When you walk through the doors to most comic book shops the walls are lined with shelves of trade paperbacks, action figures, and the latest assortment of fanboy goodies. Short boxes filled with back issues tower from top to bottom. A four foot Spider-Man poster hangs behind the counter along with the exclusive variant cover for Batman’s most daring adventure yet, proclaiming “Not a Dream! Not a Hoax!”. And while you can surely find a number of those relics and more all across shops in San Francisco, Leef Smith can boast about something his store has that a number of contemporaries can’t—an entire art gallery.
Smith opened Mission Comics & Art last September after the economic downturn left him without a job. “I lost my job in October in 2008 and thought ‘What am I gonna do now? What do I really want to do?’,” he remembers. Citing the recent closing of a few comic shops in The City, particularly in the Mission, Smith took it upon himself to do something about it.
“I felt there was a need for another [comic book store],” he explains. “I really liked what was going on in the art scene here and wanted to be a part of it, so I thought about bringing those two things together.”
Currently, Smith is featuring an exhibit by local artist Josh Ellingson entitled “All The Best,” a collection of Ellingson’s own favorite pieces and works from the past few years.
As an artist, Ellingson is undoubtedly a product of the 80’s, holding everything from Transformers to He-Man as early childhood favorites. “Pop culture is just in me, I can’t escape it, I grew up with comic books and cartoons,” he modestly explains. “They’ve become our modern mythology.”
Through the years his palette of influences has drawn inspiration from all aspects of fine and commercial art, including old advertisements from the 50’s and 60’s. “A lot of those people never get named, but they were killer artists,” Ellingson comments. “They could draw the hell out of a Schlitz Beer can or a sandwich or something and it’d be gorgeous; you could hang it on a wall. I really respect that level of dedication to the art.”
One concept Ellingson also notices that comes up in his work is a clashing of personalities. “I’ve noticed a theme in my art that ends up being about conflict and scale.” This kind of underlying tone can be found in a number of his illustrations on display, most notably within a few of the pieces below.
Whether through Ellingson’s work he has on display, or the comics he puts up for sale, owner Leef Smith is looking to expose audiences to something new. “I think it should go both ways, exposing people to comic books as an art form, and also exposing comic book fans to fine art,” Smith affirms, also mentioning his desire to motivate and facilitate artists to experiment in new and creative mediums. “[Artists] can put out a comic book, then do a gallery show, then do a clothing line, really work in a number of forms and not pigeonhole themselves, and I think I’m part of another venue for that.”
As Smith casually leans against one of the bookshelves he surveys the crowd and comes to a conclusive smile and nod of accomplishment. Tonight is but one of many more showings he has in store for the year, all of which he’s hoping will show what San Francisco’s brightest have to offer. “There’s more diversity in comics than ever before,” he explains. “And I think that’s appreciated.”
Words and photos by Sean Logic
For information on exhibits, events, and what’s in stock, visit the official Mission Comics & Art website.
To see more art or contact Josh, visit his online gallery.