(First published on Red Bank oRBit November 5, 2008)
Zapcic comix: Mike of Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash anticipates another “overwhelming” response at the store, when Kevin Smith returns to Red Bank for a pair of personal appearances.
With looks and mannerisms that were eerily reminiscent of Dick in High Fidelity, the stranger with the backpack brought his purchase to the counter. Eight to ten new titles off the wall of comics on the store’s North side, along with several smaller items related to filmmaker/ comic book scribe/ merchandising mandrake Kevin Smith — a sticker, a book, a button.
“Okay,” said Mike Zapcic, perennially helpful co-manager of Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash. “All set?”
“Um,” muttered The Customer, evidently on behalf of a small group that stood near the Altoids machine by the door. “Could you tell me how to get to the Quick-Stop from here?”
“You know, you’re the first person who’s ever asked me that question.”
With that, Zapcic reached beneath the counter command pod at the store’s front end and produced a document laying out, in eight simple steps, the trek that winds from Secret Stash’s Broad Street perch, to the Leonardo locale of Quick-Stop Groceries and RST Video — the holiest site in all of the View Askewniverse.
Since a small, infra-indie feature film called Clerks catapulted its savvy young director-writer-costar to a cult guru-hood that dwarfed even that of Tarantino, the lonely stripmall outpost one short block in from Route 36 has rivaled the Lourdes Grotto as a place of pilgrimage.
The little Bayshore convenience store and its adjoining mom/pop rental counter served as de facto soundstage for Clerks, and based on the inquiries received at the Red Bank store, Zapcic reckons that fans make the trip from as far away as Australia and New Zealand, with Japan “really starting to pick up traffic.”
The already narrow aisles of the Stash promise to be “overwhelmed” this weekend, as Smith returns to Red Bank for not one but two pulse-pounding personal appearances, on the heels of his latest release Zack and Miri Make a Porno (or just Zack and Miri, depending on where you’re seeing it advertised). Red Bank oRBit sauntered in Stashside on a rare all-clear.
While Quick Stop and RST remain the number one sites on the quasi-official tour — others have included Jack’s Music Shoppe, Middletown’s Evil Clown and the original configuration of Rumson’s Victory Park — the Stash and its Ripley’s-like gallery of film props remains the place to see first. The rafters, display cases and crannies of the retail store host a Phantom Planet Hollywood collection of such oversize and authenticated jetsam as the giant Mooby’s fast food mascot (Clerks 2), the temporary storefront sign for Brodie’s Secret Stash (J&SB Strike Back), and the beneficent figure of Buddy Christ (Dogma).
Then there’s the Bluntmobile — more than five hundred pounds of solid fiberglass (”Believe me, you do not want that falling on your foot,” says Zapcic. “I know.”) featuring full-size cast models of Smith and Jason Mewes as Jay and Silent Bob; light sabers drawn as they careen into action in the guise of heroic alter egos Bluntman and Chronic.
The prop sat on the store’s floor for years, but was moved to its present off-limits perch when patron or patrons unknown vandalized the one-of-a-kind item.
“Somebody stole Jay’s tongue,” explains Zapcic. “And to answer your next question, no, the tongue was technically not detachable.”
Long gone are the days when customers could drop into Jay and Silent Bob’s old Monmouth Street location and find Smith or Mewes themselves working the counter, but with the boss having decamped permanently for LA (home to a second Stash location), the store’s in the best of hands with Zapcic, co-manager Walt Flanagan and weekend guy Ming Chen on hand most days to fill orders, dispense wisdom and debate the often intricate questions of the seasoned comics readers.
It’s a learning experience, always, for the most hardcore pop-culture hound as for the greenhorn neophyte. For instance, last time we stopped into the store we were shocked to learn that the licensing rights for the characters of The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman now reside with actor Richard Anderson, who played the boss of the Bionic agents on the 70s TV shows. You want to market an action figure, you gotta go through “Oscar.”
Quizzed about their favorite stories from in-store appearance events, the guys name multiple instances of people waiting for hours in line outside on the sidewalk, sometimes after having been released from the hospital — in one case, having just undergone brain surgery.
Ming cites one guy who “wasn’t looking too good, having just left the hospital with some undisclosed illness;” a guy who, when he got close to Smith at the signing table, lunged for a nearby trash can and “began puking for a solid five minutes.”
“Kevin’s eyes bugged out,” he recalls. “The guy was right behind him; he couldn’t get away.”
“Fortunately the guy had an Amish beard,” adds Flanagan. “If he had the full-mustache ZZ Top, we would have had to look at the evidence.”
Flanagan — fave comic Werewolf by Night — is, as any tenth-level Smith savant could tell you, the guy who famously turned the master on to comics in the first place — as well as portrayer of frequent cameo roles in the majority of Smith features, many as the insufferable convention-haunting toady Walt Grover, Fanboy. Flanagan, like Zapcic a married-with-children family guy, is also an accomplished comics artist whose indie efforts include the miniseries Karney and War of the Undead (both with Askewer Bryan Johnson).
The Flanagan career scales some dizzying new heights later this month, with the release by DC Comics of Batman: Cacophony, a three-issue miniseries written by Smith (who’s previously done Green Arrow for DC, as well as a controversial run on Marvel’s Daredevil) and drawn by Flanagan. The story pits Batman against the Smith-created character Onomatopoeia — a badguy first glimpsed in Green Arrow. Writer and artist will be at the store for an advance-release signing event on Saturday between the hours of 2pm and 5pm; it goes without saying that it’s Flanagan’s first work for one of the Big Two publishers, and with this effort the artist has taken the express route to the big time, without having to pass Matter Eater Lad or Space Cabby.