Flashback: Saving comics one year at a time

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201104141307 Flashback: Saving comics one year at a timeFrom the comments of our “Saving Comics” post, Tim Stoltzfus went back to this Milennium Eve 1999 post by Warren Ellis that had the same message, and a call to arms on other matters:

You see, you and me, we don’t have the clout, the cash or the staff to see done the things that should be done — forcing comics into these new sales points, getting the right work in front of the right people. All you and I have is the direct market, because that’s all the major companies are interested in supporting.

So it behooves us to bolster the failing direct market system if we want to continue selling comics in the current paradigm. And I’d like to, because I’d like to continue paying for my house and stuff. And that means changing the comics store culture.

That means getting rid of the talking Jar Jar Binks stand-up in the doorway. It means racking the T&A stuff somewhere else. It means focussing more on graphic novels than back-issue bins. It means displaying your comics in the window, not the bloody toys, and making your standalone floor displays out of comics and graphic novels, not those stupid pewter figures for pretending to be sodding elves in role-paying games with. It means talking to customers, not just standing idly by or peering over your till with an air of false superiority. It means talking to the people who work in and run the shop, telling them what you think works, telling them what you want to read. It means call-out sections where you rack by creator, and all the comics shops I know of that have tried it have discovered that it works very well indeed. Because people who don’t come from the comics-store culture will walk into stores and look, not for a title, but the new Neil Gaiman, or the new Alan Moore, or the new Frank Miller.


Ellis and Larry Young’s writing of the period are very much the foundation of a lot of today’s indie sales methods — and some of the concerns are exactly the same.

How much has changed? How much hasn’t? What do you think?

Comments

  1. William says:

    Honestly?

    Zippo. My local is unfriendly (so much so that I buy a lot of comics on ebay)…the store is dank…the displays ugly…

    I have never heard anyone actually like a Toronto comic store other than the Silver Snail…I can’t count the number of people who tell me that the Beguiling stinks (horrible service), Paradise (everybody hates Andrew Uys), Labyrinth, Harry Tarantula are all the same.

    Frankly, am not sure why I even bother anymore.

  2. monopole says:

    I’ve seen places that followed this to the letter and failed spectacularly even before the great recession hit. Specifically Third Planet in Torrance CA.

    The main problem is serving the fanboy segment, mundanes, and children in the same store.

  3. Chris Hero says:

    This is a point I feel I beat on maybe too much…outside of the big cities on both coasts, comic stores aren’t very good. Most still have the faded cardboard stands in the windows, the poor lighting, nasty carpeting, unhelpful staff, poor selection, etc. I think most people *want* a good direct marketplace, but we’re not getting that without a lot of travelling.

  4. The reason I linked to that column in the first place is because I’ve recently been rereading the columns that inspired me to open my stores in the first place for a review of “where we are” on my personal blog, so I don’t want to just repeat all of that here! :)

    That said, I think in a lot of ways the business has come a long way. We’ve established the GN as a major element of the business, many stores have learned to balance the needs of both the hardcore fan and that casual, and the art form itself is producing stories as incredible as we’ve ever seen.

    Geek culture has become much more mainstream, as well. Nowadays, I see the vast majority of people who come in genuinely curious even about the things like pewter miniatures that Ellis mentions. They might not be interested in buying the product, but when it is part of a store that includes a breadth of product from across the geek spectrum, they at least have a respect for it and will ask a question or two before looking at something they genuinely like.

    There’s much work to be done, but much excellent work has already been done, too.

  5. Part of the problem may be that, aside from a few regional mini-chains, nearly all comic-book retailers are mom-and-pop operations. That seriously limits the kind of time and resources that are available to do the kind of outreach that is needed.

    One can only assume that this simply is a reflection of how little money there is to be made selling comics and how small the audience is–otherwise, we would have seen some kind of larger chain system emerge that could have perhaps broadened the audience. The boutique approach has met with some success, but most stores understandably are wary about going beyond what they are comfortable with and believe works — esp. if they don’t get meaningful support for taking risks from other sectors of the industry such as publishers and distributors.

  6. The comics store I used to go to in Tucson was a converted adult video store… no windows, gated side entrance and you weren’t supposed to look at anything unless you were going to buy it.

    I live in NY now… and it’s simply incredible. I have no reason to complain except when a great store closes.

  7. Thanks for the shout-out!

  8. Carr D'Angelo says:

    The dialogue on the Warren Ellis Forum was a direct inspiration for opening Earth-2 Comics.

  9. You and me both, Carr. Man, those were the days, weren’t they?

  10. Bryan L says:

    I’ve posted on this before, but I travel a lot, and try to visit all the comic shops in every place I go. I would say I’ve visited over 200 comic shops across the US, many more than once, and some only once because they no longer exist (word of advice — always call first). So I’ve got a decent sampling.

    In general, shops in or near metropolitan areas are nicer and more are following the “Ellis paradigm.” The further you go from metropolitan areas, the worse things get (again, I’m speaking in generalities — I’ve found nice shops in small towns, but they are the exception, not the rule).

    Secondly, and again, in general, the stores that remain are improving, and moving more to the “Ellis paradigm.” It’s slow, but it’s significant.

    Thirdly, the more dependent a store is on non-comics income (like gaming, or toys), the more likely it is to stray far from the “Ellis paradigm.” Again, not always, but it’s a strong trend.

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