s second hand shop, a vintage store — I found it tucked away on a shelf,” she said.
Sophia Mitchell said the store’s biggest project is working on hosting a convention this spring at 2nd Reformed Church of New Brunswick on College Avenue. They plan to showcase video games, anime, comic books and fanboy culture to create a family-oriented sense of community.
“It’s a lot of older people in the church, and they miss having younger people come in,” she said. “They want to reach out to anything that will stimulate ... a nice friendly atmosphere, a more wholesome entertainment.”
Lewis said the store itself also acts as a home for communal gatherings. On Mondays, the store hosts Yu-Gi-Oh! card playing tournaments and on Tuesdays, artists, engineers and other talented individuals gather to help others tweak and perfect their cosplay costumes.
The store holds planning committee meetings for the spring convention on Wednesdays. On Thursdays, they host an anime movie day, and on Fridays they organize magic social gatherings.
Each month, the store selects a hero of the month based on when his or her comic debuted, Barry Mitchell said. On the first of the month, one person who likes the store’s Facebook page wins a free comic featuring the hero. This November’s prize was The Fantastic Four, as they hit the shelves in November of 1961.
Barry Mitchell said college students often feel pressured to leave high school interests behind to conform, but 3rd Earth Comics gives them room to express themselves honestly.
“A lot of [the] college experience has to do with drinking and partying, and we want to have a place where the college kids can also be with elementary or high school kids.”
3rd Earth Comics plans to work on outreach to elementary or high school students by distributing comic books, certificate, socks and other comic-related items to classrooms. They hope to partner with teachers and create a board of students: one reader, one writer, one scientist and one artist.
“Everything students are learning in school now is also in comic books,” he said. “Parents think that comic books are just blood, cursing, nudity, and it really isn’t.”
Although the Internet age threatens the future of comic books, Barry Mitchell is confident that the analog medium will make a comeback. Superhero movies have become extremely popular recently, and hits like “Strikeback,” “Sin City,” “300” and “The Walking Dead” all originated as comic books.
3rd World Comics has a loyal fan base — roughly 15 to 20 dedicated customers visit the store every week. Barry Mitchell said Mr. Nelson, a 60-year-old man and avid collector, stands out in particular.
“He’s disabled, but every other day, he makes it his way, up two flights of stairs with a cane, and he’ll sit here for about two to three hours,” he said. “We’ll talk about ‘The Incredible Hulk’ TV show, Wonder Woman, things from the 60s and 70s that are now comic books.”