Business Briefing: Comics shop welcomes readers of all persuasions

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday May 11, 2022
Share this Post:
Johan Teilzeit, left, joined Sour Cherry Comics owner Leah Morrett and Michael Stevens in standing in front of artist Gus Sawyer's mural "The Kiss," showing Wonder Woman locking lips with Zala-El, Superman's sister. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland
Johan Teilzeit, left, joined Sour Cherry Comics owner Leah Morrett and Michael Stevens in standing in front of artist Gus Sawyer's mural "The Kiss," showing Wonder Woman locking lips with Zala-El, Superman's sister. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland

There are no aisles of bookcases overstuffed with comic books at Sour Cherry Comics in San Francisco's Mission district neighborhood. Instead, tables sporting the latest graphic novels, comics, and fantasy fiction greet customers to the store.

What bookcases are in the shop are pushed up against the walls, providing for an airy and inviting atmosphere for comics lovers of all persuasions to browse and hang out in the seating area toward the back of the space. Since opening her store in March, owner Leah Morrett has fielded queries from quizzical passersby wondering if it is a kids' store due to its breaking out of the mold of a typical comics shop setup.

"My goal was to create a meeting space for people of all genders and ages to explore comics and graphics novels," explained Morrett about how she approached the layout for the store at 3187 16th Street near Guerrero. "People mistake this for a children's store. It really is not; it's for all ages."

Morrett, a lesbian who turns 31 Friday, May 13, lives a few blocks away with her wife and wanted to find a storefront she could easily walk to since she doesn't own a car. The location not only fit that prerequisite but also was big enough to accommodate special events that Morrett hosts.

Last weekend, for instance, she held her first Sour Cherry Con in honor of Free Comic Book Day. Special offerings included a making one's own comic book session, a scavenger hunt, and a poetry open mic.

"Making it a profitable endeavor are the events to get people to come in," said Morrett, who organizes readings, writing workshops, selling parties for new releases, and arts and crafts for kids. "I plan to host bigger events every other month."

The city's other comic bookstores all "do a great job of being welcoming," said Morrett, who intentionally is trying not to compete with those within walking distance and will send people to them if she doesn't carry the comics they are looking for. At the same time, she said, a typical comics store can be hard for some shoppers to navigate.

"People tell me how they like to come into the store and not feel overwhelmed," said Morrett. "Comics stores can often be stuffed."

Her having a limited selection is also due to her financial limitations, acknowledged Morrett. She will only order a limited amount of a specific title, restocking it when it sells out, so as not to strain her budget or be stuck with inventory that people don't want.

"This is a beans and pennies endeavor here," joked Morrett, who is a sole proprietor and the lone employee at Sour Cherry Comics for the time being. "I opened the store on blind faith completely."

She focuses on carrying queer comics and titles from independent publishers, such as PM Press in Oakland and San Francisco's Silver Sprocket, which has its own store nearby at Valencia and 21st streets. The LGBTQ-themed "Heartstopper" graphic novel series by Alice Oseman, which recently debuted as a Netflix show, has been a popular seller. Morrett had sold out of the first book in April but did have several copies of books two and three ($14.99 each) in the series available.

Due to customer requests, she is also looking to stock more comics and graphic novels with transgender characters.

"I am still figuring out what people want," said Morrett, noting that she personally likes the young adult genre. "About 90% of it is queer-focused. A lot of young readers are figuring out their gender and sexuality."

She does carry titles by DC Comics and Marvel, particularly those comics that feature LGBTQ characters and storylines. Among the titles she has on hand are several hardcover copies of the "DC Pride 2021" ($17.99) special release.

"I grew up on Wonder Woman so I had to," said Morrett of carrying the mainstream titles.

Her friend, muralist and painter Gus Sawyer, just completed the mural "The Kiss" in the store featuring Wonder Woman locking lips with Zala-El, Superman's sister. It is based on the "Dark Knights of Steel" series released last year by DC and references Gustav Klimt's famous "The Kiss" artwork. Triangles surrounding the super heroic couple nod to the pink triangle LGBTQ symbol.

"I always loved Wonder Woman. I was a huge nerd and played D&D," said Sawyer, 29, who is nonbinary and transgender and has lived in San Francisco for five years.

One of artist Gus Sawyer's pet portraitures is displayed at Sour Cherry Comics. Photo: Matthew S. Bajko  

Sawyer, whose handle on Instagram is @midnightmarginalia, works full time as an executive assistant at a financial firm but began doing murals at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Their first was for a bar in Oakland; the one at Sour Cherry Comics is the first one publicly accessible in San Francisco.

"I did drops and scene painting for a theater in Ohio. I loved the spacing and the size of it," said Sawyer, who worked there as a stage manager for a decade. "When the pandemic hit, I was stuck inside with just four walls and endless time, so I decided to start painting murals."

Sawyer also paints pet portraits that people can order via their website. Depending on the size of the project, the portraits can cost $150 to $300 each and take anywhere from three to six weeks to complete. They will be taking two months off in the fall to recuperate from their top surgery, which requires them not to raise their arms up, so Sawyer said anyone wanting to order a pet portrait as a holiday gift this year should do so soon.

An example of their pet portraiture can be found hanging on the back right-side wall of Sour Cherry Comics, as Sawyer did a portrait of Morrett's dog Benny, a terrier mix who is a part-time greeter at the store. Benny can also at times be found relaxing in his bed in the front right-side window.

The yellow triangle mural behind the store's register stand and the Pride-themed ribbon mural on it were also both painted by Sawyer, who first met Morrett via a poetry group. They offered to assist in decorating the store for Morrett and hope it will be a success for years to come.

"I knew I had to help in any way I could," said Sawyer. "Having a lesbian-owned comics book store is huge!"

Sour Cherry Comics is open seven days a week though the hours differ depending on the day. To learn more about the store, when it is open, and its upcoming events, visit its website.

Got a tip on LGBTQ business news? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail [email protected]

Help keep the Bay Area Reporter going in these tough times. To support local, independent, LGBTQ journalism, consider becoming a BAR member.