Robot 6

Quote of the Day | Don’t belittle comics shops’ accomplishment

The Source Comics and Games in Roseville, Minnesota

That “Starbucks” won for best music store [in Seattle Weekly's annual Best Of awards] may be the most depressing or most hilarious thing I’ve read recently, but also made me realize that all that time I spent staring at music in 1990s Seattle retail establishments is part of a bygone era for everyone now. Don’t say the comics shops can’t go away; don’t belittle their accomplishment in not going away.

Tom Spurgeon, commenting on the awards in which Fantagraphics was recognized as Seattle’s Best Comic-Book Store

I’m willing to predict that the best comics shops aren’t going away, but I agree that there’s a lesson to be learned from the music industry. There’s not really a place for music-only stores anymore. If Seattle Weekly is to be believed, Seattle’s best music store primarily sells coffee. I live in the Twin Cities, and The Electric Fetus – the music store that usually wins those kinds of awards around here — is about half music and half hipster gift shop. I don’t say that as an accusation; it’s just the economic reality that there’s not enough interest in buying physical copies of music to support a store that only sells physical copies of music.

My favorite comic shop in the Twin Cities is The Source Comics and Games; its diversification is right there in the name. As, of course, is Fantagraphics Bookstore and Gallery‘s. And I suspect that other successful comics shops are already including a wide selection of games or toys or art or anything else comics readers tend to be drawn towards in addition to physical copies of comic books. Any comic book store that’s survived in the current economy and market deserves praise for its accomplishment, but the most accomplished ones are those that are already figuring out how to survive in the digital age.

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Comments

19 Comments

Hey look! It’s a post very obviously NOT about sexism. I hope the people complaining will actually post a comment.

And I happen to agree. As much as I want to shift to downloading comics, there’s something sad about what’s going on….

nathaniel mcdonald

August 6, 2012 at 3:33 pm

fantagraphics store also shares space with a vinyl shop.

Good gravy, I don’t even live in Seattle, but that Starbucks could beat out Easy Street Records, one of the finest music stores I’ve ever been in, is more a comment on the people who voted in these awards than it is on Seattle’s music store scene.

Choosing the Fantagraphics Store as the best comic book store, however, is something they got right.

We’re very lucky in the TC, though. Big Brain, The Source (and it’s satellite, Uncle Sven’s), Comics College, Dreamhaven… and that’s not even mentioning all the used book stores like Half Price and Magers & Quinn.

Given all that, I still couldn’t find a copy of Popeye #1 until the second printing came out. I guess that just means we have good taste, too.

If I had money to blow on an experiment, this is what I’d like to try:

Set up in a strip mall in a town with a major university that is currently underserved for comics. If I can’t find that, any mid-sized town with a decent strip mall that gets some traffic.

The name would be something like Fantasy Books. Maybe Fantasy Books and Comics. Focus on the books.

The shop is divided into sections. In the section you first walk in to, there are new and used sci-fi and fantasy novels, and new and used comics graphic novels. Sell drinks, have seats for people to read. Nothing on display that shows too much skin, no Red Sonja busts. Off to the side is a rack of all-ages floppies.

You walk through a door and there’s a smaller area with the new comics issues. The major new issues are back here, Still keep an eye on what is on display. This is also where the pull list stuff is administrated.

In the back third, the back issues. Nuff said (although if I’m going to blow the money anyway, I’d probably pay for enough staff to actually keep this section well organized). I still probably wouldn’t put sexy stuff on display, but I would have a book with photos and bring stuff out for people to see if they ask about it.

I’m just wondering if you could do a good job leading with “prose”, but to the right audience, and let them slowly move through from front to back depending on how hardcore they are.

Dont forget MIND’ S EYE COMICS in MN as well. AWESOME shop and Andrew Troth, the owner, is a true comics lover.

Geez do I miss record and cd shopping. Granted the selection was limited but it was fun.

DeleteMyComment

August 6, 2012 at 6:48 pm

A very interesting point. But part of it might be due to the nature of the direct market

Thanks to Aaron and Arune for mentioning the other great Twin Cities shops. The Minneapolis/Saint Paul area has an amazing community of fans, creators, and places to buy this stuff. I shop all those places when I’m in their neighborhoods.

Growing up in Canberra back in the 90′s, my favourite shop was Impact Records. This was the store to go to for music, video, comics and merchandise. They didn’t specialise, they just cast a broad net across all of it. No matter what your taste was, what type of corresponding merchandise you were looking for, chances were you could find it there.

The type of comic shops that piss me off are the ones that set up in an area where they have no direct competition. They just jack up their prices, are not customer friendly, and tend only to favour the wednesday afternoon market. It’s stores like these that drive away and deter new readers.

All these comic book companies can put out whatever groundbreaking story they like, but if the product cannot reach the consumer base because the store is in a darly lit basement of a dirt-mall and the only other comic book shop is over 100km away, then really what is the point.

More and more of the good comic book stores need to be recognised and held up as positive examples, and hopefully this will then pull the bad ones into line.

I suspect that in the future there will be no brick and mortar specialty stores devoted to entertainment products like books, comics, dvds, music, video games, toys, etc. When something is non-essential and cheaper online than the only advantage to going to a store is immediacy (I don’t mind waiting a week for my stuff to be delivered).

There will probably always be grocery stores, clothing stores, hardware stores, and department stores with a lot of different things. If your toilet breaks you don’t want to wait for a part to arrive in the mail you want to go to the hardware store and get it immediately, but there’s no good reason why a person can’t wait a few days for an entertainment product if it’s cheaper and more convenient to buy online.

Music stores, book stores, and video stores are already dying. If video games move primarily to digital distribution that will probably kill the specialty video game store. Comic book stores are surviving, but how long can this last? If I wanted to start a small business right now, I definitely wouldn’t invest in a comic book store.

Keep clinging to that raft, comic book shops!!

The only comic shops that will survive are the ones run by actual businessmen, NOT by fanboys.

Every fanboy-run shop I’ve ever been to has been dark, dank and full of arseholes. No wonder they all get shut down!!!

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a comic shop owned by an actual business in my area. I assume its because its just not profitable enough for them, or all comic shops would have gone the way of coffee shops and become Starbucks franchises. Also, the day that businesses own comic shops is the end of the independent market. You think a corporation will sell your independent comic, when they can sell 3 times worth of any superhero comic? Dream on. Yes, the fan boy run shops can be dark and dank, depending on their owner. There was one place I used to go to where the owner was a slob and stuff was cluttered in weird corners in his store, but my present comic shop owner has a very clean shop and there is easy access to everything. And, yes, there are often workers who are cynical arseholes, which makes you wonder if they are filming a sequel to High Fidelity. But, the fact that this is run by people who are passionate about this medium, some of whom can barely make a profit to maintain their life but still continue doing this and try to push quality stuff that most fans wouldn’t know about, makes fan boy owned shops more appealing to me.

@sandwich eater: You bring up an excellent point. I didn’t mention it in the post, but better comics shops like Fantagraphics and The Source are also working hard to build communities around their stores. The Source has various gaming groups playing every single night and the employees work hard at remembering customers’ names and treating them like friends. I haven’t been to the Fantagraphics store, but I immediately latched onto the description of them as being an “arts community” as well as a gallery and retail space. I understand that a lot of people aren’t looking for that and will still be attracted to cheaper prices online, but a lot of other people are looking for a physical community around their interests and that’s something that specialty shops are uniquely qualified to provide. Speaking for myself, I do buy some comics online, but I always set aside part of my budget to spend at The Source because I love that place and want to support what they do.

@Lyle: I agree that shops run by fans are going to be the best ones, but I don’t think that Matt was picturing corporate suits when he mentioned businessmen. At least, that’s not what I imagined when I read his comment. Some fanboys also know how to run a business and their shops are going to be better than those run by people who make decisions based entirely on what they’re a fan of.

@Matt

Those gosh darned fanboys ruin everything!

If I were president, I would make enjoying stuff a capital offense.

@Lyle

What a dumb post. Isn’t a comic shop a business? And haven’t you ever been to those annoying shops that have turned to either games or pop culture shit to stay afloat? Or what about those shops that just order from Diamond? Those are the worst. Do you think they woul take a chance and support local talent by co-signing a mini or a zine? Heck no. I’ve tried, but they need room for the new Magic booster packs or a Twilight screenplay.

Floating World should be the template for every shop.

Mr. Pants, I’ve been in shops too where they only sell what’s already super popular and it is indeed annoying. But diversifying into other areas doesn’t have to mean that a shop neglects local or indie talent. I’ll hold up The Source again as a perfect example of that. They sell a lot of games (of all kinds), but they’re second to no one in supporting not only their local comics community, but independent and creator-owned comics everywhere.

Mr. Pants,
I am not in an area where they are ordering just pop culture stuff. In fact, the two big shops in my area are one that sells more of the mainstream superhero stuff and another that sells mainly the independent stuff. Both shops do fine with their little niches. There was a book store that also sold comics, but basically mainstream stuff and at twice the price of what they sold at the comic shops, so no wonder book stores went out of business. Maybe I’m lucky that I don’t live in an area that has gone totally commercial, but, if that is the case, I am glad.
Yes, running a comic book shop is a business (I almost want to put the word ‘duh’ in that statement), but, unlike other businesses, nobody opens a comic shop thinking they are going to become the next Bill Gates. The people I’ve known who decided to own comic shops did it because they love comic shops and enjoy being part of the culture. If running a comic shop ever becomes a million dollar business, believe me, corporations would soon start building comic shops and run out of business all those fan owned comic shops that you like to feel superior to.

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