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Friday, June 15, 2007

 
The Friday Briefing -- Hello, good day and welcome to -- you know, I just want to say, it really does feel good to be blogging regularly again. Thanks to everyone who has dropped me a line to welcome me back. I really, really appreciate it.

Now then, as to the subject of the week -- no, not Zombie Mary Jane, although I will say I saw Chris Butcher's point crystal-clear once I saw the Zombie poster side-by-side with the original comic, which I vividly remember buying for my daughter a few years ago. I love me some Marvel Zombies as much as anybody, but for me the Suydam covers were never a part of the attraction, and I have to agree that this one goes over the line.

No, the subject hereabouts has been the future of comics retailing. I started off with a revision of an old essay on the subject, which didn't quite hit all the points I wanted to make. So I wrote more on what kind of shops exist now, and what kind of shops will likely survive in a changing marketplace. Basically I think that superhero-centric stores are living in the glorious past of the '80s and '90s, when it kind of made sense to emphasize superhero comics because that's all there were, and all they could sell. But in the 21st century, the world outside the direct market is gobbling up comics in ever-increasing numbers, just, superhero comics are not in the majority of what it is they're buying. Manga and artcomix have both made huge inroads since the century began, albeit in different manners and different numbers, but they're indisputably the comics that sell outside the insular (I always want to say "inbred," but I'm trying to be nice), misinformed (again see that David Beard piece in the new Comics Journal) and ultimately self-destructive world of the direct market.

One criticism angrily lobbed by hardcore superhero convenience store customers at me, one of the many mischaracterizations of what I wrote, is that I don't want superhero comics available at all, anywhere. Well, how would I buy my Marvel Zombies, then? Or Paul Dini's Detective Comics? All-Star Superman?

Engine member David Wynne really latched on to a point I guess I meant but kind of buried in what I wrote, and I'll confess that my distaste for dirty, disorganized comic shops that open late on a regular basis may have caused me not to see I didn't make this point clearly enough. So I'll let Wynne put it in his words. Responding to an Engine reader who implied that comic stores currently must rely on superhero fanatics to stay in business, Wynne gets it exactly right when he says:

"...but those customers are already hooked. As long as a shop continues to stock the crap they come in for, they'll still keep coming in. Which means it doesn't need to be pushed right up in the front window, making any casual passers by think that they won't find anything else inside."

When discussing this obvious fact in casual conversation, I usually say something like "You could stock all the superhero comics in a dumpster behind the store, and you wouldn't lose one superhero-oriented customer. If it's Wednesday, they know what they want, and they'll do whatever it takes to get it."

Have you ever experienced a superhero-heavy comic book store on Wednesday afternoon? It's quite a lot like watching addicts line up for methadone outside the clinic. Damn it, now I've cast another aspersion. It's like I have Aspersions Syndrome. But what I am saying is, all that space -- all that goddamned space -- retailers at superhero convenience shops devote to superhero comics? It's a total waste of their retail space. The vast majority of such shops could easily cut that space in half without dropping a single title, and devote the new space to comics other people would like. People like the wives, girlfriends, children and friends the superhero addict drags along with him to the store. What if those people find something to read? Would it really be so awful, Mr. Diamond-Centric Retailer, to get the money from both your regular superhero guy and his girlfriend?

Believe it or not, the answer in some cases is yes. A lot of retailers are extraordinarily comfortable with the established "Good Ol' Boys" atmosphere of their shop, and they would gladly eschew growing their business if they don't have to deal with women. Or kids. Or, oh my god, women and their kids!

Don't believe it? Then you haven't been in many comic book stores.

Speaking of which, yesterday I also posted about my favourite comic book stores. If you visit one or two or all of them, I think you'll see why my standards are so high for comics retailing. I mean, if your store meets most of my criteria for being a good one, then I have no problem with you. I am, in fact, not even talking about you. But if women and children feel unwelcome in your shop, if you are rude or deceptive to your customers, if you don't open on time and can't for the life of you imagine why anyone would want to read comics that you don't want to read -- or stock -- then yeah, I am talking to you. Well, talking about you.

Because, really, I am talking to people who buy comics. Not "Comics consumers," not "collectors," "fans," or little-z Marvel zombies. I am talking to people who like to read comics, who want to share their passion for the artform with their friends and loved ones, and who want to support stores that have a good chance of surviving the current transition from floppy monthly pamphlet comic booklets to the comics the whole world has said it wants to read: Comics with a spine and a complete story.

If that sounds like you, well, hello. I've been talking to you all week and haven't really said a proper hello. And what I want to say to you during this, The Friday Briefing, is this:

Please vote with your dollars. Please support the shops that work hard to present the best face for the artform we love, and who try damned hard to sell comics to everyone that wants to buy them, whatever country they originated in, and whatever format they are presented in. If your dealer presents a sloppy retail environment, or demonstrates unprofessional business practices, or worse, both, then find a better shop. They're out there. We're not really talking about stores that only exist in my imagination, they already exist right now. Some are better than others, but if you are buying from a dead-end retailer, you already know there's a problem. I've just been trying to help you put into words what the problem is, and suggest some solutions. I'm not trying to ban superhero comics, I'm just lobbying for a world in which superhero comics don't continue to alienate readers of other comics, who already exist, and who want to buy more comics -- from anyone who wants to sell them to them, in a welcoming and professional manner.

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