Simply Super

Mike Brownlow 

Superhero Supply Co.
We were on a mission. We had our orders and knew we must carry them out to the letter. The Manhattan skyline glinted at us across the East River as we marched along the streets of Brooklyn. We were close. Just a few more blocks now. Then suddenly there it was – a modest little store, chirpily advertising its unusual wares to the world. 

“If you are invisible, please make your presence known to a member of staff” one of the signs on the door warned. Inside we stood marvelling at the goods on display. They were wonderful, and they were very definitely weird. We searched the shelves, found the items our friends had asked us to buy for them, and placed them by the checkout counter. 

"Ah, a tin of Immortality and a can of spray-on Mind-Control," intoned the assistant, " Excellent choices. Can I interest you in a cape today? We have a special offer. And we would like to remind our customers that no purchases can be made until the Vow of Heroism has been read."

We were in the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Company. "The choice of many a well-regarded Brooklyn Superhero" it boasts. "Dastardly plots will be foiled. Swinging into action our speciality. Serving Brooklyn and the Greater Metropolitan Area." 

The capes looked tempting. You could choose from two colours, blue or red, both of which came in several sizes. 

"Hm," mused my wife, "Medium or small?" 

"Perhaps Madam would care to view them on our specially constructed pedestal?" 

Madam tied on a cape, stepped onto the pedestal and the fans were started. She struck a suitably heroic pose and the cape billowed pleasingly in the uplift of air. Definitely the medium. Much more of a flowing line to the cape in mid-flight. My daughter favoured the cute and sassy sidekick cape, although the 58” black satin number (“Save the day, then own the night”) was tempting. 

But frankly, whatever flavour of superhero you might aspire to be, there was something here for you. Gallon cans of Omnipotence jostled besides Photon Blasters; Evil Blob Containment Units next to Cyborg parts and accessories; Mind Control serums next to Mylar Force Field Shields (“Deflects most laser-type beams”). How about a secret identity kit or the sidekick placement service? And what self respecting crime fighter could afford to be without a Humanoid Onesie to relax in at the end of a busy day battling the Forces of Evil? 

Carb Gumption
I sidled up nervously to the sales assistant. "Er, I hear you have a portal to another world in here," I muttered, not certain how this statement would be received. The young man glanced at his colleague. The two of them nodded at each other. "Yes sir. That is correct. May I enquire as to the nature of your interest?" I explained and they nodded sympathetically. They obviously got a lot of this sort of thing. I was ushered down one of the aisles of shelves, but it was a dead end. The aisle led nowhere. Seeing my confusion, the assistant smiled sympathetically. "It’s behind here. Would you like to go inside?" Would I? You bet your snug-fitting, non ride-up, superhero tights I would. He flipped a catch and pushed. The whole bank of shelves gave under gentle pressure and moved inwards. I was ushered through and the secret of the Inner Sanctum was revealed. 

The portal is revealed!
There were no dripping stalactites or machines to whisk me to a different dimension. Instead, I could see comfy sofas, tables, benches, chairs, computers and row after row of books. On the walls were examples of the sort of stuff they make here – stories written by school kids. For this was no ordinary store. Strictly speaking its main function isn’t as a store at all. 

The portal

The Brooklyn Superhero Supply Company is actually a front, a front for an after school literacy programme to help students aged 6 – 18 to develop their writing skills, and to help teachers inspire their students to write. There is free access to writing workshops, publishing projects, and one-to-one help with homework and English language learning. And what’s likely to attract young kids through the door to do that kind of thing? Well, by hiding the door amongst all this superhero exotica for a start. 

Through the portal door
The organization responsible for the Superhero Supply Company goes under the name of 826 NYC and is a non-profit making charity. It’s actually modelled after 826 Valencia, in San Francisco’s Mission District, founded in 2002 by Dave Eggars, the multi-talented, award winning novelist, and a group of energetic and passionate volunteers. You can hear him talk about 826’s inspiration and early beginnings in a TED TALKS video here… 

826NYC has assembled a large team of volunteer writers, artists, educators and publishing professionals. They offer an impressive range of after-school workshops, field trips, in-school projects and programmes that include Storytelling and Bookmaking through to TV Writing classes. The mentors and writing coaches set the students challenging tasks. Challenging but enjoyable. The point is that this is probably the first time that these kids will have had intensive, one-to-one tuition like this. They thrive under this individual attention and the results can be transformative.

The writing and tutoring room
826 NYC is committed to making sure their students have an outlet for the stories and scripts they produce. The students are helped to publish and distribute their work, be it in their own magazines, specially produced books or in The 826NYC Review or The 826 Quarterly. The initiative has helped thousands of young people throughout Brooklyn and New York City to nourish their creativity, develop as writers and grow as people. 

And it’s not just Brooklyn and San Francisco that have 826 shops and tutoring centres. Many of America's major cities have similar facilities, each with its own theme. Brooklyn, just across the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan, was naturally the perfect location for anything to do with Superheroes. San Francisco, on the other hand, has a Pirate based store, (“Cannons Don’t Sink Ships: Pirates With Cannons Sink Ships”), Los Angeles boasts a Time Traveller's Supermart, (“Whenever You Are, We’re Already Then”) and you have got to check out the website for Chicago’s Boring Store, an undercover secret agent supply store. There are other schemes in Seattle (the Greenwood Space Travel Supply Co,) Boston (the Bigfoot Research Institute,) Michigan (the Robot Repair Shop,) and Washington DC, (the Museum of Unnatural History, where their big seller is canned Primordial Soup.) The same standard of wit and imagination is maintained from store to store and wandering through their goods for sale is a joy. 

The boring store
Ok, the items in the stores don’t really enable you to see through walls or leap tall buildings in a single bound, but their descriptions are beautifully written and very funny. What impressed so much was the level of wit and thoroughness that had gone into the making of the store. Two small display signs read, "Do not open any boxes or cans. For further information on our products, please ask a store representative or use X-ray vision", and “We are sold out of this item. Time Travellers: both the past and future are fully stocked.” That sort of attention to detail takes commitment as well as talent. 

Gravity cans
Of course it must have been enormous fun to set up. I can imagine caffeine, or possibly alcohol fuelled, late night sessions with writers competing for the funniest lines. Everything in the store was locally funded, locally built. The construction and design were done pro bono. The cans of Gravity, Anti-Gravity, Omnipotence, Intelligence and all the rest contain coloured sand or harmless gloop, but they, like everything else in the shop only cost a few dollars and the profits go straight back into the programme. By buying one of the Store's items you are in effect contributing to this extraordinary, non-profit charity, which helps inspire children from all backgrounds to gain critical skills and write with enjoyment and confidence. And in return you end up with a neat conversation starter on your shelf at home. 

It was time to go. We gave the Secret Salute of Valour as we said farewell to this Super Store. It had been an energizing visit, and of course it made me think... could we ever do something like this over here, in London or elsewhere, to help our young people have the same opportunities as their American counterparts? With prescriptive teaching and the loss of reading for pleasure in our schools, surely there’s a need. SCBWI BI is an affiliate of an American parent body. Could the same thing be replicated with the 826 organisation? And if so, what would the London chapter of an 826 outlet be? The Steampunk Outfitters and Provisioning Company? The Baker Street Detective Supply Company? The Diagon Magic Emporium? (Has anyone got JK Rowling’s telephone number?) 

Shop front
If you’re ever in Brooklyn, do look up the Superhero Supply Company. The address is 372 Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11215. Tel: 718.499.9884. They can help with all your Nemesis problems. But please note: the Secret Identity Naturalization Office is now closed on Thursdays. 

Mike Brownlow is a writer and illustrator of books for children. His website, (which is in need of a jolly good spring clean,) is


  1. Ah, I fondly remember my husband being a bit shy about reciting the Vow of Heroism...

    For something similar in London, have a look at the Ministry of Stories

  2. Great article - thanks Mike! Just wish I'd read this when I was in Brooklyn this Feb. Oh well, next time I'll zoom over in my humanoid onesie. See if we can some of those cans of Intelligence and get our Past and Future fully stocked over here.

  3. This is such a fabulous idea, Mike and a wonderful article, Thank you!
    I read Dave Eggars' 'Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius' which was truly heartbreaking - about brothers soldiering on after their parents have died sooner than they should as I remember - so to read of this brilliantly upbeat idea to get kids reading is wonderful.

  4. I LOVE this idea! Genius. Though I suspect I would have wound up disappointed...I remember seeing an ad when i was a kid for a doll, 'she's really magic'. She wasn't t really magic. They lied. I was crushed.

  5. I can't wait to go back to NYC to visit this. Yes the equivalent here in London is The Ministry of Stories.

  6. Excellent article Mike, and such a great idea, so much fun! It would be a tough thing here though, I can just imagine the consumer watch scoop investigations "this shop claims their spray will make you invisible, but it only contains water".


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