Me vs. The Angry Mob: Field of Dreams

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One of my favourite shows of all time was (and is, I suppose) Freaks and Geeks.

I caught the series right as it was chocking out its last breath on the television. One of the local stations was filling it’s Saturday scheduling, and I managed to catch the episode where Sam (one of the titular geeks) had to dump the girl of his dreams because they didn’t quite fit together. I was hooked immediately by this premise – one that gave into the idea of happily ever after kismet, only to temper the subsequent events with a dose of reality. It was completely unlike television, more true to life than probably anything I had seen on the TV up until that point – and it was all ending just as my love had began. Thankfully, years later, Shout! put the series on DVD so I could properly experience the series as a whole.

If you’ve never watched Freaks and Geeks, I would highly recommend the experience. While some of its plots veer slightly away from what you would call normality, there’s an unflinching and painful truth that informs each and every scene. For every touch of wish fulfillment, there’s a reaction that veers sharply into reality. The scene that always immediately comes to mind, when I try to explain this odd balance, is an opening that sees the character Nick (played by a young Jason Segel) playinsg along with Rush on his drumset. In his mind, and during the initial presentation, he is a god. He sounds amazing. He’s hitting all the right set pieces, in the right times, at the right places.

And then the track gives away to reality, and you actually hear Nick play – and he’s terrible. This is a thing that he loves more than anything. This is the thing he wants to do with his life – and he just doesn’t have the talent.

It’s a cruel fact, but it’s a fact nonetheless – sometimes, you just don’t have what it takes. Sometimes, dreams don’t come true.

Earlier this week, I received a missive from a person very near and dear to me that contained the words “maybe you should put your dream on hold and join the real world”. This, in reference to my life as a comic shop manager and an aspiring professional writer. Even landlocked between long rows of context, the phrase hit me pretty hard. Am I one of the doomed? Am I destined to fail? Are others seeing this clearer than I am?

Maybe. Possibly. Absolutely, yes.

But shit, if I were being rational, then I wouldn’t have chosen a life in comics, now would I?

“Field of Dreams”

The comic book medium was built by dreamers. The platform and the means might have come from somewhat dubious businesses and business practices, but the form, the style, the actual guts of it all came from dreamers.

As history will show, time and time again, many of these dreamers were not savvy at business. Despite the fact that he fashioned universes from whole cloth, Jack Kirby died nearly penniless. Bill Finger suffered a similar fate. Them and countless others have been ground under the wheel of those more unscrupulous than they could ever dream of being. And these are the guys who helped come up with Dr. Doom and the Joker.

Fact is, there is no money in comics. Not real money anyway. Sure, there was a time where having a strip in the newspaper could set you up for life, but for the most part? You can’t make good money in comics. Not when you compare it to the kind of coin that can be made in other mediums. A person who chooses comics for a living, from creators to editors to retailers, is a special kind of breed, one that needs or even requires a basic amount of creativity to allow for a modicum of happiness. Money can’t be the only driving force, because there are far easier and more lucrative ways to get money than to willingly participate in the comic book medium – which is where I veer this topic selfishly back towards myself.

Several years ago, I quit college. I was going in to be a teacher, majoring in English. I made it through my first year with abysmal marks and was asked by the establishment to either smarten up, or quit… and so I quit. This decision didn’t go over to well. After all, before college, my marks were pretty great. I had the potential to do great things. Become a doctor or a pharmacist or, yes, a teacher. Something. Instead, I dropped out to focus on my writing, and got a job at a book store. And then a comic shop.

Now, years later, I’m the store’s manager, and I’m doing quite well. I get paid quite a bit (for a retail job). I have health benefits and a fair bit of dental coverage, neither of which come out of my pay cheque. I have a phone that the shop pays for. That’s not to shabby. Also, I run this site alongside James, and it’s doing quite well. In just over a year, we’ve managed to talk to some of the people who make the books we enjoy so much, and have received largely positive feedback from various creators and fans. To me, this is all quite fulfilling. But to the untrained eye, it wouldn’t appear to be so.

I’m not a very rich person – and truth be told, I might never be a very rich person. While I will occasionally display bouts of confidence and describe the ludicrous things I will do once I get paid Harry Potter Money, I will probably never be that lucky. In my brighter moments, I might admit to having a modicum of talent (despite copious amounts of evidence to the contrary) but I don’t think that writing will be a thing that I can do without a bit of help from a job that pays actual cash dollars.

But I’ve spent time contemplating what my life would be like had I taken some different paths. I experience it inside the walls of the comic shop on a nearly daily basis, and I felt it when I was still in college and working at some other jobs before landing the comic shop gig. Sure, I could have more money. Sure, I could have a more comfortable money cushion in my savings. But those roads also have heaps of regret attached. If I do the things that will make me money, then creation goes out the window. Then dreams get pushed aside in deference to mindlessness, to drudgery, to painful, soul aching boredom.

Isn’t life too short to waste it on shit that’ll make you miserable? I could earn all the money in the world and still want to hang myself after a day of work. And then when I did hang myself, that money is meaningless. Or I could fill my life with dreams, with things that make me happy. I can go to my job, the one that I love and that I’m good at, and I can make enough to get by with a little bit left over for the crazier things in life. I can fill my days with joy and when I die I can remain content, a life filled with meaning.

Right now, I’m living a dream. Or at least a part of it. I sell comics. I seem to be pretty good at it to, as our sales continue to climb in a supposedly down market. In a perfect world, I could do a bit of that, and get paid for a bit of writing. Will that ever happen? Maybe. Maybe not. I could only be good at selling the damn things, and nothing more.

But dammit, that’s not going to stop me from trying, never going to stop me from trying.

This medium, this industry – it can’t subside without the dreamers. It never has, it never will, and I am damn proud to be a part of it.

Onwards.

Me vs The Angry Mob | Women in Comics

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The kid is getting on my nerves.

In the past half hour, he’s gone through five binders worth of Magic the Gathering singles. He spends his time looking over each page carefully, weighing his options, muttering nonsense words to himself. Meanwhile, the store is filling up with comic customers. The kid does not seem to notice this, despite the fact that I leave the Magic counter frequently to ring in purchases or help someone find something. While I’m across the room, actually ringing in an item, he’s asking me how much stock we have of a specific card – one that costs 10 cents a pop. This, as I’m pressing buttons that make me at least $3 every time they’re hit. But I grit my teeth and carry on because… well, it’s retail – and everything is just fine until the kid finally closes up the last binder and realizes – oh dang! – there’s quite a few others in the store.

“Oh wow! Never thought you got this busy.”

Which is just a delightful thing to say to someone whose meals depend on traffic. I swallow this comment content with the fact that we’re often this busy – and many more times a whole lot busier. Which is when he says something worse.

“Dang, your boobs to balls ratio in this store is great.”

I take a second to allow my ears and brain to discuss what they thought they just heard. Once they agree, I respond.

“…excuse me?”

“The girls,” he says pointing (POINTING!), “You pretty much have an even ratio.”

“…happens a lot,” I say.

“Dang, really?” he says in genuine shock, “How the hell do you manage that?”

“Well for one, we never. EVER. Say the words ‘boobs to balls ratio’.”

The kid looks confused.

“Why not.”

This is why we can’t have nice things.

WOMEN IN COMICS

There is something so incredibly backwards about how the comic book industry treats women. It’s a problem that permeates almost every level of the game. In stores, women don’t always feel welcome. In the comics, a large majority of female characters are three dimensional in cup size only. In the bullpen (such as it exists in the current landscape), there’s a sharp inequity when it comes to having female creators on books. All of this is not very good – but what can be worst is how many people go about trying to fix the various problems.

IN STORES AND ON THE INTERNET

Obviously, you hang around the internet. You’ve been to many comic book sites. Hell, you’ve probably spent some time in a forum or two, getting to know a bunch of strangers, talking about this things you loved (or let’s face it – hated) about the comics you’ve all read.

Chances are, you’ve come across the “girlfriend” thread. The one that guys will toss up when they’re asking the internet at large what they should try and get their significant other to read… that is, if she’s open to the idea of reading comics. What follows is always well-intentioned. People start listing books that they think women like to read. The usual suspects are books like Fables or Y The Last Man or Runaways and the like – which are not bad suggestions. Each of those series are amazing (in my opinion), but immediately launching into suggestions forgets one very important step: finding out what the girl actually likes to read. It would be like my girlfriend asking a group of people what kind of magazines men like to read, and having someone suggest something to do with sports or trucks. Bad suggestions? Not necessarily, given a larger sampling of dudes. But for myself specifically? I could give two shits about sports or trucks. I might know the vague rules of sport ball or puck sticks, and I might know how to drive a car, but that’s where my interest in all things sporty or locomotive end. (Unless we’re also counting the Locomotion.) The same goes with suggesting comic books for women. For starters, the person who is enquiring about comics for women is asking the wrong question. He shouldn’t be asking what comics women like to read, he should be asking for suggestions for good comics, period. And that’s after he’s discerned the taste of the lady he’s trying to ply the graphic medium to. Seriously, figure out what her tastes are first, and then ask for suggestions towards that. Treat her like… oooh, I dunno, a person with their own likes and dislikes, and not the heaving singular hive mind that some dudes ascribe to women. Not only is that good advice for getting her to fall in love with comics, but it’s great advice for how to treat a lady in general. Do this.

IN COMICS

Boy, is there a lot of ground to cover here – but we can start with the fact that there is nothing wrong with having women in comics who are sexually confident and have large breasts. However, there is a problem if almost every female character is sexually confident, and has large breasts. It would be like if Iron Man and Captain America and Thor and Spider-Man and Batman and Superman all wore super tight spandex to accentuate their junk, and then all similarly said nothing but a stream of sexually suggestive innuendos to their female cohorts constantly. If this were to happen, the internet would be on fire right now. And yet, where’s the outrage about the largely single dimension characteristics of women in comics?

Fact is, women within comics are not treated the same as men. Yes, you’ll find quite a few sterling examples of female characters in the pages of a comic, but you’ll find a disturbing amount more that are nothing but empty sex vacuums with breasts and a little bit of power. There is inequality in within the very fiction that this industry thrives upon, and its a huge part of the problem when it comes to getting more female readers. Those female readers who don’t want to read Fables or Y The Last Man, the ones who want to read superhero books are told quite plainly that these kinds of books are for He-Man Woman Haters – which is bullshit. There should be something for every female reader – and again, there is – but not in the quantities that should exist.

THIS ONE’S FOR YOU

Wherein we really get into the whole vicious circle of the thing. I’ve retained very little from high school (honestly, what exactly did I need to learn conics for?) but there’s a few lessons that stuck quite deep that prove helpful when I’m attempting to make a point like a legitimate human being. In this case, the piece of information that’s floating up to the front of my mind has to do with self-fulfilling prophecies – wherein a person can believe something truly false, because their actions of sabotage (whether intended or subconscious) produce results that go along with their dubious belief. The comic book industry has a doozy of a self fulfilling prophecy when it comes to women – mainly the fact that women don’t read comics and will not read comics in the quantities needed to support “their kinds of books”. This kind of thinking is backwards in any number of ways, but let’s start with some of the low hanging fruit.

Over the past few years, there have been several “Women in Comics” initiatives put forth by various publishers. Marvel spent a year doing female centric projects, running a monthly run of variant covers, the occassional one shots, the anthology series Girl Comics and other minis such as Heralds and Her-oes. DC has quite recently gone under fire for not including female creators of characters in their recent relaunch, accusations that were met with a bit of frustration and assurances from editorial and creative alike that female creators were asked to pitch on books, and that some would appear quite soon, albeit in a subsequent launch. A few years back now, they also attempted to launch a Minx line of comics, designed to appeal to the teen female set. For many of these initiatives, a plan was put in place to hire as much female talent as possible to support the stories – and for the most part, the books were good. Just like any endeavour, some things hit, and others missed. But the sales? Whelp, they weren’t there, specifically because the thinking behind these initiatives are flawed.

Comic book publishers do not understand how to market to anyone who is not an adult male. They don’t, and they display this inability quite plainly when they try. When they try to sell books to kids they do it completely backwards, in that when they are aiming for the 5-9 market, they are putting out books that they think 5-9 year olds will enjoy. This is not how you get a kid into comics. Hell prose book retailers know better how to get kids reading, and they are generally terrible at selling their product to the masses. In fact the kids and teen book market is one of the only places where sales are consistent, if not increasing because of the way they are marketed, which is simply this: when you are creating content for 5-9 year olds, write for 10-14 year olds. And if you’re writing for 10-14 year olds, write for 15-18 year olds. Kids want to feel more grown up. They want to be treated like adults, whether or not they know what that truly means, and that longing relates directly to the content that they are looking for. This was the inherent flaw in the Minx line – they were marketing a line of teen books with books that primarily featured teenage protagonists. This was a line that should have been marketed to the younger end of the teen spectrum. (Minus the New York Four/Five books by Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly, who rightfully focused on college students.)

The problem is similar when comic book companies come right out and say “this one is for the ladies.” No one likes being talked down to, or told what they will like – and while these initiatives often feature some great books, the quality is lost with all the hand waving and back-patting. “See? We did this for you. We understand your needs.”

Bullshit. The only thing a woman needs to read a comic, is something of quality in a genre that they’ll enjoy. It’s what anybody needs. But that’s not what the industry gets, from the content pushes, or from people just talking about books in general. Women readers are still treated as though they are mythological or an vague impossibility and therefore not worth chasing down, but it’s not because there’s a lack of will – just a lack of basic common sense and decency when it comes to the production and selling of comics.

IN THE BULLPIN

The phrase “tricke-down” is somewhat apropos here. I know I generally relate that term to bullshit which applies to the situation. Because of the prevalent idea that women don’t enjoy comics – or at least that they are not a market worth chasing – there’s a general lack of female creators. A perceived lack of interest in female characters turns into a lack of produced content. The perceived need for less content also dampens a need for a female perspective. And in turn, the vicious cycle of “non-importance” tells publishers and readers alike that “comics aren’t for women” – and so less seek jobs in the industry.

This is a problem. From top to bottom. And the only way it’s going to change, is if someone, anyone really, starts to champion a modicum of equality without the damn ticker tape parade that yells “THIS ONE’S FOR THE LADIES”. The bullshit needs to be cut, pure and simple. Get out there, and produce quality product. Sell it across the board, and don’t discriminate a perceive taste based on gender. Or hell, how about we don’t discriminate taste in general. All genres are valid. Everything has a market, has the potential to sell, if everyone just smartens the hell up and sells.

This can be done, and it starts with… well, it starts with everyone. Because as much as I would love for the multi-million dollar comic publishers to smarten up, they were largely purchased and keep running based on their access to the lucrative male market. Warner Bros and Disney have other means to satisfy other audiences, and neither company will really put the dollars behind any kind of initiative that would push otherwise, in terms of comics. So it comes down to everyone. It comes down to you on the internet and it comes down to us retailers in the stores. If you want to see the industry thrive, and if you want to see, I don’t know, a modicum of equality, of an industry that’s not mired in bullshit that has (in part) been more cleansed in pretty much every other medium, then we gotta make it happen ourselves.

And it comes down to this: treat female readers like you would like to be treated. Write and create as though you’re not the guy that orders Jager-bombs in the bar with his brosephs. Have some god damn respect for your female counter-parts, and I guarentee you, the industry will be all the better for it.

And sell some god damn comics.

You’ve been reading Me vs. The Angry Mob – Issue 2012.03

Me vs. The Angry Mob | The New 38

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The results were undeniable. For the first time in weeks, months, years, people were flocking to the comic book shops, current fans, old fans and soon-to-be fans alike, all asking about the new books, all looking for The New 52. And without a doubt, September of last year became a banner month. October almost more so, with second printings finally arriving and second issues performing quite well – sometimes even exceeding what retailers thought in terms of which readers would actually stick around. But now the shine is off the apple. Now, we’re into month five, and most, if not all of the new books have been in the middle of story arcs for quite some time, and as such, there’s no real way to push the books harder. With each new arc, each new creative team, there comes an opportunity to catch people who missed out on round one, or ever worse, who were unaware that there was a book out there made especially for them. As the main line deals with and enters the doldrums, sales are evening out. Most are comfortably above the numbers they were pulling before, or comfortably above what they would be selling without the huge marketing push. (A prime example of this would be Animal Man, which would be selling infinitely worse had it not been part of the launch.)

With numbers settling or tumbling, depending on the series, retailers are now looking to fill in the cash hole that’s been provided. After all, once you become accustomed to a certain kind of lifestyle, it’s hard to go back to what you had before, especially if you’re the lazy sort who is still ordering a bevy of the old titles, wondering why your shelves are bursting with unsold books. To all of you out there looking for the next big thing, I have a little secret to tell you. The reason why The New 52 sold so well was not because of the volume – or even the gimmick of an entire universe resetting. It sold well, because it was marketed. Or rather, it was marketed for us.

We often like to shrug off the attention that newspapers and entertainment outlets drop on us every now and then. Usually I pause long enough to bask in the novelty of comic book Batman getting the same kind of attention that is afforded for the Kardashians, but that feeling is fleeting, and generally, the trickle of articles that hit more mainstream venues tend to have a negligible sales effect. With The New 52, however, the torrent was relentless. Every day, a new piece of information was metered out. A new series, a new writer, a new direction, some new pages… whatever. Something new was happening every day, and it began to form the habit of appearing in people’s minds. Once the habit formed, it was easy enough to nudge the right people into the stores. For the most part, new and lapsed readers walked in on their own volition, having been fed the information they needed and given the tools to at least try to get into something new. But now, that torrent is gone, replaced by the old trickle of articles – and once again retailers are left to their own devices. A shop has to sell books on their own, without much help coming from elsewhere.

Now I know a lot of people are resigned to the fact that the big hit that came with The New 52 will be something that will never be repeated – and for the most part, they are right. After something big like that happens, if it were to be tried again, the law of diminishing returns would set in – but more to the point, something like The New 52 will never happen again because retailers are far too lazy to make it happen again – because it’s not that there isn’t enough product to support a New 52 style promotion. In fact, in the current order book, there are approximately 38 different titles that will be launching or relaunching that month, and well over 25 others that will start new story arcs. And that’s after a cursory count. If I were to go about this process with a fine tooth comb, ravaging the internet for more information on story breaks and what-have-you, I’m pretty sure I would find quite a few more to add to that list. But let’s think about this for a second. There are 38 different titles that will be starting from square one in March. At least 25 more will be offering decent jumping on points. That’s a total of 63 books that can be sold to customers, new and old, in March alone. 63. The fact that they are from different publishers, feature different genres and different characters means absolutely nothing. The only thing standing in the way of every month being a month of New 52 style sales is the fact that your customers (potential or otherwise) are not aware of the new books – and making them aware is just so ridiculously simple. Seriously, all you have to do is engage every customer who walks in through the door, and ask them what type of stories they like. Chances are, something exists in your catalogue for them.

Let’s use March as an example. March will see the launch of several amazing looking books, each running the gamut of genre, style and taste. Vertigo will be launching four new books in March. The easiest to find a customer base for would be Fairest, a spin-off of the popular Fables series. Chances are, you already know who wants to buy this book, and with a modicum of effort, you can produce respectable numbers for that series. The other books in the mini launch will be a little harder to sell, without an already successful concept to pin themselves to, but they should be easy enough to sell with a bit of work. Saucer Country features writing by Paul Cornell, who is currently writing Demon Knights for DC proper. New Deadwardians is being written by one of the writers of Resurrection Man. Chances are if a person is enjoying those books, they will at least want to check out these new offerings by them. That’s a customer base to chase down even before you start selling towards the kinds of stories being told. With Saucer Country, you have a heady mix of The West Wing meeting with a bit of sci-fi alien screwery. That right there is a concept that’s quite easy to sell. Yes, you will get some eye rolls when you attempt to explain the book, but you will also get emphatic enthusiasm when you hit upon someone who would love to read a book like that. Approach anyone who you know was into Ex Machina. Or hell, start from sci-fi and work your way in. Unless you run one crazy anomaly of a store, there will be some sci-fi fans that frequent your aisles, and they are chomping at the bit for a bit of sci-fi strange in their comics.  Offer this book to them.

Now with The New Deadwardians, you’ll have to get creative. The takes place in post-Victorian England and follows a murder mystery in a world where the rich voluntarily become vampires to escape the zombie hordes that trundle about the streets. It’s a period mystery with supernatural dressings, and it’s not quite like anything on the stands, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to sell the book. Do you know people who are into the supernatural? Hell, do you know people who are into Supernatural? How about period dramas. Generally, if you find a nerd who is into period pieces, they are also into neat mash-ups that are taking place within those time periods – a bit of fiction splashed in with the non-fiction. Approach customers. Have literature about new books ready to produce on the spot. Talk. Make things work.

Admittedly, not every book will be an easy sell. I’m still trying to wrap my head around selling Dominique Leveau: Voodoo Child. It’s a voodoo book (obviously) dealing with supernatural threats, set against the vibrant backdrop of New Orleans. Could be interesting, but the writer comes from outside of comics, and the artist is known mostly for ancillary superhero fare from the 80s. That doesn’t exactly spell a sales juggernaut, not without the ability to taste the wares. Luckily, there’s already a Dominique Leveau story available to the read. If you have a copy of The Unexpected one shot they put out in the fall, it’s there. You can use a copy to try and sell the book to potential customers by allowing them to peruse a store copy. Hell, you can get a gauge as to who you can sell the book to by just giving it a read through yourself, and matching the book up with prospective readers. It’s not a hard thing to do, but again, it takes a bit of effort.

In addition to those four books, there’s a ton of others that will be easy enough to sell. Brian K. Vaughan is returning to comics with Saga alongside fantastic artist Fiona Staples. There’s a preview of the book inside Previews and located on the internet, and it’s a damn fine looking book. Vaughan already has a built in audience, one that voraciously ate up Y The Last Man and Ex Machina (disagree with me if you will, but compare the sales of those books to others of its kind on the stands right now). It’s a new sci-fi epic that would be perfect for Vaughan fans, for Star Wars fans, for people who want to be taken a new, epic journey to strange new worlds. Talking about it on Twitter pushed my own sales up to a level that I would be happy with were the book to star Daredevil or The Punisher, and that’s before it hits the stands. Those are pre-sells. The Manhatten Projects is a new ongoing from the creative team that brought everyone The Red Wing last year. You might recognize it from the mad scramble you made when you were reordering the book for customers who kept asking for it the day it hit the stands. Remember? You were sold out. Don’t make that mistake again. Start with a base by telling you Red Wing customers that the book is on its way. Then spread out to people who are enjoying Hickman’s Fantastic Four run. Or Secret Warriors. Or Ultimate Comics Ultimates. Or  show people the preview pages. Or just yell the words INFINITE OPPENHEIMERS and see who does a double take. There’s no reason this book shouldn’t have phenomenal sales, given the potential audience – and that only applies to those customers who are already in your stores. There’s a great big world of people out there who don’t know how much they love comics yet. All those people, all that untapped sales potential. And are we chasing it? Do stores advertise? Do they advertise in ways that appeal to those who aren’t already in on the joke, so to speak? Generally speaking, this is not the case. And again, this is a problem – but one to discuss in another column.

For now, I urge all retailers to take a look through their order catalogue, and search for the books that are falling by the wayside, that for whatever reason, aren’t crossing people’s radars. Don’t keep them hidden – push them for all they are worth. If the industry is going to survive, we all need to e proactive. Hell, if your business is going to survive, you’re going to have to be proactive. Because let’s face it – if you tank, yes, it’ll affect the industry, and it will affect your customers – but more than anyone, it’s going to affect you quite personally and financially in a very negative way. Don’t let this happen. Do what you got into this business to do.

Sell some comics.

You’ve been reading Me vs. The Angry Mob – Issue 2012.01

Me vs. The Angry Mob: Doomed If You Don't

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As it turns out, I was exhausted.

For almost the entirety of 2011 I had been working 48 hours a week in the comic shop – sometimes even more if the owner was on vacation. Then came December, and with it, the typical Christmas rush. It had already been a busier year and so December became quite the gauntlet. Not only were there your typical customers and Christmas shoppers, but there were endless calls asking for the most bizarre items you could imagine. During 90% of those calls, there would be a tone that was somewhat off-putting – one that implied that if we didn’t carry that specific thing they were looking for, that we were failures. Forget about the fact that they were calling mere days before Christmas looking for, say, a crystal ball lamp with a wizard style base. Or the fact that we only had one request a year for the things they were looking for, and thus could not conceivably stock such an item without gently bleeding cash. What was the point of having a comic shop if we didn’t have a life sized Gimli plush? To summarize, their requests were stressful, and their demands and expectations were taking their toll. But as the pre-Christmas season wound to a close, I knew that the worst was yet to come. And it did… in the form of our annual Boxing Day sale.

Picture if you will, an exhausted set of retail workers. Now ply a 50% off sale, and a 9 hour work day. As you could imagine, I may have snapped a couple of times during the day. Not only did I have to wake up and get to the store earlier than any other day in the year, but people thought it would be cool to just pop into our back room every now and then, to use the bathroom. Meaning while we were dealing with a throbbing mass of people, we also had to keep an eye on people disappearing from sight occasionally. Did they have product in hand? Would they be grabbing things in the back? Probably not, but the additional stress was not welcomed, and I probably yelled a couple of times. And by probably, I mean definitely. As a result, the owner of this location sat me down as December wound to a close, and told me that he was going to give me a few days off in the New Year. Initially I bristled at the idea because I never like being away from the store for long – and his proposal would see me missing from the store on every Wednesday in January. To say the idea added further stress to my life would be a mild statement. But after talking it through and leaving some very detailed instructions for the League of Substitute Comic Shop People, I resigned to relaxing a bit and taking the time off. One week in, and I have to report, this month will probably go well. Yes, I got a little itchy yesterday, but my friends all kept me busy enough that I managed. The rest of the month? Well, who knows. I might freak out at some point this month, but for now, I’m going to choose to try and relax and let things come as they will. Already, I’m feeling a whole lot better, like my batteries are being topped up. By the end of the month, I’ll probably be the livewire of energy that I usually am in the shop.

But until that point in time, I’m trying to keep myself occupied – and in a fit of backwards logic, I came up with a few ideas that all comic shop owners and managers should think about in the new year. Shut up you don’t know how to relax.

“Doomed If You Don’t”

01. 2012 is the year the world is supposed to come to an end – though I think we’ll all soon discover that the end of the world, such as it is, will turn out to be complete bullshit. But the comic book industry? Could actually be facing its doom. The ground is littered with tiny armageddons that will doom us all if nothing is done to prevent them. Times have been tough. Shops have been closing, overall sales are down, and despite the recent influx of attention to DC with the New 52 relaunch, things aren’t great. Which is a shame, because the quality of comics has never been better. Which begs the question: if comics are so good right now, why is there a disconnect when it comes to sales? Sure, it’s easy to point at any medium and bemoan the state of viewership vs quality – but in general, if you’re talking books, television, movies, music, whatever, there are more than a few examples of product that’s selling better than ever. But with comic books, it appears that no matter what is moving the most copies, the biggest numbers are slowly getting smaller and smaller.

Now I’ve gone on and on about how I believe the state of the comic book industry is in shambles due to shitty retailers – and I still believe that to be true. For too many years, bad retailers have gotten by on bad practices, because they were the only means to a fix. And then book chains started carrying collections, and the more sundry parts of the internet started pirating the hell out of books, and the publishers started making their product available digitally, and suddenly, those bad practices started to turn into bad sales. Customers, when given the option to shop at somewhere with a reliable access to product and better customer service began to jump ship, and the industry shuddered. In fact, it’s still shuddering.

The unfortunate thing is, the lifeblood of comics still runs through the veins of bad stores – and as those limbs are hacked off, access decreases. Then as access decreases, so do sales. And change is a slow moving beast – in time, everyone will realize that they can still get comics in better, more customer friendly ways, but until new access routes get some traction, there will still be a lot of blood loss. Make no bones about it, 2012 will continue to be rough for the industry, and for retailers… if they don’t get their shit together.

The way back to prosperity is simple: act like a proper business. Sell your books. And I don’t mean “order your books, and let them sell themselves”. I mean get the fuck up from the behind the counter, and sell some damn comics. You’d be surprised by what talking to your customers will do for your sales. Yesterday, my shop managed to move more than twice the amount of copies of Fatale than we did of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ last creator owned endevour, because we let people know it existed. Seriously, it was as simple as approaching people, pointing to the book, and telling them they would enjoy it. Then occasionally tweeting about it. And putting a “recommended read” sign in front of it on Wednesday.

All of these things more than doubled my sales from what was originally going to get ordered. There is absolutely no reason why this can not be duplicated on multiple titles. Maybe there won’t be such a sharp jump in sales across the line, but there will be an increase in sales.

That said, for the most part, I know people will not do this. Shops will continue function as they always have, and start wondering why fortune has turned their back on them. As changes come, they will not change with it. They’ll push against it, and they’ll hiss and snarl, and inevitably, they will disappear, and take a chunk of the industry down with them. If we’re lucky, there industry will survive long enough for the new forms of distribution to finally become refined and gain a lot more traction. Until then, the best we can do is try to get behind good retailers. You’ll know which ones they are, because when you enter the store, you’ll either find what you are looking for, or they will make sure you find it, no fuss, no muss. You find a place that does that for you, stick by them, and they will stick by you. It’s really that simple.

02. Every retail store should stop being so reliant on Diamond. Which is going to be hard, yes, but you need to start planning for the future now.

The facts, as they say, are these: Diamond is not long for this world. It’s not. It’s a shitty distributor with shitty customer service, and its business practices are suspect. The only reason it has survived this long is the exact same reason shitty retailers have survived for this long: they were the only means to an end – and now that there are alternative means of distribution, they will start bleeding to death as well. Soon, they will die. Maybe not this year, maybe not next year, but they will, and when they do, you don’t want to be on that ship.

What you need to do, right now, is get accounts set up with proper book distributors. Get a Random House account. They carry the Pantheon line of graphic novels and the Kondansha line of manga, and distribute the Archie graphic novels (along with a smattering of others). Boom! Studios and Avatar Press are distributed through Simon and Schuster and HarperCollins Canada. Marvel is distributed through Hachette, and DC Comics uses Random House as well (I think). Fact is, you can get a lot of product through other means, and when Diamond goes tits up, you’ll want to have an account in good standing with these distributors. It will be a pain in the ass, but in the end, it will see your survival.

As for the single issues? Whelp, get ready to enter the brave new world of magazine distributors. In my experience (having worked at a book store and a couple of convenience stores in my past) you’ll get exactly what you order, in the quantities that you ordered them in – something Diamond does not accomplish more often than not. The trade off though? You’ll probably end up with a few more damaged copies on your hands, because they won’t realize how fickle the comic reading audience can be, in regards to spine damage and whatnot. You’ll have pickers would will grab books on their spines, and for a while, you’re books won’t look as nice. But after a certain period of time, all things should balance.

This is the future. Or at least it will be if Diamond tanks before publishers can make a go of singles in a digital only format. Otherwise, be prepared for a market consisting of collections only.

03. And really, if you’re going to survive this, you might want to diversify your clientèle a little. Part of the reason the industry and the shops within are doomed has to do with focus. The lens retailers have on the market is so narrow, and focused on customers that are already hooked. Selling comics becomes an exercise in pulling more money out of an already open wallet, when the real focus should be on finding more wallets. There’s comics for everyone out there right now – something to appeal to all ages and fans of any genre. The reason these don’t sell isn’t down to the fact that people don’t enjoy these books – it’s down to the fact that comics are (by and large) sold to fans of a specific genre. It would be like if the movie industry only made high octane action movies. Are the generally the biggest earners? Absolutely. But they don’t just stick to the action movies. They run through several different genres. They tell all kinds of different stories, because there is an audience for all kinds of movies – they just happen to have a more convenient delivery system than comics do.

So go out there. Talk to everyone. Ask the people who are being dragged into the shop along with your regulars what kind of books or television or movies they like. Be prepared to let go of an issue or two of something for free. You’ll lose a bit of money, but if you hit the right spot, you’ll gain a chunk of business. You just have to sell comics, is all.

To that effect, you need to stock your store with a bit of everything. Every genre you can get your hands on. It’s easy enough to do. There’s crime books, there’s western books, there’s romance books, supernatural books, sci fi, fantasy, slice of life, humour… whatever. It’s all available. It’s at your finger tips. Get them. Sell them. Do this, and you’ll avoid a terrible fate.

04. That said, sometimes you’re just not cut out to be a salesman. Hey, not everyone can be the man, and maybe it’s your time. Maybe you did what you could when you could, and you should call it a day. Or maybe you should hire someone who can. A kid whose enthusiasm you might resent a little when they come into the store and babble on about the comics they’re enjoying to anyone who will hear it.  Find someone who genuinely enjoys the books they are reading, and offer them a job. Seriously, nothing will sell comics better than having someone who is genuinely excited about comics. I know this because I’ve seen it happen. Some of my customers sell books for me. Hell, if James worked here regularly, he’d probably have sold way more copies of Stumptown than I have, because that dude loves that book and has already sold it to two or three people. It’s really not rocket science. Get your shit together and do something. One of these things, or preferably all of these things, and the industry stands a chance of weathering what’s to come. And hell, once you’re on the other side of that storm, maybe things get better. Maybe they don’t. But if you do nothing, you’re well and truly fucked, so you might as well try.

You’ve been reading Me vs. The Angry Mob – Issue 2012.01

Me vs. The Angry Mob | Rides a Dark Horse

Do you think that I'm funny?

The comic store I manage is located in the same lot as a really nice independent movie rental place. It’s also beaver corner to an independent movie theatre. It makes for a nice little triangle of pop culture, not so far away from a major university – and so we get all types walking through. Some are interested in sampling the various wares we all have to offer. And others… well, not so much.

A few weeks ago (maybe even a few months ago?) we had a guy walk through, eyes alight with amusement as he browsed through the racks. After I asked him if he was looking for anything in particular he laughed and said, “Oh no, don’t mind me. I’m just looking at all the relics.”

The relics. When pressed to elaborate on this, he replied that he was merely taking a tour, much like one would in a foreign country. He was visiting “a society on the brink of collapse”, I believe were his specific words. Print media, DVDs, physical anything.

“I’m not going to buy anything, I just want to see,” he said.

In that moment, I was beset by twin urges. Part of me wanted to pat the guy on the head and tell him how cute he was. The other part wanted to clench down on his windpipe and see the light go out of his eyes. I mean, I get the idea that he would think we’d be having a tough time because… well, all the signs point to times being tough for a store like ours. Print media doesn’t shift the way it used to, and you’d be silly to think that a store like this would be making dollars hand over fist. That said, what kind of asshole do you have to be to walk up to someone, and say to their face, “Oh, I’m just here to watch your slow and grizzly demise, because it amuses me.” That is straight up bullshit. Because for one, you’re looking at a guy who’s next meal depends on those so called relics, and as backwards as the idea seems to you, that doesn’t give you the right to be a dick to me. And for two (shut up, that is too proper English), we’re going awesome. Our numbers are up year to year by astronomical amounts, and we’re closing in on our best sales year ever, out of 15 years of data.

Because yes, print media as we know it is dead. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a new world of opportunity opening up right before our eyes.

You unbelievable asshole.

“RIDES A DARK HORSE”

01. Over the weekend, the comic retail internet blew the fuck up over a bit of info contained (or exrapolated from) the recent Dark Horse day-and-date digital announcement. As the “news” began to trickle out, it seemed as though Dark Horse would be one of the first companies to offer same-day print content for cheaper in their digital format than what could be found on the stands. Naturally, they experienced some kick back against this idea. Specifically, racist asshole comics proprietor Larry Doherty and a few other retailers pitched a fit and claimed they would only order enough Dark Horse titles to cover their pre-orders for titles shipping in February. Initial orders for the books would be due at the end of this month, thus giving their customers enough time to place orders before Larry placed his.

Well, as things turn out, the pricing scheme that was “announced” was not what Dark Horse had ever intended. A cursory reading of the Newsarama article that set the internet aflame reveals the pricing scheme to be nothing more than an extrapolation on what the company currently offered the public – or rather, up until this point their non day-and-date digital had been released at a cheaper price point than physical releases. Just like every other comic book publisher.

But the damage, as they say, was done, and everyone lost their collective shit. Many businesses and business owners threw their hats in the ring alongside Larry, offended by this move. The main refrain seemed to be along the lines of “how could Dark Horse do that to us, their retailing partners? Don’t they know that they owe us?” Putting aside the fact that Dark Horse never was going to go through with that so-called pricing plan to begin with, the simple reality is this:

Publishers owe retailers shit. Zilch, zero, nothing, nada. And if you’re looking for someone to blame for that? You have to start with the retailers themselves.

02. The facts are these: a retail shop is a business, plain and simple. When you run a business, you have a couple of jobs to do. The first: provide a service that people want. The second: provide that service at a price people want. Everything extra done should be done to service those two motives. If those two motives are being serviced, you will make money!

Now years ago, when the direct comic book market was formed, retailers were satisfying those two criteria. Providing people with a service they wanted, for a price they were willing to pay. They were the mainline, the delivery system, and because they were fulfilling both criteria, the market as it existed then, flourished.

Fast forward to today, and the market has changed. The same (if not merely similar) products are being offered, but people no longer want the services comic stores provide. Not for the prices being charged. There’s quite a few reasons for this, digital being a small piece of the pie. But again, the underlying cause is quite simple. Brick and mortar stores are simply not providing a service that people need. Not like they used to.

The specific reasons for this are wide and varied, and almost definitely up for debate. Personally, I see the current market attrition as the results of broken system finally breaking under the weight of its own bullshit. A brick and mortar store is a relic, in a way. It’s an old idea, much like the idea of print being a widely accepted means of communication – and much like we have done away with the hand-written letter as our primary means of communication in deference to the telephone, or e-mail, or Facebook, or Twitter, so will publishers, in terms of getting their product out to the audience that wants it.

Much like everyone shrugged off the postal system for faster and cheaper means of communication, the comic book industry is doing the same. It is taking its service, and putting it in front of the customers. They are being told to provide it for a price that those customers will buy. They are attempting to satisfy the two bits of criteria that will see them thrive and flourish. And the fact that you might not be part of that equation is not their failing. It’s yours.

03. If you are a retailer, you should fucking well know how this goes. When the internet and e-mail and Facebook and Twitter came along, you didn’t tell them to fuck off because you owed shit all to the postal system. You took one look at that new means of doing business, that new means of communicating with your customers, and you took it. You put yourself in front of more eyes, for a fraction of the cost. You did this because you are a god damn business and that is your job. You owe the postal service fuck all beyond being a customer when you require their services, and are happy with the pricing they provide. Similarly, publishers owe retailers fuck all beyond what they need to get the product to the people who want it. The fact that a larger audience exists out there, that requires a similar product for a cheaper price is tough shit for you. Send an e-mail, tweet about it, boo hoo. You want to survive, you pay attention to where the world is going and shift your focus so you can continue to provide a service people are willing to shell out money for. Or in other words: do some fucking work and find out what that service and product is.

04. Personal experience tells me this: in this economy, as a comic book retailer, you can not rely on the old way of doing things. You can’t just do what you used to do and expect business to be the same as it always was. The industry has changed, and will continue to do so – and while Dark Horse may not have pulled the trigger on cheaper day-and-date content, mark my words: the day is coming when someone will. That every company will. The future is coming, and you can piss and moan and fight it all you want, but that’s not going to change things.

Probably the most hilarious part about all of this was how certain retailers thought they would fight against this change. As noted above, several retailers figured they would fight against Dark Horse by cutting their orders right down to the bone, filling only pre-orders for incoming product. Or to put it in other words, they were attempting to show a publisher that they should be considered a viable, primary means of distribution, by not distributing their products. Some would call it a stand based on principles. I would call it a self-fulfilling prophecy – one in which the publisher sees the direct market become more unstable as their numbers drop, while retailers buy into digital destroying their business, because they aren’t selling as many comic books. The worst case scenario is a mutually assured destruction. The retailer goes out of business, the publisher goes out of business, and look! No more comics.

But if we’re being honest with ourselves, the more likely scenario would be this: the publisher would survive, because the market is telling them that customers are willing to purchase content digitally, and the retailer would die because they would not hold up their end of the bargain in terms of providing a fucking service to customers. It’s as simple as that.

05. At the end of the day, the facts are these: retailers are going to die if they don’t smarten up and roll with the changing industry. The current system, is going to die. Now there are ways to avoid death. A comic book retailer can do this by not shunning the digital moves, but embracing them and pushing outwards to a greater audience. Take a page from where the publishers are going, and do something different. Will you have to price your shit cheaper? Maybe. Will you have to order less single issue comics? Probably. Eventually. But that doesn’t mean you’re fucked – it just means you have to become something different. You can’t count on this system to coddle you much longer. Hell, you can barely count on it to protect you now. Could you imagine what you could do with a system that didn’t rely on the abysmal distribution system that is Diamond Comics? Those guys are the absolute worst, and you complain about them every week, I bet. And I bet that if you were offered a better option, you would jump ship immediately. Because that’s business, yeah?

You owe Diamond fuck all, and when a better option comes along, an option that will allow you easier access to product, in a more efficient, more cost effective manner, you will jump at the chance to tell Diamond to go fuck themselves. Similarly, publishers owe you the same courtesy. It takes time for them to publish singles, and get them out to you, and even now, you’re not selling their shit like you used to. You’re not the distribution system you once were, and quite frankly, you’re terrible at selling the books they give you to sell. Everything trends downwards, and when new arcs or creative teams start, when new exciting books are offered, you don’t sell them to more readers. You don’t build an audience, because you are doing nothing to seek it out. You are relying on what you have done all along and that is not working. If you continue to do this, and if you continue to bristle at change, you will be well and truly fucked in the future. You will be gone.

But again. There are ways around this. While singles will probably go the way of the dodo, there will definitely always be a market for collections and graphic novels – for things people love so much, they want to hold them. Shit, people still want things so badly, vinyl records have made a bit of a comeback. Not because it is the best, or easiest means to get a product, but because fuck you, you think you’re the best I have this shit on vinyl you pretender, you hack. You are not the best at loving something I am, you shit turds! ME!

And that impulse will never disappear. If a person has enough love for something, they will fill their life with it. They will want it to take up space in their lives – and with the increased audience access digital provides, it will bring in people who will be searching for objects, searching for collections. To survive, you become the place that provides that service, for the price people are willing to pay. This is how you survive.

06. But look, I know my place in things. I can whine and scream all I want, but I’m not going to change anyone’s mind. Some retailers will fight and piss and moan until they fuck themselves out of a business. That’s just a thing that’s going to happen. But those of us who are willing to act like a real business? We’re going to be just fine.

You’ve been reading Me vs. The Angry Mob – Issue 2011.17

Me vs. The Angry Mob: Mobbed

Do you think that I'm funny?

His smell hits you a moment after he walks through the door. You say hi, and his eyes go wide with fear, and he nods and aknowledgement. You continue your work and he walks around the store, nervously and absently pawing through comics, not really looking for anything in particular. Eventually, he looks up with an expression that appears to be his idea of resolve. He approaches the counter and mutters, “You looking for someone to work?”

“Not at the moment,” is the stock response. Generally, we’re not ever looking for more workers.

“Can…” he takes a deep shuddering breath through his mouth, “Can I leave a resumé?”

He produces a single sheet of paper that is stained with some kind of food, featuring a list of the five jobs he’s had in the last two years.

“Ohhkay, whelp, we’ll keep this on file,” I say, “and we’ll get back to you if there’s any openings.”

“This is my dream job,” he explains, “Getting to read comics all day would be great.”

“Oh, we don’t get to read comic books all day,” I reply, “If we did that, the store would shut down. And if we hired you, it would be for cleaning or making long boxes or something like that. Starter work, you know?”

The look of disillusionment and heartbreak on his face is nearly shattering. Isn’t there a job anywhere that requires you to do no work and get paid?

“Oh. Well,” he says softly, staring at the resume, contemplating ways by which he can possibly take it back. Unfortunately for him, there are no takesies backsies in the comic shop biz.

But he doesn’t have to worry. He won’t get a phone call. Before he even handed in his resumé, which is riddled with spelling mistakes and terribly unprofessional, he displayed a lack of basic human hygiene, and an aversion to basic social pleasantries.

Every other day, we experience something akin to this, with varying degrees of head shaking. While most present a more solid case than the man in this example, almost every single applicant believes that working at a comic store is not work – and I will admit, in comparison to many, many other jobs, it’s not. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t work to be done. I can’t tell you how many people we’ve had to fire, or who quit because (horrors!) there was actual work to do at the comic shop. It’s not all puppies and roses (despite the fact we allow dogs in the store). Sometimes working here can be downright harrowing. Which is what we’ll be talking about today.

ME VS. THE ANGRY MOB

MOBBED

01. A woman walks through the door, a look of confusion on her face. I greet her (as I greet everyone who walks through the doors) and she smiles and walks up to the counter.

“I need your help,” she says.

“Certainly,” I reply, “What can I help you with.”

“My kids. My sons. They like reading these…” her face scrunches into a look of slight discomfort as she waves a hand dismissively around her, “…these graphic novels. And I was wondering, how can I get them to read books.”

I stare at this woman blankly for a moment.

“So you mean…”

“I mean…” she pauses, “It’s just, these books, the ones you sell here. I don’t understand them. They just… they seem lazy to me.”

“Lazy,” I repeat, attempting to hide my flabbergast.

“Because when I was a kid, I was reading books with words in them,” she continues, “And I was wondering if you had anything that could either… I don’t know, trick them into reading better, or just… anything that would help me understand why they’re reading… these.

Tamping down on my urge to just flip the counter over, I smile and say, “You know something, I think I have something you might be interested in.”

I lead her over to the independent book case, and grab a copy of Understanding Comics for her.

“It’s a fantastic book,” I explain, “It talks about the art of making comics, what they can accomplish, and how they accomplish it. As for the kids, uhm… well, maybe some graphic adaptations? Like books turned into graphic novels? Maybe that could get them reading more.”

After a bit of coaxing, both of these answers seem to work for her. She leaves the store with Understanding Comics and a few select choices from our all ages area, including the first Marvel-adapted Oz book. I ask her to please come back and tell me what she thinks of all of her purchases, and how things progress from there. Despite the stress, I really do hope she returns. I wanna know if I can win this person over, or if this is merely a case of “let me ask my opinions at you and ignore all your answers”. The fact that she willingly purchased Understanding Comics suggests she’s willing to have her mind changed. But we’ll see.

02. The man is a crackhead. You can tell because he has a bit of an empty look to him. Plus, I’ve dealt with my share of crackheads in the store, and I can pretty much stop them on sight now.

Anyway, he’s clearly in need. He’s not high, and he’s feeling it, and by the way his eyes are darting around the store, he’s looking for something to grab or whatever. My eye trains on him and never leaves.

“How’re you doing today?”

“Hey, no, fine, sorta, heeey. Do you have the new issue of Batman?”

“…you mean like the one that comes out tomorrow?” I ask.

“Sure, sure.”

“Sorta,” I say, “It’s in store, but it comes out tomorrow.”

“Shit. Fuck. Shit. Oh shit. Okay. Okay.” he asks, “Can I see it?”

“Aaahhh, sorry dude, rules are rules,” I explain, “I can’t break street date, not for anything.”

“Shit. Not even as a favour? I would appreciate it.”

“Sorry dude.”

“Fuck,” he starts scratching. A lot, “Uh, so you say tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow.”

“Okay man thanks.”

Two days later, he returns.

“Where’re you keeping the Batman comics,” this is a question, but is not phrased as such. This shit is urgent.

“Right over here,” I say, walking him over to the shelf.

He looks at them, picks one up in his shaking left hand, squeezes the spine and says, “Wait, this is issue three. I thought issue one was coming out??!”

“…nooo,” I say carefully, “That was… that was September. Two months ago. This is the new issue.”

“FUCK! SHIT FUCK!” he yells, “You said the new comic would be out today.”

This is not strictly true, as I told him two days ago that a new issue would be out. But now is not the time to be that asshole. That asshole would get stabbed. Regardless, I take a small step away.

“No, just that a new issue would be coming out.”

“Fuck. FUCK,” he looks panicked, “Look, okay, some guy told me that the new number ones were going for lots of money. You don’t have any original number ones do you? Like for cheap? I need the money.”

The crackhead’s logic is both endlessly amusing, and deeply terrifying. I don’t have any time to enjoy it, because… well, because there is a crackhead in my store.

“Sorry dude, we’re all sold out of first prints.”

“Shit.”

He likes that word.

“Sorry.”

“Fuck.”

That one too. Honestly, we have that in common. Again, I don’t bring this up.

He looks at the issue three, slightly crumpled in his hand. He eyes the back door. I’m standing between him and his access to it.

“So how long do you think this will go on for?” he says.

“You mean… Batman?”

“Yeah, how many issues will it be?” he asks.

“…all of them. All the issues. It’s Batman, they’re just going to keep making it,” I explain.

He curses again, because he doesn’t like this news.

“So they won’t just do like a new number one next month or something?”

“Absolutely not,” I tell him.

He puts the copy of Batman #3 back on the shelf. I move it to the back of the stack because… well, it’s damaged. He explores the store for a while and finds second and third printings of various Bat books. I explain the difference between the first prints and subsequent printings to him.

“But no one would be able to tell, right?” he’s almost pleading, “I mean, I didn’t know so I could sell it to someone for about $500 bucks right? I need at least that much.”

There’s a long pause before I explain to him that he wouldn’t be able to get that kind of money for… well, for any of the books. Not even the first printings. Not for the low, low price of $2.99. He seems perturbed by this, which is when he takes to wondering the store, looking nervously at items, and then back at me. After a while, he attempts something that legitimately terrifies me.

He opens by asking if I could go over to a corner of our store, to check the price of a book for him.

“Which book?” I ask him.

“I don’t know, it’s over there,” he says, pointing vaguely to the back, the furthest spot away from the windows, right next to the back door.

“You’re going to need to tell me which book,” I say with a measured tone.

“Nah, I don’t think I can.”

Red flag. Big. Red. Flag. Thankfully, there’s a protocol for events like this. It involves calling over to a nearby eatery and asking for someone there to make an extra special delivery to the store. I do this as nonchalantly as I can – but not before we get out one last hilarious and terrifying exchange

“I don’t think I can look at a book and tell you the price if I don’t know what it is,” I tell him.

“Yes you can! I do it every day!” he yells.

Clearly he has comic shop experience.

I wonder if he has a resumé.

03. Sometimes you come across a book that rocks you to the core. As a person who sells comics, and as an advocate of the medium in general, whenever a book like this comes along, I like to get as many people as I possibly can reading that book.

Recently, I had that experience with a book called OUR LOVE IS REAL – a small press one shot by Sam Humphries and Steven Sanders. Originally it had only been available via a small self published doses, and digitally through Comixology, which is where I had read it. Then it was announced that the book would get a wider release in print from Image Comics. I immediately jumped at the chance to carry the book, and to sell it to as many customers as I possibly could.

Now, let’s get this out of the way fairly early. The contents of OUR LOVE IS REAL is… not for everyone. It’s a satire book along the lines of Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal in which he suggested that the Irish should eat their children in order to solve the hunger problem. Swift didn’t actually want the Irish to eat their children, but used an extreme example to drive home a simple point. In a similar manner, OUR LOVE IS REAL depicts a future in which bestiality is common place – but filthy sexual expressions between the human race and plants or minerals is not accepted. Suffice to say, some people focused on the dog fucking, and not on the central message, which had to do with the stark differences between what love is, and what sex is, and the tolerance of said expressions. At the end of the day, it’s not about beastialty, so much as it is about prompting a dialogue about similar cultural inadequacies – for instance, how heterosexual relationships are openly accepted more than homosexual relationships. Specifically, who are you to say someone’s love isn’t real, you unbelievable dicks.

Ahem.

Anyway, word got around that we were selling this book in our store, prompting this one asshole to come in and say some pretty harsh things. He started off by grabbing a copy of the shelf, shoving it in my face, and telling me that we should not be selling such filth to the masses. Also, that we, as a store, as an entity, were clearly in league with Satan. Which is fine. I can deal with being called a Satanist, or whatever.

But then he started using hateful slurs and rhetoric regarding the LGTB crowd. Started tossing around the term “fag” with disregard to his fellow human beings. This, I will not stand for. I never have, and I never will.

I told the man quite forcefully to get the fuck out of my store and to take his bullshit with him. He got mad, but left quickly afterwards.

That man is not welcome back in the store. He’s one of a handful of people we have had to ban for being a complete asshole. The other that I had to kick out personally was a customer who would come in once every two weeks or so looking for trades to read – and I made the “mistake” of selling him Young Avengers. He returned, displeased that I would sell him a book with “that kind of faggot shit in it” – and I told him if he really felt that way, he could leave the store, and never return. He has not returned.

Comic books are many things – but god dammit, they are not built to be exclusive. They’re an artform, a means of expression, and dammit, I will not, and can not abide with people who would seek to limit that due to bigotry. Sometimes, this means losing some sales – but I will gladly take the loss in business if it means I get to keep a part of my soul and sleep soundly at night.

To all who would come into my store, and say hateful things, here is my message:

Fuck you.

You are the worst.

Now go away, and never return.

04. But it’s not all hardship. It’s never all hardship. At the end of the day, it’s a comic shop. It’s a place filled with the impossible and the fantastic – and for the most part, the people who frequent here are amazing.

I remember the day that I got this job. I had just moved to the city, had just settled into a new place and a new job (having transferred from one book store in the chain to another), and was looking for a place to buy comics. As luck would have it, I arrived right when they required help. I brought in a resumé that featured jobs I had been at for years. It looked professional. I was clean, smelled… well, like nothing, and I could speak eloquently when prompted. A few weeks later, after the owner quizzed me a bit on my purchases every Wednesday, I was hired for part time. I was ecstatic. They had me come in once a week, and do monkey work. Bags, boards, sweeping, mopping, dusting, counting, alphabetizing, whatever. I did my job and I did it well. I got more hours. I started working full time. I became the store manager.

It took some work. It took some grace under pressure. It took a sense of calm when faced with the angry mob. But I did it, and I continue to do it, and if I may say so, I am fucking fantastic at it. I wouldn’t trade my job for any other in the world.

Thank goodness I struck that deal with Satan, or else none of this would’ve happened.

 

 

Me vs. The Angry Mob: Death to Retailers

Do you think that I'm funny?

So some people got laid off today. Specifically, some fantastic editors from Marvel. And god dammit, I am livid. I mean, I understand that the industry is down. I understand that. Despite the sterling quality of comics out there on the stands today, a large majority of the general public treats the medium with a heady mix of ambivalence and disdain. This is bullshit. It is BULLSHIT. There is no reason – no reason at all – that comics should be selling as poorly as they are right now.

And yet.

Within the industry, blame gets tossed around quite a lot. Fans like to blame the comic book companies for “ruining characters”. Retailers like to blame digital comics or what they deem to be “inferior product”. The companies themselves seem to think that the current economy is causing quite a bit of pain. Are these things true? FUCK no. The reason comics aren’t selling as well as they should is simple: comic book retailers are terrible at their jobs.

And yes, I am a comic book retailer. And yes, I know I’m painting myself with this brush. But it’s true. It’s absolutely true. The industry, the way it’s built, and the way it functions, is rotten and decaying. It’s been doing this for quite some time, and the only reason everything hasn’t collapsed in upon itself yet is down to the balls out determination and blind never-say-die attitude of the publishers, retailers and current fans. But know this: if we continue down this same path, we are well and truly fucked. All of us. And I don’t want that. You don’t want that. So let’s fix this fucking thing, yeah? Let’s do that.

ME VS. THE ANGRY MOB

DEATH TO RETAILERS

Before we start with the business of saving the comic book industry, I want to be clear about what all of our jobs are. I’ve gone over this in great detail before, but every now and again, it pays to have a bit of a refresher, because as fans of the medium, we sometimes lose sight of who should be doing what. So to review:

The Reader: It is your job to read the books you enjoy, and to not read the books you do not. The fact that you read superhero comics and only superhero comics does not make you a shitty person, nor does it mean you are doing active harm to the industry. You like the things that you like, and you are buying them. Good for you. Keep doing that.

The Creator: You are making books you would want to read yourself. And you’re not doing it for the money. No, if you were doing it for the money, you’d cash in that motherfucking Hollywood cheque. The one that says, “with this money, you have no creative freedom. You are doing this my way monkey, and fuck your ideas.” You do comics because you love making comics. You love telling stories that are yours. It is your job to tell the best stories you can. You are awesome.

The Critic: You read the comics, and you have opinions about them. But remember: it is not your job to be a dick about things. It’s your job to read a book, and tell people what audience exists for it. Because the audience does exist. For all the rage and anger over Catwoman and Red Hood and the Outlaws, there’s a demographic that loves those books. It’s your job to read the comic, ruminate on the talents of those involved, and to keep your damn personal issues out of it. Not to your taste? Great. But don’t go telling everyone its a shitty book. Tell everyone that it’s a book that is not for you, but could be for some people. The kind of people who would enjoy that kind of stuff. Don’t be an asshole.

(A side note: if you have spent your own money on the book you are “reviewing”, you are not a critic. You are a fan with opinions, and while they are valid for you personally, they are wholly invalid when applied to every god damn person who reads comic books. This shit isn’t about you. Books aren’t specifically made with you in mind. If they were, they would be selling just one copy to you, and the industry would be dead. Again. Don’t be an asshole.)

The Publishers: It is your job to put out product that you believe in, and product that the market wants. It is not your job to put out books that don’t sell, because who does that? Who survives in life by giving people what they don’t want? As much as people pin the blame on you  for not making the industry more diverse, you’re not at fault. As long as your putting out the best books you can, and as long as you make the effort to attempt new things within reason, you’re doing your job. Right now, despite what many people say, you are doing this. Keep up the good work.

The Distributor: It’s your job to get comics to the retailers. Admittedly, you are doing a pretty shitty job of this. Can’t you get one god damn order right? You are something that is wrong with this industry, and I hope one day that my heel will be pushing on your throat. I want to see the light go out of your eyes, because you deserve no less than a shitty existence in some sort of bullshit purgatory where you pay for the hell you’ve put this industry through. If you were doing your job, it would make things better. But only a little bit, because there’s still a group out there more fucked up than you…

The Retailer: You. You smug looking motherfucker. You think you’re so rad, with your polybagged books and your over inflated prices. “But they’re selling for that much on E-Bay right now.” Fuck you. You are the worst. And the reason why your business is failing? The reason why you’re only skirting by, paying your lease and your Diamond bills by the skin of your teeth? It’s you. You’re the one who is supposed to sell the comics, and you’re not doing it. You’re the fuck up. You’re the industry killer. You are the worst, and we will all be better off when you are dead and gone, and I’m going to make sure that happens.

IT COMES DOWN TO THIS.

In terms of quality, the comic book industry has never been stronger. The creators have never been stronger. Fraction, Kelly Sue, Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Jason Aaron, Paul Cornell, Scott Snyder, Joshua Hale Fialkov, Grant Morrison, Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, Dan Parent, Fabio Moon, Gabriel Ba, Dustin Harbin, Cris Peter, Chris Samnee, Bettie Breitweiser, Nick Spencer, Joe Eisma…. dammit, I could actually go on like this all day. I won’t but I could.

Comics are amazing right now, and there is something available for everyone. The problem? Retailers aren’t selling books to everyone. They are even trying to. They’re sitting on their laurels, somehow content with the fractional audience that they have, and they refuse to push outwards. Through laziness, through apathy, through a fucking ever present disdain for certain product (yeah, I see you complaining about books that you sell on your twitter account, you useless sacks of shit), you are actively harming the industry.

It is not the customer base. It is not the economy, it is not the new digital market, and it sure as shit isn’t because the publishers are putting out an inferior product. They are doing their job by making books that people will buy. You’re just not selling them.

Shortly after DC announced their New 52 initiative, I began to hear horror stories – horror stories – from people who wanted to buy comics, but were being “turned away“. Every other day, someone would venture into the store, asking about the new books, just looking for someone to talk to. Looking for some support. They had been to other shops, and been greeted with ambivalence, or apathy, or were even outright ignored. Some were given a packet of information at least, but 52 new books? Is daunting as fuck. A person just getting into comics needs a guide. And so when they were turned away by other shops, still just as confused by the news as before, and there I was. I would ask them about their tastes, get a bead on what kind of things they enjoyed, and then I would run through the catalogue with them, helping them pick out books that they would enjoy. It’s a simple, simple thing to do: sell books people will like to the people who will like them. And dammit, I was so angry, so frustrated that it wasn’t being done. I mean hey, as a retailer, I will take  that business, and I will take it gladly. But as a member of Team Comics? How many people gave up after being treated like nothing, like nobody at a shop. How many ready and willing readers did we lose because retailers were too fucking lazy? How many are out there right now, but are being missed because retailers aren’t doing their only job.

WHAT’S TO BE DONE.

We need to leave the current system to die. None of this “coddle the retailers” bullshit. Seriously, leave us out in the cold. Because what have we done for you lately? What productive things have we had to offer this industry? We have one simple job to do. One. It’s to sell comics. To sell them passionately, and to a wide range of people. Not just the captive audience. We haven’t been doing that, and most of us never will.

Leave the retailers out in the cold. Price digital comics down to 99 cents. Push out into other markets, markets that want a broader audience, that actively scrape and pull for every sale they can get because they are fucking legitimate businesses. Push the big red button, blow it all to hell. Because the strong will survive. The ones that are actually doing the work, who are searching, who are selling, who are doing everything they can in their power to spread comics to every person, they. Will. Survive. They will. They are strong, and they are savvy, and mark my words, even though sales seem to be in the toilet for the industry at large, they are making more money than in years past. It seems improbable, but I know this to be true. Even before DC’s big “let’s all fuck on blood-stained piles of money” gambit, my shop was raking in the cash. We were pushing and prodding and finding. Growing the customer base. Numbers were up a staggering amount from the year before.

And yes, fuck, look at that asshole, going for the brag. But hey, do you feel like giving me a run down of your numbers? Your exact numbers there, buddy retailer? No, didn’t think so. But I know you’re out there. I know there are good retailers, and I know they are doing just fine. They have an eye for business, they sell and order within their means, and they are pushing and expending, looking at where sales are slumping and beefing up the areas of promise. If we burn the current industry down, they will be fine. We will be fine. We’ll be part of the new thing, the new industry – the one that sees digital sales as a help, rather than a hindrance. Because do you think, do you really think, inside a medium with so much passion and so much love that people aren’t going to want print products? They they aren’t going to want their favourite things taking up space in their lives? They will. There will always be room for print, just not in the current form of monthly serialization. Collections, graphic novels, objects to display rather than to hide in boxes, bagged and boarded, unread and unloved. Fuck that noise. Get with the future, motherfuckers. We have jet packs and fuck on the moon!

IN CONCLUSION

Stop with the god damn doom and gloom. Do you love this medium? Love the books that you read? Then do your thing. Enjoy books and let others enjoy books. Don’t be a fucking clubhouse, and get inclusive. Comics are for everyone and it’s about time they all knew.

Let’s sell some motherfucking comics.

Let’s do it.

For the laffs.

This is now how I will end every conversation.

 

 

Me vs The Angry Mob: Proper Comic Shop Maintenance (Using Fractions)

 Do you think that I'm funny?

And there are days that make you feel the worst. Personally and professionally, you are spent and the people, the folks who walk in and out of your life all day, are not helping your brain turn a corner. They’re locking you into a dark place, making you believe the worst and expect the least. Days like this don’t happen to me often, but they still happen. They tend to be those slower days at work, when it’s, say, minus forty outside, and I woke up to a flat tire and was late to work and now, now, no one is even showing up except for this one guy, this fucking guy who is talking to me about how comics are bullshit, and why do you even sell them, when Magic the Gathering is clearly what’s important. This, as he finally puts in a request for another common card, bringing his grand total up to ninety cents for the hour he’s been in the store.

There are absolutely days that beat you down, days when your daily total doesn’t quite cover the cost of running the store for the day. But always, always, those days are erased by Wednesdays. When the people arrive in droves, where they talk excitedly about comics, where you can go home after running your feet off, content with the knowledge that you’ve done something good (and that you’ll still get to eat real food for quite a bit longer).  That said, the good days only come around if you’re doing your job right. If you’re worried every day, if you’re living from Diamond payment to Diamond payment, you are absolutely doing things wrong, far and away. And it’s not the economy, and it’s not digital comics or pirated scans. It’s not. If you do good work, if you keep an eye on your customers and actively seek new ones, you will not have trouble surviving in this business. As always, I’m here to be a dick and tell you about the things you are doing wrong, and the things you should be doing to stay afloat. And this time, I’ve brought back-up, in the form of a time travelling Matt Fraction.

ME VS. THE ANGRY MOB

PROPER COMIC SHOP MAINTENANCE (USING FRACTIONS)

01. TIME-TRAVELLIN’ BLUES

Did you know that comic book superstar Matt Fraction used to sling comics from the opposite side of the glass counter? He totally did. And from the sound of things, he was pretty fantastic at it. He was passionate, opinionated, and always, always tried to make sure people were reading good books. The guy loved comics so much he started a weekly web-based pdf zine called Savant wherein he (alongside a bunch of other talented folk) attempted to make comics better. The zine was split into several sections, each designed to strengthen different parts of the beast. There were rants, reviews, a section devoted to books you should not be without, essays, calls to action, and most importantly (well, to me anyway), a section focused on comics retail. Every week, the writers would rotate through different sections, in order to offer different perspectives (and so that no one got burnt out using a single set of writing tools and topics). For the first week, Fraction took on the retail section and wrote a fantastic article called 10 Things (which I will hereby assume was a reference to the Heath Ledger’s finest work, 10 Things I Hate About You). Within, he listed (you guessed it, champ!) ten things retailers should be doing. And even though the article was over ten years old when I found it (thanks, Wayback Machine!) all of these points stand true today.

And so, in the spirit of great comics retail, using the ghost of Fractions past (and Savant’s explicit instructions to spread the information in contained to all corners), we present his points, complete with bullshit bonus commentary from this guy.

You’re welcome, internet.

02. TEN THINGS I LOVE ABOUT FRACTION

1. Sell new titles to your regular subscribers when they come in on Wednesday. I don’t mean new issues — I mean new titles. There is no discernable reason why people who read Preacher should not be reading 100 Bullets. This will require you to get off of your ass and know everything that comes into your store. Once something comes out that you think subs will like, drop one in their bag, or catch them when they come in.

Every week, I make an attempt to read every new series and every book with a new creative team or status quo before the store opens for business on Wednesdays. This doesn’t always work out (there are a lot of comics, you guys) but for the most part, I have a solid knowledge of what books I should sell to who. This means knowing and realizing that books I don’t care for will be perfect for a certain section of the comic book market. For example, I don’t agree with or want to read books like Red Hood and the Outlaws – but we definitely sold out of that first issue. Sold it to people who are going to love that book for what it is.

That said, at the same time, I’m not going to go off and sell a book to you just because I can. If I know you don’t enjoy a certain kind of book, and you ask me for my thoughts, I will warn you against grabbing it. In doing this, I hope to earn your trust when all the books I put in your hands are books you will absolutely enjoy. Every retailer should at least make an attempt to do things like this if they want to stay in the game.

2. Sell like a drug dealer. See that little kid in your store? Make sure he or she walks out with a free book. Fuck you, tightwad, it’s worth it. Explain to them that if they want more, they have to buy it. And no, I’m not talking about Danger Girl. Use your head. Any of the Animated books. Bone. Archie. If they’re older, use your best judgment. Trust me-if the first one’s free, they’ll be back. If you can do this in front of their parents, it’s even better.

Take that part about the “Animated” books (I’m assuming the old Batman and Superman series DC used to produce alongside the old cartoons) and replace it with things like Tiny Titans and the Marvel Adventures line, and baby, you’ve got a stew goin’.

Fact: all ages comics sell terribly in the single format – but holy crap do those collections move. They move even faster when you start giving away the single issues to kids for free. Inevitably, if you pick the right poison, a parent will return for more of that thing their kid loved so much. They’ll buy whatever you have, so long as they have it. Sometimes this means more of the single issues, but more often than not, it means they’ll buy those nice collections you have from you  instead. Those can’t be wrecked as easily. So always, always make sure you order a few singles of every all ages book, even if you won’t be able to sell them – because you’ll end up making money on the back end.

Also: this “sell like a drug dealer” works for everyone. If you see anyone in your store who might be a new reader, or is in the shop reluctantly, don’t let them leave without something you think they’ll enjoy. I have a “New Reader Giveaway” box of comics that I’ve loved that I give away to people. It’s a simple and easy way to get them to try something, and hopefully return. This is always the goal. Get them to return.

3. Promote the shit out of things you like. Your regulars will listen to you. They will do what you say. Friend of mine at the store sold 10 copies of the Cages hardcover the day it came out to people who had never heard of it, re-ordered 20, and sold those over a weekend. All cold-sells. Hell, I used to offer a moneyback guarantee if I felt strongly enough about it. Put your money where your mouth is. If Big-Ass Leather Bitches is your thing, however, you may be well and truly fucked.

The only part of this I disagree with is the Big-Ass Leather Bitches part. If that’s your thing, hey, whatever man. There’s an audience out there, and you should sell those books to those people. That said, you won’t find too many of those books in my shop. I’m not that guy, and I have a tough time wrapping my head around why someone would want to spend their time on thinly veiled cartoon pornography. The only thing this aversion means is, that clientèle often goes elsewhere for that fix. Which I’m a little okay with. It’s not a huge market. I don’t think.

Regardless, if you don’t read comics, if you’re not passionate about them, you should not be selling them. Or more accurately, you’re probably not selling them. Either hire someone who does, or get yourself acquainted (or reacquainted) with the medium. It’s pretty awesome. Also, if you know the product and your customers, that whole “money back guarantee” thing? Is not a gamble. Not at all. It’s a card that will improve your chances of selling a book several times over, and if you’re good, very few people will actually come back demanding compensation. In my five years of retail, I have maybe had to deal with four returns, and I’ve hooked people up with hundreds upon hundreds of books. Do this.

4. Do not assume that your customers read Previews line by fucking line every month: keep them informed. For example: creative team changes. I sold through Mark Waid’s first issue of Captain America by asking random people if they ever read Cap. When they said yes, I would say “Oh, well, it’s good again,” and they would then buy it. In two hours, the book was gone. This was the first time that anyone could ever remember Captain America selling out.

We give copies of Previews away to all of our regular customers. For free. For a small section of our customer base, that’s all they need. They know what they want. For the vast majority, however, getting a copy of Previews is a fairly passive activity. Some probably don’t read it. A lot actually do, but they keep their notes to themselves, waiting until the books are on the shelf before they tell you that they’re interested. It is essential that you read through Previews every month with a fine toothed comb. You need to take note of certain writers, certain artists, mix and match with what you’re selling and what you know about your customer base.

And don’t be afraid to just add books to a person’s file. Maybe not the whole series, but place a special order, or make a special note to toss the first issue of certain books into people’s files. If you run a decent shop, you don’t penalize people for not wanting everything in their file – after all, sometimes books will just fall out of favour, and the last thing you want, is to have a customer that’s scared of dropping their books – either because you’re going to apply some bullshit charge to their account, or because you’ll make them buy all the issues they “pre-ordered” until you’re satisfied. That is a sure fire way of losing customers. But getting back to the point: talk to your customers about things. Make them aware of things they will enjoy, and make the occasional executive decision. Again, if you know your customers, these decisions are not gambles, but almost-guaranteed sales.

(Also… should I pick up the collections of all that Mark Waid Cap stuff? I haven’t read those.)

5. See all those reprints you have sitting on the shelf ? Hal Foster books no one remembers ordering; the Essential books Marvel puts out; Eisner, any Eisner; Alex Raymond things; Carl Barks; all those Greatest Ever Told trades from DC? The next time someone’s dad comes in lamenting “Oh, I used to read these when I was a kid,” YOU MUST SELL TO THEM. If your store is worth a shit, you will have something close to what they used to read.

This is an easy one. You are a sales person. Sell things to people who want them.

6. Sin City. Bendis’ stuff. Blueberry. The Vertigo Jonah Hex. Button Man. 300. There are others. You should have them. Dads will buy them. Grown men often have problems with men in tights mindlessly kicking the shit out of each other. This is why there are other genres out there. If you hook them, they’ll come back with their kids.

Over eleven years have passed between this list’s original publication, but the spirit of this remains true. You should have a good stock of every genre out there. Every single one you can. Westerns, crime books, horror books, humour books, romance, whatever. Limiting your customer base only harms you. Can’t seem to sell those books? Well maybe it’s because your product knowledge is shitty. Why aren’t you trying everything? Often times, you’ll be surprised at the quality of a book you didn’t think you’d enjoy. Maybe you wouldn’t buy it personally, but you should absolutely sample. You have the access.

And also, the Bendis stuff Fraction is referring to above is not-so-much his superhero stuff, but things like Powers and Jinx and Torso. All those. They are great, and you should always have them in stock.

7. Girlfriends often dart hither and yon between the isles like abandoned and frightened animals while their depraved boyfriends grab hungrily from the shelves. They are bored and unnerved and a little scared (often of the smell-see next item). Sell to them. If your store does not carry Love and Rockets, Bone, Optic Nerve, Clover Honey, Kill Your Boyfriend, Clockwork Angels, Strangers in Paradise, Heavy Liquid, Black Hole and so forth, then your store is shitty and you are shitty. Die, shiteater.

Nowadays, you’ll be forgiven if you don’t have Clockwork Angels because it’s not in print. (And I should note, I’ve never heard of Clover Honey but I just might need to check it out.) The rest remains true – but don’t make the mistake of selling books based on gender. I can’t stress this point enough. Not every girl or woman responds to the alt books. There’s a huge chunk that straight up adore the fights-n-tights comics, and you should always start a sale by asking what kind of things they like. Not just comics, but books and movies and TV shows. If your shop is worth anything, you will have something for anyone. Really, the publish all kinds of comics.

8. Have a staff of people that shower and get laid regularly working for you. I don’t care how long you’ve known Steve, the pot-bellied antisocial introspective Dr. Who mutant, and I don’t care how long he’s worked for you, nor do I give two shits for Sister Sarah with regards to his encyclopedic knowledge of Manga. Fire him. He’s a cliche, for fuck’s sake, a recurring joke on The Simpsons. Shitcan him. Replace with regular customers that you know, people with good senses of humor, hygene, taste, and people skills. While you’re at it, acquire some lights and a fucking vacuum cleaner. Make your store look good and smell good, you dumb bastards.

Honestly, this can’t be stressed enough. I have this goal, one that I’ve been working on for quite some time. I want to show up to work looking dapper as shit every day. Every shift. No t-shirts. No jeans. Things that are comfortable, but vaguely stylish. I say vaguely, because I know shit about style – but I can fake a bit of “nerd chic” if I have to. Your store will only be as good as the front you present, and if it’s fat and spiteful, chances are you won’t get a lot of return business. Just the hardcores who were going to buy comics one way or another – and you can not survive with that audience.

Also, it’s okay to like Doctor Who. Really, it is. Just don’t be scary about it.

9. Arrange a portion of your shelf real estate by Creator. Generate the appearance or reflection of cult-like status. Nothing is sexier than a secret club. Crossover sales will be simple. If we begin to treat creators like Pop Stars, their works will be considered Pop Artifacts, and treated as such. Gaiman, Moore, Morrison, Ellis, Ennis, Pope, Burns, Busiek, Bagge, Ware, Clowes: Essays and screeds have been written on this one. I have done it and seen it work.

This does work. It does. On Free Comic Book Day, I’ve arranged sections like this. Books displayed as genres, and not by publisher. They blew off the shelves. Never, ever underestimate the appeal of crossover sales. The only reason why I don’t do this all the time? Well, my biggest problem has to do with space. With so many comic shops in the city, we can’t afford a location larger than what we have. Or no wait, check that. We can afford a larger location, but let’s say we have a couple of bad months. Let’s say we just have a bad year. Not through any consequence of our own, but through, say, external forces. We don’t want to go out of business. We want to be able to share comics with the masses for as long as we can. So we’re stuck at this size until a few more of the shops in town drop dead, because they’re shitty. (They are. Seriously.) Once we gain a bit more of the market, we can expand, comfortable with the knowledge that – even with a few shitty months, we’ll be able to make the space work. Until then, I just touch everything that I can, and keep the genres, and authors locked in my head. I can pull out a comprehensive list on command, point you in the right direction. I’m here to help. I will help you. And then, soon, I will have my utopia store.

10. See those giant, never-changing bins of cardboard in your store? The ones filled with little things wrapped in plastic bags? See how they don’t sell? That’s because price guides are for shit. The success of TPBs and OGNs should by now have shown to you that people don’t mind paying more for getting more, from a story point of view. Do not wait for publishers to do this. Assemble runs of back issues that constitute complete story lines. Tape them together in a bundle. Sell them for TPB or OGN prices, not what fucking Wizard tells you to. Would you rather have a ten-dollar back issue until the day you die, or ten dollars in your pocket and four fewer issues in your bin?

We call them sets, and they sell like crazy. We still have back issues (that market still does a tidy business for us, but we’re one of the few shops in town that really have a comprehensive stock of old things) but anymore, we’d rather get some of the newer stuff out the doors – especially when they’re fresh. We’ll get back issues returned to us in time, when the heat has cooled, and we’ll sell to the completest when they come around then – but they are not the future of this business. Their retroactive interests don’t push the industry forward – they are forever looking backwards. So keep up with the new. Sell it, and sell it hard. Shave off a few dollars and give people a complete experience. This will work.

And there you have it. A three thousand word plus guide to not being a shitty comics retailer. Follow these, and you should be fine. The good days will come rolling in, and suddenly, you won’t be so worried about shit. Sound like a plan?

03. UM, ACTUALLY…

I know the title said “Fractions“, but naming shit is hard, asshole. Don’t you have better things to worry about?

Me vs The Angry Mob | Halftime

 Do you think that I'm funny?

Would you look at that? A sports reference. Send me in coach, I’m ready for the big baseball match!

It’s been a pretty crazy month for comic book retail – or at least it seems that way. All the information I have comes from my own personal experience within the confines of my store and bits of anecdotal stories from the internet (a notoriously flawed information source), so please, give me a little leeway with this statement. From the bits and pieces that I keep hearing, sales and interest are up across the board – and it’s not just speculators who are coming into the stores. There’s a smattering of lapsed readers and a good chunk of new readers popping in to try out the new books. Several Marvel-only customers have been dipping their toes in across the aisle, and in general, sales are up. A lot. It’s very tempting to take this victory and run a lap around the track, arms raised. But this isn’t over yet. Not by a long shot.

Me vs. The Angry Mob

Halftime

01. FIRST HALF

The game goes like this. First quarter, DC announces their big line change. Fifty-two new books, a brand new continuity, blah blah blah. From that moment, the game begins. From my chair at the helm of the store, I start stirring up interest. Previews hits, I’m pushing copies at everyone. Everyone. File customers, regulars, new customers… the whole nine yards. Every person who walks through the door – hell, even people that I pass on the street – I’m filling them in on the impending changes. The reaction is quite varied – some are beyond excited, some are cautiously optimistic, and a few diagnose this change as the end of life as we know it, what with the massive black hole that is produced from the obvious failure-to-come. But the reaction? Doesn’t matter. It never matters that far in advance. What matters is the fact that people know. At that point, as long as you’re getting the word out, you’re winning.

The second quarter begins when you have to set your orders. This not only includes your initial orders, but the orders for the Final Order Cut-Off date which, in my opinion are even more important than the first round of orders. If you’re playing the game properly, you aren’t sitting back on the first batch of orders and hoping for the best. You’re continually pushing the launch, getting readers both old and new interested in books that they’re probably going to love, and you’re always making adjustments. During this stage, I fumbled a little bit. When I was going through the Final Order Cut-Off numbers, I was only taking into account the people who had committed already. I didn’t adjust for the any ballooning that would take place in the three plus weeks in between. This was a mistake that caused my numbers for the first couple weeks to be a little lighter than I would’ve liked. However, there’s ways of correcting errors like this.

The moment you realize something is up – either positively or negatively, you have to adjust, and you have to adjust fast. Damn the fact that the final order date has passed. The only thing that means is you can’t lower your numbers, and in this case, a person probably didn’t need to lower their numbers – they just needed to raise them. And so as the first book disappeared off the shelf, I hit the computer and feverishly changed our numbers of several upcoming books. Not all of those orders went through, but some of them did. Our Batman numbers came through perfectly – and our week four numbers would’ve been as close to pitch perfect as could be, had Diamond not fucked me over (but more on that in a little bit).

The second half ends right about now, when the orders for the last week come in, and you see what they’re doing on your shelves. While the numbers might be good, and it seems like everyone is winning to a certain extent, you can absolutely blow a fantastic lead by fucking up the second half. You should not wipe your hands and call it a day, letting your numbers for issue 2, 3 and 4 ride out. If you do that, you are absolutely going to lose the game.

02. SECOND HALF

This is where we are now. The first bits are done, and the first wave is pretty much over. You’ve surveyed the damage and made adjustments. Now, it’s time to go forward.

At this moment, Diamond is asking you to send in your initial orders for November. That means you’re looking at how all of your #1s did and you’re ordering your number 3s to suit. The luxury wasn’t there for the issue twos, but hey. Each first issue had a bit of selling time before those second issues hit the Final Order Cut Off, so you adjusted those, right? If you didn’t, whelp, it was nice knowing you. Hit the showers, because that’s a fuck up so monumental, it might as well yell out to everyone that you’ll be out of business completely within two years. Seriously, mark it on your calendar. Or no, actually don’t, because the writing has been on the wall for a while now, hasn’t it. You’re just barely scraping by, right? Right.

Anyway, you’re setting your month three orders, and if you’re doing things right, they should be pretty okay. You’ve been asking customers every week about which books they’ve been enjoying, you’ve been adding and dropping things from their files, and most of the hard work is done. (You’ll still need to account for stragglers, but that’s always a given.) But now, you should have yourself a larger customer base. Those new readers and those returning lapsed readers? They have a whole world of comic book reading that they have yet to experience, and they are just yearning to get into some good stuff. Over the past month and over the months to come, you should be able to discern their tastes fairly well, and you should be able to recommend books from there. Just because they are in your store now, don’t think that they will be active about their pull list, or discovering new things. They don’t know this world as well as you do, and they are looking for a guide – and you should never. EVER. Just let them use the internet as a guide. EVER. That place is full of absolute bullshit, and is an accurate representation of jack shit. Talk to your newer customers and get their opinions. Add books and drop books. Keep them happy, and you’ll keep their business.

And old customers. Don’t forget about those people. They are the ones that brought you to the dance, and the reason you’re still in the game today. Make sure that they are getting the books that they want, and more importantly, make sure that their purchasing habits are still within their budget. A bevy of number ones is tempting, but if they just added 52 books to their file, they’re probably feeling a bit of strain. Make sure you’re talking to them every time they walk through your doors and help them make the cuts they need to make. If you don’t do this, you could very well see them disappear from your shop when it all becomes too much, and you do not want that to happen.

And finally – bulk up on your other orders. Just because this whole initiative came from DC, you shouldn’t assume that those new readers won’t want to try books from other companies. In fact, one of the best moves DC made when putting together the line-up was including several different genres. There’s almost a book for everyone in that line up (just missing a more humourous book and maybe a romance title or two) and selling other books towards taste will work out, if you approaching things properly. Again, it comes down to recommending books to people that they would like, and not the ones you would like them to read. Do this. Get on this. Get them buying smarter, and get them loving comics. If you can do this, all of your orders will be stronger as a result. Which is how you win this particular game.

FINAL ORDERS FOR THIS WEEK

  • The final week of DC #1s just shipped, and each and every one of those books are on your final order sheet right now, alongside the second prints. You’re changing these orders now, right? Increasing, lowering, whatever you need to get those numbers as perfect as you can get them. Do this. This is maybe one of the most important things for you to do this week. Myself, I’m a little hamstrung for a few of the books. Diamond fucked up my order and as a result, I’m missing half of my Aquaman and Savage Hawkman orders. And worse: I only received 20% of my Teen Titans orders. Not even enough to cover all of our subscriptions, which is just the worse fucking thing. If only this industry had a remotely competent distributor, that would be awesome. Anyway, without these books on my shelf, I’m guessing at my orders for #2s. Wish me luck!
  • The first issue of Spaceman is on the list. This is the new book from Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso, the guys behind 100 Bullets and the Batman Flashpoint tie in. Azz is also the writer of Wonder Woman. Think you can move a few copies of this book? How about for a dollar? Because that’s how much it is. Spend the next couple of weeks smoozing the customers, and put that book right up at the till on release week, and offer everyone the book for a dollar. Or hell, free with a Wonder Woman purchase, why not. You’ll lose pennies, but potentially make a lot more money in the long run. What do you have to lose?
  • Jonathan Hickman’s new Plus project starts in a few weeks. The first title in this line is the Feel Better Now one-shot that’s on the list this week. Have you been doing all that you can to promote this book? It’s the first he’s written and drawn for quite some time, and he’s not going to collect this until he gets three more of these one shots done. That’s gonna take some time and you’re going to want this on your shelves… well, maybe not until the collection comes out, but you want to have a good stock of this book. Making sure your Red Wing customers will have access to this book should provide you with a good base number. What, you sold out of Red Wing? Well then you’re numbers should be more than that. Go. Do.
  • The beginning of Jason Aaron’s run on Incredible Hulk begins here. This run is emerging from the ashes of Fear Itself and has writing from the guy responsible for the latest X-Men event. If those bits of information tweak anything in your brain, go with that feeling, and adjust. Oh, and keep in mind some guy named Marc Silvestri will be handling the art chores. Whoever that is. (Wink.)
  • Have you seen an increased amount of interest in the new Wolverine and the X-Men book? Well that could be because Marvel recognizes where the final order cut off falls and has been pushing that book heavy this week. You should probably up your orders a little, unless you’ve already gone all in on that particular book. At least match your Schism numbers. Also, the price of this went from the advertised $4.99 to $3.99. So keep that in mind.

Me vs. The Angry Mob | Women Be Shopping

Do you think that I'm funny?

A kid walks into the store with his mother, and begins to look through the new books. He’s one of my regulars, really enjoys Batman, and collects two ongoings at a time. Anyway, he’s looking through the news comics, and he ends up grabbing copies of Red Hood and the Outlaws and Catwoman off the shelf. In his file, there’s a copy of Detective Comics and Batman. Of these four books, I don’t quite feel comfortable selling three of them to this kid. Not because I don’t think he’s going to enjoy them – I’m just worried that the audience is a little too young for the, uh… graphic content of the book. So I do what I always do in this situation: I consult the parent in regards to the content. This woman, she’s really nice. She listens patiently when I explain some of the content issues and looks at the pages as the kid stares nervously. In the end, she shrugs and says, “Nothing he hasn’t seen in the video games or whatever, it seems fine.”

And so I sell the books, and the pair of them walk off – which is when my brain softly whispers, “You shouldn’t have done that. You just made a terrible mistake.”

But I’m a retailer. Isn’t it my job to sell comics? Even if I don’t quite agree with the content?

Hold on, kids, shit’s about to get bumpy.

Me vs. The Angry Mob:

Women Be Shopping (or) We Should Be Better By Now

01. GODDAMMIT

This week’s adventure began on Tuesday night, after the shop closed for the day. To make sure all of my customers will have a chance to grab all of the books they might like, I’ve always made it a policy to read any first issues of creative team changes before the shop opens on Wednesday. During this month, we hired James as our double secret temporary comic shop helper in order to make sure all of the DC books are read and recapped before four a.m.

Anyway, on Tuesday, we split the titles down the middle, alternating picks, and then sat down to read the books. I had Catwoman in my stack and he had Red Hood and the Outlaws in his. Once we got to those books, both of us noted that we were not impressed with the, uh… story telling choices in the books. They were clearly books intended for a very specific audience, and that audience? Was not us. Or women. Or, in my opinion, kids.

I know that as I read the Catwoman, when I opened the first page, I yelled out an exasperated, “Goddammit!” Greeting me on page one were gratuitous TnA shots, the title character’s face well hidden until blammo – she leaps out of a building with one jug flying free in the breeze. I was not a fan. Then, as I continued to read (and James can confirm this) the exasperation turned into something else. Soon enough, I had gone from an exasperated “Goddammit” to a resigned, “Goddammit, this is gonna’ sell, isn’t it?”

Which is true. I don’t think anyone out there is arguing whether or not there’s an audience for this kind of comic. There absolutely is, and that’s not the problem. No, the problem comes when you realize that this is the only audience that is currently being targeted within the superhero genre. Books like this don’t just exist, but are omnipresent in the medium, clogging up shelves with very little alternative. And that? Is wrong.

But as a retailer, what do I do about this? What do I do when a ten year old boy or girl walks into the store and wants to purchase books like this, because they’re fans of superheroes? What do I do when a new female reader wanders through and pages through the comics? Do I have a responsibility to do something? To not order shelf copies to sate my guilt or to order more to sate the tastes of my existing customers? What exactly should I do?

02. WHAT EXACTLY TO DO

With all things in comic book retail, it comes down to one thing: if you are in the business of selling comics, you have to take an active role in the store. That seems like a no brainer, but there are many retailers out there who are content with ordering what they will and doing absolutely nothing to try and affect the ebb and flow of what sells and what doesn’t. Some would argue that a retailer shouldn’t try and affect what the customers are buying. Hell, in some aspects, I’m a big proponent of just letting people buy what they like. I have never, and will never actively discourage someone from buying a book that they are going to love, even if the book does not appeal to me specifically. But, to that same effect, I won’t sit by and let people try and guess what those books will be based on a brief page through by the shelves.

A retailer should absolutely know as much as they can about the product that they are selling. It would be folly to suggest that they read/see/do everything – down that path lies some form of madness, I would guess – but a person should at least be able to give potential customers the broad strokes of certain items, either filling them in on the genre, or story telling style, or what-have-you. With that knowledge, you can and should affect what books are sold, and to whom.

And so with books like Catwoman and Red Hood and the Outlaws, I do what I always do. I make sure I’m aware of its contents – or at least the style of it’s contents – and then I sell them as applicable. And yes, those books sell, and they sell to quite a few people. But under no circumstances should I let that be the end of things. At the same time I’m making sure the audience for Catwoman can find the book, I have to make sure that the audience that will vehimately hate Catwoman have books to purchase as an alternative. Or, at the very least, I should steer them away from a thing that could potentially hobble their enjoyment of comic books for quite some time, and send them towards something that they will enjoy. As I like to stress to everyone that I meet, comics are not a genre, they are a medium and absolutely every kind of story can be told in that medium – and whenever books are published that fall in line with that way of thinking, I do whatever I can to support the effort. A recent example of this would be my support for the book Mystic – a fantastic fantasy tale set featuring a pair of teenage sister as protagonists. It’s imaginative, it’s fun and it features a rare glimpse into what the medium can accomplish when it aims for broader audiences.

Now of course, that book is not selling as much as Catwoman or Red Hood are. Which is a shame, BUT – that does not mean that the effort should not be made. In fact, it’s the gradual encouragement of books like Mystic that will possibly see the medium change its focus in the years to come. That kind of creativity and that kind of mindset absolutely needs to be rewarded when it’s attempted, and it is the job of the retailer – it is my job specifically – to affect the ebb and flow of that book. It is my job to bring it in, and to sell it to the people who are going to love it dearly, and if they aren’t coming into the shop, it is my job to go out and find them. That’s the point right? I want as many people to be reading comics as possible. It’s good for my business, it’s good for the industry, and its good for the art form in general to actively push out of its comfort zone.

But. Apparently, I’m one of just a few retailers who actually do things like this. As stated above, many are content to let the numbers be what they will. For the record, the numbers consistently spiral downwards on pretty much any given series after the first issue hits. The only comics that don’t follow this trend? Are ones that are actively sold by either positive word of mouth or stunning quality. Now, could you imagine how books would sell if more retailers took a more active roll in the way their books sell? Not in a negative way, but in a positive way? The industry would sure as hell be a different looking place, filled with books that appeal to all types. And hell, we might even get a few more tasteful superhero books out of the mix.

…what. It could happen. Just stop being so god damn lazy and make it happen.

Until then, I’ll keep on doing what I’m doing, and hope for the best, while occasionally, selling the worst to the folks who are going to enjoy it. That’ll be how I get the money to keep trying to make the industry a better place.