How My Local Comic-Book Shop Led Me to My Debut Feature

Director Rob Schroeder on the role the Secret Headquarters, his favorite haunt in Los Angeles, played in shaping his new film, Ultrasound.

I’m a comic nerd with a favorite local shop. Most of us have one – the store near our homes that we frequent to get the latest books and pick up our comic subscriptions. My “local,” the Secret Headquarters in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles, holds a special place in my heart, and has changed my life.

Reading and collecting fantastic stories in print has been a thing for me since high school. That’s when I switched shelves and went from superheroes to the indie section and Robert Crumb, Daniel Clowes, Charles Burns, Peter Bagge and the Hernandez brothers. The Headquarters has sections for all of my heroes.

Inside the Secret Headquarters. (Photo by Rob Schroeder.)

In late 2014, I got a recommendation from a store clerk. Malachi Ward (a talented comic artist in his own right) suggested Book 1 of Conor Stechschulte’s Generous Bosom, which ultimately became a four-part series. That purchase set into motion a six-year collaboration culminating in the release of our indie film Ultrasound.

After Book 2 appeared many months later, I reached out to Conor, who was in graduate school in Chicago. I think the experience of reading those books hooked me. I was confused. The narrator seemed assured but unreliable. I had no clue where things were headed, but I connected with the characters and loved the dialogue.

He didn’t respond. Living in L.A. has taught me to eat rejection for breakfast, though, so I stayed on him. When we finally talked, he explained the basic, but complicated story that you see in the movie. He came to L.A. with a rough draft; after a week working together, we soon had a presentable script.

All four books of Generous Bosom at the Secret Headquarters. (Photo by Rob Schroeder.)

Three years later, we went into production. In June 2021, Ultrasound premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in the Midnight section before a live audience, and a few days ago the movie was released in theaters and on demand.

The Secret Headquarters not only introduced me to Generous Bosom and Conor, it also guided me toward two other crucial collaborators on Ultrasound.

The cover of Tunde Adebimpe’s issue of Frontier.

One of the book signings I attended at the shop was for Tunde Adebimpe’s Frontier #22. It was early on in our casting process. I was a fan of Tunde’s work and felt that he might be right for Dr. Conners, an important character in Ultrasound. When he read his book aloud and told stories about walking around New York, I met Tunde and Dr. Conners. We offered him the part on the basis of my impression of him from that bookstore performance.

Tunde Adebimpe in Rob Schroeder’s Ultrasound.

One of the books that sat out in my house for months and inspired me (and still does) is Robert Beatty’s Floodgate Companion. It’s a beautiful book of artwork and illustrations with great paper and spectacular textures. There really is nothing like it on the planet, and I’m convinced that it’s an ancient artifact from another dimension. It’s published by Floating World Comics, an independent shop in Portland.

Conor had a contact for Robert and after a few months of radio silence (a small breakfast side plate of rejection), we connected. It was a thrill to collaborate with him on Ultrasound’s titles and festival poster – thanks again, SHQ!

A spread from Robert Beatty’s Floodgate Companion. (Photo courtesy Floating World Comics.)

When I walk into the Secret Headquarters, I enter into a sacred space full of magical stories. My wife finds this at her yoga studio. For me, it’s some form of retail therapy. I accept that and nurture it.

When my haul comes home, it sits out in our house. I read the books and look at the pictures. There is something I find inspiring every time, and the time spent is my own – no screens.

Robert Beatty’s titles for Ultrasound (top); and his festival poster for the film (bottom).

It’s important to share the secret about the comic-book shop that I love so much and why it’s a big part of the origin story behind our film. I go there pretty regularly, so I would call it a ritual. I get recommended books from people like Malachi, Julie, Chris and Dave, whose opinions I usually trust. They support self-published local artists and authors that I would never otherwise discover. I buy books and artwork at their art shows and book signings that I probably don’t need and can no longer fit on my shelves, but that’s OK because we all know that independent businesses need local support or … they go away.

The Secret Headquarters is my local, but there are, of course, many other great stores like it in the U.S. and beyond that are also very special. When I’m traveling, I try to pick up regional work from: Floating World in Portland, Desert Island in Brooklyn, The Beguiling in Toronto, Lambiek in Amsterdam, Copacetic Comics in Pittsburgh, Quimby’s in Chicago, Atomic Books in Baltimore, Partners and Son in Philadelphia, Lucky’s in Vancouver, and Gosh! Comics in London. There are plenty of important causes in the world today and I don’t want to tell anyone what to do, but I hope readers will support their local bookstores so that we can save them while we still have them.

The Secret Headquarters, lighting the way for those who seek “comic book-influenced mischief.” (Photo by Rob Schroeder.)

I could probably learn something about minimalism and why it’s unhealthy to live under a stack of books in Southern California, but if you like collecting books and having these things radiating love in your home, and if you prefer human interaction to algorithms – then go to your local shop and spend some money. It’s worth it!

Featured image shows the outside of the Secret Headquarters. All images courtesy Rob Schroeder.

Rob Schroeder‘s feature film directorial debut, Ultrasound, is out now in theaters and on demand through Magnet Releasing. He began his film career as a music video director and independent producer. He co-founded Lodger Films in Los Angeles and currently produces and directs the Emmy-winning PBS series Variety Studio: Actors On Actors, now in its 14th season. (Photo courtesy Magnolia Pictures.)