Q&A: A comic book nerd with pedigree

Name: Eitan Manhoff

Age: 32

City: El Cerrito

Position: Owner, Cape and Cowl Comics
J.:
You opened Cape and Cowl in Oakland last month. Print media isn’t a big seller these days. Why open a comic book store now?

Eitan Manhoff: Actually, comics are booming. This is the strongest the industry has been in 10 or 15 years. Part of it’s due to a mass acceptance of comic book culture. There are blockbuster superhero movies, “The Big Bang Theory,” “The Walking Dead” — everything seems to be based on comics now. And the comic books themselves, the quality is higher than it’s ever been.

Eitan Manhoff

What was your first comic book?

It was “Superman: The Man of Steel” No. 12, a completely unremarkable Superman comic from the early ’90s. My aunt bought it for me in a supermarket. I liked it and dabbled in comics from there. But what really got me — and got my dad back into comics at the same time — was “The Death of Superman” storyline in 1992. It just blew my 11-year-old mind.
Your dad — Rabbi Harry Manhoff of Temple Beth Sholom in San Leandro — is also a comic book nerd. So you have that in common?

He liked comics as a kid, but he grew out of it. Then “The Death of Superman” was on the news and it was such a big deal. People were lining up around the block to buy special copies of it sealed in black bags. We would debate about it. It was a great time to start reading, because Batman’s back was broken and Green Lantern went crazy. There were these imposter Supermans, and we were sure that one of them was real, but then he wasn’t. There was a lot of exciting stuff going on.
A lot has been made of the connection between Jews and comics. Is that important for you?

I take a lot of pride in the early days of Jews and comics. It’s great that Superman was created by two nice Jewish guys, but it’s much more than that. The earliest publishers, all the guys behind the scenes, they were all Jews. No one else would do it then because it was considered a low-class medium. But these guys put money behind it and got an art form going. Obviously, we know now that they took advantage of the creators in a lot of unfair ways. But the industry wouldn’t exist if they hadn’t kept it going.
Comic book shops often make a lot of their money from games, action figures, T-shirts, etc. Do you?

I love the collectibles. I love all the stuff that goes along with comics. Of course we have Magic cards and Pokémon cards and all that. I was always a big action-figure guy. I actually sold most of a big collection of action figures to get some of the money to start the store. It was hard to part with some of them, and it’s the same thing now with some of the comics leaving my collection in the store.
What items are really tough to let go of?

It’s never the big-money items that get me choked up. I just sold the first appearance of [Batman villain] Harley Quinn, and I got top dollar for it. I was very happy about that, and I don’t miss it. A few days later a guy came in and bought a full run of the comic “Invincible,” and there’s no particular monetary value in them — they’re widely available — but it was sad to see them walk out of the store. You just have to think of it as sending them to a good home.
The Holocaust memoir “Maus” is the most widely known Jewish graphic novel. What else is out there?

You have a bunch of the Will Eisner comics like “A Contract with God,” which are interesting glimpses into Jewish life in America at a particular time. I’ve always been a fan, though, of when writers stray from the norm and show a different side of Jewish life, for example Joe Kubert’s “Jew Gangster,” which is an intense story of a young guy who gets in way over his head in a conflict between Italian and Jewish mobs. I’m a big fan of Judd Winick’s “Caper,” a 12-part story that focuses on two brothers who are members of the Jewish mafia in San Francisco at the turn of the century.

“Talking with …” focuses on local Jews who are doing things we find interesting. Send suggestions to sueb@jweekly.com.

David A.M. Wilensky
David A.M. Wilensky

David A.M. Wilensky is the online editor of J. and "Jew in the Pew" columnist. He can be reached at david@jweekly.com.