Punk anthropologist, Aaron Cometbus, chronicles the history of Moe's Books and other longtime Telegraph Avenue businesses in volume #51 of his underground magazine Cometbus.
Passion for underground comics led Aaron Cometbus to delve into the history of Moe Moskowitz, the man responsible for Moe's Books, the store he calls "Berkeley's intellectual center." Why did so many of the projects Moe supported turn out so well? How did Moe, the "wonderfully eccentric guy that sold books and played Lenny Bruce on his store stereo," "launch a whole galaxy of quirky stores" and affect the entire used book industry?
Moe Moskowitz is credited with the invention of fair trade for books, establishing percentages and paying against them, nourishing Shambhala Publishing, Reprint Mint posters and underground comics (including the first scandalous R. Crumb "Zap!" comics), Logos Books, Black Oak Books, Shakespeare & Company Books, Amoeba Music, Rasputin's, and an endless stream of writers and scholars. As Cometbus sees it, "each project" that Moe was involved with "evolved into a huge success, even if awkward at first."
"I remember coming into Moe's as a kid," writes Aaron Cometbus, "and seeing him behind the counter, feeling like I was at the zoo." He saw that there was "much that was fascinating about the dynamic energy of Moe and the men who surrounded him."
Through careful interviews, research and experience, Cometbus came to see that this "short, balding man with four cigars and a pencil in his pocket" was a real bookman and humanitarian who had a huge impact on the world around him.
Just as Moe decided to stay and expand when times were rough in the 1970s, Moe's Books continues on Telegraph with the same idea that "a bookstore, like society, needs both high and low -the common as well as the one-of-kind" and that fair policies are good for everyone.
Aaron Cometbus has been very influential in the underground comics and zine communities. His work was featured in a MoMA exhibit called The Newsstand which celebrated zines and the zine community, and later a book of the same title by Lele Saveri and Ken Miller.