My First Shop: Paper Moon II

When I started reading comics, I was already in middle school, barely a teenager. So while I missed many of those formative years of elementary school blindly reading “simple” comics (like those I thought were published by DC Comics), I was able to dive right into the larger world of semi-adulthood comics (like those I thought were published by Marvel), specifically Excalibur #19. Admittedly, the first place I bought comic books was off the spinner rack in Ardnt Stationary, on Main Street in Northport, my small, sleepy Long Island harbor town hometown. But I don’t consider that my first comic shop, as I quickly outgrew the spinner rack and graduated to a real comic book store.

I was happy going to that old spinner rack for the first week or two of my comics addiction, until I realized that they only had that lone rack of comics, and the old guy behind the counter said they restocked every three months. I had already bought a copy of everything on that rack and I couldn’t imagine waiting three months for more. So I began my search for somewhere, anywhere, with more comics. I couldn’t tell you how I found it, but I ended up at Paper Moon II on Larkfield Road in East Northport, NY.

Paper Moon II was three miles from my house, and I distinctly remember riding my bike to get there. Now for those of you who know me well, you can derive some meaning out of that. For everyone else it simply shows how much I wanted more comics. I was not, how to phrase it… an active child. I spent most of my hours in front of the TV or in front of my computer. So the fact that I braved the outside world beyond my neighborhood, and took the physical exertion involved with biking three miles was fairly substantive. But it was at Paper Moon II that I dove in head first into the wonderful world of comics books.

I’m sure in my sentimental, possibly idyllic, memories I could paint a picture of a wonderful world of comic books that was pleasing and rewarding to visit. But I was old enough at the time that I remember reality and it was pretty much a dump. Every cliche’ about a comic book store in the late 1980s/early 1990s was true at Paper Moon II. The store’s owner (whose name I don’t think I ever knew) was a large, old grumpy man who smoked a lot. And I mean a lot. That place reeked of smoke, and it stuck on your clothes and your comics as you left the store. There was always a haze of smoke in the store, similar to what it’s like in Los Angeles, that always made your time in the store a little uncomfortable. 

Paper Moon II was a normal rectangle shaped store, with the front door squarely in the middle of the outside wall. As you walked in, to your right on the wall were the new comics rack. On your left was shelves with collectibles and the display cases that created the counter top. And the in middle of the store, was long box after long box after long box of back issues.

Apparently my parents noticed my new found addiction as they probably wondered where I was, and then I would show up for dinner, dripping in sweat after biking six miles, with a bag of comics (bought with money I have no idea where I got) and they began enabling my addiction. A bargain was put into place: if I got the grades they wanted me to get, I would get new comics. Some may call it bribery, but it was more like, motivation. After a few weeks I had figured out what comics I liked (Marvel, specifically X-Men), and I had discovered that new comics came out on Fridays. So every Friday afternoon, my Mom would pick me up from school take me to Paper Moon II, where I would grab my new comics and go home for a weekend of reading. I don’t recall a limit of the number of titles or of the amount of money I could spend, but at that time it was strictly Uncanny X-Men, X-Factor and Excalibur. I don’t remember branching out beyond the mutant books for years to come (good thing I wasn’t 12 now, because I have a feeling that my deal with my parents would put us in the poor house). The staff at Paper Moon II was surly, and I don’t think they really cared if I shopped there or not. But you can imagine my surprise when after a few weeks they acknowledged me as a regular and asked if I wanted to have a pull list. They would pull my comics and hold them in the back for me, so I wouldn’t have to worry about my favorite titles selling out (which was happening left and right as the speculator boom began). I was literally over the moon at this (pun intended). I felt as if I had arrived as real comic book reader. Which leads me to my most vivid memory of Paper Moon II.

I was in 8th grade and Jim Lee was the shit on Uncanny X-Men. I had just read The Dark Phoenix Saga and could not get enough of the X-Men. I was also buying a new magazine called Wizard, and felt as if I was a serious comics collector. I had two long boxes at this point (after bingeing in back issues) and even installed a lock on my closet door to protect those long boxes (I don’t know why I was so paranoid). As a serious collector, I felt as if I should have a “real” collection, beyond the comics I had that were published within the past couple of years. No, I needed an old comic book.  I saved my money (I had began earning money working at my family’s business), and made the trek to Paper Moon II and went to the counter and declared, “I would like to buy your oldest copy of the X-Men please.” The gruff guy behind the counter’s interest was piqued. I explained my belief that I should be a serious collector and a serious collector needs an old comic. I had $75 dollars on me and I was ready to spend. After I dismissed his sales pitch to sell me New Mutants #87 for $75 (first appearance of Cable, Rob Liefeld art, and which I would later purchase for $100 — a whole other story in and of itself), he went into the back room to what I assumed was their vault of comics.  In reality, it was probably a filthy back room, as all comic stores of this type had. Five minutes later, he emerged with a copy of X-Men #18, encased in mylar. It wasn’t like the bags and boards I used, no, this was thicker plastic and wider. It didn’t fit in a long box! I’d have to keep it in a separate place. The collector heart in me was beating madly. It was labled “VF”, which in collector’s terms means Very Fine, and the Wizard price guide said that it was worth $125 in Mint condition. It took some haggling but I got the smoker guy to sell it to me for $75 dollars. Years later, I realize that I was probably ripped off. The issue is a Good quality, if that (it’s probably Fair to be honest). But in that moment, I thought I was getting away with murder. Today, that issue according to is worth maybe $15, if that.

But that’s okay, I don’t mind that I got ripped off. Because at that moment, it wasn’t about the money. No it was about the comics and the love of collecting comics and the freedom of comics being the first time I asserted my independence as a young adult. Of my own volition I sought out Paper Moon II, and got my comics, whether or not my parents or teachers approved. It was probably foolish to spend that amount of money on a single comic book, but the happiness it gave me for years to come was priceless.

In early 9th grade, I stopped buying comics for about a year. When I returned, the world had turned upside down. Image Comics was in full swing and toys and these new things called “POGS” were flooding the comic book stores. I returned to Paper Moon II and reestablished my pull list right as the old smoker guy sold the store to some guy named Vinnie (I think that was his name). Vinnie was a good guy, mid-30s maybe, and a fan as well. He worked his butt off to make Paper Moon II a great store, with the best addition being a Guns-N-Roses pinball table. I spent many hours in there throughout high school, talking comics and discovering this whole world of comics that I didn’t know about. The year I went to college, Vinnie moved the store down the street and changed the name. He was making tons of money from the speculator’s boom, and was looking to get bigger. It’s amazing how quickly that changed. When I came home from college for winter break (winter 1995/1996), the bottom was dropping out of the comic industry. I raced to the new store to get my books only to find out that Vinnie was closing it down and getting into selling ceramic toilets in Eastern Europe (I kid you not). There has never been a comic book store in my hometown of Northport since. Throughout college I was forced to drive several towns over to Fourth World Comics in Smithtown (where Peter David shops, oddly enough) to get my books during summers and breaks, and it wasn’t until this year that I held a pull list at another store.

I will always remember Paper Moon II, not for the cigarette smoke, or for getting ripped off, or even for that badass pinball table. No, I’ll remember it for being both my first comic book store and my first taste of adulthood.



  1. Great story Ron. You could smoke in stors back then? We are about the same age, and I can’t remember a time when you could smoke in a store. Restaruants, yes, but I don’t remember ever seeing anyone smoke in a store.

    Keep these stories comming. I would love to hear the rest of the iFanboy staff’s stories.

  2. Uncanny X-Men, X-Factor, Excaliber….We all know your a huge X-Men fan Ron, but man I didnt think you spent that much when you were younger on issues. Now I can totally see why X3 was such a stab to the heart.

    It’s amazing where you could’ve smoked back then. In the 70’s it was okay to smoke on airplanes. Airplanes! What were people thinking back then?

  3. Great story Ron. i LOVE these MY FIRST SHOP segments. they are great. i love how all you read was X-Men as to be expected. wow i cant believe you can smoke in the stores back then.

    more MFS stories!!

  4. In an alternate universe there is a Kevin Smith movie featuring a young Conor and Ron exacting vengeance on the comic store guys who ripped them off.  Conor is the one who never talks.  Josh plays the hapless, newly hired, employee with dreams of comic greatness who has been left to run the store on the day Ron and Conor launch their plan.

  5. @TheNextChampion Dude, I was born in ’78. I think Ron is only a couple of years older than me.

  6. Ron is 1 year older than you.

  7. I feel compelled to share that the business establishment named "Paper Moon" in my hometown is the city’s most widely advertised strip club.  I’m now imagining that they have a super-secret second location that sells comics.  My mind is blown.

    Seriously, this is a great reminiscence.  I wasn’t into comics as a kid, and I always enjoy reading these.

  8. It surprises me that there’s only 20 comic shops on the whole of long island (according to google anyway). Makes me happy there’s one less than a mile from my house (Phoenix Comics and Collectibles in Hicksville), which is incidentily run by a guy who used to live across the street from my mom when she was a kid. Funny thing is, she told me that whenever she went over to their house to hang out with his sister, all he would talk about was comics. Some addictions are unbreakable I guess. (and i guess that’s my little ‘my first shop’ segment)

  9. Nice story Ron.  I’m really enjoying these pieces about where you guys started shopping.  It’s just interesting to see where everyone started, as most of these stories are far different from my own.  Cool stuff.

  10. LOL. Dont ask me. I am 44. I remember ASH TRAYS IN THE WAITING ROOM AT THE DOCTORS OFFICE!

    AS for the first real comic shop I ever visted regurlarly. FORBIDDEN PLANET in Manhattan. I used to take the express bus a block away and the place was awesome to me. I remember seeing these certain books and saying "Mutant Ninja Turtles?!?!?!?! Well that series isnt going anywhere!"

  11. Previously I bought my new issues at Sid’s Malt Shop (At the corner of Grand St and Bushwick Avenue in Brooklyn) and I bought my back issues at the wonderful Grand Book Store, which was a used book store in Brooklyn that came equipped with a smoking proprietor.

    ps He had a price list of old comics and I thoguht it was RIDICULOUS that Spider-Man number 1 in pristine condition would go for as high as ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS. This was back in 73. 

  12. Ha! Ron, you took me back with this one.

    Not only did I work at Paper Moon 2 (for Vinnie, and later for his partner "the other" Vinnie ) but I also worked at Ardntz stationery in down town Northport (it’s now a wine store. Mean old Ardntz and his cat are long dead). I too, started my comics reading carrer on that rusty spinner rack before getting ripped off by that old smoking SOB at Paper Moon 2(I think I paid ten dollars for a reprint of Bishops first appearence. The logic being reprints were scarcier than the originals…jesus) 

    Working at Paper Moon 2, I was indeed a surly son of bitch to the customers and I even remember going outside to beat up a customers once. But that Gun and Roses game was the highlight of my Long Island comic memories. I had keys to the store and my friends and I (you know them) would go in at 2 in the morning and play that game all night, spilling beer all over it. It had a dollar feeder and we would put a dollar bill on a swath of scotch tape and feed the bill in only to quickly pull it out, racking up free games. Eventually the game guy took it away because the receipts never came close to matching.

    Just as the two Vinnie’s moved down the block into that shopping center, Marvel went exclusive with Heroes World and it all started going downhill. I often think of Vinnie. Not because he was nice, he wasn’t, but because he was six feet tall and used to wear little tight ‘Jam’ patterned shorts. I didn’t know he was selling toilets. Kind of appropriate since he was so full of shit.

     Great article, thanks for bringing me back.

  13. Was there a Paper Moon 1?

  14. @JasonMcNamara somewhere in my head, there is a draft of this article with a paragraph all about you and how you ridiculed every comic purchase I made…hehe…but you added to the surly atmosphere.  

    "Another X-Men book? really? why don’t you read some real comics"

    That was pretty much how every convo we had in that shop went…too funny

  15. Now, Fourth World — that’s a real comic shop!

  16. I know I’m kind of missing the point here but… POGS!

  17. Oh, I do love these columns.  This is a great story, a very well-told story, and a lovely peek into what a childhood with comics could really be like, especially during that time period. 

    For contrast, I was in second or third grade during the height of the POGS boom (I’m 22), and  I have a very clear memory of my mom taking me and my younger brother to a store right down the street where we could buy POGS.  They were kept in a tub under the glass counter at the front of the store, and we dug our hands in and found the coolest ones.  For years, I didn’t remember anything else about that store, except for a random image of a book or something on the wall labeled "Spawn."

    It wasn’t until last year that I realized that that store, long gone at this point, was a comic shop – the first comic shop I ever entered.

  18. Yeah, having old comics in my collection makes me feel like a real collector too. I got a box of Bronze Age comics at a garage sale and my collection feels more experinced.

  19. I loved that Guns N’ Roses pinball machine. We had one at our student hang-out in college and I must have dropped hundreds of quarters into that thing. I actually got pretty good at it, too, considering it was a pinball machine and depended more on luck than skill. Many a wasted Thursday night playing pinball and air hockey instead of putting out the student newspaper.

    Man, this grown-up shit sucks. 

  20. Ron and Jason,

     Thanks for making me remember how good we used to have it in those old days.  I remember coming home from work reeking of smoke from Don’s cigars and not being allowed to turn theheat on in the winter to save money. Jason was the best at belittling customers ad somehow making them feel like it was their fault.