Right, I think everyone who’s needed to be told on the quiet has been informed, so I believe it’s safe to say this now:
I’m leaving Raygun at the end of the month. Something else closer to what I’d like to be doing has come up and I’m not sure I’ll be coming back to comics retail, so a few thoughts while I’m still relevant in that side of the business:
There’s an idea that comics are still far too contrived, complicated and cliquey to get into from the outside. There are too many gatekeepers just waiting for a n00b to misname all the members of The Inferior Five so they can pounce on that mistake and shame them. I don’t know what the point of that is. Maybe to prove themselves to a Grand Poobah who doesn’t exist, but I think the common feeling is that all the Arch-Nerds need to relax a LOT, stop driving away the ‘tourists’ for committing the cardinal sin of not being able to name all of Peter Parker’s girlfriends or being able to name the comics Chris Ware did before Acme Novelty Library.
I totally agree with that idea.
As long as you’re a customer and not a staff member in a comic shop.
Somewhere along the line, it’s been almost….uncool to not know about the history of comics if you’re behind the counter. Like it’s what you’re doing before your big break happens, and please, if that’s your attitude, quit. Quit today. You’re doing your boss a disservice, failing your customers and wasting your own time.
LSCC happened a couple of weeks ago. The table I was at did a killing in comparison to many other dealers there. All we had was a few dozen boxes of books. No Funkos, no Keys, no Variants, no CGC comics. Just some of the best comics ever put out. (There’s not many publishers I could work for. trust me.). The reason we did so well is that we knew what we were talking about and were genuinely keen on the stories we were selling.
If you’re doing this properly, then you’re going to be studying literally every aspect and period of history in comics that exists all the time. You’re never going to catch up with your chosen subject properly because it’s literally an impossible task, but the more you know about and care for, the better you are at selling them. Saying ‘I only care about comics from THIS company or I’m only interested in stuff AFTER the turn of the century.’ just means there’s a whole bunch of stuff you’ve said you’ll never be any good at selling and assumes all your customers are only interested in the books you know about.
Losers will tell you people aren’t interested in reading comics anymore.
They’re wrong. If you can meld a charismatic, informed, honest and amusing delivery to a synopsis that entices without giving away too much, you can make a lot of friends introducing them to the likes of Afterlife With Archie, Naughty Bits, The Goon, Eightball, Bone, The Incal, The Invisibles, Hip-Hop Family Tree, The Cowboy Wally Show, The Nao Of Brown, Calvin & Hobbes, Dirty Pair, A Contract With God etc, etc, etc into infinity. Those are my go-tos. Find your own pantheon that you’ll feel good recommending to people while other shops are trying to convince their customers the Marvel Legacy shiny variants will be worth anything. Just like the DC Villains Months are now, right?
Because seriously, I’ve heard this justification so many times for not properly training staff to give a shit about what they’re selling, to essentially have a human machine in a Batman T-Shirt scan an ISBN code and be done with it:
‘If the customer really wants to know about this stuff, they can look it up on the internet.’
SURE they can.
You know what ELSE they can find on there?
Amazon, who’re always going to be cheaper on new trades than you can possibly be. Or Comixology, which will always have a wider range of back issues than you. If you’re providing as little information as Abebooks, then the punter might as well save themselves the travelfare and get the stuff delivered. Goodbye sale. Goodbye, repeat custom.
What the enlightened and experienced among us realised around the time of Winamp being a thing (Look it up.) was that no physical shop would ever be able to match the range nor pricing of the Internet. BUT.. Instead of rolling over and being essentially a fancy Amazon Locker, we could provide an experience that the Internet couldn’t.
Instead of a sterile warehouse crossed with a teenage boy’s bedroom, we could turn the visit to a physical comic shop into a laugh, encouraging people to read things they’d never heard of, tell them jokes, give them information they’d never think to find of just by clicking on a couple of screens on eBay.
All the good shops do this. The ones you think fondly of rather than the ones you go to because your favourite sold out of the thing you were keen on. That mindset helped make Black Mask comics be a thing in this country because we took those books and said to the customers ‘READ this. It’s good. Seriously. We’ll give you a refund if you hate it.’
Which I suppose brings me to my last mad idea that nobody will like now but will turn out to be exactly on point down the line: (There’s a reason I have ‘Five Years Ahead Of My Time’ tattooed on my arm. Well, that and I like The Third Bardot. So, two reasons.)
Comic publishers and creators LOOOOOOVE to state their pre-order numbers on an issue 1, right? Just look how many copies we’ve pre-sold to the collective comic shop community (Although that doesn’t factor in copies sold from said shops to customers, which is why so many of those high print run books can be found in cheap bins. There are exceptions to that, but that’s done to factors which couldn’t be predicted by creators nor publishers, and that’s usually something to do with a film.)
Stop trying to give us (Well, them now, I guess.) a reason to order high on issue 1 and work out how to make us order high on issue 3. Or 4. or however long your story goes.
I know this sounds mad in an age of reboots, relaunches, etc, so listen to me before going for the comments section.
June 1990. Spider-Man 1 is released with a print run of 2 million copies via a number of multiple covers. Despite this insane amount, Marvel even release a second printing. I think it was ND in UK newsagents so it probably increased trade in specialist shops over here, who must have been shitting it, to be honest.
But also released that month? Bone 1 by Jeff Smith. I can’t find exact figures, but it had to be certainly less than a 10K print run for the first printing of 1.
And while the sales figures for Spider-Man kept dropping, Bone’s kept going up. Mainly due to word of mouth, and as the story of how good Bone is kept going, more and more notable names extolled the virtues of Smith’s work until standing order customers asked for new issues of Bone to be added while also ordering the most recent printings of earlier issues. Just to make the speculator crowd sick, Bone 1 has held it’s value
(Currently running at around £2K. That’s pounds, not dollars. Anything any company has claimed to be a hot investment in the last twenty years come close to touching that? Without misprinting something, recalling it or dropping the print run in a big puddle, I mean.)
And up. And up. Spider-Man 1 by Todd McFarlane had 2 printings and no reprints for any subsequent reprints for any further issues. Bone 1 has had over 10 reprintings. There are several reprints of 2 upwards. There have been sproadic reprints of Spidey 1 over the years. Bone has never not been in print since it’s inception. A copy of Bone Volume 1 is something a good comic shop panics about it if it doesn’t have it in stock and reorders ASAP. A copy or 10 of Spider-Man 1 will be in the next collection offered to any comic shop you can think of in the next half hour.
So what’s to be learned from this?
I think we copied the wrong thing. We listened to Wizard. We believed against sense and chased hype instead of sense. The customers wanted to believe the lie that a comic with a print run of over a million copies being sold to a readership barely approaching that number could ever be rare. That publishers could manufacture instant collectibles that would be pre-ordered and then put aside in order to put your kids through college, and just stop and think: How many thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of comics have been produced since the rise of the speculator boom? How many of them are actually worth more than cover price? Or even twice that?
I looked it up. Less than a thousand. It DOESN’T work. If that was your investment portfolio after playing the Stock Market for 30 odd years, you’d be considered an incompetent buffoon.
In itself, fine, there’s a sucker born every minute, your delusion ain’t my problem and watch the lady, maybe you’ll get lucky this time, pal. But:
By focusing SO much on creating the next HOT thing, the next first appearance, the next thing that shatters senses that have been so abused over the last couple of decades I’m surprised any of us can read, see, hear or smell anymore, we lost track of the key thing. The reason I used Bone as an example:
Telling a good story. A compelling, interesting story that keeps readers coming back and comes out roughly when it’s meant to (At this point everyone’s realised that maybe 2 weeks is as much as you can be late before your audience loses interest, right. Ask any shop about their preorder numbers for Sandman: Overture 6 compared to Sandman: Overture 1. If Neil can’t keep ’em hooked with one of the most read series in the history of the business….well, chances are, you aren’t Neil in the first place.)
That’s it. That HAS to be the future now because it’s very obvious to every shop, every publisher, every creator that every attempt to bypass the process of telling a good story via cheap stunts and fancy trinkets doesn’t work.
We have to up our game. Find the things worth reading and telling the customers. If you’re writing or drawing them, find the customers who recommend such things, find the member of staff in each shop who can’t shut up about the Good Things and send them comps of your 1st and 2nd issues so they know to order it. Not everything is going to make it. But like Rollins said ‘Fighting a war, we can’t win.’
And I think. It was a laugh, mainly. I came away with a million stories that will show up somewhere, I imagine. I hope I left this place better than I found it, but then I frequently get asked ‘What’s a good read?’, so I know I managed to gob in the ocean a bit for my passing.
You were lucky to have me.
See you in the funnybook pages.