Robot 6

Quote of the Day | Keeping up relationships

Digital comics, for all their convenience, come at a price. While it may be true that keeping up with comics is easier than ever now that you can digitally subscribe to be titles, but it is also true that it makes it harder to keep up with COMICS because it does not encourage you to take advantage of what is arguably the most important aspect of comics — to maintain a relationship with them. It sounds silly, even as I write it, but going to the store, hanging out and spending time with physical comics, eyes to paper, customer to customer, is a huge and fundamental aspect of comics.

Mike Romo, writing about returning to the comic-shop habit

Romo makes some interesting points in this essay, but this I think is the key one, and it’s something that’s not necessarily obvious. I spend a lot of time looking at ComicList and Previews, so I always know what’s coming out this week, but that’s just pictures in my head. Going into a comics shop and seeing them all arrayed in a display is a totally different experience, and as I don’t do it that often, it always has an impact. Context and presentation do make a difference. Sometimes I notice completely different comics in Previews and in ComicList, simply because they are presented differently. And this doesn’t even get into the fact that the staff at a good comics store can recommend comics you have never heard of.

He mentions comics that he has overlooked because they aren’t easy to find in digital apps, but that is a problem that is fading away as the marketplace gets streamlined: Just this week, comiXology and Marvel announced that the Marvel-branded app will sync with comiXology, meaning that Dark Horse is now the only publisher that requires you to go to their special app to buy digital comics. Still, a display at a comics shop may highlight a different set of titles than the “featured” screens on an app.

At the same time, digital comics have enhanced discoverability for people who don’t have a comics store nearby. So there’s that.

There was one comment in the article that really gave me pause, though: At the first (unnamed) comics shop Romo visited,

I was talking to the girl behind the counter and I found out that she rarely gets paid for working there — she basically gets paid in comics. Now, I know this is the case with many stores and that’s totally fine, but it just made me feel…sad? Bad? I know it’s not my job to keep this place in business, but, like, yikes, you hear something like that and you just gotta wonder, you know?

Actually, that’s terrible, and it’s probably also illegal. People who work should be paid, and if you can’t pay your employees, you need to re-examine your business model.

(Image from the Meltdown Comics blog.)

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I worked part time at a Comic Shop in the 90s, and while I did get paid in cash, the owner also gave me all my books at cost, which was like 55% off cover. And I spent my entire “paycheck” on comics. So essentially, I was getting paid in comics. It was great.

“People who work should be paid, and if you can’t pay your employees, you need to re-examine your business model.” I greatly appreciate this sentiment.

Although, in the larger picture, what is “work” anymore? Plenty of people get paid for playing sports, talking about sports, baking cupcakes, drawing pictures, coding software… and plenty of people also do those things for free. Should all of the latter stop doing so except when they can perform those activities within the cash-for-services framework?

(Personally and FWIW, I would submit that if technology continues to create a more prosperous society than ever before in aggregate, yet one in ten (or more, as is the case with a growing number of western economies) of that society’s able-bodied working age adults can’t find an opportunity to trade services for adequate cash to pay reasonable living expenses, then society need to re-examine its economic model.)

DeleteMyComment

August 10, 2012 at 2:29 pm

I don’t know. The sucky comics being put out by the big 2 keeps me out of comic shops also

She gets paid in comics because she wants to read comics. Stop taking comics and I’m sure she’d get cash (if requested).

And this is coming from someone who has in fact worked for comics. Hell, for years I was working off a comic-debt because I was taking more comics than hours I worked. That was my choice. I have since worked off that debt but I’m ok with forgoing cash and maintaining credit, because I know pretty soon I’ll spend it on comics I want.

In fact, I’ve got $350 worth of hardcovers coming in next week.

Again, this is my choice.

On the unpaid employee thing: I run a DIY art space, and even though we are technically a for profit business, no one sees any money from it. The folks who volunteer are our friends, they get to see shows for free, participate in art events, and be part of the crowd making CULTURE happen in our community.
While it isn’t exactly the same thing as working for a storefront business, I’d argue the rewards are largely the same. If the ‘employee’ doesn’t feel properly compensated, they should leave.

On the main point: Browsing comics at the LCS may still be a big part of the hobby, but more and more Comics as products are being treated just as units and IPs by the companies who own then. It’s a subtle but important turn I feel is especially evident in DCs relaunch, there’s a shift in how the parent company presents the items, and this in turn changes how the customer perceives them. Us long time fans are still interacting w/ these objects as comics, but new readers will consume the stories in a much different way, with a new version of the historical sense of disposability that was part of the first years of comic books–not across the board obviously, but it’ll likely become the dominant reaction I believe.
For example, think of how Walt Disney originally presented his creations: as things of art, the friends of children, and a pleasure savor. Now, the Disney company is much more naked about how they market and cross-platform their creations–in fact, you hardly see ol’ Mickey Mouse anymore, and you never see Uncle Walt’s face, remnants of their dusty era when the “curtain” wasn’t pulled back.

For a more abstract version of what I’m trying to explain, read the short story “Dark They Were, and Golden-Eyed” by Ray Bradbury.

A large portion of comics fans are anti-social and many casuals are turned off by the atmosphere of many to most comics shops. They WOULD only be using digital if the companies did not protect the direct market by driving up the price of digital comics to unreasonable levels.

Everyone knows this but only a few are willing to just say it or talk about it.

Brigid Alverson

August 11, 2012 at 4:46 am

@Wraith: The distinction comes when the employee has to take some responsibility or have accountability for what they are doing, as opposed to simply doing it for their own pleasure. I have never heard of anyone running a cash register for fun.

Brigid, I’m pretty sure that we can find lots of people doing unpaid work which involved taking responsibility or having accountability. I don’t think large projects like Wikipedia or the bigger free-software initiatives could possibly work if some of the people involved weren’t somehow taking some responsibility or accountability.

I bet we can even find people who have happily run a cash register without being paid. Volunteers at fund-raising events, not very rare.

Again, I sympathize with your point; I tend to think that all other things being equal the woman mentioned above should be paid an appropriate cash wage. At the same time though, she apparently finds the arrangement satisfactory (if she’s only being paid in comics after all, there’s no plausible need for that “job” holding her back from leaving it if she doesn’t want to continue). This really feels kind of like a minimum-wage argument. In practice and again all other things being equal, I do think a higher minimum wage is better and outweighs allegations that it will cause harm by putting people out of work entirely. In a larger sense though, I think it’s still just a flimsy patch on a system which has outlived its usefulness, and which will still have lots and lots of holes in it either way.

This kind of feels like another case of guilting the customer into being a better customer instead of rallying the comics industry to make a better and more accessible product so they can make money again.

I’m all for the LCS when it’s a well-run business. I’m lucky to live in Portland where there are plenty of good shops in close proximity. However, I only go there because I like their aesthetic and choice of products. If the only shop I had access to was a dirty hole with the aroma of sweat in the air and just Big 2 titles then I’d sure as hell go digital…either through comixology or amazon.

It’s not up to the customer to maintain the market. This isn’t religion!

@Red Comet: I always feel sad when I hear the “comics geeks are anti-social” meme. If that’s the way it is where you are, I’m sorry. Here in Kansas City, I’ve always found the comics geeks to be very open and friendly. However, I know of at least a couple of comics shops here that tend to make the uninitiated feel unwelcome. And that’s coming from the owners and/or employees. God forbid you should interrupt their conversation to ask a question!

It took several tries, but I found a LCS that is well-lit, friendly, and run by someone that actually knows how to suggest stuff you might like. The main guy at said shop gets to know his customers and their tastes and gently suggests new books, trades, or other things you may find interesting. I’ve over-spent my budget a few times there, and always feel good about it, as I know I’m supporting a good business.

I think we all know there isn’t a lot of money to be made in comics. I agree with @Mike L. that we don’t need to guilt ourselves into being better customers. On the other hand, if you don’t like the service you get at the LCS you’re buying from, go somewhere else. There are business owners out there that know how to run a business you will enjoy supporting.

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