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I Tried to Buy the New Walmart Comics, But I Was Too Naïve (and Crazy, and Bored)

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Friday, I began to notice that people were talking about those exclusive DC Comics actually appearing in Walmarts.

“Fine,” I said to myself. “I have no plans on Sunday. I’ll catch the 320 bus from Port Authority, and buy them at the Walmart Supercenter in Harmon Meadows!” $8.50 round trip. “Maybe,” thought I, “I’ll read and review them while enjoying something deep-fried at Red Robin nearby.”

[Why are there no Walmarts in New York City? Maybe it’s because of how the stores destroy M0m-and-Pop businesses and Main Street, or the wages that require many employees to use public assistance, or the freight traffic…  Yes, it’s ironic that DC comics aren’t available in New York City.]

The universe laughed. These comics were not to be seen in the collectibles aisle, or magazine/books, or toys.  So…Plan B… take Metro North north to White Plains, where there’s a Walmart store downtown, just a few blocks away from a shopping center, and another vertical urban retail mall that’s common in Manhattan. Nothing there, either. Plan C…Long Island, Carle Place, one of the few WalMarts near a train station.

Why do this? Because I liked the idea of wandering all over the greater metro area searching for comics. It reminded me of being a teen collector, walking uphill, both ways, in all types of Midwestern weather, to get my weekly weekend fix of comicbooks. Because, also, it allowed be to compare three different but similar Walmarts to see how they merchandise stuff. Because I was bored, and like to do the occasional crazy thing. I won’t bore you with my travels here… you can read the Facebook post, where I updated my travel travails, along with photos, throughout the day! Like a certain wedding, it did not end well.

But, as happens when one wanders the wilderness, one’s mind wanders as well. Maybe the heat helped a little, maybe it was the quiet contemplation of train travel as I ventured into suburbia. Or maybe, I was just angry for having spent twelve hours and fifty dollars  trying to find a bunch of farkakte comics!

It was at about Nine PM, having found this…

…that I developed some clarity. The sun had set, I had thirty minutes to catch the return train to NYC (or either wait two hours or get a taxi to Mineola). I had finally found the box, but was denied. I was done. I snapped a picture, then immediately exited the store. Five minutes total, compared to the hour I spent at the other stores. I texted my nephew back in Nebraska, hoping that the hinterlands might still offer stock. Then I updated my Facebook story as I walked back to the train station.

What follows is my analysis. I try not to be a cynic, but after 34 years of collecting comics, 23 years as a bookseller…well, I can’t help but come to the conclusion that DC doesn’t know what it’s doing.

These comics are not (as stated) aimed at the casual reader.

These comics are Walmart exclusives, just like those Funko Pops merchandised on the power aisles near the toy departments.

Unlike those Funko Pops, there does not exist a “normal” version which can be purchased elsewhere. You have to shop at Walmart to buy these comics.

These comics are rare. These “first” issues… each box has four titles, five copies of each. 3,000 stores, that’s 15,000 copies total. These are reprints with one new story in each, by marquee creators, so the demand is there not just from casual shoppers, but also from hardcore fans. You can’t read those new stories digitally.

So, it’s very likely that speculators and comics shops will buy out the stock, leaving the box empty for two weeks. These issues are similar to newsstand issues…once they’re sold out, or don’t sell and get trashed, that’s it. At which point, copies will appear on comic con retailer displays and eBay [151 listings, so far] with a healthy markup.

Meanwhile, that box remains empty for two weeks. That’s not a good optic for a store to have. Will Walmart’s point-of-sale systems notify that the item needs restocking? How fast will that happen? If the collectible aisle where the box is located is run by a vendor, how soon will it get refilled? Does the vendor maintain the aisle, or Walmart, because it’s pretty chaotic.

What does it cost DC to place these comics in Walmart stores? Judging by the $5 cover price, DC isn’t making much on these, since the reprints in each issue incur royalties as well? Then there’s the cost of the real estate (about 18 inches of shelf), the cost of the display, and the cost of maintenance by the vendor in stocking and restocking comics. Maybe DC views it as a loss leader, in the hopes that new readers will discover the comics. But the contents inside are from different eras… Rebirth, New 52, as well as some pre-Flashpoint stories (Hush, Public Enemies, Teen Titans). Is DC hoping to offer these “free first issues” in the hopes that readers will read the graphic novels? (Is Superman/Batman, Volume 1: Public Enemies still in print?)

With the continuing stories offered in each series, what happens if a reader can’t find the next issue? They either have to buy it on eBay or elsewhere at a higher price, or wait for the collection, or just stop buying the comic. There’s no digital download available. These aren’t “casual” comics. A casual DC comic from the Silver Age had a self-contained story (or stories) that made it easy for a reader to buy on a whim. Will these ongoing stories offer a recap for new readers? Or do they fail the “Mom test”? Can you hand a random copy to your mother, and she will comprehend what’s happening, and want to read the next issue?

What’s most surprising? DC is only publishing four titles in this initiative. Every two weeks, there will be a two new issues in the box. When do those issues ship? Will the casual reader who is hooked know when to look for the issues, or will they suffer the same disappointment I did last night?

IF DC really wanted to market these issues at the casual reader, DC would have made each title a reprint anthology. In 1979, DC launched a 100-page digest titled “Best of DC Blue Ribbon Digest”. There were other digests at the time (Adventure ComicsDC Special Blue Ribbon Digest,  Jonah Hex and Other Western Tales) and they were mostly reprint issues.

DC has lots of stand-alone stories in their catalog. The “Secret Files and Origin” issues of the late 1990s/early 2000s were inventory stories that could be used anywhere. There were gimmick months where stories fit a certain theme. Annuals. Almost every “animated adventure” issue was self-contained, or ran only a few issues.

DC could even use these Walmart issues as a “New Talent Showcase”. Pair an untested creator with an established pro to produce a new story. (They miss the deadline? No problem, slot in another story to fill that space.) Keep trademarks active by reviving a forgotten character (and use the sales data to determine is they should get a new series!) Let creators pitch crazy stories that just might become iconic (like “Metropolis Mailbag”). Maybe a creator has an empty month in their schedule and could use a quick gig to pay bills. Or has an idea for a Detective Chimp/Ace the Bathound team-up.

OR… DC realizes there’s not a market that will support a trade paperback reprint collection at $12, but would support a “special reprint issue” for $5. In other words, these 100-page Giants become a new “mass-market paperback” for DC.

Like the current Marvel digests from Archie, each issue could tie-in with a media campaign to generate more sales and buzz. Or it’s seasonal, like DC’s Holiday specials.

That’s what DC should have done. How will this current Walmart promotion do in the coming year they’ve contracted for? We will ll see… Me, I might pick up a copy if I happen to be in a Walmart and if they have copies. Otherwise, me and my nieces and nephews have other stuff to read, like the upcoming Zoom and Ink titles, which will be much easier to find and purchase and enjoy.


 

7 COMMENTS

  1. Well, I’m reading post after post about the Walmart comics, so this promotion is ringing all the right bells, and ticking all the boxes: it’s getting the attention of the comic press; it’s driving direct market speculators crazy, it’s the tantalizingly lowbrow venue for a limited edition, hard to find, custom designed comic. Everything to ensure rarity, and the $5 price is the icing on the cake.

    And since it appears that neither the publisher nor the retailer really care about distribution or how the comics are displayed, the general public won’t even know about these gems, or won’t be able to find one in a store even if they take several buses and taxis to get there. Wow. Great report Torsten!

  2. well, I can’t speak for all of Nebraska, but here in Grand Island, they were found in both Walmart stores, with maybe one or two sold from each location that I could tell. I suspect that you caught the displays after the speculators got there, not that there’s a great demand from the general public for this. As stated above, there’s a huge kerfuffle about this in the comics’ press right now, but the comics’ press hasn’t been able to move the needle on sales of much of anything from any publisher for a long, long time.

  3. Well, that’s just one of many reasons DC will never overtake Marvel : their marketing has always been beyond horrible.

  4. Newsstand copies of comics were never reliably or consistently available. The difference is that manbabies were not lined up outside 7-Eleven at opening time to buy all the books and send them to CGC.

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