Spider-Man sits outside one of the oldest and most celebrated comic book stores in Los Angeles, located on Melrose Avenue. Ryan Leibowitz and his family have owned and operated it for nearly 40 years. I got to play Lois Lane recently and spoke with Ryan about Golden Apple.
The Origin Story
Bill Liebowitz created a life destined for legacy.
Before moving to Los Angeles from Brooklyn, his mom said he could keep only one of his three collections – comics, records, and marbles. He chose the music, and later became a successful entertainment CPA, managed Dick Dale, was a V.P. at Rhino Records, and entertainment director for the 1984 Olympics. Hefty bio for sure, but in 1979, he also founded one of L.A.’s first comic book stores, Golden Apple.
“You would think it’d be called Cosmic Comics or something that alluded to the fact we sell comic books,” joked Bill’s son, Ryan. “My dad had a partner who owned a cigar shop called Golden Apple that already had bags printed so they said ‘let’s go with it for now.’” Famous sci-fi author Ray Bradbury came into the store and said, “Isn’t this amazing, you named your shop after my book, Golden Apples of the Sun!” to which Bill responded, ‘Of course we did, Mr. Bradbury!’”
Ryan worked in the store after school, a little begrudgingly. “It was weird my dad owned a comic book store. Back then it was nerdy,” recalls Ryan, who was into sports and had a garage band. It wasn’t until Bill started teaching him the business side, from pricing to display, that Ryan became engaged. He was able to run one of the Valley branches of the shop at age 16, making a major business decision to add baseball cards to his selection.
But Ryan’s superpower ultimately revealed itself while planning and managing events at the stores. “You’d have to go to Golden Apple to meet Adam West, Stan Lee, or Neil Gaimon.” Adult entertainers would sign their autobiographical comic books (Bill’s idea). Musicians like Public Enemy and KISS had meet & greets. Attention to detail and access to incredible talent created many lasting customer experiences, and in turn, a deeply committed fan base for the store.
The Turning Point
Armed with a business degree from CSUN Santa Barbara and the experience of running events with his dad, Ryan went on to direct massive events like WonderCon and AIDS Walk, and then moved with his wife Kendra to Sin City to handle the Las Vegas Hilton.
But in 2004, Bill passed away.
“I realized what I had to do. We sold our house and moved back to LA and have been running the shop ever since,” Ryan said.
Sharon, the family matriarch, continues as co-owner. She and Kendra both play active roles in daily business. At 11 years old, daughter Kasey is a bit like Ryan was at that age; “sometimes she thinks it’s cool, and sometimes she thinks I’m a dork,” laughs Ryan.
Balancing an old-school comic shop with the progressive is a challenge. Technology, TV, and film are changing the business quickly and frequently. “We have to appease some of our customers who have been with us 20+ years and try to keep it modern for a new generation of readers.”
Moving the store closer to LaBrea in 2006 afforded an opportunity for Ryan to mesh his dad’s vision with something fresh and new. Neon lights, 3-dimensional graphics – “it’s a rush, like an M&M store.” The smaller space captures a lot of energy while still supporting all the customer expectations like pull & hold for subscribers, a back issues section, signings and events, and a place where “the biggest names in the industry shop or just come in to say hi.”
The Spin-Off Characters
Flaxen is what Bill called the “living logo.” In the late 1980’s, he held a contest for customers to create a comic book character to be the store’s mascot. The winner modeled Flaxen after Playmate Susie Owens. Two Flaxen stories were printed, and there were trading cards, appearances, and a nude Playboy spread as the character. Ryan wondered how to honor Flaxen, so he named his weekly store blog after her.
The new living logo is Ryan himself. A few years ago, Ryan saved the day by blocking a police chase suspect from getting into the shop during Free Comic Book Day. The news report called him a “tall burly man” and “on that day, Burleyman was born.” He’s the face of the blog, and with a customer-designed costume, Burleyman will make an occasional appearance.
Golden Apple remains a Hollywood treasure and a must-visit destination for visitors. From the days of Stan Lee events and Michael Jackson’s patronage, it remains the “Comic Shop to the Stars.” And it continues to innovate. Last year, Golden Apple started publishing comics with a stable of local and established creators and a still-secret celebrity musician.
The family is committed. Bill gave up his lavish, high-paying job for a comic book shop. “Here we are almost 39 years later. I think he made a good choice,” concluded Ryan. “It’s a family legacy I’ve been graciously handed and am happy to keep on for many years.”
GOLDEN APPLE COMICS
7018 Melrose Avenue, LA 90038
Golden Apple will be at WonderCon March 31- April 2, and there will be specials! Legendary artist Bill Sienkiewicz will sign two exclusive variants (Iron Fist and X-O Manowar) and meet Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. actor Gabriel Luna (Ghost Rider)! And the “everyone’s a winner” booth game: $1 envelope with prize ticket inside. Win anything from posters and books to statues and original art!