Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
Bookscan and Dick -- Dick Hyacinth looks at the Bookscan kerfuffle, and is sharp enough to understand exactly why Bone is an art comic, which some people you would think would know better weren't able to quite wrap their brain around.
Justice League: New Frontier DVD Out Today -- Both I and my buddy Tim picked up our copies of the two-disc special edition on our lunch break today, and I am psyched to pop it in as soon as I get home tonight.
If you've been under a rock the past decade, New Frontier is Darwyn Cooke's love letter to the DC superheroes, gorgeously illustrated and written on an epic scale. Probably the best thing DC's published since Watchmen, and now on DVD in an animated version that could only be better if it could have been twice as long and included even more of the events of the original comic book.
Read an interview with the New Frontier cast at Newsarama, as well as an account of the New Frontier after-party held at The Isotope, James Sime's forward-looking San Francisco comics boutique.
I hope you're as excited about the release of this DVD as I am; I got the Absolute Edition of the comics for my birthday, and had a blast revisiting the story.
A Far More Distant Third: Superheroes as Tiny Niche Genre -- Paul O'Brien continues to labour under the delusion that superheroes are mainstream comics, and then along comes Rich Johnston with a fascinating link to the Bookscan graphic novel sales figures for 2007 -- sales of graphic novels in mainstream bookstores. Here's the Top 55:
80423...NARUTO V13 KISHIMOTO MASASHI
72328...Frank Miller's 300 MILLER FRANK
67147...NARUTO V1 THE TESTS OF THE NIN KISHIMOTO MASASHI
62012...NARUTO V14 KISHIMOTO MASASHI
58372...FRUITS BASKET V16 TAKAYA NATSUKI
55609...NARUTO V15 KISHIMOTO MASASHI
54445...NARUTO V2 KISHIMOTO MASASHI
51714...DARK TOWER THE GUNSLINGER BORN KING STEPHEN
50250...DEATH NOTE V1 OHBA TSUGUMI
50092...BLEACH V1 KUBO TITE
49487...NARUTO V12 KISHIMOTO MASASHI
49082...NARUTO V18 KISHIMOTO MASASHI
47436...NARUTO V27 KISHIMOTO MASASHI
46526...FRUITS BASKET V17 TAKAYA NATSUKI
46019...NARUTO V24 KISHIMOTO MASASHI
45945...BEST OF POKEMON ADV V1 KUSAKA HIDENORI
45539...NARUTO V3 KISHIMOTO MASASHI
45449...WATCHMEN MOORE ALAN
45084...POKEMON MYST DUNGEON VIZ MEDIA
45071...NARUTO V21 KISHIMOTO MASASHI
43466...VAMPIRE KNIGHT V1 HINO MATSURI
43406...NARUTO V17 KISHIMOTO MASASHI
43261...NARUTO V4 KISHIMOTO MASASHI
43239...WARRIORS THE LOST WARRIOR HUNTER ERIN
43202...KINGDOM HEARTS V2 AMANO SHIRO
41139...NARUTO V16 WALL FRANCES
40537...NARUTO V26 KISHIMOTO MASASHI
40358...DEATH NOTE V2 OHBA TSUGUMI
38524...BLEACH V2 KUBO TITE
38258...NARUTO V20 KISHIMOTO MASASHI
37638...BLEACH V19 KUBO TITE
37376...NARUTO V5 KISHIMOTO MASASHI
36917...BONE ROCK JAW MASTER OF THE E SMITH JEFF
36427...NARUTO V6 KISHIMOTO MASASHI
36345...NARUTO V7 KISHIMOTO MASASHI
36113...VAMPIRE KNIGHT V2 HINO MATSURI
34938...BEST OF POKEMON ADV V2 KUSAKA HIDENORI
34742...DEATH NOTE V10 OHBA TSUGUMI
34522...DEATH NOTE V3 OHBA TSUGUMI
34501...BLEACH V18 KUBO TITE
34302...BONE OUT FROM BONEVILLE SMITH JEFF
34195...BLEACH VOLUME 17 KUBO TITE
34075...NARUTO V25 KISHIMOTO MASASHI
34065...NARUTO V23 KISHIMOTO MASASHI
33970...NARUTO V19 KISHIMOTO MASASHI
33833...NARUTO V8 KISHIMOTO MASASHI
33775...FRUITS BASKET V18 TAKAYA NATSUKI
33501...NARUTO V22 KISHIMOTO MASASHI
33496...DEATH NOTE V9 OHBA TSUGUMI
33480...FRUITS BASKET V15 TAKAYA NATSUKI
32947...KINGDOM HEARTS II V1 AMANO SHIRO
32770...LETS FIND POKEMON SPECIAL V1 AIHARA KAZUNORI
32528...CIVIL WAR MILLAR MARK
Note that the first superhero GN to show up is at #22, Watchmen. But that doesn't even really count for the purposes of this discussion, because it's decades old and far closer to artcomix than corporate superhero storytelling in intent, tone and execution. Watchmen may well be beloved by both mainstream and direct market graphic novel buyers, but it's an exception, really, for the purposes of this discussion. To bolster that argument, I would add that if DC had played by the spirit of their contract with Moore and Gibbons rather than the letter of the thing, it also might today be creator-owned, as well.
No, the first contemporary corporate superhero graphic novel -- the kind of thing both Paul O'Brien and many (most?) direct market retailers want to believe is setting the world on fire with its appealing battles between scowling muscle-men, is Civil War, coming in at #55 on the list.
The next superhero graphic novel is at #76, and as a TV tie-in to the mainstream series Heroes, would also be an exception.
At #94 we find the second real, contemporary corporate superhero GN, and it's (ta-da!) a Civil War companion title.
Batman doesn't even make it into the Top 100, appearing at #113.
First, a warning. Journalist Tom Spurgeon has continually (and accurately) labeled retailer Brian Hibbs's interpretation of the Bookscan numbers as ridiculous. They are not any kind of Holy Grail of sell-through numbers, and may in fact be far off the mark. I, myself, have said before that the sort of Top 300 analysis of Diamond's own sales figures O'Brien and others engage in is damaging to retailers and the industry, because it gives an even more inaccurate vision of the overall market for comics.
But whatever the actual numbers of titles sold, presumably Bookscan's list of titles represents a rough estimate of what are the most popular titles being sold in many mainstream bookstores.
Note that even if, as the direct market loves to, you pretend that Manga isn't comics and therefore filter them out of the results, there are nine artcomix-type graphic novels in the top 100 (most of them Bone volumes), and only two contemporary corporate superhero graphic novels, both Civil War titles.
So is there a lesson? Yes, there is: Mainstream readers have embraced Manga as the dominant comics form. But we knew that. The surprise is how much artcomix are outselling corporate superhero comics outside the direct market. I really would have expected to see Batman in the Top 100, for example. Certainly you see a lot of Batman titles, still, on the shelves in mainstream bookstores. Will those eventually be remaindered, and future Batman title orders severely cut back on?
And does anyone think Watchmen will still be selling in these numbers in another 20 years? I do.
Do you think Civil War will be?
We'll meet back here in 2028 to find out, but I'm going to guess that no, Civil War does not have the long-term appeal and timeless storytelling found in Watchmen.
And I'm going to state once again and for the record, that the real mainstream is Manga, now obviously with artcomix a distant second, and corporate superhero shenanigans a far more distant third.
Monday, February 25, 2008
More on Hibbs's "Ridiculous" Assertions -- Yes, they're still debating how wrong Brian Hibbs is in his analysis of Bookscan's reporting of graphic novels sales, this time at The Beat. The comments section is where the beef is, and for bonus fun, read my headline five times fast.
Labels: good comic shops
Monday, Briefly -- I spent a good deal of my weekend assembling the responses from the Comic Book Galaxy Retailing Poll. Expect a long post with all the results within the next day or two.
Thursday, February 21, 2008
Win Justice League: New Frontier on DVD -- There's probably no version of the DC superheroes I love as much as the animated version that ran from the beginning of the Batman animated series in the 1990s through all its incarnations (including Batman Beyond) and into Superman and eventually Justice League and Justice League Unlimited. It was an incredible run of high-quality animation that demonstrates just how great superhero storytelling can be.
Just as great was Darwyn Cooke's miniseries DC: The New Frontier, in both its floppy and Absolute editions. And coming to DVD on Tuesday is the culmination of all these efforts, Justice League: The New Frontier on DVD.
Johanna Draper Carlson is giving away three copies of the Justice League: New Frontier DVD, and has also posted a pre-release review.
Coincidentally, I put down five bucks at my local CD/DVD store Thursday to reserve my copy of Justice League: The New Frontier on DVD. I'm excited to be getting it next week, and if you're interested in what is sure to be one of the best comics-related DVDs of the year, head over to Johanna's and enter her giveaway.
The Ethics of Downloading -- Here's some food for thought on downloading and ethics over at TorrentFreak.
Borders Moves Non-Direct Market Graphic Novel Retailing to The Next Level -- I awake this morning to a pretty shocking development in the marketing and selling of graphic novels in North America.
Dirk Deppey points to an ICv2 story about Borders opening "Concept Stores," which feature what sounds like an incredibly progressive and attractive approach to marketing certain categories of books -- and graphic novels are one of the five types of books Borders is pushing.
Staunch Direct Market supporters -- one is tempted to say zealots -- often tell me that Borders and other mainstream bookstores don't sell as many graphic novels as one might think, and I've even been told that GNs and Manga mostly just sit there until their eventual return, because the Direct Market continues to be the place where people are buying the majority of comics and graphic novels.
My anecdotal experience tells me this is wishful thinking on the part of people who believe they are somehow entitled to corner the market on comics and graphic novels, even as most of them ignore and degrade the fastest-growing sector of the comics market, Manga. But this Borders news this morning really tells me something is going on, and it looks more and more like how I see the future of comics retailing.
The categories Borders is featuring in these Concept Stores are Travel, Cooking, Wellness, Graphic Novels, and Children's Books. Anyone who knows books knows that the people who spend money on the categories listed other than graphic novels spend a lot of money, and that's a telling part of this striking development. Borders must have a good deal of faith in graphic novels as a keystone of their future revenue stream if they are making them part of the five categories being tested in this initiative.
Here's a review of one of the Borders Concept Stores, at Ars Technica, as well as the Borders Concept Store webpage with pictures and video. What Borders is doing here is very, very important to the future of graphic novel retailing, and I'll certainly be keeping an eye on it. This could be a big turning point, and it's without question a signal to the less progressive stores within the direct market that it's time to start seriously looking at what the future holds for their industry, and how best to adjust to the graphic novel revolution of the past decade. Some stores, like Jim Crocker's Modern Myths (I interviewed him yesterday), have already positioned themselves to compete with a store like the one Borders is testing. There's no question I would continue to shop at Modern Myths if I lived in Northampton, even if a Borders Concept Store opened up right next door. But a lot of comic book stores will be forever diminished in the eyes of consumers if the Concept Store rollout goes nationwide, and consumers get a taste of what good graphic novel shopping really looks like.
Labels: good comic shops
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Retailer Interview: Jim Crocker of Modern Myths -- Jim Crocker is the owner/manager of Modern Myths, a comic and gaming shop in Northampton, Massachusetts that currently holds the title "The Best Comic Shop I Have Personally Visited In The United States." Many of my ideas of what makes a professional comic book store truly professional stem from my all-too-infrequent visits to Jim's store. I'm grateful to Jim for the time he took to answer my questions, and for his years of online and in-person friendship, and his willingness to help me understand the world of comics retailing.
Jim, I know we did this a few years ago, so thanks for allowing me to talk to you about retailing again. I'd imagine you've learned a lot in the years since we first discussed this subject. How has your philosophy of comics retailing changed in the past few years?
Jim Crocker: Well, it hasn't, all that much, really. The biggest changes are in terms of adjusting to the changing marketplace, most notably the increasing deluge of product. We've definitely gotten more picky in terms of new books we bring in, and in being okay with letting titles that haven't sold in more than a year simple go our of stock when they finally do move. Having to adjust our business model to deal with too many comics is a problem I don't mind having, though.
Tell me how you came to be a comic shop owner?
Like most of my peers, I started reading comics at a very young age. Unlike some of them, I stopped reading for a few years when I hit high school but eventually got back into them in college when I started working at a used book store in Connecticut. My career path led to the mass market retail book trade, eventually landing me in Ann Arbor, Michigan, at the Borders Group corporate headquarters as a publisher liaison.
All along I maintained an interest in comics and gaming, if not necessarily an obsession. While living in Ann Arbor, my wife -- my fiancee at the time -- got a job at a local shop that I started regularly patronizing and chatting with the manager. When he decided to return to grad school, he asked if I'd be interested in managing the store...they agreed to match my Borders pay, so I went to do that, which eventually led me to my own shop after several years working for that company, including opening a satellite store.
How many other stores/outlets for comics are there in your immediate area? What is your relationship with them like?
Right now, there are two or three local stores that can reasonably be considered "competition." We all specialize in different areas and have a different feel, so as far as I can tell, there's no animosity and even little sense of real competition. I send folks to either on occasion if they're looking for stuff we don't have, and I know they will occasionally do the same. Some of the other shops in the area we will refer customers to include the local art supply store and the independent general-interest book shops here in town.
When we first opened, there was an "old school" comic shop of long-standing in the area that has since closed, along with another short-lived shop started by its former manager. It's our company policy not to speak ill of our competitors in any way, and I strongly believe we compete fairly and without malice, but it's impossible not to accumulate some resentment by your mere presence when someone's favorite shop closes down, whether you had anything to do with it or not. We try not to worry too much about it, and go about our business professionally as best we can.
What would you say distinguishes your store from others in the Northampton area?
I guess it's our emphasis on a "bookstore" model, that probably comes from my background in the book trade. Many customers have explicitly mentioned our section of used graphic novels and trades as a strong draw.
As you know, the issue of some publishers selling their wares at conventions before Diamond ships them to the direct market has been much-discussed among those of us that care about such things...have convention sales affected your business in any way?
Short answer is yes. New York Comic Con and MoCCA both mean that we have customers walking in apologizing for buying stuff there who would have made purchases at our store. For what it's worth, the effect is particularly pronounced in the games industry, which has a San Diego-style event every year in Indianapolis, and these same arguments have been going on for a decade or more. Without a clinically-controlled double-blind long-term experiment to verify results, we're only ever going to have anecdotal stories. My hunch after years of witnessing the back-and-forth is probably this: retailers do take a hit when product is released early at shows, but the effect is largely local, and not as bad to their bottom lines as they emotionally feel like it is. Early release at shows does help publishers with publicity, but it doesn't help nearly as much as they emotionally feel like it does.
If customers of yours buy something at a convention, but had previously pre-ordered it, what do you think is the best way to handle it?
Make a mental note and put the book out on the shelf for someone else to buy. If it happens very frequently, perhaps bring it up with the publisher. The product we sell is available pretty much everywhere, and while it does feel...disingenuous for publishers to sell product direct before we can get it, it's not a lot different than Barnes and Noble getting a new trade a couple days before us, or similar.
How much of a problem are convention sales for retailers overall?
I can't speak definitively for other retailers, only myself; but with that said, I suspect it varies very widely depending on their business model and proximity to the big cons. A friend of mine in Indianapolis says he basically doesn't sell any games in the two weeks on either side of that huge game convention. I imagine it can be a hassle to be in San Diego or right in New York City. Then again, we make a huge amount of money setting up at three or four local cons ourselves, both to sell merchandise and drive traffic to our store and web site. I understand that some folks don't want the hassle of what essentially amounts to setting up a second business model, but it is one way to make some lemonade with the local Cons that affect sales.
Do you think publishers need to change their convention policies? Is there any incentive retailers can offer in order to mediate a compromise?
A blanket policy of not offering to sell any book that is not also available to the retail channel to sell seems to be the most fair way to address the problem, but of course I have a bias. That said, even if I get the book the Wednesday before the show, many folks will probably wait to get it there anyway as they hold off on making purchases for budgetary reasons or want a copy for the author to sign. If nothing else, the books should be available the Wednesday following the show. A several-week gap is just not professional and makes retailers look like they're behind the curve, which is a disservice to the good stores that actually bother to stock the sorts of titles we're talking about here.
All that said, I really don't think there's anything that stores in general can offer as an incentive, other than a general sort of goodwill and commitment to consider projects from those publishers more carefully than they might others. In the bits of this discussion I've seen so far, I haven't really seen any publishers offer their own ideas or plans, and I think that's what's needed here.
What kinds of comics would you say your customers are looking for most often? How wide a variety are they looking for?
Well, all kinds, I guess. We sell more trades and collection, dollar-wise, than we do periodical comics, and that's always been the case since we opened, so there's that aspect. The weekly regulars are mostly looking for superhero stuff, while the "casual regulars" tend to be committed to particular ongoing series in trade, like Y, Hellboy, et cetera.
Non-superhero media ties-ins have been an increasingly potent force lately, as Buffy Season 8 has been our best-selling periodical comic since the first issue and continues that dominance through a dozen issues so far. We also see periodic short spike in interest based on coverage in places like the New York Times Book Review, and particularly NPR publicity, which is a reasonably potent cultural indicator here in New England.
What do you do to stay knowledgeable about the comics your customers are interested in? What publications do you read? Websites?
Publisher's Weekly and ICv2 fairly religiously, Newsarama and CBN occasionally, mainstream media wherever I notice comic-related topics or interviews -- Adrian Tomine was on Terry Gross a couple of weeks ago, for example. I also just try to strike up conversations in the store, and generally read through Previews pretty much cover-to-cover two or three times in a month to let it sink in and percolate. We also aggressively solicit publishers to send us previews, galleys, and other good advance publicity. I'm also involved in ComicsPRO, the comic retailer's trade organization, and that can be a good source of inside info sometimes.
How many employees do you have?
Myself, full time, plus one full-timer on salary and two part-timers.
Do you require your staff to stay knowledgeable about upcoming product? What tools are available to help them to answer customer questions?
Yes, within reason. Everyone is expected to read and familiarize themselves with the new issue of Previews each month and have a general working knowledge of the various sections and most important creators. We have always-on internet access at our register and encourage our staff to use Google and the distributor and publisher sites to get information. We also try very hard to maintain good, transparent records that everyone can access, so that all staff will know things like what we've got on order, when it might arrive, and the current status of any given customer's special order -- all systems typical of good mass-market bookstores, and well within the reach of serious independents.
What would you estimate is the ratio of male to female customers in your store?
We've never done a reliable survey. I'd guess twenty to thirty percent of our customers are women.
What is the ratio of male to female on your staff?
Three to one.
Do you use distributors other than Diamond? What strengths and weaknesses do you see in purchasing stock through other sources?
Yes. I think that it's important to understand that Diamond is actually two companies: a fulfillment source for the brokered publishers, and a more traditional "distributor" for everyone else. When it comes to the "Big Four," along with the major manga companies, Diamond is far and away the best source for independent retailers. When you get outside them into the smaller presses -- including the big mainstream publishers who are rapidly expanding their graphic novel offerings, then there is real competition from mainstream book distributors like Baker & Taylor and smaller regionals like Cold Cut. Many larger stores also have direct relationships with publishers, but our volume allows only infrequent orders for us, so we rarely go that route.
There's three important factors I consider in a decision to us any supplier, and that's cost, availability of inventory, and ship times. Diamond does a decent job on the first two and a poor job on the last, but the fact that I'm already ordering from them for all my Marvel and DC anyway means they'll likely get a good share of my "indie" comics dollars as well simply by virtue of the convenience of consolidation.
The first thing I always see when I come in your store is the kids' comics section. How many of your customers are kids or parents buying for kids? What are the best-selling kids’ titles at Modern Myths?
Again, we haven't surveyed. We're in a college town, and our store is on a road that's not easily accessible to kids, so it's a small percentage, probably less than five percent%, but they're a disproportionately important constituency, as is the case everywhere else in our society. In this case, I am assuming that you mean under-12s by "kids," which is primarily what that section is aimed at. Bone, The Simpsons, and Tintin and Asterix are probably our best movers from that section.
Do you offer subscriptions or a pull list to customers who pre-order through the Diamond Previews catalog? Do you offer them any sort of incentive for pre-ordering?
We do offer subscriptions. We do not discount from cover price, but we offer what we think of as "service incentives." We never require any sort of down payment or deposit for special orders, we give a free copy of PREVIEWS to interested subscribers -- thought at may go to an at-cost copy if the price goes up any further -- plus a twenty percent discount on collecting supplies like bags, boards, and boxes, and we have a couple of specific "satisfaction guarantees." If we ever miss a book on your list and you have to get it elsewhere, the following issue, or one comparable value, is free. We also offer a full return for credit with any book you're unhappy with -- this is basically a guarantee that covers our recommendations, and encourages folks to try new titles. We also like to think that the weekly reorders, email list maintenance, and having our books out promptly are all value-adds as well.
You don't offer discounts, although some retailers do. Why did you develop your approach to discounting, and how has it benefited your store?
Our approach to discounting is simply based on running the numbers. To run a professional general interest comic shop that pays its staff a fair wage requires a certain margin, and the prices that most publishers set their books at make that a workable proposition. We're not going to second-guess the people who make the books as to what they ought to be priced. That said, we do try to have options for price-sensitive customers, including used books, back issue sets, and a twice-annual dollar back-issue sale.
What is the best experience you've ever had with a customer?
I think that it's the cumulative effect of a parade of people who leave the store smiling that has the real impact, rather than any single anecdote I can recall.
What is the worst?
I've never really participated in those sorts of discussions with my peers...you get ups and downs in any situation where you're inviting other people into your space, so I try not to dwell too much on the problem customers. We've been very lucky in never having had anyone be violent or even verbally abusive much thus far. The worst experiences are when we catch a shoplifter, of course. Obviously, that's the textbook definition of "bad customer." It's also enough of a community that family tragedies do impact us. I've twice -- so far -- gone and bought large collections from the survivors of regular customers who died unexpectedly. That was rough, but also oddly gratifying that the families said words to the effect of "he would have wanted you to do this for us if anyone had to..."
Journalist Tom Spurgeon recent commented that retailers “should be selling the most comics in any format,” and yet when it comes to manga, for example, most of them are not. Your store seems exceptionally well-stocked when it comes to almost all sorts of comics, but do you think the majority of comic book stores, in your opinion, adjusted well to the development of the graphic novel market?
Majority? Probably not, but I do think it's instructive that how direct market shops adjusted to that development is one of those things that a lot of customers now use to figure out how "good" a store is. Such judgments are largely subjective, but a good selection of trades now seems to have become one of those "default settings" that most customers use to judge us by.
What advice would you give to your fellow retailers in terms of dealing with the graphic novel explosion?
Start with rigorous inventory control and a serious dedication to properly handling all special orders. You don't need to -- I'd say you can't -- stock every in-print title from every company, including Marvel and DC. Rotate old stock out, either by trading or liquidation, on some kind of semi-regular basis. Take advantage of alternative sources of supply, and start dealing in used graphic novels. That's a really condensed version of hours of conversation and boring inventory management discussions, but those are the basic principles.
It seems like most direct market comic shops attract mainly male superhero fans; how can direct market shops better attract readers of non-superhero comics? Do you feel the direct market as a whole has a responsibility to?
I think they do a better job of attracting a general audience by making themselves over to look and feel as much like a mainstream specialty retail boutique as they can manage with the resources available to them. Walk around a Barnes and Noble or a Waldenbooks -- even a cooking store or specialty shop like Hot Topic -- and see what they have that you don't, and try to either offer that or an alternative.
As far as "responsibility," I don't necessarily believe there's a moral imperative or anything; if people want to run professional, clean, well-lit superhero boutiques, that's fine, as long as they understand they're limiting their audience and work with that. My belief is that the shops that embrace the entire medium and not just one admittedly-lucrative section of it will be the best-equipped to grow and prosper, because they'll have the widest potential audience to go after. I do believe that Diamond gets a bad rap in this. They could certainly do more, but at the end of the day anyone, largely regardless of format or subject matter, who can make the cut gets in to Previews to have a shot at reaching the direct market, though there are legitimate arguments to be had as to what that cut ought to be.
What are the likely long-term consequences if the direct market doesn't grow out of its superhero-dominated paradigm?
I'm not as pessimistic as I know you are about this. The direct market has been "superhero-dominated" since its inception, and I'd argue that it's much less-so today than ever before, thanks largely to manga and the success of non-superhero properties at the big brokered publishers. We probably sell more Vertigo titles than any other single imprint, Image has spent the last couple of years developing some really interesting titles they never would have gone near in the '90s, back when they were Marvel wannabes. And Dark Horse doesn't even really do superheroes anymore, unless you count Hellboy. If a market that's 60 percent superheroes pays the bills so that I can stock Kochalka and Tezuka and Tomine and Wolverton, that's fine. That said, comic shops do need to realize that all that "other stuff" is what gets people looking at the graphic novel section at Barnes and Noble. If they can't offer it, they're running a real risk that the guy whose kid wants Death Note will grab Civil War since he's there already.
Your store seems to devote much more space to graphic novels and other sorts of books, with a minimal emphasis on floppy, monthly comics. Tell me why this is, and what effect it's had on your customers behaviour?
We still devote plenty of space to periodical comics -- 40 linear feet of wall space -- but we self-identify as a book store, and try to organize the store accordingly. I'm not sure what effect it's had on our customers' behavior, other than to maybe encourage them to explore other sections, and maybe to mellow them out a bit with regard to getting it now.
Do you think, as a whole, the direct market for comic books is functioning well? What's its long-term prognosis?
I think that it functions well as long as Diamond functions well, and that's the elephant in the living room. Right now, the system works pretty well, and Diamond has management right now that has a pretty good understanding of the symbiotic relationship the vast majority of direct market stores have with them. If Diamond goes down, most independent direct market shops go down with it, but the reverse is equally true, despite Diamond's efforts to push into mainstream book distribution. Long-term, as long as there are monthly comics, the single-store business model will survive. The format is too time-, labor-, and inventory-intensive for too low a margin to be really attractive to mass marketeers, so as long as we can add value with expertise and service, the good shops will be around as long as comics are.
What is the direct market doing right?
In addition to what I just mentioned, many publishers are venturing outside the superhero comfort zone and bringing great new ideas.
In what ways could it be improved?
An industry standard for titling and abbreviations would be nice, though highly unlikely. The usual complaints about interrupted series, long wait times, self-indulgent creators, etc. The entire industry, particularly retail, is grossly under-capitalized.
Do you believe the majority of comic book stores demonstrate professional business standards? Can they be competitive with mainstream bookstores such as Borders and Barnes and Noble?
Again, the "majority," no. But the best stores are right there, and there's more of them every year, which I think is a big leap from a decade ago. I think that they can compete with the right business model for the technical reasons I gave before. I guess we're proof that it's possible.
Do you feel a majority of direct market shops actively seek out customers of all ages, genders and interests? If so, how? If not, should they?
Majority? No. I think they're shortsighted not to, but again, I can't really get worked up over a moral or ethical imperative to do more than deal fairly and truthfully with customers and suppliers. Beyond that, people are free to run their businesses as they see fit. I want to note that despite my repeating this, I also don't think that means they get to exempt themselves from having the standards of mainstream retail applied to them. If you don't have a public restroom, you're being disingenuous if you cry foul when people would rather shop somewhere that does.
I'm not sucking up when I say Modern Myths is just about the perfect comic book store: A clean, welcoming environment with literally something for every member of my family and all ages, genders and interests. But I'd imagine you see things you'd like to change or improve. Where do you hope the store will be at in a year, five years, ten years down the line?
Okay, you are sucking, up, but I appreciate the kind words anyway. Trust me that for everyone who agrees with you there's someone else who really dislikes one of the very things you're praising. We do try to keep learning and making adjustments as the market demands and our customer base grows. To some extent, most retailers create the store they would want to shop in -- which is why it's so very hard for most of them, myself included, to take criticism constructively. That's what I do here.
It's always hard to say where we'll be down the line, but we're currently working on an e-commerce solution that'll let us do some selling over the internet. Expansion to additional locations is always there in the back of my mind, but there is considerable risk involved that the current economy discourages, and finding good management and the proper location are the biggest hurdles. I think just about all small businesses are holding their collective breath to see what happens in November, and we're not in that much a hurry that we can't wait until then to see what the next half-decade might look like.
See more pictures of Modern Myths on the store's LiveJournal.
Labels: good comic shops
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Green Memes Make the Best Memes -- Here's a little meme action courtesy of Roger Green.
() Smoked a cigarette.
() Smoked a cigar.
() Kissed a member of the same sex.
(x) Drank alcohol.
I obviously have kissed my son, but I don't think that's what it's looking for. I also took a drag off a cigarette once on a bet, but that probably doesn't count anyway, especially since the guy betting me didn't pay up (thanks, Jake!).
(x) Are/been in love.
(x) Been dumped.
(x) Been fired.
(x) Been in a fist fight.
Wow, colour me experienced. I had no idea! What a rapscallion.
() Had a crush on an older person.
(x) Skipped school.
() Slept with a classmate.
(x) Seen someone/something die.
I was present when my beloved cat Spot was euthanized back in the mid-1990s. More recently, I had to help remove an already-dead (and quite frozen) cat from the radio station parking lot last year, and that was actually really awful, but I didn't see it die.
() Had/have a crush on one of your friends who is now on Facebook.
() Been to Paris.
() Been to Spain.
(x) Been on a plane.
(x) Thrown up from drinking.
Mine and Roger's answers to this one were identical. Interesting.
(x) Eaten sushi.
() Been snowboarding.
() Met someone BECAUSE of Facebook.
() Been in a mosh pit.
Sushi, but not sashimi, which is really what they mean.
() Been in an abusive relationship.
(x) Taken pain killers.
(x) Love/loved someone who you can’t have.
(x) Laid on your back and watched cloud shapes go by.
() Made a snow angel.
I've even laid on my back and watched cloud shapes go by with someone who I later could no longer have, but at the time it was nice.
() Had a tea party.
() Flown a kite.
() Built a sand castle.
() Gone mudding (offroading).
() Played dress up.
There's an unusual mix of things I have never done.
() Jumped into a pile of leaves.
() Gone sledging.
() Cheated while playing a game.
(x) Been lonely.
(x) Fallen asleep at work/school.
I don't know what "sledging" is, maybe sledding? Don't remember ever doing that, but my parents might have done it with me when I was very, very young in upstate New York in the late '60s. I have fallen asleep exactly once while on the air, the song I was playing was Lisa Stansfield's "All Around the World." I remember starting the record, then waking up to the sound of the runout groove. Raise your hand if you're old enough to know what a runout groove is, or what it sounds like...
(x) Watched the sun set.
(x) Felt an earthquake.
() Killed a snake.
I've felt three earthquakes in upstate New York, once on the air in the middle of the night, once at home, and once while browsing a used CD store in Saratoga Springs that no longer exists.
() Been tickled.
() Been robbed/vandalized.
() Been cheated on.
(x) Been misunderstood.
Oh, boy, have I ever been misunderstood.
(x) Won a contest.
(x) Been suspended from school.
(x) Had detention.
(x) Been in a car/motorcycle accident.
I won a switchblade comb in a department store drawing once. I was suspended from a religious school for reasons having nothing to do with religion. I've been a car accident or two.
() Had/have braces.
(x) Eaten a whole pint of ice cream in one night.
() Danced in the moonlight.
A pint of Ben and Jerry's Cherry Garcia, a long time ago. Love to do it again sometime, but I suspect my doctor would object.
(x) Hated the way you look.
(x) Witnessed a crime.
() Pole danced.
() Questioned your heart.
() Been obsessed with post-it-notes.
The older I get, the more comfortable I am with the way I look. Sometime in my 20s or early 30s I had an epiphany about how everyone thinks people are always looking at them, when in fact no one is because they are worried about how they, themselves, look to other people. It's a weird circle, but, fuck it. Make the best of whatever you have. I don't really know what "questioned your heart," means. Maybe I am heartless.
() Squished barefoot through the mud.
(x) Been lost.
() Been to the opposite side of the world.
(x) Swam in the ocean.
(x) Felt like you were dying.
I had bronchitis and pneumonia so bad a couple years back that I could barely breathe; I think my lung capacity was down to like 15 percent? Yeah, I thought I was gonna die.
Swam in the ocean all the time when we lived in Florida.
(x) Cried yourself to sleep.
() Played cops and robbers.
(X) Recently colored with crayons/colored pencils/markers.
() Sang karaoke.
(x) Paid for a meal with only coins.
I made a big Spider-Man poster at work one day with markers and poster board. I am sure I have bought a bagel and a donut from Dunkin Donuts using only quarters, just to get rid of them.
() Done something you told yourself you wouldn’t.
() Made prank phone calls.
() Laughed until some kind of beverage came out of your nose.
() Kissed in the rain.
Hmm, perhaps my life is not as storied as previously indicated...
() Written a letter to Santa Claus.
() Watched the sun set/sun rise with someone you care/cared about.
(x) Blown bubbles.
() Made a bonfire on the beach or anywhere.
I can remember doing that as a kid. I also remember a dirty joke about blowing bubbles that ends with "I'm Bubbles."
(x) Crashed a party.
() Have traveled more than 5 days with a car full of people.
() Gone rollerskating/blading.
(x) Had a wish come true.
() Slept with a member of the same sex.
Crashed a swanky going-away party once and dined on free food and drink all evening. That was pretty ballsy, and pretty fun. As to wishes, most of mine have come true at one point or another, so I guess I can't complain.
() Worn pearls.
() Jumped off a bridge.
() Screamed "penis" or "vagina".
() Swam with dolphins.
Does screaming "PENIS!" at a dolphin count?
() Got your tongue stuck to a pole/freezer/ice cube.
() Kissed a fish.
() Worn the opposite sex’s clothes.
(x) Sat on a roof top.
Then sprained my ankle on the way back down. It was not awesome.
(x) Screamed at the top of your lungs.
() Done/attempted a one-handed cartwheel.
(x) Talked on the phone for more than six hours (in one day).
() Recently stayed up for a while talking to someone you care about.
I have children, so of course I have screamed at the top of my lungs. I miss having friendships involving 6-hour calls; I used to have a lot of them. I think the most recently that has happened was a year or two back with Chris Allen, when we talked and laughed literally all night long.
() Picked and ate an apple right off the tree.
() Climbed a tree.
() Had/been in a tree house.
() Been scared to watch scary movies alone.
Nothin' doin' here.
(x) Believed in ghosts.
() Have had more than thirty pairs of shoes (not necessarily all at once).
() Gone streaking.
(x) Visited jail.
Not sure where I stand on the issue of ghosts, but I tend to think some energy remains after we no longer inhabit spaces we once called home.
I have visited jail, unfortunately at the invitation of the proprietors...
() Played chicken.
() Been pushed into a pool with all your clothes on.
() Been told you’re hot by a complete stranger.
(x) Broken a bone.
(x) Been easily amused.
Broke my thumb in an accident just before Thanksgiving, 1985. I am almost always easily amused.
() Caught a fish then ate it later.
(x) Made a porn video.
() Caught a Butterfly.
(x) Laughed so hard you cried.
() Cried so hard you laughed.
These two answers are not necessarily unrelated, and that is all I am saying about it.
() Mooned/flashed someone.
() Had someone moon/flash you.
() Cheated on a test.
(x) Forgotten someone’s name.
() French braided someone’s hair.
() Gone skinny dipping.
() Been kicked out of your house.
() Tried to hurt yourself.
Not as good with remembering names of people I've met before as I would like to be.
(x) Rode a roller coaster.
() Went scuba-diving/snorkeling.
(x) Had a cavity.
() Blackmailed someone.
() Been blackmailed.
Rode a roller coaster to impress a girl. Hint: If it makes you almost puke, she won't be impressed.
(x) Been used.
(x) Fell going up the stairs.
() Licked a cat.
() Bitten someone.
() Licked someone - not in private places.
As Roger says, "Haven't we all been used at some point?" I could tell you my story about being used that involved a bowl of burned popcorn, Bruce Hornsby, and the TV show Miami Vice, but, you won't care.
() Been shot at/or at gunpoint.
() Had sex in the rain.
() Flattened someone’s tires.
(x) Rode your car/truck until the gas light came on.
(x) Got five dollars or less worth of gas.
Does getting shot with a BB gun count? If so, then I have been shot. Ow.
Top Shelf Convention Sales Proposal -- Brett Warnock of Top Shelf Productions has issued a response to retailer Robert Scott on the topic of artcomix publishers selling their wares at comics conventions before Diamond has shipped the books to comic book stores in the direct market. Brett's response, and a proposal to help mend fences with retailers who don't like the practice, come in response to my recent interview with Scott, who in addition to being a San Diego retailer also heads up the retailer organization The Comic Book Industry Alliance. Here's a sampling of what Brett has to say:
"For us, convention debuts truly are a matter of survival. We've stated publicly many times that roughly a third of our annual income comes from convention sales. And launch books play a significant part in that. This is simply not a practice we can afford to eliminate. Period.I've excerpted Brett's post, so please click on over and read the entire thing, as it is quite enlightening and goes a long way, in my opinion, toward solving the problem retailers have with publishers debuting books at conventions.
...I propose a volunteer program along the lines Robert talked about, wherein as much as possible, publishers and the CBIA work together and the publishers give advance notice to the CBIA, when they become reasonably aware that a book might launch at a particular show. It's not always an easy task, though, because the publishers are at the whims of fate, as they wait for copies to arrive directly from the printer — often times from China or Hong Kong. Publishers might only know this information a week or two in many cases (or less).
Moreover, these publishers should build-in to their projected convention inventory needs a modicum of overage dedicated to selling (at wholesale, of course) to retailers in the city of the convention in question. The advance notice would allow for retailers to inform customers to notify their staff and clientèle.
The onus on the member publishers would be the need for honesty and transparency concerning debut books. That said, the onus on the CBIA would then be to first contact the member publishers in advance of a show (maybe three or four weeks ahead), and simply ask; "Do you have any debut books at the show? Any attending authors we should know about?" Copies of these launch books would then be available either before the show opens to the public during set-up (why the gods created the mobile phone), or at any point during the show."
Another point I agree with Brett on is that direct market retailers need to have returnability of product as one of their tools. At the moment Diamond does not offer returns, putting all the risk of whether a title will sell or not in the hands of the publishers and retailers. It's long past time Diamond grew up and started acting like a professional distributor, and I'd strongly encourage the CBIA, ComicsPRO and individual retailers to lobby Diamond heavily to start taking returns on some basis. This would immeasurably strengthen the stability of the direct market and allow it to be more competitive with mainstream bookstores, which is where a lot of buyers of comics and graphic novels (including manga in the equation, of course, because they are comics and we are talking about the overall market for comics, here) are spending their dollars. Borders, Barnes and Noble and independent bookstores can afford to be a little more experimental when it comes to ordering comics because they know they can return it if it doesn't sell. Diamond should find a way to make that happen for the retailers that allow it to exist, and those retailers should tell Diamond they want returnability to have a more level playing field with mainstream bookstores.
Labels: good comic shops
Retailing: Where I'm Coming From -- In the comments that follow my interview with retailer Robert Scott, you can read Robert's comments on what he sees as a disconnect between his point of view on comics retailing and my own. The gist of his point is this:
"I don't really have a problem with you asking for higher standards from DM shops, it's that you seem to give small press publishers a pass on those same standards."My response to Robert was such that I felt it was worth a post of its own, so here it is:
Small press publishers' standards of professionalism don't much interest me, Robert, so maybe that is the disconnect.
Firstly, you'd need to define "small press." Because I see a big difference between, say, Fantagraphics, which I know will turn out dozens of major books every year that I am interested in, and PictureBox or Alternative Comics, which at the current time may turn out anywhere from two to a half-dozen.
As a retailer, I recognize and respect your right to demand that they fulfill whatever obligations they enter into with you, through their agreements with Diamond or however else.
But as a consumer and as a reader of comics, I don't spend a lot of time thinking about the issue. It's not on my radar.
As far as publishers who have to pass the hat to stay alive, as both Top Shelf and Fantagraphics have done (and both with the support of this site), I have no problem with that at all. If things have gotten so dire that self-starters like Gary Groth and Chris Staros have to go directly to consumers hat in hand, then that just goes to show that the direct market hasn't supported their work to the extent it deserves. And you can argue whether the direct market has a responsibility to support great comics vs. comics retailers know they can sell, but again as a consumer, all I care about at the end of the day is whether I have access to the kind of comics I want to read. And that is what Top Shelf and Fantagraphics publish. And increasingly, those are the kinds of graphic novels I am finding earlier and easier outside the direct market.
It would be great if Eightball came out annually like clockwork. It would be fantastic if Drawn and Quarterly offered co-op to retailers. But artcomix are more about art than commerce, and again, as a reader and consumer I'd rather read one issue of Eightball every three years at ten bucks an issue than every issue of New Avengers every month for those same three years, at any price. I place a high value on the quality of the comics, and little to no value at all on whether artcomix meet their ship date. I agree it is important to you and I hope you try to work with the publishers to better meet your own needs. Since Fantagraphics and some other publishers have been dealing more and more with mainstream bookstore distributors, I wonder if this has forced them to be more stringent about scheduling? Certainly their book trade catalog would indicate that this is so, but I have no idea how they are meeting their schedules in terms of getting the books out on the promised dates. I do know they arrive in mainstream bookstores days or weeks before Diamond distributes them, which is why I no longer rely on a Diamond-dependent comic book store to acquire the books that mean to the most to me as a reader.
So yes, I see we have a disconnect, as you would expect a businessman with his unique needs and problems and a consumer with his unique needs and problems to have. Since I interviewed you and have learned more about your store, I am sure I would like to shop there and obviously you have a wide variety of comics from a wider-than-most-DM-stores number of publishers. I understand and appreciate your frustration, but at the end of the day, as someone who has observed a changing comics industry since the very early 1970s, I do believe things remain in flux and I no longer believe that comic book stores that rely on Diamond are necessarily where the majority of the comics that I want to read will be sold or found in the future.
I believe stores that seek out alternate means of distribution other than Diamond will thrive. I believe stores that find ways to work with non-superhero publishers will thrive. I believe many new ways of doing things are developing and will continue to develop, and I hope that smart retailers find a way to work with all the publishers they deal with in order to make their own businesses more profitable and stable.
Labels: good comic shops
Monday, February 18, 2008
Comics Retailing Poll Update -- The poll is over and the entries are in. I will begin posting responses within the next few days, and also have the next interview in my series of chats with comic book retailers.
Dirk Removes the Blinkers from The Direct Market -- I had meant to post something late last week about the ridiculous 2007 Bookscan analysis Brian Hibbs posted at Newsarama, but Dirk Deppey beat me to the punch.
This is all policy-wonk, inside-baseball stuff, so if you're bored of the talk of comics retailing and the future of comics, feel free to click over to Comics Continuum and read about what's happening in next week's issue of Justice Society or whatever.
If you are interested in where comics retailing is going, though -- especially in the heinous self-deception that otherwise smart guys likes Hibbs subscribe to in order to tell themselves all is well within the terribly broken direct market -- please read Dirk's deconstruction of Hibbs's Bookscan analysis.
Dirk's common-sense, home-run point is obvious to anyone who actually dares to step out of the shadows of the direct market and into the light of the greater overall marketplace for comics and graphic novels:
"How are companies like Drawn & Quarterly and Fantagraphics managing to afford all those pricey hardcovers that they’ve been releasing lately? And where do they go? Do Chris Oliveros, Brett Warnock, Kim Thompson and Dan Nadel all get together in some hidden forest somewhere, back dumptrucks into a big bonfire and burn copies of Storeyville and Acme Novelty Datebook while they dance around laughing? How long before the credit-card companies and investment bankers who are probably supplying the money for all of this get wise? I really should update my resumé, shouldn’t I?"It always makes me sad to read someone intelligent like Brian Hibbs distorting the truth about the direct market and the ongoing transformation of the comics industry; but at times like these, I remind myself of the phone call I received from Hibbs a few years back in which he told me, quite seriously, that "everyone who reads Love and Rockets also reads Superman."
After I read Hibbs's pound of baloney last week, I dropped a quick email to Fantagraphics publicity czar Eric Reynolds to ask him about what seemed to me to be the obvious fallicies contained within Hibbs's "analysis." This is what Eric told me:
"Brian can compare Bookscan and ICV2 numbers all he wants, but the fact remains: our bookstore sales have outstripped DM sales for something like 7 years running. I'm glad the DM is closing the gap, though, if in fact they are."As far as artcomix selling in mainstream bookstores, all I know is what I see with my own eyes. I bought Shortcomings at my local independent bookstore (Red Fox Books in Glens Falls, New York) because it was the first place I saw a copy. I often see non-superhero graphic novels appear in non-direct market bookstores days or weeks before they appear in comic book stores, and if it's something I want, and something I have not pre-ordered from my retailer, then I buy it then and there. Like a normal book buying member of the public. And it goes without saying that Manga's dominance within the mainstream bookstore arena is virtually unprecedented in my comics-reading lifetime, which began in 1971.
More and more I sympathize with the plight of otherwise good comics retailers who just aren't seeing the big picture. It's not altogether hard to understand why they have such a blinkered point of view -- at the moment, their business model is working for them, as it always has. And yet a hugely more profitable market for comics is constructing itself just outside their field of vision, like a Death Star with a cloaking device. But the cloaking device seems to me to be constructed by the retailers of the direct market themselves, who don't want to see what the future holds for their way of doing business, and like Brian Hibbs last week, distort any available information to convince themselves that the sky is not falling.
Labels: good comic shops
Sunday, February 17, 2008
Last Chance: Comics Retailing Poll (Win Prizes!) -- You have until 11:59 PM ET to send in your responses in the Comic Book Galaxy Comics Retailing Poll. Send in your responses to my questions about your experiences buying comics, make your voice heard in the ongoing discussion about comics retailing, and maybe win some free comics. Don't forget the prizes include a generously donated copy of ABSOLUTE AUTHORITY VOL. 1, a hard-to-find slab of hardcover comics goodness featuring 12 of the very best superhero comics ever. Remember to include your name and address if you want to be considered for the giveaway, and let me know in your email if you want to be anonymous. Full details at the link above.
Saturday, February 16, 2008
Retailer Interviews: Comickaze's Robert Scott -- Robert Scott is the owner of San Diego’s Comickaze comic shop, as well as the head of the Comic Book Industry Alliance, a national group comprised mainly of comic book retailers within the direct market. Robert and I have both had strong opinions about retailing and buying comics, he from the perspective of a longtime retailer, and myself from just about thirty years of experience as a consumer of comics within and without the direct market. We have often disagreed on what the future of comics retailing should look like, but I think we both agree that we'd like that future to be bright and to include an even larger audience for comics than currently exists. I'm grateful he took the time to share his thoughts and experiences in comics retailing.
What is your background? Where did you grow up, and what was your childhood like?
I'm a native San Diegan, having lived almost exclusively in San Diego for 45 years. Both of my parents loved to read for enjoyment and with their help I started reading very early. Most of my reading was whatever the folks had around the house and although my father was an avid sci-fi reader, the only comics he ever brought home were titles like Star Trek, Dark Shadows and Ripley's Believe it or Not, but even those were probably limited to sick bed reading. My wife and kids don't really understand my love of comics but my daughter did intern at IDW last year.
When did you start reading comics?
I didn't really read any superhero comics until I was around 12. I had a friend whose father brought home stripped cover issues from the supermarket he worked at. Mostly DC fare and the only one I really enjoyed was Superboy and the Legion of Superheroes. I didn't really become a fan of the medium until Junior High although the first attraction this time was monetary. I saw a friend offering another student $10.00 for two comics that said 25 cents on the cover. Having collected sports cards, it made me curious about what made comics worth more than cover price and I thought if I read some, I might notice some commonality. Soon, I was so enamored with the stories I was reading that future value was no longer the motivation for reading comics. Most of what I was reading was Marvel but occasionally I'd check out the Legion or Warlord and every once in awhile I'd get ahold of some Crumb or Freak Brothers books too.
In early 1980 while at college, I was growing pretty bored with comics and almost quit reading them for good. Fortunately I came across Heavy Metal and Marvel's Epic Illustrated. It was the first time I actually thought of comics as art and realized that comics for adults didn't have to be synonymous with drugs and sex, although those still seemed to creep in. Those magazines saved comics for me.
I wrote and published my first comic work, The End for AFC Studio, in 1999 and co-published Wasting the Dawn with IDW Publishing in 2005.
How did you come to be a comic shop owner?
The friend who tried to buy those 25 cent comics in Junior High School and I had always felt that we were destined to be comic moguls. Meeting back up again in college we began buying quantities of hot projects like Wolverine, Titans/X-Men, and Alpha Flight #1, from local retailers at a discount and after a short wait would begin trading them back to retailers for store credit, essentially making our hobby pay for itself. Soon we were looking for better deals and found that a local distributer, Pacific Comics, would sell to us wholesale and once that happened, a local retailer offered access to back issue overstock that he had stored in garages all over San Diego. It was on consignment, meaning we didn't pay unless/until it sold, so we started hitting a local swap meet with our first retail venture. Over the next few months, as we built a following for the back issues we would get requests for new comics too, and having the wholesale account, we decided to give it a go. When it worked, it worked well; but weather conditions weren't always conducive for outdoor sales of comics and we decided to open a shop, The Comic Alternative, with too little money and a few thousand back issues --not a terribly original origin.
Unfortunately, neither of us had any actual business training and we were both going to college, I was actually also working two part time jobs too, which was really making it difficult to meet our business responsibilities and after a couple of years, we packed it in and I pretty much left comics behind. It is not a method I would endorse for anyone else.
Please tell me about Comickaze and what the store is like.
Comickaze has evolved quite a bit as I have come to understand the intricacies of the industry better. What started as a 900 square foot Comic and Card store in the early ‘90s with a focus on mainstream comics and back issues and single sports and Pokemon cards and pogs, has grown into a 2400 square foot comics superstore where speculating on future value has given way to the promotion of the comic medium in all of its many genres and formats, as an incredible form of entertainment.
We have a 100 square foot kids’ corner in the front window that gives families access to hundreds of kids’ and all ages comics and graphic novels and giving parents a buffer from themes they might not want their children dealing with yet. We also stock toys, urban vinyl statues and related, items that give "civilians" an excuse to enter a comic shop they might feel they'd outgrown many years ago. Once inside, they also find a selection of Manga so large that during Comic Con, the Borders nearest the convention sent a delegation of folks from Viz Japan to visit us after they were disappointed by the Borders manga selection.
We have also replaced a majority of our back issue bins and displays with bookshelves to house the largest selection of mainstream and indie graphic novels and related prose work in San Diego County. We have been honored as the Best of San Diego by multiple publications over the last three years and I was the first, and only, San Diego retailer to be an Eisner judge.
Do you have a philosophy that guides you in your decisions about the store?
Somewhat. I want everyone who visits Comickaze to be able to find a book or item they will enjoy, even -- especially -- if they are not already comic readers. We're constantly asked what are the hot books, which ones will be worth more in the future and our response is that the value of a comic is in reading and enjoying them, just like prose books, movies and music.
I also have a philosophy in my role as a retailer and while that role does involve the promotion of the comic medium, publishers need to remember that retailers are not the ones responsible for promoting titles. That is the publisher’s role, just as it is for music labels, movies and video games. My role as a retailer is to use my resources to sell my store as the logical venue for purchasing comics, in the same way that retailers that sell Coca Cola. Levis and Chevys try to establish themselves as the go-to stores for those items. And just like Coca Cola, Levi and Chevy, publishers need to step up to their responsibility to provide co-op and other support to retailers if they want retailers to include their product in their promotional efforts.
It confounds me that so many people applaud small press publishers who create work without being able to adequately support it and yet rail against (all) retailers for being unprofessional. I wonder how well most folks could do their job well if most of it was reliant on product provided by folks who were producing that product as a side job. I don't care how bad a job anyone thinks a retailer is doing, the fact that they have committed to a lease and inventory puts them head and shoulders above many creators in terms of commitment and responsibility. To somewhat paraphrase you, Professional comic publishers are well-organized. Professional comic publishers provide accurate solicitation info. Professional comic publishers do not release product without also creating demand for it. Professional comic publishers ship on time, all the time.
Professional comic publishers have prices clearly marked and up to date barcodes on all merchandise. Professional comic publishers operate their business in accordance with local, state and federal laws, including labor and employment laws. Professional comic publishers do not favor one genre or sub-genre over another.
How many other stores/outlets for comics are there in your immediate area?
We have five stores five to ten minutes away and another dozen or so within 20-30 minutes. About half have been around as long or longer than our 15 years.
Do you visit other comic book stores to find out what your competitors are doing? How do you keep up with the competition?
Nah, I don't visit other shops as often as I used to do. It always seemed to make them unnecessarily nervous. Now I actually look to other retail for ideas. I don't just want to be recognized as the best Comic Shop in San Diego, as we have been for the last three years, I want to be recognized as one of the best retail experiences. So I take notes everywhere I shop and/or see interesting ways to excite customers. I also have a large number of customers who use us as a second or third shop because our location isn't convenient but they know we'll have things available that they aren't finding anywhere else. I love to talk to these people about what they do and don't like about their regular shops. I attend San Diego Comic Con, where I'm also an Eisner sponsor, and Book Expo America, a book industry trade show; and this year maybe SPX in Baltimore too, to find product that I know other shops won't be carrying. I also work with many incredible retailers every day in the Comic Book Industry Alliance, including just about every winner of the Eisner Spirit of Retailing Award.
In other words, I try to maintain such a fantastic selection of exciting product that every person in San Diego will want to visit us if we can make them aware that we exist.
Convention sales have recently been an issue in the ongoing online discussion about comics retailing. You’re located near the biggest North American convention, held every summer in San Diego. Have you had customers buy something at a comic book convention that they had previously pre-ordered through your comic book store? How did you handle the situation?
Yes, we run into this problem every year.
You ask about losing pre-orders, something that often comes up in these discussions. Personally, I don't believe customers should have to pre-order their comics sight unseen months in advance nor do I want to see comic shops forced to hoard customers in that manner. Please also understand that while I don't feel an ownership of my customers, I do believe that publishers owe it to me, and other retailers who support them, not to usurp our efforts, especially by taking unfair advantage of their ability to sell direct, uncontested and without notice, to the consumer. I feel publishers have even more of a duty not to compete with retailers when they are not offering things that are standard in the book industry in support of their work, things like galleys, creator signings and co-op just to name a few.
Ironically if you asked most retailers in the area if it affects them, they'd likely say no but that is misleading because it's mainly small press publishers who are engaged in the pre-selling and we are the only store in the area to embrace those publishers’ works.
How do we deal with it? Not well so far as I've failed to impress on the publishers that pre-selling their product doesn't affect the 90 percent of my competitors who don't stock it, but it seriously hurts my chances to sell this product to customers that we've cultivated over the years, especially when they have the added opportunity to get them signed at the show. I've also failed to help them understand that there is no evidence that their claim of "pre-sales as outreach" doesn't stand up in light of their claims that pre-sales are needed because sales onto the DM aren't growing for them.
It really shouldn't be that hard to understand that if they are already struggling so much selling this work in the DM, that pre-selling into that market is going to capture sales that would've been made in DM shops but unfortunately most publishers seem to feel that their need trumps everything and everyone else. I believe this is shortsighted and destructive both to the publisher and retailers, regardless of how much money it brings in the short term because it closes off avenues for growth.
When I have five or more copies of a new release I can make a display on our suggested reading table or endcaps, or at the very least I can give it a face-out display on the wall, giving it a stronger opportunity to be seen by our customers. Reduce my immediate need to 2 copies or less and after the first week it moves to its spine out home on the wall until it can justify something better. That's a fact of life when stocking thousands of titles with a finite budget and display space.
That said, I also believe any problems between publishers and retailers should be transparent to the consumer, so to keep them from having to choose sides and feeling uncomfortable about something they should be enjoying, I try to find non-confrontational ways to "influence" my customers. One is by making Comickaze feel like a comic convention everyday without the $30.00 per day entry fee. We help our customers find the books most likely to excite and engage them. even when they don't know what that book is themselves. We offer such a wide range of product, it's rare that an entire family cannot find something they want. We've also taken to asking customers about their convention plans and when it happens that they mention looking forward to getting a new release from a favorite creator, we usually ask them to mention that they usually get that creator's work at Comickaze, so that the creator knows we support them.
How much of a problem are convention sales for retailers?
This isn't a black and white question.
First let me make it clear that my concern is not convention sales, it is convention pre-sales or the direct sale of any product that has not already been distributed into the book or direct market. If I haven't motivated customers who shop with me to buy a title from Comickaze, there's no way I can be upset if they buy anywhere else. In fact that is the one action that I can justify as outreach, even though the numbers don't bear out the outreach claim too well. If a customer has never been exposed to a creator or a series before, and they discover it at a convention, that can be a huge thing for consumer, publisher, creator and even retailers. But only if the experience is leveraged to its full ability, which it just isn't. First of all if a customer is seeing a work or creator for the first time, there is no reason for them to need the newest work because every work is new to them. If a customer is already familiar with the work or creator, chances are it is because of the efforts of a retailer and most likely a comic retailer. What kind of reward is it to make it harder for that retailer to make that sale in the future especially, if publishers are to be taken at their word, when even with pre-sales they are doing no better than breaking even? That is the opposite of outreach, bringing to mind the image of a snake eating its tail.
And if it is such a strong business move, why do so many major vendors of all kinds, eschew direct sales in favor of sending the consumer into a retail venue? A venue that is available to support the product and the consumer 365 days a year?
Seriously, if the outreach was working, we'd be seeing an increase of the number of DM stores carrying small press titles and an increase in the number of copies initially ordered.
Finally, the biggest problem for me is that there just aren't a lot of small press blockbusters, so that losing even three to five sales on a $15-plus, or two to three times that on a Bone or Blankets graphic novel, is not only a big loss immediately, but since I'm already committed to buying those books, that money is tied up in those now unnecessary copies. It can't be used to re-stock copies of other titles I carry, some of which may be from that same publisher, or for store maintenance, promotion or myriad other things that we need to do daily. I am now forced to carry product whose demand has been diminished rather than re-ordering it as needed and if you multiply that by the half dozen or more projects and publishers it happens with each convention season, it is a much tougher hit than most seem to understand.
What actions do you think publishers should take to mitigate the problem? Is there any incentive retailers can offer in order to mediate a compromise?
Honestly I believe that they should eliminate pre-sales. One publisher has already said that they see more buzz on books released the week before a convention than the ones that are pre-sold cold. It makes sense to me too. When a book is available through hundreds (or thousands) of venues as well as media prior to a convention, it allows the buzz to begin as well, surging forward and driving folks to the publisher/creator at the show. It makes them a higher priority because folks have had time to check them out, publishers don't need to rely on chance to get notice. It is an active behavior, not a passive one.
But here are a few things that might assuage some of the enmity. Every publisher knows well ahead of time which shows they are attending. They should also know which shops in the area are supporting them and readily provide a list of these stores to everyone coming to their booth letting the customer know where they can get other books in their catalogue the rest of the year. They should also let all retailers know ahead of time what creators will be attending the show, allowing retailers to make displays of work by those creators promoting the opportunity to meet the creator. They should provide an opportunity for retailers to obtain signed book plates or something similar to be placed in store stock as a bonus with purchase. These are things that require publishers and retailers to work together for mutual benefit.
What kinds of comics would you say your customers are looking for most often? How wide a variety are they looking for?
I think everyone is looking for entertaining work which makes for a very wide variety. They just don’t necessarily know it when they come in. See, we're set up in a center that gives us access to folks walking off a meal, waiting for an appointment or class to start or running errands. Because of our merchandising we get a lot of folks coming in who don't even know comics are still being created, let alone that Spidey, Supes, and Bugs are no longer the extent of what the medium offers. Because of that, and our efforts to push the envelope in the products we offer, we can be pretty confident that we can find something of interest for anyone motivated enough to enter our shop.
What do you do to stay knowledgeable about the comics your customers are interested in? What publications do you read? Websites?
This one is tougher as we do carry so many titles. Basically as I mentioned, there are certain shows I make great effort to attend, I talk to and listen to my customers, asking them questions about books they've heard of but are below my radar. I look at creator web sites and of course invite creators to share info in the CBIA. Other retailers in the CBIA are also very helpful in recommending new work. I am also working on a new site for creators and retailers to work together in a different method then the CBIA.
How many employees do you have?
Ideally three, but at the moment just one and a half, but I hope to rectify that shortly.
Do you require your staff to stay knowledgeable about upcoming product? What tools are available to help them to answer customer questions?
No requirements yet. Generally they are hired based on product knowledge, usually
different strengths than already exist. We engage each other sharing books that we appreciate and pass customers to the most appropriate person to answer a question or let them know we don't know but will get them the answer. Between our own reading, distributor, Google, Wikipedia and publisher websites we have a very good knowledge base to pull from.
What would you estimate is the ratio of male to female customers in your store?
Probably about 60-40. With all of the anecdotal evidence I see online, it always cracks me up when I notice that I'm the only male in the shop.
What is the ratio of male to female on your staff?
Haven't had a female employee yet.
Do you use distributors other than Diamond? What strengths and weaknesses do you see in purchasing stock through other sources?
Yes, we have a handful of distributors. Strengths are being able to obtain inventory that is not carried by or is out of stock at another source, different terms like discount, pay terms or returnability, and speed of procurement. Weaknesses are the possibility of reduction of discount when splitting orders, creating more work by having to track multiple distributors. There's probably more examples on each side but these spring immediately to mind.
How many of your customers are kids or parents buying for kids? What are the best-selling kids’ titles at Comickaze?
We have a large number of kid-oriented purchases and they are spread over many publishers. Naruto, Bleach, Runaways, Franklin Richards, Marvel Adventures, Teen Titans Go, Legion of Super Heroes in the 31st Century, Owly, Abadazad, Sonic, Star Wars Clone Wars Adventures, Archie and Gemstone's Disney books are all titles that are on heavy order here.
Do you offer subscriptions or a pull list to customers who pre-order through the Diamond Previews catalog? Do you offer them any sort of discount, or benefits for pre-ordering? Some shops give Previews away free to subscribers, for example, or hold "secret sales" announced in newsletters and such.
Yes, we offer a pull service for those who meet a minimum order but we don't rely on it over much and do not offer a discount in conjunction with it. The service itself is the benefit but as I mentioned earlier, I don't want my customers to feel that they need to preorder to get the books they want and ultimately that is why subscriptions and pulls exist. We generally maintain at least three months worth of ongoing titles and reorder at least once a week for items we've sold through on, this allows our customers to actually see and make an informed buying decision that allows them to be excited about the books they take home, instead of forcing them to take books that looked good in solicitation but not so good on arrival.
What is the best experience you've ever had with a customer?
Hard to pick one but the ones where a tag-along non-comic reader comes back to tell us that they really enjoyed a book we suggested and are back for the next are awesome. There's also the parents who are happy that their child is now reading without being told to or the people who started shopping with us when they were children and are now shopping with their own children. I don't really focus too much on things like this because its all a byproduct of doing our job well.
What is the worst?
Having to explain why the books they invested so heavily in years ago have no real resale value today.
Journalist Tom Spurgeon recent commented that retailers “should be selling the most comics in any format,” and yet when it comes to manga, for example, they are not. Have the majority of comic book stores, in your opinion, adjusted well to the development of the graphic novel market?
I'd have to disagree with the absolute of Tom's statement if not the intent. It would be both fantastic and just, if DM retailers sold the most comics in any format, unfortunately over the last 20 years, the DM retailer has been treated less as an opportunity and more as a necessary evil, which puts a huge obstacle in the way. It also doesn't help that the entire market from distributor to publisher/creator to retailer exist in a protracted infancy, seemingly reinventing itself every 5-10 years since its inception but mostly reactively rather than proactively. Also remember that there are only around 2,000 DM shops and the list of book stores reporting to Bookscan alone is over 7,400. That market is easily five times the size of the DM, it should outsell the DM but according to the recent Bookscan report on graphic novel sales in the book market, it appears that despite tremendous sales of a few Manga series, the 2007 book market had less than a 2 percent growth over 2006, whereas the DM grew over 18 percent! If anecdotal evidence is to be believed, the DM actually outsold the book market in dollars by about 1.7 times, $370 million to $220 million. Possibly close to double, when you consider that the DM sales number is what sold through Diamond and doesn't count books the DM buys through book distributors.
For the purpose of your question though, neither publishers nor the last remaining full service retailer have instituted any of the policies that help the book market to finally and profitably offer comics. This is probably the biggest reason for the obvious disparity between the sales of periodical comics and graphic novels in book stores.
Book stores have many different types of books and the ability to use them in different ways. Some can be used as loss leaders, others can be ridden while hot, discontinued when not. DM shops are specialists; we don't often have the luxury of discontinuing lines or using them as loss leaders, we're just "supposed to" carry it all and then find buyers. We also lack the ability to return stale merchandise.
You'd think that publishers would want to support the market providing guaranteed sales but we're not sexy enough, so instead Point of Purchase displays, Co-Op advertising and product placement dollars are lavished on the book market who despite receiving all of this extra support also maintain the ability to return any unsold product. These inequities will continue to inhibit the DM efforts thus increasing the likelihood that most new DM shops will continue to be opened by fans first and business people second, as well as ensuring that most of those shops will make the decision to support the big four publishers who provide the most recognizable work., because only a fan(atic) would work so hard and invest so much for so little return. This is why there is still no national comic chain.
The graphic novel market by virtue of its price point and its lack of "collectability" is currently a better match for the book market but that does seem to be changing, if slowly. In the future, DM retailers will need to embrace graphic novels in whatever genre appeal to their customer base because it will be increasingly more difficult to cover their overhead $2.99 at a time and TPBs allow for more casual buyers. It would also be nice to see more DM shops offer special orders to provide customers with book they have access to but have decided not to stock. We do this with videos and gaming handbooks.
How can direct market shops better attract readers of non-superhero comics? Do they have a responsibility to?
As I said above, I don't think it is the DM retailers' job to attract readers of any specific genre, any more so than it is the responsibility for a movie theater to attract viewers for any genre of movie. If anything they should probably be considered more akin to a radio station where the program director or owner has decided to emphasize a specific genre. A top 40 station doesn't necessarily signal the death of the music industry nor does the dearth of classical stations. In that vein, a comic shop’s acceptance of or aversion to spandex, really shouldn't be used as a statement on the DM retailer. Retailers will always order what they believe they can sell and probably what they can sell easily, in quantity and profitably.
The responsibility for promoting the work to a level that it attracts enough consumer support that retailers believe they can sell it easily, in quantity and profitably must fall on the publisher. In the meantime, while publishers are using their resources to promote their work, retailers do have the responsibility of utilizing their resources to attract consumers to their shop(s). I believe that a superhero-only shop has more of a responsibility to attract Golden, Silver, Bronze and Modern Age hero readers than it does non-superhero readers. Does McDonald’s have a responsibility to offer and attract fans of hot dogs or PB&J? No, and I really don't think it casts a bad light on them that they choose not to.
Ultimately if both groups do their job well you will see that the efforts of publishers and the efforts of the DM Retailer will have an intersection and the common efforts in that intersection are where we will ultimately see the success or failure of the market and perhaps the industry. This is precisely where things like pre-selling fall.
Does it make sense to you that some comics retailers would decide to eschew an entire portion of the market for comics?
Yes, it makes sense to me that someone would open a shop that was JUST SPANDEX or JUST MANGA or maybe even JUST ALAN, NEIL, WILL & FRANK, if that is what excites them enough to make that commitment to open a business. Certainly you’re not going to fault a publisher for only publishing what they are passionate about or say that they can't call themselves a comic publisher unless they publish every genre. As much as comics are about art, if you put a price on them, they are also commerce. As such, vendors and their customers owe it to each other not to harm each other and to listen when the other believes harm is being done.
Some shops near where I live have made major changes in terms of how they display graphic novels and the amount of space they devote to GNs vs. floppy monthly comics and other items. Have you made any changes to adjust to the increasing market for graphic novels over the past decade?
Yeah, as I mentioned earlier, we have been transitioning out of back issues and using the space for comics with spines, trade paperbacks and graphic novels. As recently as 10 years ago 25 percent or more of our floor space was dedicated to back issues; today it's less than 5 percent. We have around 20 book shelves full of trade paperback and graphic novels, three four-foot racks, two spinners and a counter of Manga, and our sales run almost 50/50 between comics and trade paperbacks and graphic novels.
Is the direct market for comic books functioning well? Is it positioned to thrive in the long term?
No, I don't think the DM is functioning well. To much of it is being run as a hobby rather than as a business. Even Diamond, the one entity that seems guaranteed to turn a profit, seems to approach everything as, "how can we minimize cost?" If the DM somehow managed to gain serious traction, I'm not sure Diamond would survive it. There is very little of the DM that I see positioned to thrive at this point but I do see glimmers here and there.
What is the direct market doing right?
I'm not sure if you're referring just to retailers and Diamond or if you mean everyone involved in some aspect. For the most part I will say that the retail side is working very hard to up their game. In the last decade the CBIA and its over 800 members have effected great change in the way business is done and information is shared through hundreds of sole proprietor shops and small press creators and publishers. During that time we've seen other retailers step up to form Free Comic Book Day and the new trade group ComicsPro, where members recently leveraged a single store signing in L.A. by Kevin O'Neill into an eight store national tour, giving fans an opportunity to meet a fantastic artist who is normally not so accessible to fans and are offering mentor opportunities to folks considering comic retail.
In what ways could it be improved?
There needs to be a lot more education. The barrier to entry needs to be raised for publishers and retailers helping to ensure that they understand their responsibilities before they pull the trigger and allowing them to hit the ground running when they do.
Do you believe the majority of comic book stores demonstrate professional business standards?
I can't say because I haven't seen the majority of comic book stores. The majority of the hundred or so that I've seen do, but like every type of business I've seen there are some clunkers for sure. It's always been my opinion that there is no benefit in talking to or about most of them because some folks have different goals and will never accept yours. I created the CBIA for those who, like me, felt that they wanted to change things up but had not figured out exactly how to do it. If the folks who spend so much time chastising retailers spent that time talking up their favorite shops and encouraging folks to support them, they'd actually accomplish some thing.
Can they be competitive with mainstream bookstores such as Borders and Barnes and Noble?
Sure, if that's their goal. I don't see why not.
B&N and Borders cannot devote the space to compete with even the smallest DM Shop in terms of product nor provide the customer support that we can. Big Boxes also can't move as quickly as we can nor can they suffer the smaller sales, insane product sizes, lack of bar codes and all of the other "artistic" measures that make up small press comics. The DM can. What will ultimately determine if we can compete is whether or not publishers are willing to work with the DM rather than dictate to them and then we also have to hope that the product remains viable and profitable in the face of the digital age and the horrible mismanagement of content that's been shown so far.
Do you feel a majority of direct market shops actively seek out customers of all ages, genders and interests? If so, how? If not, should they?
No, I think the majority of the ones I know of actively seek out the demographic that works for them. I don't know that shops near college campuses will see a lot of benefit in maintaining a large selection of all-ages and kids’ books, nor would I expect a neighborhood shop to devote a large space to Avatar or window display Lost Girls. One of the greatest things about the medium is its ability to deliver an incredibly diverse range of entertainment and multiple great shops can and support each other on the same street by choosing different specialties. Trying to make every shop a cookie cutter of every other shop shop is a disservice to the medium. As a consumer, sometimes I need a generalist and sometimes I need a specialist. I think that is how the comic market works best.
You and I have had sometimes heated discussions online about comics retailing, so I really appreciate you taking the time today to share your thoughts with me. One thing you have repeatedly said, though, is that I have no worthwhile opinions when it comes to comics retailing.
I don't remember that phraseology. I think the closest I came was telling you "As for your opinion on the future of comics? Not interested, I’ve been helping to direct the future for the last decade from inside the industry, not waiting for somebody with no industry experience to tell me how it should be." "Not interested" is quite a bit different than "no worthwhile opinions" and to be fair, this was after multiple instances of you referring to me as posting drunkenly, calling me a nimrod and other things that were making it appear to me that you were not interested in discussing fact, only advancing an agenda which I indeed found uninteresting. In fact this exercise came not as a result of you contacting me to set things straight but me contacting you.
Fair enough, although in that initial contact to me you did mention that you “wonder if [I’ll] ever write about something [I]you know about,” which is funny to me, since that’s all I ever write about. I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree on whether I know anything about the topics I choose to cover in my writing. That said, should the voice of the long-time customer be included in discussions about the direction of comics retailing? Is that experience useful to retailers seeking information on why and where comics are bought?
Probably not as much as you think. At least not any more than my grocer, pharmacy, mechanic or comic publisher includes me in discussions of how they do business. DC is the only one who really does this, but it's once every 18-24 months. I think good retailers do what we do, which is constantly talk to their customers and as we just did, occasionally poll them on their general feelings about selection, service, location, hours and giving them an opportunity to offer as much feedback as possible. Ultimately though, even a 30-year consumer doesn't really have any special knowledge just by virtue of being a 30-year consumer. Heck there are a lot of retailers that don't understand that if they stopped their 20 percent discounts, they could lose half of their customers and still earn the same dollar profit, yet the first thing every customer will say if you ask them what their shop could do to improve is, "give me a (bigger) discount." That and, "Store X sucks because they don't carry book Y." This does not mean that you shouldn't talk to your LCS if they aren't meeting your needs but it does mean that a diatribe that all shops should open on time, be well lit and vacuumed more than once a season is probably not going to reach the necessary ears, effecting the changes you’re looking for. What it does do though is to encourage more of the same type of talk to proliferate and it is grating, annoying and probably not the best use of your time.
If you believe this is a valid course of action, because you are really trying to improve things, why not try this. You, and your readers, pick stores that have these glaring flaws and talk to them, like we're talking here. Let 'em know that they've fallen short on some customer services issues and you wanted them to know about it. If they fix the problems, great, you have a better store to shop at. And if not, actively promote Store Z to all of your friends instead. If enough people stop shopping there the shop will either get better or close. If there are no local alternatives then you are probably starting to see why this shop can survive as is.
Who besides retailers and publishers do you believe should have a voice in the discussion?
Maybe distributors, since it often takes them to complete a business transaction. Really this particular discourse was a result of retailers asking publishers to stop harming them by pre-selling. If you believe publishers don't have to answer to retailers, the people who are often their top customers, what makes you believe that retailers owe that duty to the consumer?
These are the kinds of things that along with my own 30-plus years buying and selling comics, 10 years of publishing or helping to publish my own and others’ work, cause me to discredit much of what I see in blogs. It's easy to see when someone is missing key component(s) of an argument as it is for a major league hitter to see a AAA fastball. It's my hope that in the future when you and others are reporting on matters such as this and find yourselves reacting to someone with such incredulity, that the first thought is to belittle them, that instead you will stop and do what you've done here. Present some well thought-out questions and opinions and ask for the same back. Education and respect is how the comic industry will move forward, lack of it is how it will die.
My thanks to Robert Scott for taking the time to talk about his experiences and opinions on comic book retailing.
Labels: good comic shops
Friday, February 15, 2008
The Comics Journal #288 -- Just want to say I am thrilled as hell that The Comics Journal #288 is on its way to stores and subscribers. This is the first issue in the new "literary journal" format, and although I have not seen it, I am eager to devour its goodness, as I have been every issue since I bought my first one somewhere around 1979. Dirk has a link to the usual online previews and excerpts in the link above.
Thursday, February 14, 2008
Absolute Authority Vol. 1 Added to Poll Contest -- A big thank you to the anonymous donor who is providing a copy of ABSOLUTE AUTHORITY VOL. 1 by Ellis/Hitch/Neary/Depuy to the prize pack being given to the writer of the best response to the Comic Book Galaxy Comics Retailing Poll.
Please send your responses ASAP. I'm already buried in emails, but I want as many people to be heard in this survey as possible, so get to it!
Retailing Reader's Poll Reminder -- If you missed it yesterday, check out the details on the poll I am conducting on your experiences spending money at comic book stores. There's a chance to win a prize pack of free comics, and everyone who's entered so far seems to be enjoying filling out the poll, so have a look.
I have to tell you, in over seven years of running this site, I cannot remember a contest, poll or promotion that has ever gotten this sort of response. My inbox runneth over, so thank you to everyone who has responded so far, as well as all the people who have posted news of the poll on their sites, blogs, message boards and wherever else word has gotten out. I do want as many perspectives as humanly possible, so please fill out the poll and tell as many other comic book readers about it as you can. Best entry by just before midnight Sunday night will win the prize pack, and please remember to include your name and address if you want in on the prizes, and let me know if you want to be anonymous or if it's okay to use your name.
This poll is only part of what I hope will be an informative and enlightening discussion about our experiences buying comics, and it's clear already from my email that some key industry people are keeping an eye on what you have to say. Hits on this site were through the roof yesterday, and I'm gratified that so many people have chosen to participate in this. I've spent years mouthing off about what I think about my experiences buying comics, and I'm having a blast finding out what you think the state of comics retailing is. If you haven't sent me your responses yet, please read the poll details and send me your thoughts now.
Labels: good comic shops
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
More on Steve Gerber -- Three pieces worth reading in the wake of Steve Gerber's death earlier this week. Tony Isabella provides a first-person remembrance of working with Steve Gerber, and the folks at The Comics Journal have posted their landmark Gerber interview from 1978. You can also download a PDF of an essay by former Journal columnist Dale Luciano on Gerber's Howard the Duck.
Labels: real life
Reader Poll on Comics Retailing -- As you are probably aware, we spend a lot of time hereabouts discussing what makes for a good comics retailing experience. I've been thinking about doing a poll the past few days, and some email discussions have made me decide it's time to do it. Please email me your responses. The best response received by 11:59 on Sunday, February 17th will win a prize pack of free comics. I'm not sure yet how many or which ones, but it'll probably be worth about $50.00 or so, so please send your best responses along with your name and address, and whether you'd like to remain anonymous or don't mind having your name used in connection with your responses, which will be posted here next week.
1. Do you regularly buy comic books and/or graphic novels in a brick and mortar comic book store?
2. If not, why not, and where do you buy them?
3. How much would you estimate you spend on comics in a year?
4. Have you ever bought something at a comic book convention that you had previously pre-ordered through a comic book store? How did you handle the situation? Did you buy the second copy when it arrived at the comic book store, or did you refuse to buy it?
5. If you do shop regularly at a comic book store, how satisfied are you that your retailer is knowledgeable about the comics you are interested in and committed to getting the books you want into your hands as quickly and efficiently as possible?
6. What is the best experience you've ever had in a comic book store?
7. What is the worst experience you've ever had in a comic book store?
8. Do you believe the majority of comic book stores adhere to professional business standards that make them competitive with mainstream bookstores such as Borders and Barnes and Noble?
9. Do you believe the majority of comic book stores you have shopped in actively seek out customers of all ages, genders and interests? Do you believe professional comic book stores should do so?
10. Do you believe the majority of comic book stores you have shopped in have adjusted well to the development of the graphic novel market?
11. Do you believe overall that the direct market for comic books is functioning well and has positioned itself to thrive in the long term? If so, why? If not, why not?
12. What is the direct market doing right?
13. In what ways could it be improved?
14. Please include any other comments you have about your experiences as a consumer buying comics and graphic novels.
Remember, email me your responses; the best response received by 11:59 on Sunday, February 17th will win a prize pack of free comics. If you have a blog or website and would like to let people know about this poll, I'd appreciate it. Thanks!
Labels: good comic shops
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Reviews I Agree With: The Black Diamond -- Larry Young sent me the seven issues of The Black Diamond (seven counting the "on-ramp" zero-style issue) along with a note saying he was interested in what I thought of the series.
My thoughts are reflected pretty well in this review of The Black Diamond at Pop Matters. In a nutshell: great premise, lousy execution. Which is a shame, because I really liked the on-ramp issue.
From the creator of Astronauts in Trouble, I can only hope for better things next time.
Essential Blogwriting Tips -- Write to Done hosts 12 Essential Blogwriting Tips by the author of Zen Habits, one of my favourite blogs.
I don't often link to posts like this, but these 12 tips are all pure gold, if you're a beginning blogger or thinking of becoming one, you should give it a look.
Atheists and Christians Agree on Nearly Everything -- Here's lists of gods athiests don't believe in and gods Christians don't believe in. Almost identical! I would have included Glycon the Snake-God on at least one of those lists, though.
And as I always remind my kids, just because a god isn't real doesn't mean the idea of its existence can't hold great power over large groups of people.
Labels: real life
Steve Gerber -- I check my email almost first thing every morning, and this morning the first thing I read was an email from Alex Ness telling me writer Steve Gerber had died. Alex wanted to know if I had any thoughts about Mr. Gerber, and I do, but I wish they were deeper and better-informed.
My earliest memories of Steve Gerber's work were in the 1970s, reading his Defenders and Howard the Duck runs. For me, they anticipated my later experiences with some of Alan Moore's writing, in that Gerber's were obviously good comics being written by a very smart guy, but I was a little too young and far too unformed as a thinking human being to be able to fully process their wonders.
Gerber was a genuine hero of creator's rights, being one of the first to stand up and call bullshit on the egregious work-for-hire system; he wrote Destroyer Duck in an effort to continue his battle, and I bought it, at the time not fully aware of how deep the unfairness of the North American corporate superhero comic book system went; mostly I bought it because it was not published by Marvel or DC, and at the time I was just beginning to realize the very best comics were almost always going to come from other publishers, so in my way, again a little too young to fully understand the implications of the book, I supported what Gerber and friends were trying to do. And there's no question whatever progress has been made in recognizing the rights of comic book creators came in large part because of Steve Gerber and his enormous will to fight.
I mentioned that like Alan Moore's work, I didn't always "get" Gerber; unlike with Moore, I didn't really keep trying. Eventually the nuance and wonder found in most of Alan Moore's writing clicked with me, as I grew older and more patient and appreciative of nuance and skill. But when asked to talk about Gerber, beyond Defenders and Ducks Howard and Destroyer, it's hard for me to recall what else Gerber did. I'm embarrassed under the circumstances to admit I fairly hated the first issue of Gerber's Hard Time but given the acclaim the book later got and the shallowness of my review, it may very well be another case of Gerber being too smart for me, and me just not being ready.
I guess I recognized this deficiency; when the Howard the Duck Omnibus was announced, I reflected on how I would dearly love to go back and re-read those stories with an additional three decades of life experience to inform my reading experience. But I decided not to buy it on the grounds that the Omnibus volumes are extremely expensive and thus something not already within my personal canon of great comics is unlikely to be bought, at the risk of hating it and having wasted enough money to buy a nearly week's groceries. After all, I bought the 75-dollar edition of Stray Toasters, and sure as hell didn't get that, either.
If I have a point, I guess it's this: I don't think I'm dumb, and sometimes I get caught thinking of myself as fairly intelligent. But writers like Alan Moore and Steve Gerber always made me feel like there were smarter people than me creating comics, and there's a kind of reassurance in that, like sleeping on the backseat while Mom and Dad take care of the driving and keep you safe. There are no Alan Moores or Steve Gerbers at Marvel and DC anymore, no one whose work makes me feel dumb or inadequate or like I have a bit more growing up to do before I can appreciate the complexity of their thought processes. Instead, I feel like no one's driving the damn car at all.
We need smart people like Steve Gerber writing comics. We need many smart people like Steve Gerber, and instead this morning, we have one less. So, Steve, I didn't always appreciate you as much as I should have, but I knew it was me, not you, and I wish you were still here to make me feel like I still have something to learn about life, and about comics.
Tributes to Steve Gerber can be found at the blogs of Mark Evanier, Roger Green and Tom Spurgeon.
Labels: real life
Monday, February 11, 2008
Lifelike -- Dara Naraghi's been writing small press comics for about as long as I have been writing about comics, and he finally gets a chance in the spotlight with the beautiful hardcover collection Lifelike.
Naraghi writes all the stories in this anthology, with a strong collection of up-and-coming artists illustrating his vision. Some, like Steve Black and Tom Williams, are welcome, familiar names; others, like Jerry Lange and Tim McClurg, are new to me. But they all bring their best work to Naraghi's scripts, resulting in a book that is visually diverse but beautiful to look at, and held together by the strength of Naraghi's writing.
From reading his earlier comics, it's no surprise to me that Naraghi loves to write; in fact, it comes through in everything he does. The stories in Lifelike span a variety of genres, from autobiography to EC-style suspense (the excellent "Double-Cross at the Double Down" with artist MP Mann). But virtually everything here has the spark of genuine creativity and the power to entertain. The final story, "Repair," is visually stunning thanks to the confident, Euro-stylings of artist Shom Bhuiya, and the sense of place and emotion Naraghi's script brings to the piece ring true.
IDW has delivered superb production values for this volume, packed with good comics in a gorgeous hardcover for just twenty bucks. Naraghi's a name you'll be seeing in comics more and more in the years ahead, so Lifelike seems like an obvious bargain to me. It's twenty bucks you won't regret spending in the least, and if you're new to Naraghi's writing, a very good entry into his world.
Sunday, February 10, 2008
Johnny Boo -- James Kochalka has created a 32-page story that is as kid-friendly as they come. Kochalka has said that he consulted with his young son Eli as he worked on this story, to make sure that it was working on the intended audience. Since Eli is about 3 years old, and I am 42, it's hard for me to be sure, but it seems likely to me that very young children will enjoy having Johnny Boo read to them.
This is not the same children's book style Kochalka worked in for Pinky and Stinky or Peanutbutter and Jeremy; artistically, Johnny Boo is closest to Kochalka's adults-only team book Super-F*ckers, with primary colours all over the place. Where Boo is unlike Super-F*ckers, other than a lack of profanity and gross-outs, is in a lack of scope. Super-F*ckers always feels like a wild ride with a million things happening at once, but Johnny Boo takes place entirely within the same grassy field that it begins in. If the characters ever move more than a few feet at a time within the story, it's not apparent.
Given that, Johnny Boo is probably going to mainly appeal to only the very young; but for pre-schoolers like Eli, this slight tale of ghosts, ice cream and monsters may seem enormous in scope, and it certainly has enough conflict and burping to keep them interested until the very end. And hopefully as they get older they'll be tempted to further explore Kochalka's growing library of graphic novels, which by now seems to have something for every age, and every interest.
That Salty Air -- Tim Sievert's first graphic novel, published by Top Shelf Productions, is a parable of frustration, rage and grief, told in a style that echoes alternative cartoonists such as Charles Burns, Craig Thompson and Richard Sala. There's a strong and confident use of black ink that defines the ocean that creates the "salty air" that the protagonist, Hugh, professes to love -- but the blackness of the ocean hides depths of despair and resentment, in addition to the wondrous creatures of the deep that seem to hover around the edge of Hugh's consciousness.
It's a tale told at leisure -- at 110 pages, Sievert could have told it in a quarter of the space he chooses to fill. But like the ocean, there's room to explore, and Sievert uses it well to dig into the hidden nooks and secret crannies deep in Hugh's soul.
Two letters arrive, from the same person, on the same day. To tell you what they are or who they are from would spoil your experience of the book, so I won't. But the letters forever alter Hugh and Maryanne's understanding and occupation of the space they live in. For one, the world gets vastly more large; for the other, the ocean is reduced to a small pool of unlimited fury.
I mention Charles Burns, and I think you'll see his influence in the strangeness of the deep, the creatures so alien to our everyday experience of life, and yet as much a part of the world as we are, ourselves. Sievert's story becomes ever more stranger, the more it unfolds, and the unknowable oddness of the deepest undersea life is a fine metaphor for the ways in which we are unable to process the most profound and unwelcome moments of our life, such as the moments Hugh has to come to grips with out there on the ocean.
But there are sweet moments in life that are hard to describe and harder still to come to terms with, and deep in Hugh's falling apart, Maryanne introduces him to that truth; the ultimate question is whether he can navigate the new seas his life has revealed to him, so rich with paradox and so full of promise. That Salty Air concerns itself with Hugh's choices and his ultimate decision, and is a very good first graphic novel from a very promising young talent.
Wednesday, February 06, 2008
Tom Spurgeon Is So Polite -- Don't believe me?
"Could it be that comics retailers -- the people who should be selling the most comics in any format but no longer do so for certain key publishers and entire categories of comics -- are underestimating the potential for alternative comic books as well?"The usual response I get from superhero convenience store apologists and practitioners like Robert Scott is something along the lines of "We don't have to sell those shitty artcomix you love so fucking much if we don't want to, nanny nanny nanny, neener neener neener and who the hell are you, a mere consumer of comics for nearly four decades, to presume to understand anything at all about buying them?"
Kudos, anyway, to Tom Spurgeon for getting to the core dysfunction of the Diamond-
And by the way, I want to call out a specific part of the above quote for further consideration:
"[C]omics retailers -- the people who should be selling the most comics in any format..."Tom could be opening himself up for a world of nerd-wrath there. Because he is saying -- as I have for years -- that to be a professional comic book retailer means you want to sell as many comics as possible to as many people who want to buy them, regardless of genre, format, gender or other considerations. And Tom seems to be agreeing with me there. And every time I say it, nimrods like Robert Scott show up at my castle at dawn with torches and pitchforks to accuse me of everything from miscegenation to being the Anti-Christ. So it'll be interesting to see how Tom's rude declaration of what a comic book retailer really ought to be will sit with the Geoff Johns is God crowd that have so far
Labels: good comic shops
Buying Artcomix -- I'm not really buying the premise or most of the responses in the Comics Reporter roundtable on artcomix "not selling as well as they used to."
One of the key retailer issues seems to be books like Love and Rockets (and presumably Eightball and Acme Novelty Library previously) going to an annual format. Some retailers despair that the move means fewer visits to their comic book stores.
I'd suggest that if your business model is dependent on the same customers coming in like clockwork every week, every month or every quarter, it's fatally flawed in the first place -- unless, of course, you are a dynamic and robust enough store to draw in customers regularly without the lure of one single title. I am now down to picking up my comics about once a month, because there's just not enough volume in my pull list to make the drive worthwhile on a weekly basis at the moment. But I try to visit a mainstream bookstore like Borders or Albany's Bookhouse at least once a week, because their stock is diverse and deep enough to reward more frequent visits without having any particular purchase at the top of my mind. Also unlike most superhero convenience shops, mainstream bookstores are a welcoming environment where browsing and hanging out are not only tolerated, but encouraged. This is because the stores have learned that the more time you spend among the stacks, the more likely you are to browse, and therefore to buy.
Just a couple more lessons the average superhero-centric Diamond-
This is, of course, old news for readers of the ADD Blog.
Labels: good comic shops
Monday, February 04, 2008
Life of Reilly Returns -- Comic Book Galaxy was the first home of Life of Reilly, a 35-part look at the 1990s Spider-Man Clone Saga by Andrew Goletz and Glenn Greenberg. Andrew revives the column here with his thoughts on the recent controversial storyline One More Day, and has an exclusive interview with Marvel Editor-in-Chief and OMD architect Joe Quesada.
LIFE OF REILLY Part 35.5
By Andrew Goletz
Spider-Man: One More Day
Since word of undoing the marriage and the means to how it would happen first occurred, people have been making comparisons to the Clone Saga. More than a few people even suggested if I would do a Life of Reilly-style look at "One More Day." There are a few comparisons but the two storylines are pretty much completely different beasts. The biggest difference being that (for better or worse), "One More Day" was contained to just JMS and Joe Quesada with some help from other Marvel writers and editors. It wasn’t this huge sprawling storyline that underwent massive rewrites through several different creative teams and editors. And while the main reason I wrote Life of Reilly was to show the behind the scenes goings on with the Clone Saga, those involved with "One More Day" have been pretty good about lifting the curtain and letting readers into the storytelling process.
Joe Quesada has gone through a series of in-depth interviews with Jonah Weiland of Comic Book Resources where was very open about the reasons for wanting the marriage undone and the methods on how to accomplish it. It may have unexpectedly opened up a can of worms with the JMS since Straczynski went on to Newsarama and gave his side of the story on how he wanted "One More Day" to end and the flaws he found with Quesada/editorial’s version.
So as I review "One More Day," let me briefly go over the major events in the Spider-Man books over the past couple of years so you have some perspective on my point of view. I’m not just about the clones, you know?
I think JMS is one of the best writers to ever take on Spider-Man. Regardless of the totem aspects or Gwen and Norman hookup, he wrote Peter Parker/Spider-Man and Mary Jane extremely well. His storyline focusing on May learning about Peter’s alter ego almost made me forgive the powers that be for undoing Amazing Spider-Man #400. And that’s really the point. For whatever retcons, revamps, clones, life model decoys or magic tinkering that makes a story go bye bye, the reverse is that a new wealth of storytelling opportunities occur. I’ll use Amazing #400 again as an example. I rank that issue as one of the best single issues of Spider-Man, period. But if it stayed in continuity, we wouldn’t have gotten to explore May’s relationship with Peter after she learned about his identity in JMS’s run, which was my favorite part of the JMS era. And if the deal with Mephisto means that May has forgotten those events, it still doesn’t undo the story. The arc happened. Just like Amazing Spider-Man #400 is still out there.
The Spider-totem saga which began JMS run was interesting and provided a new spin on the character without really changing anything about the origin…really. It was never firmly established that the totem was anything more than Ezekiel’s theory and neither Peter nor the readers ever fully accepted it. It was a neat wrinkle added into the mythos, though. He brought Mary Jane back into the picture and made her likable for the first time in quite awhile.
There were a couple of misses (‘Digger’ and ‘Skin Deep’) and then we headed into the event era where it seemed like every other arc was a mini-event: ‘Sins Past’ then moving in with the Avengers, ‘The Other’, The Iron Spider, ‘Civil War’ and the Unmasking, Back in the Black Costume and then finally ‘One More Day’.
I’m sort of on both sides of the fence when it comes to stories like those where it seems like they were written just for trade paperback. On one hand, it makes it seem as if there is a cap on how far the story can go, thought that may not necessarily be a bad thing if you weren’t a fan of the ‘Clone Saga’ or ‘Trial of Barry Allen (a story dealing with the arrest and trial of the Flash that lasted several years). As much as I’d like trade paperbacks collecting the entire ‘Clone Saga’ (and still believe that it will one day happen) I can see how much of a nightmare the project would be to produce. Where do you draw the line between issues? How do you package the books together in a way that leaves a definite conclusion at the end of every TPB?
‘Sins Past’ looked like it could be leading towards a very interesting story with Gwen Stacy possibly have given birth (in secret) to her and Peter’s twins years ago. But as intrigued as I was early on, I figured that if Marvel didn’t want Peter Parker to be married, and they didn’t want to reference the baby they ‘lost’ during the Clone Saga, they sure as hell weren’t going to make him a father now. And of course, they didn’t. The father turned out to be Norman Osborn. Norman Osborn.
I liked the unmasking and thought that it opened up a wealth of storytelling opportunities. Peter David did an outstanding job handling a lot of this in his book, Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man. He included the much anticipated face off with J Jonah Jameson. I don’t think that unmasking was a wise decision on Peter’s part, and it would probably have been reversed eventually, but some interesting avenues could have been explored for at least a little while longer before putting things back to normal.
I did not care for ‘The Other’ or any of Spider-Man’s new powers. Spider-Man’s knock down, drag out fight against Morlun was intense, but for the most part the storyline fell flat. There didn’t seem to be any tension as to whether Peter would be really dead, only speculation on how he would return. And his return and subsequent powers seemed to be even more out of whack than anything that could be presented in ‘One More Day’. Whether this was a result of too many creative people working on it or just because it was a silly idea remains to be seen.
I didn’t believe that there was any seriousness to the story. In comic books, people can come back from the dead through a ‘super punch’. Heroes come and go and switch sides almost as much as they change costumes. I just never thought that any of the changes in ‘The Other’ would stick. It was like the Ben Reilly switch during the Clone Saga. Even as a less cynical reader, I couldn’t quite believe that they were making Reilly the real Peter Parker because they didn’t do it in an issue number divisible by 50 or make it double sized. The issue came out and after the reveal, I thought to myself, ‘why aren’t there any bells or whistles for a revelation of this scope’.
The Iron Spider suit was another idea that fans railed against when they first saw the images of the costume. Now it’s become one of the favorites and the design is being used in the Avengers: Initiative book where a hero named MVP has been cloned and his three duplicates wear the suit calling themselves the Scarlet Spiders. I thought the suit was cool, but of course it wouldn’t be here forever. I just wish that more of the technological elements of the costume could have been used before it was dumped. There were flashes of what the suit could do in the first issue, but it was pretty much treated like any other costume change until Peter and Tony Stark’s final fight.
Back in Black had Peter wearing his old black costume. I liked the black costume and it always brings back nostalgic memories of the late '80s when he first got it (although it was an alien symbiote then, not cloth) so I didn’t mind the coincidence that Peter was back in black around the time that Spider-Man 3 (featuring the black costume) was in theaters.
This storyline showed the dire consequences that came from Peter’s identity being public. I was glad that the Kingpin was brought back to the Spider-Man books to put him through hell by putting a hit out on Peter and his family. The Kingpin was introduced in the Spider-Man books, but he became better known as a Daredevil villain. The Kingpin is one of the most sinister villains in comics and would stop at nothing to destroy his enemy, even if he had to strike at his opponent’s personal life. Having Kingpin as the one to send a hit man after Peter seemed appropriate and put a greater sense of tension in the books. If it was some no name bad guy taking a shot, it wouldn’t have the same impact. The Kingpin has a history of being someone who will stop at nothing until his opponent is completely destroyed either physically or emotionally. His involvement upped the stakes.
It was this story that provided the lead in for ‘One More Day’. The hit man tries to shoot at Peter and his family. Peter’s spider-sense warns him of the danger and he instinctively acts, pushing Mary Jane out of the way only to soon discover that his Aunt was shot instead. The subsequent issues of Peter tracking down the shooter and the person that gave the order were a bit overdone. It’s always fun to see Spider-Man get a little bad ass and show off his powers, but the story went on for a couple of issues too long.
This brings us to ‘One More Day’.
I’ll start off with biggest highlight for me: the art. Quesada always puts an amazing amount of detail into his work and he seemed to raise the bar, here. I found myself going back over panels just to catch little clues here and there of what he might have put it whether it was to tip his hat toward the resolution towards the series or do homage.
The fight scene between Peter and Iron Man was great, especially when Peter unloads on Iron Man with his webs, exhausting himself but still winning the match. Quesada’s version of Mephisto is quite scary. I never thought the character was intimidating or interesting at all in previous appearances. He always looked like a warped clown in a red (usually looking slightly pink) jumpsuit before, but here he was frightening.
Quesada’s renditions of Peter and MJ seemed a bit ‘off’ at first glance. I couldn’t figure it out at first but after looking at some of the other characters in the books; I noticed that Peter and MJ appeared to be drawn older than they usually are. Not older like middle aged, but a hard-looking thirtysomething. I joked with someone that it was Quesada’s way of showing how old a married Peter Parker looked. This hypothesis was somewhat confirmed in Joe Quesada’s interview with CBR. And true enough, in the ‘post marriage’ sequences in the book, Peter looks more energetic and youthful than ever.
It’s a great looking book. Quesada’s art and the heavy inks and dark colors all add to this sense of foreboding going on. The book seems to progressively get darker and darker as the storyline progresses until Peter and MJ vanish into the darkness as their ultimate fate is sealed. Moments later, Peter awakens to a new day and the colors are bright and there is energy to the panels. It’s not the most subtle thing in the world, but it works from an artistic standpoint.
It was Peter’s fault that his Aunt is dying. He unmasked. He made his identity public and placed his loved ones in constant danger. And after he switched sides and became a fugitive, he took his family from the safe confines of the Avengers’ headquarters and made them go on the run. His best place to hide them was in a rundown motel and he wasn’t even around them at all times to protect them. He was out when the hit man arrived at the motel and the only reason May and Mary Jane weren’t killed in his absence was because he was the primary target. When his spider-sense goes off warning him of danger, he gets Mary Jane out of harm’s way but May is left to be hit by the bullet.
As ‘One More Day’ begins, Peter is exhausting all of his options. He forces Tony Stark to help him and ends up getting the money for the medical attention that May needs, but the doctor’s tell him May’s condition is beyond their help. With time running out, Peter goes to Doctor Strange to seek out any spells that may be able to save May’s life. Strange can’t help, so Peter uses his knowledge of Latin (a great touch) to cast a spell himself that ends up being useless in the long run. Peter has sought out allies and enemies in an attempt to save his aunt’s life but no one can help him and time is about to run out.
Then Mephisto appears.
Would Mephisto, a devil-like being, take so much of an interest in Peter Parker? Peter may have unwittingly brought attention from Mephisto upon himself while seeking out salvation for Aunt May with Doctor Strange’s methods. Having tangled with Peter before, perhaps this was Mephisto’s chance to even the score and make Peter suffer along with ‘winning one’ against the Man Upstairs. In the Bible, the devil tempts Jesus with promises of nourishment and power while he’s in the dessert for 40 days and 40 nights, just to get one over on God. Stealing a marriage just for bragging rights doesn’t seem that far removed.
This isn’t a choice that Peter has time to evaluate. He and Mary Jane are given one day to decide. Their emotions are already at a breaking point due to the recent events in their lives and Mephisto’s deal is the capper. The dialogue in the first part of the fourth issue is especially powerful. Mary Jane and Peter are written as believable as a couple would be in this situation, to the point where they (at least Mary Jane) are actually getting sick over the reality of it. Mary Jane accepts the deal first and as time comes to an end, Peter screams in agony with the weight of the decision and reluctantly agrees to the terms of Mephisto’s deal.
The characters aren’t sitting on their living room couch having a casual conversation with Mephisto when all this is happening. It’s not done in any cavalier manner. The reader had several months between issues to ponder and analyze the offer. Peter and Mary Jane are visibly suffering with the choices they have to make and they have to do it in only a day. Peter, feeling guilty for causing the events that put the woman who was like a mother to him at death’s door, holds out as long as he can, even after his wife accepts the deal. Erase a marriage to save the life of his aunt? Mr. Power and Responsibility probably would have made the deal to save the life of a stranger, let alone his loving aunt.
The irony for me in all of this is that the Mephisto angle was one of the endings that was suggested for The Clone Saga by my pal, Glenn Greenberg. At the time, the story was rejected because it was too mystical for the more grounded Spider-Man line. Again, when you’re dealing with a character that got his powers from a radioactive spider, was cloned, had many friends become super villains or die at the hands of super villains and more recently found out his powers may be tied to a mystical spider totem and teamed up with Loki, the god of mischief, I don’t know what storylines are out of character anymore.
I was also surprised at how many readers were appalled that Peter or Mary Jane would consider taking the deal (not taking into account how fast things were progressing within the timeline of the story or the clock ticking on May’s life) but no one really said ‘boo’ about Peter ready to kill the Kingpin.
Would I have preferred a different ending? Yes. But I haven’t read any ideas out there (or could think of anything on my own) that would be better than what we got. Some of the fan fiction that’s popped up online (offering different endings) has given even an even worse name to fan fiction. Marvel wasn’t going to allow the character to become divorced or widowed. They already went the clone route and probably couldn’t go back to that well. The only other possible option that I could think of would to have revealed Mary Jane to be a Skrull, but then she would have had to have been a Skrull since the marriage and that would have been as complicated as anything else. Hell that would mean they still had a half Skrull baby out there.
Mephisto and Joe Quesada stated that the deal would only alter certain threads in time. The marriage would be gone, but everything else still happened the way we all remember it…for the most part. I have no idea why or how Harry Osborn is back, but I do think his return opens up some more story possibilities in the future, especially if Norman is still around, too. I do feel bad for JM DeMatteis, though. Not only was his excellent Amazing Spider-Man #400 retconned out of existence, but now his equally classic death of Harry Osborn is gone, too. And what of Aunt May? Apparently she doesn’t remember that Peter is Spider-Man, as per the new ‘status quo’ teaser that’s been shown. Her discovering Peter’s secret and their relationship afterwards was one of my favorite aspects of the JMS run. As I mentioned about 70 paragraphs earlier, even if it’s been ‘erased’ it doesn’t really matter. All those stories still exist and just because they may not fit perfectly into some continuity puzzle doesn’t mean that they are any less enjoyable.
We’ll soon find out how ‘One More Day’ impacts the world of Spider-Man from here on out and the Marvel Universe as a whole. I think it would be a great disservice to the incredible creative teams that are lined up for Amazing Spider-Man if fans simply stopped reading the book because they’re upset with how ‘One More Day’ was resolved. The book could be more enjoyable for you now. Or it could be a lot worse. True fans of Spider-Man should at least give the new creative teams a shot and if you’re honestly so outraged at the erasing of the marriage, I hope you go out and turn Spider-Girl into a top five book because Tom DeFalco is telling those classic type of Spider-Man stories in the continuity that you want and it’s a book that deserves some more attention/sales.
There has been a lot of chatter on the ‘net regarding this latest development with Spider-Man and a great deal of it has been negative. What strikes me is that there doesn’t seem to be much of a consensus as to why those folks hate the storyline so much. Some people are upset that Peter is single. Some people are upset that he didn’t get divorced or that MJ wasn’t killed. Some are upset that Peter’s identity is back to being a secret again. Still others have mentioned that they would rather have Gwen back than Harry. It’s obvious that there wasn’t going to be a resolution to this that appealed to everyone. Almost every fan has their OWN idea of what Spider-Man is supposed to be and it’s in the best interest of the publisher to try and make their property viable for the future.
If you’re a Spider-Man fan that isn’t just upset with how things turned out, but outraged at how Marvel has destroyed your childhood…or if you’re idea of making a statement is tearing up comics (that you paid for) and sending them to Marvel as a sign of you’re indignation…or if you’re making videos of yourself using the books as toilet paper…well then I think you’ve long outgrown the appeal and enjoyment of what mainstream comics can offer. For these folks, I’d suggest a book like Cerebus, where the same creator wrote and drew his comics for 300 consecutive issues, or any other creator-owned work. The fans may not agree with the twists and turns in a creator-owned character’s life, but at least they’ll get the illusion of change and growth that they crave.
I remember being a pretty much lone voice of insanity with how much I enjoyed the Clone Saga at the time. People at the time criticized the book and after it was finished it took on this (undeserved) legendary status as seemingly the worst story ever told. Now fans are outraged at ‘One More Day’ and long for the days of the Clone Saga.
The good news is, that with Mephisto’s ‘spell’, Ben Reilly is probably still alive, wandering the country and waiting for a chance to come back into Peter’s life.
I think Joe Quesada has been on the net more than I can ever remember, discussing One More Day’ and ‘Brand New Day’. He managed to pry open a little space in that schedule to answer a few more questions about the whole subject.
Andrew Goletz: Taking us inside the process a bit...when did you come up with the idea for 'One More Day' and the resolution to the marriage?
Joe Quesada: I know it happened right around the time that we started coming up with the idea for Civil War, but it was definitely before we did all the hard planning on the event because we had the idea in our pocket and that’s how the unmasking of Spider-Man came to be. It wouldn’t have even have been a suggestion without that in place.
You've been talking about why the marriage hurts the character of Peter Parker since you became EIC, so what took so long to actually do away with it?
We just lacked the right way to do it. It would have been very easy to just kill MJ off or divorce them, but we didn’t want to go that route. Killing her off or divorcing them was certainly an option that was available to previous EICs but I suspect that for the very same reasons, they felt that pulling the trigger on those kinds of stories weren’t the right thing to do.
When a decision is made to do something this drastic with the company's biggest character, do you need to get approval for it from higher ups or does the final decision rest with you in these matters?
Any decision, whether within publishing or our studio division, licensing or what have you, that is a big decision with any of our icons absolutely gets discussed up and down the food chain. You can’t make a decision like this in a vacuum and you need to get the best and brightest people in a room to discuss all the possibilities, pros and cons.
Obviously you can't worry too much about what the voices on the net say regarding decisions you and Marvel make but is there any part of you that gets 'disappointed' when something you're responsible for is met with less than enthusiasm?
No, it doesn’t disappoint me because in so many cases it’s expected. I’ve spoken to Stan Lee about this at length on many occasions and it’s just something that comes with the job. We could do a million things right here at Marvel, we can double our sales, have fans on the edge of their seats, bring in the best creators anywhere, and then next thing we do, we’ll get flack for. But it’s completely understandable in a way because it’s just the way of the world. For me the satisfaction comes in looking back at what Marvel was like right after bankruptcy and placing it against what we’ve accomplished and where we are, it’s been a pretty cool journey so far and a lot of fun. We’ve managed some pretty cool stories, we’ve loaded ourselves with amazing talent and we’ve done some fun things with our universe. At the end of the day, that’s all that really matters to me.
What's been your favorite 'outrageous' fan reaction to this storyline?
I think my favorite so far was from a comic shop that sent in an e-mail to our sales department. I’m paraphrasing here, but they were appalled that Peter Parker would make a deal with the devil, it was a morally wrong. The name of the shop was Nickel bag Comics. You just can’t make this stuff up ;-)
What's the most important end result, in your eyes, of the Mephisto deal?
Read Brand New Day, I think it’s pretty evident that the outcome of One More Day is the new injection of energy into the world of Peter Parker. We just had a Spider-Man writer’s conference last week and when we were done we posted up on the walls of the conference room sheets and sheets of story beats for the next two years. It was pretty amazing to see what could be done with Spidey now that we had this new status quo.
And the OBLIGATORY BEN REILLY QUESTION
Does the Mephisto deal altering points of history allow for the idea that some elements of the Clone Saga were changed and that Ben Reilly could return to the supporting cast? Or rather, are the chances better now for Ben (or Kaine) to come back to the books than they were several years ago?
Keep reading Amazing Spider-Man, we have a lot of stories to tell.
My thanks to Andrew for all his work putting this piece together, and for letting me post it here. -- ADD
Friday, February 01, 2008
Butcher on Convention Sales -- I've been waiting eagerly for The Beguiling's Christopher Butcher to weigh in on the issue of convention sales, and now he has.
Everything Butcher has to say on the subject (or any other, generally) is worth your attention, but here are some quotes I found particularly relevant to the discussion as it has evolved:
* "It’s actually more advantageous for us–as a local retailer–for these publishers to do big launches of these books...because more often than not, it’s these big launches/pushes that help put the books on the radar of our customers on the first place."
* "I’ve worked on the publisher side of the table...at The San Diego Comicon, selling books that had not yet been released to direct market comic book stores...I would say that the number one question I was asked was 'will this be available in comic book stores?' when confronted with a debut book...customers want to honour their preorders and don’t want to lug around books at a show that they can get at their local store in the next month." [Emphasis mine]
* "I’m actually a lot more concerned, on the release-date front, about Diamond’s continuing inability to process books that they receive as a distributor as fast as the bookstore chains. Most bookstores are receiving manga, “mainstream” book publishers graphic novel releases, and magazines like Giant Robot, between a day and a month before Diamond gets them into my store."
What's fascinating to me about Butcher's observations on the issue is that he is, without question, one of the most experienced retailers in North America, working for what remains, to date, the very best comic book store I have ever shopped in. His thoughts on this particular issue echo my own experience and beliefs exactly, despite knee-jerk criticisms from people like "comics retailer" and CBIA overlord Robert Scott that I, as a mere customer and blogger, have no say in this matter, and no worthwhile opinion to offer, because I can't possibly understand his perspective behind the counter.
Trouble is, Bobby, that my perspective and philosophy about what makes a good comic book store and what retail environment I will choose to spend my money in is formed in large part because of my experiences in good comic book stores like The Beguiling, Million Year Picnic and Modern Myths. It's my bad experienced in low-rent superhero convenience stores that has convinced me over the years that most of the stores within the direct market are hopelessly broken and doomed to extinction, while the good stores -- the ones that operate professionally and welcome the money of any customer who wants to buy any kind of comics in print -- are the ones that will thrive long after the Android's Dungeon/Robert Scott model of superhero pandering has marginalized itself into oblivion, or nearly enough so as not to make much of a difference.
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