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'n' Pieces

Tiny Togs With a Big Punch

April 09, 1999|NOA JONES

Enter the front door of Meltdown Comics, pass the vintage "Planet of the Apes" posters, the Japanese Pikachu Pocket Monsters, the racks of obscure comics and a cabinet of aggressive-looking figurines, and, finally, you'll arrive at a shelf of infant wear. Welcome to Baby Melt.

When Ilia Carson and Gaston Dominguez knocked down a wall in the back of their popular comic book shop to hang punchy baby clothes, froggy boots and infant literature, customers started looking expectantly at Carson's belly. Why else would the couple be moving into the baby market?

"The baby store was Gaston's idea," Carson says. "We don't have kids." Nor are they expecting any in the near future. Carson and Dominguez simply have a knack for identifying niche markets and filling them with flourish.

Initially, the couple planned to open an alternative bookstore for kids with a focus on finely illustrated, gay-positive and foreign-language books. (Carson is Chinese, African American and Russian Jewish; Dominguez is Chilean and Peruvian.) Those books now only take up a corner of the shop under a rainbow of teensy-weensy Scottish twin sets and sweaters, knickknacks, and racks of hipster kidswear featuring Hawaiian and "Star Wars" prints. True to their comic book obsession, Dominguez and Carson commissioned top comic illustrators Dan Clowes (Eightball), Maurice Vellekoop (a contributor to Drawn & Quarterly), Scott Shaw (of Hanna-Barbera) and others to design limited-edition infant T-shirts, giving parents an alternative to the usual precious fare.

"I always hated shopping for baby presents," Carson says. "Everything was really cutesy--too powdery blue or too pink. My tastes differ from my parents' generation." The couple is banking on the fact that they are not alone.

Baby Melt offerings have been met with a mixture of shock and delight. Carson says that much of the traffic comes from "unwilling participants"--girlfriends and other women who have been dragged to the front part of the store by the comic book addicts in their lives. Others wander in after shopping for baby furniture at Sid's across the street. Whatever the reason, customers are charmed by Carson's eye for unusual, multiethnic and alternative products.

Some, however, are surprised when the message on the "Mommies' Little Girl" T-shirt sinks in. No, that's not a typo. Carson and Dominguez designed the T-shirts for same-sex parent couples--the Melissa Etheridges of the world. It's a rarified niche, to be sure, but not so small as to preclude the publication of books like "Heather Has Two Mommies."

The limited-edition cartoon artist and alternative slogan T-shirts are available exclusively through Baby Melt, 7531 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 851-7223.

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