Megabrain Comics is a superheroic effort for the community
Reading, not texting, after school at Megabrain Comics
Owner of Megabrain Comics Jean Michel
These days it’s hard to remember the last time the local cinema marquee wasn’t dominated by comic book superheroes. But there was a time, not long ago, that the comic book shop was a refuge for kids (and kids at heart) who needed heroes to inspire their creativity and self-worth in a world where they may have felt marginalized.
Megabrain Comics, which opened a year ago at 20 Garden Street in Rhinebeck, is as much a community hub for readers, artists, genre fans and tabletop gamers as it is a store. You’re encouraged by owners Jean and Alexandra Michel to sit and read, chat, and relax in the cozy shop that winds its way to a gaming room and event space in the back.
They host programs like the Comic Book Club, where anyone can join and attend workshops on creating their own comic books; events with published comic writers and artists; and Q&A talks at community libraries and schools. Michel says Megabrain strives to teach kids and adults the benefits of comic books as a medium, and as a literacy and social learning tool.
While Jean Michel is living his childhood dream, leaving behind the world of tech startups and project management to open the shop, Megabrain has hit a financial snag. These days comic book stores need time to grow a clientele and collect data on what sells here versus somewhere else. Michel said, with a year behind them, they are on a solid path out of the red. Now they are adjusting what they offer, are more aware of seasonal trends, holding more birthdays and community events and are planning collaborative projects. They’ve recently been coordinating activities with the Hudson Valley LGBTQ Community Center.
“The first year is figuring out what the area wants,” Michel said. “We were buying but not selling monthly comics. We’ve stumbled a little and now we want to do a lot more events. I’d like to focus energy into a nonprofit that can take programs into the schools.”
However, they still need some support to help recoup some of the first year losses sustained during their growing pains. Megabrain has set up an Indigogo.com campaign to raise $17,000. The campaign runs for another week and includes thank you prizes for donors. Think of it like buying into a CSA for creativity.
“Even though we are having trouble, this is such a positive place,” he said, “I find it hard to think back on the way I was working before.”
Comic programs and tabletop games like Dungeons & Dragons have been found to be unique and creative outlets for school-aged children that get them away from screens and phones, and keep them engaged with their peers. Michel has a 12-year-old son, Diago, who we found bounding through the shop with a group of friends around closing time. They may not realize the positive impact Megabrain is having on them, but Michel is clearly the cool dad (whether Diago knows it or not).
“There are a lot of artists in my family,” Michel said of his childhood in Rockland County in the '70s and '80s. “I loved to draw and write and once I discovered comics it was the best of both worlds. It was everything I wanted in 28 pages.”
“When Diago was born I thought, ‘I want this kid to see that their parents are passionate about what they do.'”
Shortly thereafter Michel and a friend started Megabrain Comics, creating, printing and publishing two comics written and drawn by Michel. But it wasn’t to be and Michel went back to the business world.
“When it was time to open the store, Alex said, ‘you should call it Megabrain,’” Michel recalled. “Part of my five-year plan is to publish my comic again.”
Michel’s comic, “American Dark Age,” reflects the kind of heroes he wanted to see more of as a kid. In a post-apocalyptic world mysteriously stripped of electricity and combustion-powered machines, the protagonists are a punk rock girl and a military unit that, like our own, is racially diverse. While Michel related to comics in his youth — as a kid who felt different and was often bullied — there weren’t many heroes that looked like him.
“I wanted to write a comic where everyone could see themselves,” said Michel. “I was a Marvel fan as a kid. They were more based in reality. All the heroes were New Yorkers like me but it was also very apparent that heroes were white and occasionally one was black, and that sucked.”
But diversity came to comics before many other types of media, and recent events like the movie Black Panther and the first Muslim heroine in a major comic, Ms. Marvel, are important to him and the culture of inclusiveness he’s fostering at Megabrain.
Michel said there’s a lot of potential in the little shop to make an impact in his community, which has already shown support for them.
“Oblong Books is constantly sending people our way,” he said. “Everyone who comes in just enjoys being here. The fun of comics is the engagement with other people,” he said. “It’s a clubhouse.”
20 Garden St., Rhinebeck, NY
Open Tues.–Fri. 2–8 p.m.; Sat. 11 a.m.–8 p.m.; Sun. 11 a.m.–6 p.m.
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