Photo by team writer / videographer Joey Caruso.

There was a certain magical feeling that we would all get as kids when we’d walk into the Scholastic Book Fair. A crisp $20 bill could seemingly get you whatever you wanted from a wide selection of books, posters and whacky school supplies.

The choices were almost overwhelming with a million questions popping into your head. Should I get the newest “Diary of A Wimpy Kid” book? Can I get this cool poster and this book my friend recommended to me? Do I really want ANOTHER rubber pencil, even though I know they don’t write well?”

If you were to capture this feeling and put it somewhere where you can go year-round, look no further than Manifest Comics in the heart of Bayonne, New Jersey, located on 34th Street between Broadway and Avenue E.

A small, hole-in-the-wall shop packed to the brim with comic books, graphic novels, board games, artwork, collectible cards and more gives you that same feeling the Scholastic Book Fair used to give you as a kid. Everywhere you look, there’s something new that piques your interest and before you know it, you’ve spent an hour just looking around the shop at everything it has to offer.

Michael Chen, the owner of Manifest Comics & Cards, grew up as a big fan of comic books. While running errands with his mother, she would allow him to pick a comic book off the spinner racks if he was well behaved, and this is where Chen’s collection and obsession began.

“That’s sort of how I started getting really into reading,” Chen told Slice of Culture. “As I got more and more into it, my mother would take me to comic book shops.”

As Chen’s mother got comfortable with him going to comic book shops and seeing how supportive the owners were of Chen’s hobby, she would leave Chen at the shops with some money while she would run errands and pick him up when she was done.

“I joke, but I do feel like a lot of my formative years I was growing up in comic book shops,” Chen said.

Chen’s favorite superhero comic has always been the X-Men. This long-running series has been one that he has stuck with for years and they’re the series he has the most comics, graphic novels, and omnibuses in his personal collection.

The interior of Manifest Comics

“[The X-Men] are sort of my first love,” Chen said. “They’re trying to save the world but they’re persecuted just because they’re different, and they still do what’s right despite all of that… I think that’s what superhero comics are about.”

Working at or owning a comic book shop was a pipe dream of Chen’s for the longest time and it wasn’t until he was transitioning his career that he decided to take a shot at opening up a shop of his own.

“I was just sick of writing cover letters,” said Chen. “I thought to myself ‘Why not?’ I still, at the time, thought I was young enough to have the energy to put in the hours to open up my own shop.”

List of events hosted by Manifest Comics

After a few years of planning, Manifest Comics opened their doors for business in 2012. In their early days, they hosted in-store play events, but due to their current space being smaller than their original store’s location and the COVID-19 pandemic, these in-store play events came to a halt for a while.

Within the past year, the shop has begun to dive back into hosting these in-store play events. After playing it safe after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Manifest Comics has begun to hit the ground running with these in-store events.

The shop just had its Free Comic Book Day on Saturday, May 4. Just for showing up, customers could’ve gotten two free comics.

Manifest Comics looks to improve their in-store play events and reintroduce their monthly book club. They also intend to keep working with the Bayonne Public Library as they renovate and they want to work with Bayonne teachers to get age-appropriate graphic novels in schools. This is a part of the #OurVoices Fund, where the aim is to get stories about underrepresented groups into schools for local educators at no cost to them. Manifest Comics makes donations of their own and people can make donations on their website.

After surviving the hardships of Hurricane Sandy and the COVID-19 pandemic, Manifest Comics has stood strong as a beacon of hope for the geeks of Bayonne and the greater Hudson county area.

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