Joe Sarno, Pioneer Fan and Retailer, Passes
Forgive me if this one gets a little personal. My very long-time
friend, comics store pioneer Joe Sarno, died today from a fall that followed a
severe, long-standing illness.
A long-time science fiction fan dating back to the 1950s,
Joe started The Fantasy Collectors of Chicago in 1969, a comics-oriented pop
culture club. It was an outgrowth of the weekend gatherings he held in the
basement of his Albany Park home, which turned into a marketplace for fans to
trade and sell comics. As a teen-aged fan I was first exposed to a great many
(then) hard-to-find classics in Joe’s basement: Justice Society, Caniff’s Terry
and the Pirates, EC Comics, The Spirit. As Joe also featured related popular
culture ephemera such as movie serials, old teevee shows, old time radio and
the like, just going to his place provided a valuable education.
In 1971, Joe opened his basement to the public, becoming one
of the nation’s first dedicated comic book stores. Slightly more than a year
later, he took his basement store out to the neighborhood, opening The
Nostalgia Shop at Lawrence near Pulaski, next door to Emil’s Meat Shop. For
comics fans, it was a joy to behold. He attracted quite a number of customers
who were notorious, or would go on to assume some notoriety on their own:
Hilary Barta, Max Allan Collins, Don Glut, Jim Harmon, Walter Koenig, John
Ostrander, Alex Ross, Chuck Schaden, Mark Silvestri, Gene Siskel, Terry
Zwigoff… to name-drop but a very few.
Over time, The Nostalgia Shop evolved into Comic Kingdom and
it changed and added locations until March 1, 2003, when age, health and a
diminishing market encouraged Joe to move his operation to the Internet.
Joe’s boundless sense of wonder and enthusiasm for the
medium was quite infectious. He loved to turn people onto stuff he enjoyed and
was always willing to listen to recommendations. He took his friendships deeply
– long after I moved to the New York area, Joe would open his store to accommodate
my schedule (and that of fellow-Chicagofan George Hagenauer, who moved to
Madison and would join me and my wife Linda), where we’d pluck goodies from his
shelves and then share lunch at the corner greasy spoon. I treasure those days.
I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that Joe was also a
co-founder of the original Chicago Comicon, joining people including Larry
Charet, Jim Engel, Chuck Fiala, Ron Massengil, George Hagenauer and myself in
producing what quickly became one of the preeminent comic book conventions in
the nation. Long since sold to Wizard World, Joe made one of his last public
appearances at the 2009 show.
Joe Sarno is survived by his wife Joan and his children
Laura, Jamie, and Adrienne.
A special tribute to Joe will be held at the Chicago Comic
& Entertainment Expo (a.k.a. C2E2) http://www.c2e2.com/ in McCormick Place on Saturday, April 17
from 12:15 PM to 1:15 PM. Panelists will include JJ Sedelmaier, George Breo,
Larry Charet, Jim Engel, Ron Masengill, Jim Wisniewski and myself. The event
will be held in room E352.