I first met John Munn at auditions for his production of Sleuth at Tacoma Little Theatre. I didn't get the part, but he was the first director forthcoming enough to tell me why. I remembered him fondly and looked forward to an opportunity to work with him somewhere down the road. As I write this, that opportunity approaches its second weekend of performances at the Olympia Little Theatre: Oleanna is an incendiary drama by David Mamet in which a professor and his unexpectedly wily student butt heads over matters of much greater import than a grade on a paper. Having spent six weeks working on it with him, I can tell you John Munn is all about story. We spoke in the green room at Olympia Little Theatre.
Though born and raised in Tacoma, Munn was exposed to the wide world and dimensions beyond from an early age. He hails from a family of storytellers, including grandfather H. Warner Munn, an author of repute during the golden age of pulp.
"He wrote for Weird Tales," Munn says. "Lovecraft was a friend of his ... I've had lunch with Uncle Ray - Ray Bradbury - and Robert Bloch and Leigh Brackett."
But despite those famous names, it was a socially awkward cub photographer from Manhattan (and his arachnid alter ego) that led Munn down his current career path. "When I was about eight, my dad gave me a box of comics, and it was full of Spider-Man. He snuck in a bunch of Classics Illustrated. ... Within a year, I went from reading those comics to reading those books." And Munn began writing his own stories.
Munn's father formed Munn's Manor, a pioneering supervised-living facility for people with mental health issues. Munn worked in the family business for 10 years before increased state involvement led to "monstrous" amounts of paperwork.
Meanwhile, his nights were spent on the boards. His first roles were in a young actors' program at Tacoma Little Theatre. "I didn't know what it was," he admits. "I thought, ‘This is exciting! This is really cool stuff!' I was hooked. ... I was doing plays before I saw a play." When Munn was 16, David Domkowski cast him in Play It Again, Sam on the strength of his Bogart impression. "There was no looking back," Munn recalls. "My dad slowly but surely watched my athletic career go away." (Munn currently serves as artistic director for Lakewood Playhouse, in honor of his late friend Marcus Walker.)
Munn accepted a bookselling job at Borders. "I had never experienced anything like that - finding books for people, something new. It was like going on a treasure hunt." He frequented local comics emporia, but the Borders job inspired the idea of "a comics shop that was clean, friendly, inviting, serviceable to all ages (including) little kids and all genders. ... I wanted to get away from comics shops being dark, dingy places made just for fanboys, and create a place where people could find the medium. ... I maxed out my credit cards and opened my first shop. ... Within six months, the shop was in the black."
Munn has been through one fiscal fluctuation after another, but Comic Book Ink lives by and for its dedicated customers. They need their fantasy fix. "It's serialized storytelling," Munn explains. "It goes back to Dickens. You've got to have the next part, because the story goes forward."
"I think we're gonna make it," he says, "because of the people who love and support it. ... I have a comics family, people who come to the shop every day, people who make comics." He looks around the green room. "I have a theater family. Family's very important to me."
[Comic Book Ink, 2510 S. 84th St., Suites 15 A-B, Lakewood, 253.761.4651]