At the moment, the New York City Comic Book Museum exists mostly
in a Manhattan mini-storage facility and in a large closet in founder
David Jay Gabriel's Upper West Side one-bedroom apartment. Gabriel
preserves the museum's 20,000 comic books in acid-free bags stashed
inside acid-free boxes. He keeps even his current reading away from
direct sunlight and heat. "If I could read them in the dark,
I would," he says. The 34-year-old Gabriel is a former actor,
now working in desktop publishing in the finance industry. He has
been passionate about comics since he was six years old and his
parents gave him a quarter to spend at a corner store. "It
was a Fantastic Four issue," he recalls of his first comic
book purchase. "All red, so colorful--I was hooked."
Gabriel, who majored in English and minored in theater while at
BC, is still a faithful fan of the Fantastic Four (the Human Torch,
Invisible Woman, the Thing, and Mr. Fantastic, for the uninitiated).
He describes his taste as "very mainstream." Fans of independent
comics "would make fun of me," he says with a laugh. The museum's
trove is actually his personal collection, officially on permanent
loan (though Gabriel continues to finance its care and growth).
Working alone, he has secured nonprofit, tax-exempt status for the
museum. Now all he lacks is a permanent exhibit space.
This hasn't kept Gabriel from establishing a virtual museum on the
Web (www.nyccomicbookmuseum.org), or from mounting temporary shows.
The New York Presbyterian Hospital hosted Gabriel's first exhibit--of
"comics in the last 10 years that dealt with AIDS"--for World AIDS
Day; the show later moved to the Empire State Building. A women's
gallery in Manhattan has expressed interest in an exhibit of popular
female comic book artists. And Gabriel would like to sponsor showcases
for young talent.
"I have no models to look to," he says. "I like making this all
up as I go along." Lately he has had offers of help from all sorts
of "closet comic book readers"--lawyers, teachers, marketing professionals,
librarians. He's optimistic that in the near future "someone will
have office space for the museum, and then someone will come to
us who's a fan--with money."
Cohen is a freelance writer based in New York City.
Photo: Gary Wayne Gilbert