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Welcome to Store Tour, ROBOT 6’s weekly exploration of comics shops, and the people who run them. Each Sunday we feature a different store, and also get to know the person behind the register.
This week’s store is Another Dimension Comics, located at 424B 10th St. NW in Calgary, Alberta. We spoke with manager John Tinkess.
ROBOT 6: What’s the secret origin of your store?
John Tinkess: Another Dimension was an existing store when we bought it in May 1983. It had been operating for about a year previously and we decided to keep the name because it is more evocative of a genre rather than just a single thing like comics. We were fortunate in that the store was located in kind of a rundown street close to downtown, but almost immediately after buying it, the city implemented a revitalization plan for the neighborhood, so we were able to grow the business as the neighborhood grew with it.
Why did you decide to get into retailing?
I was obsessed with comics from a very early age, but it was after meeting John Byrne at a local comic shop here in Calgary in 1980 that I realized I had to be involved in the industry in some way. Lacking any artistic talent, I decided maybe retailing would be the way to go. I started shopping at Another Dimension in 1983, began working here part-time in high school and before long found myself running the day-to-day operations. After more than three decades I still couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
Do you have a philosophy or strategy to retailing?
I’ve always believed comics are for everyone, some people just don’t realize it yet. We were very early adopters of trade paperbacks, and even back in the ’80s it was interesting to see the different clientele you could attract with a greater breadth of selection, from the teen girl coming in to buy the new Ranma ½ to the 60-year-old looking for Fearless Fosdick. As the range of books available has improved over the years, it has only gotten easier to appeal to a wider range of customers.
Tell me about the layout of your store. How did you work it out?
We’ve been in a few different locations over the years, but we always try to make the shop “civilian” friendly. As soon as you walk in the door, the first thing you’ll see is a spinner rack full of Calvin and Hobbes books, followed by shelves full of Star Wars, Buffy, TMNT and other media properties. We then segue into the all-ages section, manga, and Marvel and DC superhero books. Independents are at the back of the store along with our ever growing statue displays. We also have a “New Arrivals” section, which is closer to the back of the store so customers have to walk past a lot of cool things to get to it.
What are your current bestsellers?
Star Wars has been huge over the last year, along with the usual suspects like Batman, Amazing Spider-Man, Saga, The Walking Dead, etc. Will Eisner is a personal favorite of mine, but it seems to be an uphill battle trying to get people to try his books. When I was 15, the owner of the comic store I was frequenting at the time persuaded me to buy A Contract With God, and I would have to credit that book with sparking my interest in comics beyond the standard Marvel and DC universes. We still maintain an Eisner shelf in the store in the hopes of exposing more people to his work.
What is your customer base like? How has it changed over time?
Being located in a trendy shopping district, close to an art college, our customer base has always been an eclectic mix, but there’s definitely been a significant growth in female readership in the last few years. We’ve always presented an open, well-lit, clean environment in order to be welcoming to all types of customers, and I think the greater acceptance of comics through other media has helped to bring in many new faces.
How do you reach out to new customers?
We don’t do a lot of outside advertising but do sponsor many local events and charities. Being located on the corner of one of the main arteries into downtown and right across the street from a train station gets our name in front of the eyes of tens of thousands of commuters every day.
Social media is definitely an easy way to get your message across to customers. We are currently revamping our website and hope to have something up very soon.
Do you have events or any kind of programming, such as signings?
Being located out in western Canada makes signings a bit more difficult to arrange, but we have done a few when the opportunity presents itself. Past guests have included John Byrne, Dave Sim, Fiona Staples, Riley Rossmo, Cameron Stewart and Cary Nord, among others. Our biggest event each year continues to be Free Comic Book Day.
What do you see as the biggest challenge in the comics industry today that particularly affects your store?
After several years of strong, consistent growth, sales the last couple of months have been disappointing. I’m not sure that there’s one thing to blame but rather a number of factors: uneven shipping, frequent relaunches, shipping delays on big event books, multiple variant covers, and a general lack of truly engaging new titles. I think Marvel and DC’s simultaneous decisions to replace their entire lines with essentially “what if?” stories last year (Convergence and Secret Wars) was a huge mistake. Comics are serial entertainment, and once you break readers out of that habit it can be tough to get them back. All the things that got customers amped up over the last few years — relaunches, event books and variants — now seem to be driving them away. The feedback I’m hearing from my customers is that they’ve had enough of all the marketing, and they just want some good comics. Everyone’s waiting for the next Saga.
And what is the industry’s biggest asset that is helping you be successful?
Tenacity? We’ve survived multiple up and down cycles over the last 33 years, and I fear we might be headed down again but I’m hopeful this cycle will be a short one. There are a lot of smart people working in this business and I’m sure that anyone who survived the ’90s doesn’t want history to repeat itself.
With all of the people that come through your store, I imagine you must have some great stories. What is the funniest or most memorable moment you’ve seen in your store?
I first met Dave Sim at a signing here in 1983. Almost no one showed up so he drew a couple of sketches for me and signed all of my Cerebus comics (up to Issue 51 at that point). When he returned for another signing in 1993, it was a different story: We had a lineup for hours, and Dave worked the crowd like a pro, making sure everyone got at least a head sketch. In fact, two young boys got a Cerebus head sketch on the current issue of X-Men because they had no idea what Cerebus was but were excited to meet an artist. After the signing, I pulled out a box containing every issue of Cerebus that had been released in the last 10 years, hoping to get him to sign them from where he had left off last time. Dave took one look at me, pulled out his lighter, and started pointing it at the comic box! After everyone was done laughing, Dave was kind enough to sign a handful of the books for me, before we took him out for dinner.
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