Cup O’ Kryptonite3/1/2023
I moved back to Iowa from Colorado in 2007. I settled in Des Moines on the south side without knowing anyone. I had a dodgy (but also cheap) apartment on Fleur between Gray’s Lake and the airport. Smartphones really weren’t a thing yet, and Tom at Myspace was still in charge of social media. I had a job in West Des Moines, which seemed like a haul back then. Most of my time was spent figuring out what I could do to convince myself that I made a positive albeit impulsive decision to move to Des Moines. There were three things I liked doing in my free time: running, reading comic books and going to punk shows. I figured out running quickly because it was summertime, and I learned my way around our city on foot. It took me a minute to figure out the music scene because I didn’t yet know where shows happened. That obviously worked itself out.
It was my second week living in Des Moines when I drove to the Fleur Cinema to catch a movie and saw a sign for Cup O’ Kryptonite. It was a comic shop and coffee house all in one, located at 4521 Fleur. Today, coffee shops are seemingly attached to everything, providing a cheap amenity that can make most any business a hair better. But I am the type of person who wants to hang out and browse for a while. And I don’t like to just walk in and buy a bunch of comic books just to take them home and be disappointed — especially when they were more than $4 an issue.
The first time I stepped inside Cup O’ Kryptonite was the summer of 2007. I remember walking in and hearing a familiar sound on the TV. The 1991 version of “Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah” was playing. The Heisei era of the Godzilla films give me goosebumps every time, and here I was standing in a comic book shop in Des Moines with that playing on the screen. I vaguely remember the color scheme of the place — red and blue with splashes of green. The place had visual cues from Superman and his only source of weakness, Kryptonite.
What really got me excited was a small, horror comic section toward the back. I was in the height of my horror fandom days back then. “The Walking Dead” was not yet a TV series, but its run as a comic book series was going strong.
Another strong memory was the trade paperback library that customers could borrow from just like you would in a library. I had never seen anything like that and haven’t since. Trades are expensive, but it was the best way to read an entire storyline without buying 20 different single issues.
Matt Johnson started Cup O’ Kryptonite in the summer of 2002 with inheritance left to him by his grandmother after she passed away. He wanted a place where people felt comfortable to come and hang out for a while. The original location was on Fleur Drive near the Fleur Cinema and Hy-Vee. This was before there was the Starbucks a block away.
“We could make a lot of money off lattes. Comics are only going to bring in so many people during the week. Coffee can bring people in every day,” Johnson says.
Matt’s sister was an interior designer and came up with the Superman color scheme for the place. When asked if the Superman color scheme was intentional, he can only respond with, “That sounds right.”
“I remember my first time walking into the Cup,” says Mike Kieler of Altoona. “The smell of the coffee was fantastic. That smell alone would give you a jolt of energy. People were sitting at the tables either working on a laptop or reading a comic, all of them with a coffee in front of them. The walls were covered with comic book and movie-related memorabilia. The comic section was just the right size. There were shelves on the walls where the latest editions could be grabbed, and there were long boxes along the floor of back issues. I spent a good amount of time flipping through new issues and thumbing through the back issues.”
Cup O’ Kryptonite remained in its original location for 10 years before moving to 2608 Beaver Ave. in Beaverdale where it did away with the coffee side of the business.
“I loved not having to get up at 6 a.m. every day to go make coffee. However, that’s when it really hit me how much the coffee side kept the business going,” says Johnson.
The Beaverdale location didn’t last long. When the store closed, Johnson went with it. A new incarnation, Cape’s Kafe, opened in 2014 inside the Des Moines Social Club’s Firehouse location and then closed again in 2018. Matt Johnson didn’t continue. He is still a comic book fan and frequents Mayhem in Clive.
I still wish there was a comic book and coffee house place in Des Moines. As I have gotten older, I catch myself buying trade paperback collections and blasting through one cover to cover in one sitting. ♦
Kristian Day is a filmmaker and writer based in Des Moines. He also hosts the syndicated Iowa Basement Tapes radio program on 98.9 FM KFMG. Instagram: @kristianday Twitter: @kristianmday