Two dimensional fist-sized robots, aliens, superheroes and frightened civilians cascade across the pale wall of Desert Island comics on Metropolitan Avenue, fleeing from a gigantic fire-colored paper-mache hand that adorns the elaborate window display, wreaking havoc on the cardboard city that lines the sill.
Past the window, the tiny creatures glide away from the street into Desert Island, the best and only independent comic book shop in Williamsburg, which opened its doors in late February of this year.
The modestly sized shop, located only a few doors up from the Lorimer subway station, is packed from front to back, side to side, floor to ceiling, with art: The bright blue hand-made shelves lining the right wall host an impressive array of serial comics, from the better known titles to the admittedly obscure; an enormous chandelier of tangled dark blue arrows is suspended from the ceiling, the corners of which support giant cardboard icicles, which are the remnants of a former window display. The walls are covered in silk-screened prints, created specially for Desert Island in partnership with the artists who host events there. Aside from two rotating racks of ‘zines and one small shelf dedicated to magazines, the rest of the shop is filled with books of the graphic variety, from all over the world.
“This is basically a cross-section of everything I’m interested in, and it’s all grounded in the basis of having really, really cool drawings,” explained Gabriel Fowler, Desert Island’s owner and only official employee. “This is a place for those who are participants in the culture—artists, illustrators, designers—to find inspiration. It’s for like-minded people from all over the world, who are into the same aesthetic.”
Fowler, who grew up in Gainesville, Florida before moving to Chicago to earn his MFA in video arts, moved to Brooklyn four years ago. Fowler decided to open a comic book shop after discovering that there were very few places like it.
“A comic book store seemed particularly needed in the Williamsburg area,” Fowler said. “When I moved here, I realized that the kind of store I wanted to go to just wasn’t around.”
Fowler has been a comic book enthusiast since the age of 7, when he first got hooked on MAD magazine (a single row of vintage issues of the publication line the store’s back wall), and a more obscure series about monsters called Famous Monsters of Film Land. After falling in and out of comic books throughout childhood, Fowler realized that his affinity for video is closely related to his love of books, both serving as mediums that are, for the most part, easy to create and accessible to almost everyone.
“My interest in video is definitely connected to my love of comics,” Fowler said. “In school, I became really interested in the social uses of video, and in the 1990s, video cameras were becoming really widespread, it was becoming a populist movement, like comic books.”
Another source of inspiration for Fowler was the “strangely curated” bookstore Quimby’s in Chicago, stocking a vast array of comics, magazines, and books, and regularly hosting events and performances.
In addition to selling books, T-shirts, posters and prints, Desert Island has, since its opening, been dedicating to holding its own events, ranging from artist readings and signings to a handful of musical appearances. Each event is paired with a specially-made, hand-crafted silk screened poster, serving as both promotional materials and pieces of art in their own right.
Though the vision for Desert Island comics was clear, actually securing a location in the neighborhood was no easy feat: Fowler scouted out storefronts for an entire year before finally landing the space on Metropolitan Avenue, which was previously occupied by a T-Mobil store.
“I literally, single-handedly, had to destroy the entire T-Mobil store and rebuild it from the ground up,” Fowler said. “I had to knock down the walls, tear out the floor and ceiling. We hauled out over 120 bags of trash. And then, we began to slowly turn it into the shop it is today.”
And an incredibly impressive, colorful, cool and quirky little shop it is. As for the name?
“Oh, well it has lots of different reads,” Fowler said, smiling. “For me, it’s basically like, I’m alone on this desert island, and this is all my favorite stuff.”