Comics don’t grow on trees you know.
After the top publishers place prime talent on their books, it’s up to the comic book retailer to deliver the work to the masses. Having the keys to the industry is no easy task, and one might argue that they have both the most difficult and most relevant position within the circle, entrusted with the weekly supply that many of us have become dependent upon.
With Free Comic Book Day quickly approaching, I posed a few questions to my main man Jim, owner and operator of ACME Comics in Normal, Ill., about great power and great responsibility. Though he’s quite busy preparing to be on the front page of the local newspaper, Jim was kind enough to address this forum.
Brandon Thomas: How long have you been a comics’ retailer?
ACME: About 2 1/2 years as an employee, then I bought the store I worked at 6 years ago April 1st. Fairly fitting anniversary date, but I’m still not sure whether the joke was on me or not.
Thomas: What separates the good retailers from the bad retailers?
ACME: Smell plays a big part. Knowing your customers, and ordering for the long term. Stocking and then RESTOCKING the shelves. Greeting everyone that comes through the door. Carrying back issues. Reading Tilting at Windmills by Brian Hibbs. Getting rid of that same crap that has been in your store for 5 years. You are not getting $40 for “color change” Iceman anymore, so just get rid of it.
How many places do you go that have the same overpriced, out of date junk tacked to the walls? No one can take you seriously when you still want $35 for Gen 13 #1, and people are right to make fun of you.
Thomas: How are you planning to capitalize on Free Comic Book Day?
ACME: I mailed every TV, radio and newspaper outlet in a 50 mile radius a press release about it and we are being covered on the front page of the local paper. We have a cross promotion going with a local movie theatre, with prize giveaways and free movie passes. We’re also doing a live remote with a local radio station the day of FCBD and will have refreshments during the event.
Thomas: What do you think is the average age of the customers coming through ACME? People have made a habit to cite the lack of children in comic stores. What can be done to fix this?
ACME: My average demographic is probably Male 20-25. On the weekends during warmer months we usually get more kids. You have to have a friendly shop to get them though. If parents don’t trust you, and your place smells, you aren’t getting kids in the store and that’s bad for you in the long run.
Thomas: Retailers seem to be overwhelmed with information on what they should be ordering for their stores. Do you use any special criteria when ordering from Previews?
ACME: I take into account what the other shops in my area don’t or won’t order. I do my order form the day it comes in and once more right before it’s due just to see how far off my first hunches might’ve been.
Thomas: What’s the best way for a company to promote new books to retailers?
ACME: Returnability, completed work samples, and an opportunity to buy direct. I need more than a b/w copy.
Thomas: The graphic novel has become a true force in the industry. Do you think the recent popularity of the format is detrimental to comic stores?
ACME: Only if you’re not smart enough to carry them.
Thomas: Is the recent flood of comic-based movies having any impact on sales?
ACME: Short term yes, I just hope it turns into long term.
Thomas: ACME not only sells comics, but dabbles in DVDs, anime, toys, and video games. Is this just a personal preference, or something that a comic shop needs to survive in this day and age?
ACME: A larger metropolitan area could survive on comics alone, but I don’t fight my competition, I add them to my product mix. Customers look to me for advice on video games, movies and the like so I might as well provide the product with the knowledge. In a smaller area like Central Illinois you must diversify or die, but over-diversify and you run the risk of being irrelevant. If you’re not known for a quality comics selection why even bother? That is why we’re here, right?
Thomas: If there’s one thing about your store that you could change, what would it be?
ACME: The carpet and the size. I also hate my peg board walls. All of this is being changed as we speak. Peg board looks very unprofessional, and in a business that strives for credibility unattractive fixtures and poor lighting do nothing to collectively change our image. I worked on product mix, customer relations and amassing quality back issues first. I’m at a level that I think brings me above the bar, so now I’m working on the aesthetics of the store.
Thomas: What advice would you offer to someone that’s interested in opening a comic shop?
ACME: It’s very hard work, and I’m usually doing 70+ hr weeks. Sometimes I wonder what it would be like pushing pencils for a living, but then I think about what comic shop would be in my place and I couldn’t do that to myself or my customers.
Thomas: Favorite comics?
ACME: Hellboy, Authority, Exiles, Nocturnals, the never present Planetary, Ruse, and Way of the Rat.
Thomas: In 2003, is the industry alive and kicking, or dying slowly?
ACME: Clawing its way out of the grave. If the mid-90s couldn’t kill all of us, it just makes what’s left even stronger. I like to think a new “Golden Age” started with Daredevil #1, because I really saw things start to turn around at this point. No longer was it all flash and no substance. If the industry can keep another “Danger Girl”, Valiant, Spawn, Youngblood or Death of Superman from ever happening again, we are moving in the right direction.
Thomas: I’d like to thank Jim for stopping by and encourage everyone to make the most of Free Comic Book Day this upcoming weekend. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t thank the man for the finest in First Look merchandise, some of which appears below in the section known as the New Hotness.
New X-Men #140 (Grant Morrison/Phil Jimenez/Andy Lanning)
Morrison should do another of these. Having a member of the X-Men murdered on school grounds, and casting the entire team as potential suspects seems a strange blend, one that comes dangerously close to straining credibility, but have faith. Through the eyes of Bishop, mutant detective, and Sage, the mutant with the computer mind, we’re taken through an environment of likely suspects, diamond bullets, and strange motives.
Morrison especially shines with his clever handling of Lucas Bishop and Sage who fill the roles of investigators quite nicely, and Sage’s ability to process evidence at the speed of thought is a concept that you can tell the scribe is enjoying. Phil Jimenez also handles himself quite well, proving that the decision to slot him in as regular artist in the wake of Frank Quitely was a wise move.
Catwoman #18 (Ed Brubaker/Javier Pulido)
Brubaker is the DC equivalent of Brian Michael Bendis. His impressive consistency remains completely unaffected by his tremendous workload, and the end result is that his name is signed to some of the best reads that DC publishes. I’ve only recently caught on to his work on Catwoman, but I think you’d be hard-pressed to reference a period where the heroine’s title was this good. Everything has been turned on its head, and Brubaker continues to deliver one of the industry’s strongest supporting casts to the monthly racks, and it only allows the main character to grow in complexity with each passing installment.
The fact that I’m as concerned about the fates of Holly, Karon, and Slam Bradley as I am with Selina Kyle, in the wake of the preceding storyline, is testament to the writer’s ability to construct a believable world around his premise. Guilt, temptation, unrequited love, and irresponsibility are all very real emotions, and Catwoman delivers them monthly, proving that there really is No Easy Way Down.
Superman: Red Son #1 (Mark Millar/Dave Johnson/Andrew Robinson)
The best Superman story of the year. There, I said it. Years in the making, Millar’s Red Son finally hits, and for a moment let’s attempt to ignore the gorgeous artwork of Dave Johnson and Andrew Robinson to focus in on the reasons why such a prediction is one of the safest bets you can make. Millar is able to strip the concept of the Man of Steel down to its purest form, uncovering something about the character that we’ve lost in a kaleidoscope of colorful characters with extranormal abilities…this man, this being from another world, would be the most powerful weapon of mass destruction that the world has ever seen. The country that was home to this weapon would automatically inherit the title of world power and not only shift every facet of geo-political thinking, but that of everyday society as well.
It’s the feeling that a man of this kind can produce, whether jealously, awe, or inadequacy, which takes center stage in this book, and it makes the characters and events completely believable. Making Superman look “cool” in a contemporary environment is something that DC seems to be struggling with in the wake of this new millennium breed of superhero, but Millar makes it look all too easy. Because he refuses to allow the people to forget that Superman is here to save them.
Orbiter HC (Warren Ellis/Colleen Doran with Dave Stewart)
Twenty-five bucks and worth every cent. In the aftermath of the recent space shuttle tragedy, this is a work that DC could’ve chosen to delay or to alter or in some way strike from the record, but if they did, we would’ve lost out on a package that proves why Vertigo has been around for ten years. Warren Ellis delivers a powerful story that’s one part psychological thriller, one part mystery, and two parts unadulterated sci-fi. At its core, Orbiter is about discovery and how the pursuit of knowledge should never be averted by fear of the unknown. It only helps matters that Colleen Doran’s illustrations provide everything Ellis’ story demands, whether it’s terrible destruction, deep foreboding, or the reflexive wonder that accompanies the prospect of space travel.
An incredible work that also lays to rest a common complaint about Ellis’ work that mistakenly references on over-reliance on deep cynicism. There’s nothing cynical about the guy who wrote this book. Only a passionate belief that we should be better, and that there are things out there waiting for us to find them.