Darryl Mendelson, best known to Columbus locals as the co-owner of the legendary comics shop Monkeys Retreat and one of the key coordinators of ComFest, passed away on August 20, 2023.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Darryl first found his way to Columbus to study at The Ohio State University in 1966, before heading West to immerse himself in the countercultural mecca of San Francisco. After some wild years that included the Woodstock music festival and living out of a converted school bus, Darryl settled back down in Columbus where he was joined by his younger brother Ro-Z in 1970. Along with their friend Stan Bobrof, the two Mendelson brothers helped bring counter-culture to Columbus through their various business ventures and community organizing. It was Monkey’s Retreat, however, that left the biggest mark on Columbus’s comics scene.
Originally located at 2400 N. High Street in 1975 (eventually relocating in the ’90s to 1190 N. High and then 1202 N. High), the shop was unlike any other in the city at the time, pedaling underground comix and newspapers, records, posters, fanzines, clothes, sci-fi and fantasy books, and more. Over its 35 years of business, Monkey’s Retreat played a formative role in developing the artistic sensibilities and activist ambitions of the countless people who came through the door. The various iterations of the store did much more than sell standard headshop paraphernalia, it played host to Anti-Racist Action (ARA) meetings, served as a tai chi studio, and fostered a community interest and passion for a part of pop culture that still reverberates through Columbus today. They referred to it as a “space age variety store,” and impressionable young cartoonists who attended Ohio State, like Derf Backderf and Jeff Smith, had their vision of what comics could be brought into focus thanks to the material on the Monkey’s spinner racks.
However, Darryl and Stan’s impact reached far beyond Columbus.
In 1977 during a visit to New York City for a tradeshow, Darryl and Stan found cheap retail space for rent at 307 W. Broadway, in the then-bohemian neighborhood of Soho, and opened up a new shop. SohoZat quickly became an oasis for music, magazines, and above all: underground comix and newspapers. In 1980, SohoZat regulars Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly sold the first issue of Raw magazine out of Mendelson’s shop — making it the very first place the new radical art comics magazine could be purchased.
Everyone hung out there, from John Belushi to Anthony Bourdain. The latter contributed some of his earliest writing about life in the kitchens of New York to a magazine published by SohoZat, the short-lived Zat magazine, seen below. Bourdain even appeared on the cover of Zat no. 4.
Zat magazine’s first issue debuted in 1984, and intermittently thereafter for five more issues before ceasing publication in 1985. It included a frenzy of features on graffiti, personal politics, music and movie reviews, fiction and personal essays, interviews with figures from the underground art and music world, and even recipes for cheesecake. There were pages of illustrations and comics, including work by Gary Panter, Mark Beyer, Bill Griffith, Jay Lynch, Art Spiegelman, and more.
The magazine is a packed time capsule, filled to the brim with loud expressions of life in New York City captured over the course of one short year. While it’s distinctly Soho-centric, nearly every issue ended with a call back to Columbus — a full page advertisement for Darryl, Ro-Z, and Stan’s store: Monkey’s Retreat.
Due to rising rents, by 1992 SohoZat closed its doors, and Darryl’s energies refocused on the Columbus community. We are so grateful for the influence and impact that Darryl Mendelson had on artistic communities near and far, from his shop just a few blocks from the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum.
Learn more about Monkey’s Retreat and Darryl Mendelson here. To view the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum’s holdings of Zat magazine, visit our Lucy Shelton Caswell Reading Room or make an appointment by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.