NORTH HAVEN, Connecticut — Anyone who knows Superman’s given name, the identity of Captain America’s assassin and who Grant Morrison is also knows Wednesday is the most important day of the week.
That’s because Wednesday is the day Diamond Comic Distributors Inc. dispatches a truck to DJ’s Sports Collectibles and Comics in North Haven, where, like any comic shop on any given Wednesday, you’ll find the newest issues of Spider-man, Superman and Batman. Unlike most shops, however, those new comics at DJ’s are stocked by a member of the state legislature.
State Rep. David Yaccarino, R-North Haven, opened his shop 21 years ago. Back then, all he sold were baseball cards and sports collectibles. But it wasn’t long until his customers began asking for comics, too. Yaccarino says he first started ordering 25 books a week, a decision that would, however unlikely, eventually lead to a political campaign that crossed partisan boundaries. Before long, Yaccarino says, those 25 books a week turned into hundreds.
Some might imagine DJ’s customers as pimply teenage boys, but the time when that stereotype might have been true is long over, and Yaccarino says he sells his comics to all kinds.
“I have surgeons, doctors, lawyers, ironworkers, businesspeople, some politicians, some attorneys — they read comics on a regular basis,” Yaccarino says. “When I tell that to people who don’t follow the business, they go, ‘Get out of here.'”
Since becoming a state representative, Yaccarino, in his second term, says he’s found some comic fans at the Capitol, too. Yaccarino’s vocation as comic shop owner acts as an icebreaker of sorts — he says he’s had politicians profess their fondness for the art form to him as if it was a guilty pleasure, that they “didn’t want to tell anyone.”
To that, Yaccarino says, “Why? Who cares?”
So what exactly is the allure of the comic book? Why have comics influenced modern popular culture so heavily, providing the basis for films like “The Avengers” and television shows like “The Walking Dead?” What draws the politician, the ironworker, and, yes, the pimply teenage boy, to the comic shop?
Yaccarino says it’s hope.
“Good always triumphs over evil,” Yaccarino says. “Most of the books are rooted in real-life issues, from either people being bullied, gender issues, cultural issues, race.”
He brings up the case of Spider-Man, the wimpy kid who gets pushed around before transforming into someone who can stand up against those doing the pushing. And then there’s Daredevil, the blind hero who turns his disability into his superpower, using his heightened senses to outperform sighted foes. And let’s not forget the X-Men, those misunderstood mutants whose arch nemesis is as much the threat of discrimination as it is the metal-bending Magneto.
These comics provide a common ground for DJ’s customers, something to talk about while browsing the shelves. Ben Gritz, Yaccarino’s only full-time employee, says the weekly Wednesday release of comics becomes a part of peoples’ schedules. DJ’s customers shop according to a regular cycle, so, when they come in, they’re likely to see familiar faces, likely to start forming friendships. Yaccarino describes his store as a throwback to the mom-and-pop shops of days gone by — the kind of place where everyone knows your name.
“I joke with Dave,” says Gritz, “this place is like Cheers.”
And it’s this Cheers-like environment that encourages conversation about more than just comics, Yaccarino says.
“I don’t know what it is. It always has. People bounce things off one another. Politics, sports, their life, their personal life, their professional life,” Yaccarino says. “People come and have coffee, they congregate here. I have a picnic table outside. Many times, people sit outside and we have really healthy discussions.”
Frank Tropeano, a Democrat from North Haven, once was just another one of those customers who would come to DJ’s for more than just comics. Now he works for Yaccarino a few days a week, helping with the Wednesday order and auctioning items on eBay.
“It’s just a really good place to come in and express ideas and opinions, Tropeano says. “There are a lot of things that are happening in our government and our society today. You want to be able to bounce things off of peers.
“So, being able to come into the comic book store and talk about what the Congress did, or the Senate did, or what’s going on in state and local government, to complain and put out your ideas, to be the Monday morning quarterback for what you would have done if you were a senator or whatever, that’s what makes this place great. You could just talk about anything you would want to,” Tropeano says.
And from these conversations, Yaccarino, Tropeano and Gritz, a Democratically inclined independent, formed an unusual political partnership.
“I was a customer, and over the years I built a friendship with Dave, and we would chat about politics in the store, and Dave asked me if he thought it was a good idea to run,” Tropeano says. “He asked me to join his committee, and one thing led to another, and before I knew it I was a campaign manager.”
Gritz, who graduated from Boston College with a major in political science and history before going to law school at the University of California, Davis, became Yaccarino’s treasurer after he started working at the shop. Gritz says working on Yaccarino’s campaigns doesn’t conflict with his more liberal outlook.
“Personally, I feel like when it comes to local politics, the issues don’t matter so much as competency. And I think Dave is very competent. And I think he’s in it for the right reasons,” Gritz says.
Since Yaccarino became a state representative, he, Gritz and Tropeano agree DJ’s has become more than just a comic book shop. Yaccarino describes it as his North Haven office, a place people can stop by and talk about state affairs. Gritz calls it a political outpost of sorts.
“Parents will come, a lot of times kids will come in wanting Pokemon cards or comics,” Gritz says. “And then it’s like, ‘Oh, Dave’s here. What do you think about this law they’re passing?'”
Like any political forum, Tropeano and Gritz say the discussions sometimes heat up a little.
“I think because of how toxic national politics have become, it’s kind of poisoned everything below it, too,” Gritz says. “People have a lot of preconceptions going into arguments.”
But those true arguments are rare, Gritz says.
“We have a lot of conversations where people learn something. We have a lot of conversations where nobody learns something, but it’s still very civil discourse,” he said. “And, very rarely, you have the kind that get a little more elevated.”
Even if nobody’s mind is changed, a lot can come from a healthy political debate.
“We have our discussions and that’s how you learn,” Yaccarino says. “I think it makes me a better legislator because I can look at both sides. I can hear their side, and they hear my side, and we bounce it off.”
Information from: New Haven Register, http://www.nhregister.com