Q: In the episode, you and the guys are celebrating 20 years of the Stash. What’s that like for you, that this idea you had with your childhood friends is like a New Jersey pop culture icon now?
A: For me, I have a lot of gratitude for the folks at AMC, because we probably don’t get to 20 years without them. I had always promised Walter that I would keep the store open for 10 years minimum, because I asked him to leave the other job he was working on to come work at the Stash. He said, “Comic book stores close all the time,” and I said I would guarantee that I’d keep it open for at least 10 years. So we reached the 10-year mark, and then by year 11 or 12, things had kind of started slowing down. We weren’t making any more movies at that point. I had a conversation with Walter that at year 12 I’d probably have to rein it in, because there’s no more movies to support the comic book store, things are going digital. And then, all of a sudden, the conversation about Comic Book Men happened and suddenly there was a TV show.
Q: How did you decide to turn the Stash’s birthday into an opportunity to get in the Guinness Book of World Records?
A: What a dream come true that was. As we were trying to pull together the season last year, the idea of celebrating the Secret Stash’s anniversary came up. We didn’t even know about it! We got a notice from the Diamond Comic Distributors, the people you buy your comics from, and they sent us this certificate that was like, “Thanks for 20 years of being an excellent client.” And we were like, “Oh my God. Let’s celebrate it with the show!” Then Walter came up with the idea of doing a flash mob Jay and Silent Bob thing, and I said, “Flash mob means dancing, Walter.” So then it moved slowly to not a flash mob, but to trying to get in the Guiness Book of World Records for the largest collection of Jay and Silent Bob cosplayers in one place. We looked into it to see if it was even possible, and it turns out almost every record is possible if you can get at least 250 people to do it — that’s the minimum. Even if it’s ridiculous. So we were able to pull it together. We didn’t know if it was going to work all the way, we didn’t know if we were going to hit the number, but we eventually got there.
Q: What was it like looking out and seeing all these cosplay clones of yourself?
A: Yeah it was like an army of me. It was a little freaky, but at the same time, in a just world, this is what it would always look like. …It was really wild to look out there and see everybody kind of dressed like us. A lot of fans got to be in the show — you’re talking about people who’ve been following us for years, not just with the movies and stuff, but the TV show itself, so that was really cool.
Q: How did you first come to acquire the Stash? Was owning a comic book shop one of your dreams after making a movie?
A: When we began there wasn’t even any “nobody believed we could do it.” Nobody even gave a sh–. I couldn’t even make a movie out of it. We bought a tiny comic book store in Red Bank. The guy was going out of business — he wanted to go to Thailand or Taiwan to speak English — so he was selling his comic shop, Comicology, that me and Walter would shop at all the time. And this was right after I’d finished Mallrats. I came into the store one time to pick up my weekly books, and he said, “You know, you’re always talking about how one day you want to own a comic book store,” and I said, “Yeah, that would be amazing,” — this was 1996. I said, “That’s my dream. One day, when they’re done with me in the movie business, I’ll live the rest of my life behind a comic book store counter.” And he goes, “Well I’m going out of business and I was wondering if you wanted to buy the business.” So this jumps my decision way earlier. I knew somewhere in the back of my head, I wanted to go into comic book retail. It’s a passion of mine; I believe in it. I just didn’t know it would be then! I said, “How much?” And the guy goes “$60,000 for the whole business. That gives you the client list, all the contents of the store, you gotta pay the rent since I don’t own the business, but otherwise it’s a turnkey business.” And I said, “$60,000, I don’t know, that’s a chunk.” And without saying anything else he goes, “$30,000!” And I’m like, “Wow! I’m negotiating against you and you’re negotiating for me.”
Q: Was it always your intention to have Walt run the store?
A: Clerks cost me $27,575 to make, and Walter was there for every stop of the way. So, you know, I figured he helped me make my dream come true, and Walter’s dream had always been pretty simple and straightforward. At one point, he said, “I always wanted to run a comic book store,” and I said, “Yeah, owning a comic book store would be amazing.” He said, “No, I don’t want to own a comic book store, that’s too much responsibility. [Laughs]. I want to run a comic book store.” And I said, “Why?” And he said, “The amazing discounts you’d get.”
For just a couple hundred bucks more than making my dream come true, I could make Walter’s dream come true. I told the dude, “Yeah, I’m in, I’ll buy it.” And then I called Walter — he was working at the Highlands Recreation Center at the time — and I said, “Hey man! I just bought the comic book store in Red Bank, I bought Comicology, and you’re gonna run it!” And he was like, “No, I’m not. I don’t want to run a comic book store, are you kidding me? I got a good job. I’m married now. I can’t be leaving to go to a comic book store, comic book stores close all the time.” And what followed is two years of trying to convince Walter to come work at the comic book store. He’d order all the books, and he’d come in on weekends, but he wouldn’t leave his job…. I finally made it financially attractive for [Walt] to jump over to the Stash. And it all worked out. Walter built that store to be what he would have wanted in a comic book store, and he kept it alive as a retail establishment for a good 10 or 12 years just by himself, with his own ideas. Yeah, every once in awhile there was a movie to help out, but generally, that’s the house that Walt built. So he built this house that eventually led us to TV… So I always think it’s like Walter wrote his own ticket. He was the guy that loved comic books and got me into comic books, and if you look back, it all stems from him and his passions.
Q: In the episode, you share a story from the early years of the Stash about how you used to sell bootleg videos…
A: One of the things Walter liked when we used to go around to comic book stores was bootleg videos, like the Star Wars Christmas Special, or episodes of TV shows you couldn’t get, since this was in the days of the VHS. So when we opened the Stash, he had a section for bootleg videos and stuff, and a lot of them were things that were out of print and stuff, but a lot of them were Clerks and Mallrats. I was like, “Whoa, dude, you’re feeding the system?” And he said, “Yeah, we bought bootlegs for years.” He said it was only fair that it got done to my work as well. And then maybe four years into the Stash, they started running those ads with, “Piracy is a Crime,” and I said, “Walt, I think we need to stop bootlegging.”
Q: What are some of your favorite memories that the guys have shared about the Stash on the show?
A: My favorite memory was an episode where they did a fake commercial for the Stash [in Season 1]. That commercial was based on a commercial that ran in our area, a late night local TV spot for a local toy store that was a point of reference from everyone in our group for how stiff it was, to say the least. Walter always dreamed of doing something like that for the Secret Stash, just a really bad local huckster commercial. And I was like, “That’s a waste of money dude, there’s no point.” This was pre-internet, really. And then the show happens years later, and when we went to do Season 1, at one point, here are the ideas for the episode, do you have any other ideas? And Walter jumped in, and he’s like, “Can we make a commercial?” And right away I was like, “I know what he’s trying to do, he’s trying to redo that commercial that we grew up on.” And literally, if you watch that episode, it’s him trying to tell the same joke he’s been trying to tell for like 10 years, and he got to do it on TV. When I watch that episode, it just reminds me of everything before I made a movie — back when I was just a dude working at a store. It’s a remnant of a long-gone age and he brought it all back in the show and it’s one of my favorite episodes to this day.
Watch the latest episode of Comic Book Men on amc.com and AMC apps for mobile, Fire TV, XBox One, Apple TV, Roku and Chromecast.
The Comic Book Men Mid-Season Finale airs Late Sunday.