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Mighty Moose Comics provides new heroes for a shifting time

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Photo by Lindsey Anderson
Photo by Lindsey Anderson

Calling all comic enthusiasts! A special hero is hiding out in the shadows of Factoria Mall in Bellevue. Sitting just inside the main entrance is Mighty Moose Comics, a quaint comic shop with all kinds of intriguing titles for everyone, from collectors to casual readers.

Owned and operated by Ilan Strasser, Mighty Moose has provided all of the newest and most talked-about titles east of Seattle for the last seven years. However, it has a legacy that stretches far beyond that.

The history of the Moose
"I've been in the business for 40 years, since 1982," Strasser said as he recalled his first comic store. "I had the same business on the East Coast, New Jersey, for 32 years, and then I sold that, and I moved here."

Before Strasser was the face behind Mighty Moose, the store he ran was called "Fat Moose Comics."

"A girl in college a million years ago, for no reason that I was aware of then or now, started calling me Moose. When I was engaged to be married to my fiancée at the time, I was looking for a catchy name for the store. I probably weighed about 50 pounds more than I do now, and at one in the morning, she goes, 'You're a pretty damn fat moose, why don't you call it Fat Moose Comics?' and that's how we got the original store name," Strasser said with a laugh.

"When I moved here, I was going to be Super Moose, but a store [in] Utah, Idaho, Montana, somewhere already was a Super Moose. So instead of creating confusion with the distributor, I just went with Mighty Moose," he continued.

Mighty Moose is a fitting name for the small store that packs a big punch. The walls are lined from floor to ceiling with all kinds of comics and graphic novels. But that's not all the store has to offer. Merchandise with everybody's favorite heroes — DC or Marvel — is available, from T-shirts to posters and even life-sized cutouts of iconic characters.

Photo by Lindsey Anderson  

A real-life comic hero
While the store has something for everyone, the real heart of Mighty Moose Comics is the man sitting behind the counter.

"I always just try to be welcoming and friendly. I'm often told I am, relative to other stores, where maybe people aren't greeted warmly or at all. So I just guess being welcoming is the vibe," Strasser humbly said of his business's unique environment. "The vibe is one of a community, where people come in... and discuss comic books and so forth," he added.

The layout of Mighty Moose may seem chaotic at times, but that's just because the store is constantly changing. Strasser doesn't have specific genres highlighted per se, because of the constant overlap of different stories and the number of new books he receives each week.

"Things are always shifting. There are so many new books each week, new titles, new items, you know. It would be hard to just have a horror section and a sci-fi section and an LGBTQ section, because things are always shifting," he explained.

But one thing tends to stay the same: Strasser's dedication to the art of comics. He learned the value of the trade the hard way. "I bought my first comic book when I was seven, and that was 58 years ago, that was 1964," he said. "I did that for about eight years, and then I threw out everything I owned. I don't know why... but what I threw out is worth about a million dollars today. Eh, it's whatever — you can't change the past.

While Strasser cannot recall why he decided to quit comics after eight years, he'll never forget the intriguing special that drew him back in. "I was walking back from lunch at my first job out of college, and I saw a comic book being sold at a newsstand. It caught my eye," he said. "It was Uncanny X-Men issue 142, and it was the second part of a two-part story, and what intrigued me was on the front cover. It said, 'In this issue, everybody dies.' I was like whoa, what's that about, so I bought it, and it was cool, and like I say, it got me back into it...

"A year later, I opened my store."

Over the years, Strasser has hopped on many different trends and bandwagons when it comes to comics, but he says today he tends to gravitate toward stories that draw him in, just like the X-Men comic did all those years ago.

"When I was young, I bought Marvel exclusively for a while, I bought DC exclusively for a while, I went through an Archie Comics phase. But now, after reading comics for about five decades, I don't even follow writers or artists anymore, which some people like to do. If a project comes out, whatever it is, and it's interesting to me, I'll look at it, I'll read it," Strasser said.

Photo by Lindsey Anderson  

LGBTQ+ comics and queering up classic characters
One trend Strasser, and other comic enthusiasts, have picked up on in recent years has been more LGBTQ+-inclusive comics. "There are comics that are specifically geared to [the LGBTQ+] community like RWDY, DC Pride books... Sometimes we order books that are memoirs, sort of like documentaries, where someone writes what it was like to grow up Gay, to be accepted or not accepted, whatever their story is," Strasser explained.

While these stories tend to be more and more common, Mighty Moose hasn't seen much of an increase in sales of LGBTQ+-specific stories. "We just don't sell a lot of that stuff, even though we highlight it, as you can see," Strasser said as he gestured to the many stacks of LGBTQ+ comics, from DC's Pride edition covers to Harly Quinn to a new Superman spin-off.

The inclusion of more LGBTQ+ characters and plotlines in popular comics has become a bit of a controversy with some of Strasser's regulars. "Some of my customers have been saying that if you're going to create Gay, Lesbian, or Queer characters, you need to create a whole new universe, and I agree with that," Strasser said.

"If you take characters that people are familiar with, and they know, and you just change them outright — like Marvel comics took Iron Man and made a female Iron Man — they're just taking established characters and changing them," he continued.

"It makes no sense given the history, given some of the main characters' decades-long histories — it makes no sense really. It's catering to a demographic that doesn't exist in big numbers at all. In society, yes, there's plenty of people in the LGBTQ community, but they're not a huge [proportion] yet with comic books."

According to Strasser, just announcing that established and beloved characters that have existed for decades are now Queer is lazy writing. He thinks a better way to introduce LGBTQ+ heroes is to create new characters that are Queer from the very beginning.

"[It] would have made more sense, and wouldn't have affected the old-timers, and would have given the people in the [Queer] community something [about which] they could say, 'Oh, this is my own. I don't have to latch on to something else that I can't relate to or doesn't grab me. This is my own thing.' And that is what I think they should have done," he said.

"They should have made brand-new characters reflect all the values, the morals, and the positive aspects of the LGBTQ community and give them their universe and their world," Strasser continued. "And that's not because it should be separate, and it's not like we should not accept that. It's just that it would work so much better, because the community would have their own thing."

Photo by Lindsey Anderson  

He noted that some writers have already begun doing this. "Superman: Son of Kal-El has been around for almost a year now," he said as he motioned toward a copy of the latest DC hero. In 2021, DC released a Superman comic featuring the son of Superman, who also happens to be Bisexual.

"A lot of people got mad and said, 'How can you make Superman Gay? How could you do that?'" Strasser added. "Of course, those are ignorant people. This is not Superman; it's Superman's son, so there's nothing wrong with this," he said.

Some comic book fans don't want to listen, however. "I've had a few customers — these are guys in their forties and fifties who have left the hobby — [who] said this is not what I've been doing for 30 or 40 years, and you're changing everything," Strasser said.

Despite the complaints from small-minded individuals, Strasser says he will continue to sell comics that feature Queer characters, like Superman: Son of Kal-El, especially if people buy them.

Just like the Mighty Moose, the world is constantly shifting and changing, and Strasser is ready to see what comics will do next to keep up with the times.