Comic-Con is a magical time of merriment for everyone. Whether you’re a fanboy rushing from panels to signings, or a professional happily meeting and greeting your fans, the joy is everywhere. But one POV you may forget about is that of the lone retailer, the tried and true who supply you with all the trades and toys you don’t need. The truth of the matter is, out of everyone participating at San Diego Comic-Con (or any other convention), retailers have an entirely different perspective. A few weeks ago, your pal and mine, Danny Djeljosevic, approached me about doing an article on this very idea. I was pretty excited until he told me I wouldn’t be paid. But after threatening to tear up my She Hulk #1, I decided to do it out of the goodness of my heart.
I’ve been working at Southern California Comics in San Diego, CA for about a year and a half now, and I can easily say that it’s been the happiest work experience of my life. Sure, there’s customers to deal with, phones to answer and inventory to count, but at the end of the day, I’m surrounded by the things I love most. Working at a comic shop has changed my views on the entire comic scene overall, and conventions just add to that. When convention time comes around, the mood in the shop changes to a more intense and serious one. Books have to be packed up, schedules need to be solidified, and workers need to be ready for anything. At Comic-Con, we only bring our giant collection of Golden, Silver, and Bronze Age books, which means extra precautions and safety measures have to be taken. This year, our massive inventory included over 30 Timely Comics from the 1940s (wartime Captain America Comics, Marvel Mystery Comics, etc) and number ones including Spider-Man, Iron Man, Avengers and so on. We had over 100 boxes that were primed and ready to be sold.
Setup for sellers begins early on Tuesday morning. Luckily for us, we’re just a short freeway trip away from the convention center. We used several trucks and vans to cart the comics and supplies over (the convention hall only supplies us with two tables, so the rest come from our own stock). The total time from store load up to putting the final touches on the racks was about 4 hours. By noon, the lackeys’ work was done… and our store owner’s began. The hall is open until about 6 p.m. on Tuesday for people to come in and prepare their booths, which means someone has to stay by and watch over all the expensive inventory… and that was the straining job of our owner, Jamie.
Now since I was out and about for the most part, I can’t report on every strange little aspect of running a booth but I can let you in on the day to day of it. Our booth is manned by 7 to 8 people, who are used mostly as security. In the blink of an eye, a sleazy creep can run up and grab something from right under your nose. That’s not to say that everyone attending would do this… but the odds are that someone will try. Our booth workers stopped four thieves this year! Trying to steal comics? Not in our booth! In addition to being on crime-watch, everyone working has to balance out any specific plans they have, keeping a good bathroom break schedule, and trying to work in any snacks or lunches. Since we all know that a lot is at stake, everyone puts their wishes aside for the greater good of the business. For the most part, those who work behind the booth don’t get to run around, wide-eyed and explorative — it’s more work than play.
Since we only sell older books at the con, we’re settled right in the middle of the Golden Age section, surrounded by dozens of other booths selling the same kinds of comics. Because of this, prices have to be kept at competitive rates, deals can be struck and you always have to keep an eye out for what your competitors are doing…even if they’re friends of the shop or people you know. It’s easy to get lost in the sea of other vendors. I know exactly what our booth looks like, but more often than not, it melts into the sea of other sections. Keep in mind, too, that all of our suave business decisions have to be made on a lack of sleep and a tired mind. Most of us work 10 to 12-hour days at the convention… and there are only so many chairs to go around. Multiply that by five days and it’s a miracle anyone can even speak full sentences by the end of the weekend.
So, after nearly week of stress and work, the retailer hopes that it all paid off — that you made more of a name for yourself and cashed in a few extra bucks (and boy, oh boy, did we ever). Once the intercom voice announces that the con has ended, we all start on one last giant push to get everything packed away. Books are loaded onto dollies and we trudge up and down stairs and through massive lines to the few elevators. Three hours later, everything is back in the shop, safe and sound, and to celebrate our hard work, our boss takes us out for a well-earned dinner feast. Then we all head home to sleep — so we can head back to the store on Monday to put everything back.
So there you have it; a bird’s eye view of a day in the life of
a Comic-Con retailer. Of course, this is biased account; everyone has a different POV — from the toy guys, to the T-shirt sellers to and the bootleg DVD vendors, every booth has a totally different experience. But, for the most part, those who sell items have a more dedicated and stressful mindset. There’s little time for anyone present to goof around and be casual. Even though they’re in a fun atmosphere, it’s business as usual for retailers. So, the next time you find yourself at some con and your trading card box has a minor dent or the comic you want is three bucks more than you think it should be, give the vendors a break — they need one.