Via Flog Reynolds and wife check out a comics shop called 4 K R A Z Y K A T Z in Pullman:

Sadly, they didn’t have a single independent comic at all, despite a captive and diverse student population (none of which were actually in the store when I visited) and plenty of empty space in the store. Their “mature readers” section amounted to a copy of WATCHMEN and a few Vertigo comics. The guy behind the counter could see my dissatisfaction, and asked, “Can I help you find anything?” I told him I was looking for indie comics, stuff like Fantagraphics and Drawn & Quarterly publishes. “Are they still around?” he asked. I assured him they were and then told me, wait, he might have something I want, it was a comic he’d mistakenly received from Diamond. He then went flipping through the back issue bins and pulled out a single copy of Gilbert Hernandez’s SPEAK OF THE DEVIL #1 from Dark Horse. Mind you, this is a brand new comic, which he immediately filed in a back issue bin. What a fucking tool. And this is a comic book shop in a college town, IN OUR HOME STATE, AND NAMED AFTER A COMIC STRIP THAT FANTAGRAPHICS PUBLISHES. And yet the owner (yes, he mentioned to me that he was the owner) didn’t even know we were still in business despite the fact that we solicit books and comics every single month in the very catalog he orders from. And people wonder why the direct market often seems utterly doomed.

1 COMMENT

  1. Sadly, this is the situation in the vast majority of the USA’s comic shops.
    My 10-year old daughter won’t even go into my home town’s comic shop; one of the reasons I’m contemplating opening a Saturday-only family-friendly (and indy-centric) shop adjacent to my studio. (The foyer to my office sits on the main street here.)
    I’m already paying the rent and have 2 other retailers offering to provide consignment product at a fair rate, so it’s essentially a no-overhead situation except for my time. (I’ll get my indy books and trades thru regular STAR orders via the same retailers at full discount.)
    Mine is not a circumstance most potential retailers could find, but in some of these towns across the US with absolutely no comic shop to speak of, I think a shop could exist anywhere as long as the word gets out. These are destination businesses in most cases.
    What’s really needed is the emergence of a chain of small shops that offer a smattering of every genre (including superheroes) and with a real dedication to special order fulfillment. (And a web presence, of course.)
    It CAN work, I really believe that. But time is growing short.

  2. “My 10-year old daughter won’t even go into my home town’s comic shop; one of the reasons I’m contemplating opening a Saturday-only family-friendly (and indy-centric) shop adjacent to my studio.”

    I think that’s a great idea. Go for it. Making a difference starts with you.

  3. I’m sure that after reading Mr. Reynold’s tirade the owner of this shop will start carrying a full line of Fantagraphics material. Chalk up another win for the Fantagraphics marketing department.

  4. I was visiting the shop in my hometown a while back, and all the only remotely independent book was a copy of “Sock Monkey” on Darkhorse (which I promptly purchased). It’s not a college town, mind you, and its name was pretty run of the mill suburban comic book shop fare, but man, is it any wonder I didn’t know who Dan Clowes was until I got to college (godbless Santa Cruz’s several fine comic stores)?

    In related news, I hear that comics aren’t just for kids, anymore. Sadly, I have no way of confirming this.

  5. very college town of any significant size should have a tiny shop like what I described above. Cheap, out of the way location & limited hours, but a knowledgable person present and reliable special order service (keep the STAR catalogue or whatever else is available) out on the counter in addition to Previews…And let the word get out thru local readers, campus bulletin boards, etc…The subs alone should keep a truly on-the-cheap shop breaking even, if it’s not the owner’s main gig…
    Right now, very few potential comics consumers even know they ARE potential consumers. And the shops we have (95% or more of ’em) are doing NOTHING to change things, not even hoing so far as to make it known they will order “esoteric” material.
    And ironically, it’s that “artsy, fringe” stuff that holds the most appeal to the average person.

  6. Wow, Fantagraphics was the publisher of Krazy Kat? They’ve been around quite a while. I’m pretty sure they didn’t name themselves after the reprint collections.

    To me a comic shop can sell whatever they want. If the owner just likes X-Men then have them sell what they’re passionate about. If someone just like Eightball then don’t sell X-Men. We had a shop in Vancouver like that called Pop Media Culture that just sold indy comics but it had to shut down, not because there wasn’t an audience for the books but indy publishers seldom if ever kept their own publshing deadlines and you can’t run a business hoping books might come in. At the time they were open Fantagrphics had an event where they’d publish all their heavy hitter books (Hate, Eightball, Cud, Love and Rockets and so on) in November. There were at least a dozen books to come out in the same month. Less than half did. If I’m remembering right maybe 2 or 3 did.
    People can sell whatever they want and as a business person you take a chance when you depend on the indy books for revenue.

  7. As I agree that some comic stores could be way better, I ask, is it a good idea to bully and humiliate lesser shops into conforming into what we believe they should be like?

    My thoughts exactly. It’s true that most comic shops are in a poor state when it comes to carrying more diverse titles, but I see it as a case of supply and demand: they’re simply supplying what their current consumers are demanding the most of. Simply sticking a bunch of indy titles on the shelves isn’t going to make them sell. What would need to change is more than the product: what would help to change is rather the matter of image. Perhaps if there were more comic book stores that actually looked like they sell something other than superhero comics, then perhaps they’d get more diverse customers with a wider variety of tastes. I still think that hiring an interior (and exterior) decorator for most shops already wins half the battle . . .

  8. Pipe dreams. And what’s in that pipe?

    If you have a room that you can use for a business, you might have a shot at making a cheap go at selling comics. But if you have to rent space, you have to sell a ton of stuff just to make your rent. Even renting a small space could cost you up to $1000 a month depending on the location. You can’t pay for rent just for 1 day a week, or just 25 hours a week; you pay for all 168 hours a week. Then there is electricity, heating and cooling, water, telephone, business license, insurance, lot and building upkeep. It ain’t easy making green.

  9. make a difference and ask the retailer to please order the books you are looking to buy in advance and start a conversation with him and even try reccomending some different titles.

    I have given copies of indy books away to retailers that didnt order them to try, and have had some success.

    be positive and have a conversation…open up a dialogue and enlighten , or try to.

    I run into the same thing with my local retailer in brooklyn…all he orders is mostly dc and marvel, so i try to sway him best i can.

    its an uphill battle, but one worth fighting for.

    jimmy

  10. Hmmm. A store with a good selection of all genres, good location, inviting decor, willing to order anything a customer desires, and a strong web presence. Stop by my store at 1972 Broadway in NYC, or visit books.com to find out more.
    For a business plan, why not set up a delivery service near colleges. When I attended Cornell College in Iowa, I had to use mail order or bum a ride into iowa city or cedar rapids. An individual could pick up the Diamond order, fill the subscription boxes, and then drive the orders around the region. Keep a phone number for customer service and faxes, email for orders. charge the orders to a credit card on file. give each customer a free copy of Previews so they can order specialty items. set up accounts with area schools and libraries. allow different methods of delivery… weekly, monthly, ups… offer specials (buy all of the tie in issues, get Countdown FREE!) The bigger the order, the bigger the discount.
    2nd step is eBay storefront, 3rd step is online store.

  11. Fantagraphics (and other publishers) should offer a consignment package to select stores. A store would recieve a selection of alternative titles for display, and after three months could return the unsold merchandise at on cost. Each book would include a coupon informing the reader where he bought the book, and that she can order other titles as well.
    This can work for lines as well, such as Buffy, Star Wars, Transformers, Johnny DC…
    Diamond could encourage indie sales by publishing a special Previews catalog featuring STAR titles, and offering a special discount for those titles listed. A retailer could then offer that discount to customers ordering from the catalog, or use it to take a smaller risk by improving the store stock.
    Does anyone syndicate a graphic novel review column for newspapers? Perhaps a store could sponsor the review with an ad. Publishers can help by sending review copies to national college news services.

  12. What snobbery!!! This guy can rant all he wants, but he has no right to force a retailer to carry anything — or really to be upset about it. If a retailer in any industry only wants to sell certain products, and he can do so successfully, why should he stock something he doesn’t want to sell? The shop is (I assume ) thriving by selling products it wants to sell. Why should it alter a successful business model?

    It’s like going into a supermarket and berating the manager for not carrying a certain brand of canned vegetable.

  13. Everyone has made great points on this “news item/thread”, but the one thing that is overlooked is Diamond’s lack of “returnability” on books ordered. When an LCS makes an order on ANY product they are essentially rolling the dice.

    I truly believe that if there was a way that LCSs could “hedge their bets” on ordering, there would be more “chances” taken on titles outside of the big 2.

  14. Another thing… here is a link to the shop’s photo gallery

    http://4krazykatz.com/photogallery.html

    If you look at the pics you’ll see that it is a hybrid video/comic shop. It isa diversified business which in turn, limits floor space.

    The shop looks very clean and well organized. The shop owner seemed attentive to his guest ( Mr. Reynolds ) and did his best to find SOMETHING that may interest the customer. I have come to realize that the direct market takes all of the abuse in this industry but never seems to get any credit for the load that they carry.

    Keep in mind, if the direct market goes away… so does this hobby.

  15. Go easy on the guy. The one previous time I heard about Eric Reynolds visiting a comic shop, Milhouse ended up ordering 2000 copies of Biclops.

  16. And don’t you forget it, CBG!

    Look, my opinion about this shop hasn’t changed, but at no point did I suggest he should “only” sell indie comics, or say that I want the direct market to “go away”. That’s a little hyperbolic if you go re-read my post on Flog.

    I don’t think the lack of indies was due to a lack of space. There was plenty of space in the store for more product and fixtures; it was kind of a sparesely filled store. But either way, I was merely suggesting that a broader selection of comics (whether that includes indies, superheroes, archies, manga, Simpsons, etc.) might attract more people. I wasn’t saying that indies should replace superheroes, or any kind of either/or like that. And yes, I know I’m really going out on a limb here, making suggestions when this man has the inalienable right to stock whatever he wants. But you know, this store was also half video store — do you think the video side only stocked horror films? No. I am not the first person to suggest that diversity is not a bad thing.

    One important note: I made one brief, ad hominem remark in my original post that I have since deleted from my post (unfortunately, Heidi has preserved it in her quotation) because it was uncalled for; I regret it. There was no need for me to insult this man personally and I apologize for that. But the rest of my criticism remains.

    Honestly, I would have talked to this fellow longer had I not been in a hurry, and it was only several days afterward that I kind of stewed on the fact that he didn’t know two companies like Fanta and D&Q were even still around despite the fact that our books are in the very order form he presumably looks at every month (we even have a full-page ad in PREVIEWS every month – good to know those are attracting attention!) that I finally was compelled to post, almost a week after it happened. You have to be rather willful to make a living selling comics and not know that Fantagraphics, D&Q, Top Shelf, etc. don’t exist. Ian said something like “indies don’t sell.” Ian, we publish PEANUTS. We publish USAGI YOJIMBO. We publish PRINCE VALIANT and GHOST WORLD and JOE SACCO and BARRY WINDSOR-SMITH and CASTLE WAITING. It’s not unreasonable to say we have at least one comic that would fit right at home in any shop and, I daresay, actually sell.

    Thanks to Torsten and Jimmy for the constructive feedback. We actually have tried consignment packs in the past to middling success and it’s worth trying again.

    Oh, and Ian, I was not attempting to lay claim to Krazy Kat in any way beyond the obvious (give me a break): we publish more Herriman collections than just about anyone, and I thought it was curious that a store named after the strip wouldn’t even know that the only publisher around who puts out about one or two Herriman books a year is still in business.

  17. Anon:”What snobbery!!! This guy can rant all he wants, but he has no right to force a retailer to carry anything — or really to be upset about it.
    …It’s like going into a supermarket and berating the manager for not carrying a certain brand of canned vegetable.”

    No, it’s not.
    It’s like going into a grocery store and discovering they only sell one type of vegetable, period. Or visiting a video store that only rents spaghetti westerns. These shops may be operating profitably (most of them just barely) and that’s good for them, but by stocking nothing but superheroes (and I mean nothing in most cases) they’re placing a cap on the amount of business they can ever do, no matter how clean or well-staffed they are.

    Even a moderately successful shop can afford to put 10 or 15 indy trades that appeal to the “Adult Swim” (i.e. “hip” or college-age) demographic on the shelf. Just grouping some of those books in one place, along with signage that invites patrons to ask for the catalogues showing the wealth of non-hero material out there, and being willing to order said material…What’s so hard about that? That’s just basic customer service.

    I’ve seen shop owners literally shrug when a 20-something student asks if they can order a PEANUTS volume or a JOHNNY THE HOMICIDAL MANIAC trade. Apparently it’s just too much hassle for these owners to pick up the damn phone or send an e-mail to have the book being requested included in the next week’s shipment. I ran a shop for 6 years, and yes it’s as simple as that. They don’t have to do an all-out STAR order, they can just have an odd book ADDED to the next week’s shipment. What’s so hard about that?
    I really can’t figure these shop owners out. I suppose they grew up reading nothing but Marvel & Dc and decorate and stock their stores with nothing but Marvel and DC because it’s all they know and all they choose to know. Most of them (Not all, but MOST) are fairly ignorant of what this art form has to offer, and seem incapable of appreciating anything beyond the long underwear power fantasies that fill their shops.

    In the early days of video rental, most shops were owned by individuals and this meant that each shop would have at least a smattering of unusual titles among the mainstream releases. Nowadays, if Blockbuster doesn’t have it, you’re screwed. (Yes, Netflix & Blockbuster online help address this.)
    But it’s more often the exact opposite with our industry of home-owned comic shops. They all sell one kind of vegetable, one kind of meat and if you don’t like Coke or Pepsi, then screw you. They’re happy with their little incestuous clubhouses and most couldn’t care less if they ever attract a child looking for an ARCHIE or a pre-teen girl looking for a BABY SITTERS CLUB graphic novel.

    In my opinion, we desperately NEED a chain of small, professionally-run, special-order friendly comic shops. Catering to the hero audience, of course, but providing exposure and creating awareness of all the great stuff being produced that doesn’t involve tights and capes. You know, the stuff an AVERAGE person would be more likely to pick up.

    Like I said, they don’t even have to stock the damn books. But yes, I think every retailer is OBLIGATED to at least let their customers know they can order a LOT more than they see on the shelves. That doesn’t cost anything and can only increase business and goodwill.

    Yeah, it’s a free country and retailers are free to continue with business as usual. But unwittingly or not, they’re being poor stewards of this art form and will ultimately go down with the PREVIEWS ship once readership erodes beyond a sustainable level. And make no mistake: we are quickly approaching that point. Most superhero comics sell a small fraction of what they were selling just 10 years ago. Readership isn’t going up; it’s going down. New faces in comic shops are rare, especially kids’ faces and females of ANY age.

    The two shops in my town carry NO trades or graphic novels AT ALL, not even the hero stuff. The only area of comics publishing that’s growing, and they ignore it. And manga? Forget it. Never mind the incredible success manga is seeing practically everywhere it’s carried. These guys won’t touch it. “It won’t sell,” they say… right to the faces of the very people who are ASKING them for the stuff.
    “I think that’s out of print,” they’ll say.
    Or “If it’s in the new PREVIEWS.”
    How many everyday people are going to search through one of these giant PREVIEWS catalogues, unaided, just in the hopes that they’ll see that graphic novel they heard about on National Public Radio?
    It’s a needle-in-a-haystack proposition if ever there was one.
    And even if that book WERE to be in the new PREVIEWS, it would have to be a rare re-listing. AND it would be in the back of the damn catalogue, after hundreds and hundreds of pages of super-dooper bullcrap.

    This industry is rife with cluelessness in every corner. Retailers, publishers, distributors, and sadly consumers as well.
    But I don’t blame the consumers.
    They’re just buying what they’ve always bought because it’s all they’ve ever seen.

    The average comics reader in 1987 was 17.
    The average reader now is over 25.
    Kids are not picking up the comics-reading habit anymore.

    So, super-hero shops: Where are your 20 and 30-something customers going to COME from in 20 years if kids aren’t reading comics today?

    It’s like planned obsolescence. Only no one’s planning it.

    Diversify or die, comics retailers.
    My 10-year old little girl just had to order the new BABYSITTERS CLUB trade from Amazon. And next week she’ll be ordering another volume of BONE, and maybe a BETTY AND VERONICA trade paperback.

    Diversify or die.

  18. I stopped into a shop in Chattanooga last month called Comics Hound which was certainly the worst I’d visited in many years, but it sounds better than this place. I wasn’t very impressed with the way the two owners (?) failed to get out from under their blankets in the back area of the store, where they were watching what looked like an old Disney live action film, and only bid me a cursory hello, and I wasn’t very impressed with the way the back issue boxes were so stuffed with $3 copies of DEATHMATE: YELLOW and stuff of that vintage that you couldn’t thumb through them, but at least when I mentioned that I was mainly looking for British weekly newspaper comics from the 70s like BATTLE, LION or EAGLE, the lady did reply “We got *some* Indy books. We got some Dark Horse…”

    Eric’s certainly right on many points, but especially this one: To order from Previews and not know that Fantagraphics and D&Q are still releasing product really does take a remarkable level of willful ignorance. There may be many reasons why they do not carry anything from these publishers, and it’s possible that previous attempts just failed to sell, but asking “are they still around?” about any active publisher is pretty much evidence that the guy’s not trying very hard to do his job.

  19. I’ve seen shop owners literally shrug when a 20-something student asks if they can order a PEANUTS volume or a JOHNNY THE HOMICIDAL MANIAC trade. Apparently it’s just too much hassle for these owners to pick up the damn phone or send an e-mail to have the book being requested included in the next week’s shipment. I ran a shop for 6 years, and yes it’s as simple as that. They don’t have to do an all-out STAR order, they can just have an odd book ADDED to the next week’s shipment. What’s so hard about that?

    I’m just curious, when you say shop owners, do you actually mean more than two that you’ve seen? Is this anecdotal or a pattern you’ve observed?

    I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, given the horror stories about bad retailers that abound, but I’m just kind of shocked by this kind of thing. I’ve been to comics shops in Colorado in three different cities, all over New York, California, two shops in Dallas, a half-dozen shops here in Austin, even a shop in Hot Springs, Arkansas and I have *never* encountered a shop this bad. I have only seen them in anecdotal tales and parodies like the Simpsons.

    I guess I have to believe that these Marvel/DC only shops exist, that there really are retailers out there too lazy to use Diamond’s very easy reorder system to get books for customers, but it just seems insane. It really isn’t that hard.

    I am a retailer, I’ve owned a shop for six months and worked there for five or six years prior… and while the shop I have is relatively small (or at least, it seems so to me… we’re maybe the third- or fourth-biggest shop in the area) but we carry indies, we special order *anything* a customer wants that’s available from Diamond or one of our other distributors and we try to have a broad and deep knowledge of the product. I’ll cop to not having all the D&Q and Fantagraphics material, not the full line, maybe not even a majority, but I’ve got books from both on the shelf and I carry anything they produce that I can sell. And I’ve only been doing this about 5-6 years… can there really be that many guys out there who have been running a long-time shop and don’t do it, or are there a few bad apples out there that are being brought up as the typical retailer, when that is in fact a fallacy?

    I guess what I’m saying, Malus, to you and to many others who do this, that if you’re actually concerned about the medium and how it is sold, maybe it would do better to not paint with such a wide brush. You go from talking about a couple of shops you’ve seen to talking about how the entire retail system is flawed, dying and can’t provide comics for your 10-year-old little girl. When in fact, if your 10-year-old was shopping in our shop, she could pick up Babysitter’s Club, Bone and Betty & Veronica off the shelf (or on the off chance someone else had bought us out earlier in the week, no less than a week later when the restock came in) and probably get some good advice about trying out Owly or Castle Waiting or something else she’s like too, something she’s not as likely to get on Amazon.

    In my opinion, we desperately NEED a chain of small, professionally-run, special-order friendly comic shops. Catering to the hero audience, of course, but providing exposure and creating awareness of all the great stuff being produced that doesn’t involve tights and capes. You know, the stuff an AVERAGE person would be more likely to pick up.

    Yes, because chain stores are all about finding those little gems and nurturing them to a wider customer base that just wants cheap big releases. That makes total sense. What we need is a Blockbuster for comics, right? Only won’t that create the same kind of situation you decry just a paragraph earlier, where if these chain of shops don’t deign to carry it, you’re screwed? That’s a rhetorical question, btw. The answer is yes, it would.

    A line of chain comic book stores would, I guaran-damn-tee you, carry what sells easily and frequently. And sadly, even in bookstores, that doesn’t always include the smaller indy gems. It’s going to be Civil War and World War Hulk and Infinite Crisis alongside the Sandman and Preacher, that’s for sure. It would leave out a lot of Fantagraphics output, unless you think the company would be best-served printing only reprints of classic cartoons while a variety of eclectic artists like Charles Burns, Johnny Ryan and Roberta Gregory get ignored by a base that doesn’t “get” them.

    Like I said, they don’t even have to stock the damn books. But yes, I think every retailer is OBLIGATED to at least let their customers know they can order a LOT more than they see on the shelves. That doesn’t cost anything and can only increase business and goodwill.

    On this we agree. But I just wonder if there aren’t a lot more retailers doing this than people give credit for. Maybe I’m just naive, but honestly, while I think I’m a good retailer, I have a hard time believing that what I think of as a *minimum* of customer service is really that hard to find. I think it’s more likely that these horrible example comic shops are relatively few and far between, but that we hear about them, rather than about the weekly good service that many fans do get from their comic shops. And I think that’s a shame.

    Yeah, it’s a free country and retailers are free to continue with business as usual. But unwittingly or not, they’re being poor stewards of this art form and will ultimately go down with the PREVIEWS ship once readership erodes beyond a sustainable level. And make no mistake: we are quickly approaching that point. Most superhero comics sell a small fraction of what they were selling just 10 years ago. Readership isn’t going up; it’s going down. New faces in comic shops are rare, especially kids’ faces and females of ANY age.

    See, here’s where I think you started diverging too much from your original point, about a couple bad shops you’d seen, into painting with a wide brush. The fact is, readership *did* go down, but it is now going back up. New faces in comic shops are *not* rare, at least not in any of the dozens I’ve been to with the owners and managers I’ve spoken with, it’s just that many of them are high school or college age, discovering comics for the first time rather than picking them up as kids. And I still see plenty of kids and women in the shops I go to. Either I’ve got some kind of magical spider sense that finds the good shops in every town I’ve ever been in, or there are more good shops than people give credit for.

    The two shops in my town carry NO trades or graphic novels AT ALL, not even the hero stuff. The only area of comics publishing that’s growing, and they ignore it. And manga? Forget it.

    This shocks me. I mean, one shop in your town not doing it, sure. But two? Wouldn’t the basic law of capitalism have one of these guys figure out that the other isn’t providing a useful service and pick up the slack on that product category?

    Jeez, maybe I am just naive and lucky in terms of finding good shops.

    This industry is rife with cluelessness in every corner. Retailers, publishers, distributors, and sadly consumers as well.
    But I don’t blame the consumers.
    They’re just buying what they’ve always bought because it’s all they’ve ever seen.

    Sorry, the blame has to be spread evenly to everyone. Ask any of the good retailers the frustration of talking up a book for 15 minutes to someone you *know* would love it and have them decide to buy the latest issue of Spawn instead. Or the frustration of actually offering to give someone their money back if they try the book out, and being told “Nah, maybe next time” when in fact they mean “I don’t really want to try something new.” It kills me to order light on some indy books because the history tells me the sales aren’t there. I’ve no doubt I lose money on books I *know* I wasn’t going to sell because I ordered a couple copies hoping I was wrong. Who gets the blame for that? Me? Publisher? Distributor? Nope, we all fulfilled our end of the bargain on that (weekly) occurrence. It’s the consumer side of things that let the industry down.

    Look, I’m not saying I don’t believe these guys exist. Obviously, they do. But it’s frustrating as one of the many, many good retailers to see this “the direct market sucks, they’re all fat greasy Comic Book Guy stereotypes who only sell Superman and Spider-Man” trope trotted out on a daily basis across the Internet. I’m just curious, doesn’t anybody out there actually shop on a regular basis at a comic shop that they like? Why don’t we hear those stories repeated on a daily basis too?

    On the actual post at hand, rather than the comments, I have to say that to the credit of this retailer, he did at least *try* to find something for Eric when he was in the shop. He didn’t wave him off or try to lie to him and be an expert on companies he didn’t know about. You can certainly argue that he should have known more about the industry he works in (and I won’t argue with that), but give the guy his due… he had a customer looking for something and he tried to find something for that customer. That’s still better service than you’re probably going to get in any pipe dream line of chain stores where the employees are mostly working with one eye on the clock. Granted that in chain stores you always find the occasional employee who does it for the love of what they’re selling, but that’s the exception rather than the rule. With the comic book direct market, I think it’s the rule rather than the exception.

  20. Hi Randy,
    Yes, the incidents I described actually happened, right in front of me. And yes, two equally terrible shops in one town, no other shops in a 40-mile radius. And most shops I’ve been to in my area (Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and Mississippi) have been pretty much the same, sad to say.
    Not that there aren’t exceptions! The Great Escape in Nashville and Oxford Books in Atlanta (if it’s still there) come to mind. There’s also a good shop in Athens, GA. And in Birmingham, there’s a surprisingly diverse shop I found recently called Kingdom Comics.

    Yes, great shops like these exist, thank God, but they seem to be mostly in metropolitan areas. And in my years of comics shop-going (as fan, publisher and eventually retailer) I’ve found the standard superhero shop by far to be the norm.
    They can’t all be as bad as the two in my town (Jeez I hope not; my town’s shops don’t even accept credit/debit cards!) but most of them seem to reflect the “marketing tunnel-vision” that I described.

    Most of these places are run by very nice people, don’t get me wrong. I know they’re not all conspiring to bring down comics.
    But walking through their stores, you will rarely see anything beyond the superhero genre. You’re more likely to see their gaming department and maybe sportscards or statues, or all of the above. But very rarely will you see a copy of 300 or SIN CITY displayed prominently.
    And these are supposed to be our hits….?

    I hope I’m wrong about the majority of shops being like this. Really.
    And I love hearing about every shop that carries more than heroes.

    In fact, I love superheroes.
    I just want there to still be be comics in 20 years.

  21. Randy Lander:”. What we need is a Blockbuster for comics, right? Only won’t that create the same kind of situation you decry just a paragraph earlier, where if these chain of shops don’t deign to carry it, you’re screwed? That’s a rhetorical question, btw. The answer is yes, it would.”

    But…If Blockbuster stores had replaced a nation filled with video stores that only rented westerns (which I liken to the comics retailers who only promote superheroes) then their take-over would have been a huge improvement.
    “What have these stores been doing?” their marketing suits would scream. “Get some romantic comedies and horror movies in all those stores, quick!”

    Again, I’m very glad to hear your store is an exception.
    I hope there are a lot more like yours out there than I think.

  22. I thought it was kind of disturbing that the retailer took a new book that he didn’t order and, rather than setting it out there to see if it would sell, put it in a corner somewhere.

    Everybody does things for different reasons. I don’t think this particular person had much interest in being the go-to place for a diverse readership.

    At least he tried to help though. That’s a big plus in my book.

  23. “I’ll cop to not having all the D&Q and Fantagraphics material, not the full line, maybe not even a majority, but I’ve got books from both on the shelf and I carry anything they produce that I can sell.”

    That’s all I’d ever ask from anyone! Really.

    I guess I find it lazy when someone suggests that they can’t sell “Fantagraphics,” because “Fantagraphics” means many things, from Dan Clowes to Charles Schulz to R. Crumb to books about Neil Gaiman and Frank Miller.

    I should add, and this is important, that unlike some of the other anecdotes being floated around here, the guy behind the counter was nice and trying to be helpful, which is why I regret calling him a name in the heat of the moment and have deleted it from the blog.

  24. Eric, may I make a suggestion? Slide one or two recent issues published by Fanta, along with a current Fanta catalog, and a note from you reminding the retailer that you were the customer who came in a few weeks back asking about Fantagraphics. Let him know that you work for the company and that you just wanted to send these samples out to possibly encourage him to order one or two Fanta items in his next order. Maybe even point out the COMPLETE PEANUTS and KRAZY & IGNATZ collections as starting points. Then include your business card and let the retailer know that if he has any questions he can ask you.

    The retailer may order something, or he may not, but at least you tried. Just bitching about the problem isn’t going to solve it. Be proactive, even if it’s just once.

    Just a thought.

  25. I think the worst of the shops have closed, which is why it’s always such an unpleasant surprise to hear about a place like 4krazykatz or the place in Chattanooga. I had a guy once tell me that he wouldn’t order 2000 AD, not because he believed there was no demand, not because he thought it wouldn’t sell, not because he’d been stuck for years with those awful American-sized Dredd reprints, but because “there aren’t any bags and boards which fit those.” His shop closed years ago.

    Malus, you’re probably referring to Bizarro Wuxtry in Athens, which is certainly the best comic shop I’ve been to in the US, and which gets better than 80% of my bizness. Athens is also home to Classic City, which is a very good gaming/superhero store, but the town’s seen the back of at least three terrible stores in the last 15 years. Atlanta’s got Oxford and Criminal Records and a store Great Escape which is not related to that very good small chain in Nashville, Bowling Green and Louisville. So there are good stores around.

    But even the good ones have what would appear to be flaws. The Great Escapes in Nashville have an utterly woeful selection of manga, and the one in Louisville, which is a downright amazing store otherwise, seems to carry more used Japanese books than new titles. Part of me thinks that Great Escape is pretty close to the idea of a good chain of stores which could expand beyond their present market… but I have friends in Nashville who buy all their manga from Borders and just stop at Great Escape for superhero stuff. They’ve got captive customers who are in the store two or three times a month, and still lose dollars to Waldenbooks. Mad!

  26. Eric, I didn’t say something like “indy comics don’t sell”. I said that they did sell at a shop that tried to only sell indies but the publishers were unreliable and you can’t run a business based on books maybe coming out. Fantagraphics and Drawn and Quarterly were the two most consistant and like I said before telling retailers you’ll be putting out 12 books in one month and comics out with less than half? That just doesn’t fly. The retailers would also push books like Chester Brown’s Underwater or Rich Veich’s Tyrant that the creator would then just get tired of doing and stop with no notice.

  27. But even the good ones have what would appear to be flaws. The Great Escapes in Nashville have an utterly woeful selection of manga, and the one in Louisville, which is a downright amazing store otherwise, seems to carry more used Japanese books than new titles. Part of me thinks that Great Escape is pretty close to the idea of a good chain of stores which could expand beyond their present market… but I have friends in Nashville who buy all their manga from Borders and just stop at Great Escape for superhero stuff. They’ve got captive customers who are in the store two or three times a month, and still lose dollars to Waldenbooks. Mad!

    Actually, I was surprised when talking to retailers in San Diego to find out that some of them just don’t do manga that well. It’s a huge chunk of our business. But it’s not always a case of “These guys don’t know what they’re doing.” Borders and Barnes & Nobles get preferential treatment (I don’t know if it’s from Tokyopop & Viz or from their bookstore distributors) and often get books weeks before retailers (who ordered it at the same time) get it. That’s tough to compete with, and certainly you can’t blame retailers for deciding not to carry books from publishers that don’t support them, especially if the sales aren’t there.

    Also, there are plenty of customers who started buying manga at Borders, etc. and who don’t want to go elsewhere for them. If a retailer tries manga and it just doesn’t sell, at some point it has to be OK to say “You know what, these are popular with an important segment of the market, but they’re just not coming to us?” If a shop has a good diverse stock of stuff but no manga, I don’t think that’s necessarily a strike against them. A shame, maybe, as for our store, manga is one of the best “gateway book” subsets of the medium I’ve seen in years, but certainly no reflection on bad business sense or anything like that.

    Oh, and to address Dave’s point, while I don’t think you’re wrong about the notion of Eric putting some comics and a business card that retailer’s way being a good thing, I think “Just bitching about the problem isn’t going to solve it. Be proactive, even if it’s just once.” is maybe a bit snarky and unnecessary. Keep in mind, this wasn’t a manifesto Eric sent out or anything, it was just an entry on a blog. Everybody’s entitled to blow off a little steam once in a while, rather than to be focused on turning everything into a project every minute of every day.

    I might not feel that way if it had been my store that was blasted on a company blog, of course… I’m just saying, I understand the notion of being frustrated and blowing off some steam on the Internet. Everybody else gets to do it, I don’t see why those in the biz shouldn’t be allowed once in awhile. It’s just that the random gripings of Internet fans are probably less likely to be linked by The Beat or show up in Rich Johnston’s column. :)

  28. I would add to the current discussion that to an informed and savvy bookstore owner, Diamond is no longer the only option for ordering trade books from Fantagraphics (or D+Q, or Marvel, or Dark Horse, or DC). Many direct market stores are now setting up accounts with trade-book-world wholesaler Baker & Taylor or Ingram to ensure better stock levels, better discount on reorders, and returnability (all plusses over Diamond at least until any changes as rumored by Rich Johnston take place at Diamond).

    Diamond is no longer the only game in town for these books and with an alternate source of stock like B&T or even setting up a separate account with the publisher itself, you no longer are hampered by the fear of taking complete risks on non-returnable books.

  29. Dave, you’re right, my only excuse is I was on vacation and didn’t have a card or catalog or anything like that with me, and we were only stopping in on the way elsewhere and I didn’t wanna subject my wife to a sales call.

  30. The one thing that is overlooked in all this is the fact that these “personal opinions” put on a business website. Bad form by Mr. Reynolds.

    Posting his experience on a business webpage will be interpreted by the masses as FANTAGRAPHICS opinion, not an individuals voice.

  31. I think my most horrible experience with a comic book store (and the first time I thought: oh dear, this is not going to go down well at all with normal people) was when I was studied at the University of Missouri in Columbia. About half a block away from the J-School, there was a store that literally smelled of urine and sweat and was painted in black, and not in a nice gothic kind of way. Over the past few years, in each US or UK city I’ve been to I have tried to seek out comic book stores, and for the most part, I still am flabbergasted by their seedy porn store interior.

    In fact, and I am not in any way or shape linked to them and don’t even live in that city anymore, but the way a good comic book store should look like, with lots of teens, both boys and girls coming in, was COM-X in Nuremberg, Germany. Bright. With books of all genres, from the German albums to the US floppies to big walls filled entirely with Manga. And not only that, you could ask the people behind the counter almost anything, and believe you me, I was (and am) a difficult customer. But they knew what to recommend, they had an almost encyclopedic knowledge of pretty much all genres and they could recommend things based on their entertainment potential and not based on “but this is where the Hulk battles everybody, mmmkay?” notion.

  32. Is the answer to the tool question “Joe S. Walker”?

    I’m not sure what the quotation marks around “personal opinions” in the 8:29 comment are supposed to mean. That’s not a direct quote from any of the comments posted here, and to suggest the other use of quotations, which is that somehow what Eric wrote aren’t personal opinions, but something else that are not personal opinions, is just weird.

    For those of you who are tut-tutting Eric about his business conduct, first of all, most of you need to learn to read more effectively, particularly when it comes to discerning the difference between offering up a opinion in plain English, like Eric did, and suggesting a prescriptive according to comic book message board leaps of logic, as has been done for him.

    Second of all, please note that Eric is as respected an industry member in American comic books as exists at any company, period. PERIOD. The most respected person you’re aware of that works in comics? As respected, but not more respected, than Eric Reynolds.

    Eric was sad a comic shop owner with access to college students didn’t have a diverse store, and miffed that he was under-educated as to not know a same-state, perennial top 10 publisher that publishes comics featuring the character named after his store.

    That’s all!

    He’s not predicting failure for the store. He’s not suggesting stores blindly devote themselves to Indy-Alt content. He’s not suggesting this guy be tried in Nerd Court and be convicted of Not Supporting the Cause. He hasn’t suggested anyone is a tool.

    That’s been done for him.

    Eric had a disappointing experience at a store and talked about it on his blog. He works for an employer that allows employees to freely express their opinions on things, and he’s earned the right to say any damn thing he wants and to be heard, when he has time between kicking ass at his job and being offered positions at other companies.

    Other than maybe the fact that it’s Eric saying so, which is worth noting, what he’s said is not that big a deal, even if there’s a long comment thread of people suggesting meanings that didn’t exist, or offering correctives to his behavior that fail to grasp that Eric’s been doing all those things for 14 years.

    A guy who likes alternative comics had a crummy experience in a comics shop. I’m pretty sure this happened three times somewhere in the world during the time it took me to type this response.

  33. Wait, I guess he did suggest that someone did a toolish thing, but he took it back and mentioned how helpful he was.

  34. Clarification:

    My little “light a candle’ homily was directed at the doom-and-gloom commenters, who seem to pop up in every discussion about comic shops and wax righteous about the failures and the horrors of all comic shops everywhere, often using scurrilous “facts” and anecdotes to support their dire premonitions.

    Eric Reynolds is one of the best friends a comic shop can have.

  35. Not one of the five comic stores in my area carry any decent amount (or any) small press stuff. Not one store carries mini-comics, of any variety. But, I can still get these from neighboring areas comic stores and via the internet. My biggest complaint when going into my local comic stores would be the lack of knowledge about comics/ the business of comics. I don’t expect them to know about every underground comic. Every little photocopied mini-comic. That would be insane. But…when they don’t know what The Comics Journal is? That’s like being a car salesmen and knowing the brand Ford (Wizard), but saying “I’ve never heard of a Saturn (TCJ) before”. Or being told that they cannot order me a copy of a comic available through Diamond. I call bullshit. While they have the right not to carry Fantagraphics comics/books, they should at least know that they are still in business and publishing titles. Knowledge is always good business.

  36. Tom Spurgeon:

    So with your comments, I am to assume you are saying that “respected industry member” Reynolds DOES speak for all of FANTAGRAPHICS with his comments?

    Let me ask another question… Did Mr. Reynolds have to name 4KrazyKatz by name in his post? Did he have to put a link to the store’s website? Could he not be general and say he went to an LCS in the Washington State University area and still get his point across? Once again, bad form. This LCS owner is now getting slammed and I believe it is unfair to him.

    My I make a suggestion to Mr. Reynolds to pass along to the powers that be. Make your products returnable by LCS owners. I would bet a dollar to a donut that a bunch of LCSs would take more of a gamble on Indy books if they weren’t carrying the load by themselves. FANTAGRAPHICS could forge new ground in the Indy market if the made a bold move like this. WOuldn’t you agree? :)

  37. Eric Reynolds should save some of his righteous anger for his company’s own fulfillment department. I know I’m not alone in being disgusted by the condition I received comics ordered directly from Fantagraphics. Complaints were ignored and I was left paying full price + shipping for damaged comics. I won’t ever order direct from Fantagraphics again. Too bad since they actually earn more money from direct sales.

  38. Rakarich: From my discussions with various publishers, I’m under the impression that the biggest stumbling block toward returnability in the Direct Market isn’t a given publisher; it’s Diamond, who have reluctantly agreed to facilitate experiments in risk-free orders a handful of times* but have made it abundantly clear that they don’t want to deal with the hassle and paperwork involved in returnability as a continuing proposition.

    * I’m not including Marvel or DC in this, by the way — Diamond has no say in how they structure their deals with retailers, since the deals they have with Steve Geppi are brokerage deals, not distribution deals. Marvel and DC can do almost whatever they want, and Diamond is basically obligated to go along with it. Non-brokered publishers don’t have this luxury.

  39. Alex:

    Thanks for the info. I didn’t know that :)

    Dirk Deppey:
    I know Diamond calls the shots in regards to their catalogue. I assume your point is Diamond holds all the cards in regards to how this industry prospers more so than any one LCS. To that point, I am in 100% agreement.

  40. Dear TJ, if you wanted to write me directly I would gladly help rectify any mail order problems you’ve had with Fantagraphics, as I would do for anyone. We take pride in our business. Was this a personal or store order?

  41. You folks should come to Tallahassee and take a look at my store.

    Lots of diversity of titles and genres (I even carry some Fantagraphics and D&Q along with Top Shelf, Markosia, Avatar, IDW, Oni, Archaia, Antarctic, and many more. That’s just the publishers I can see from where I’m sitting), clean, neat, well-organized, well-lit, and I am a special order whore. (I’ve placed several while reading this blog)

    I’ll bet there are many stores like mine all over the country, but no one hears about them. It makes for better reading when some store is raked over the coals for some (actual or imagined) slight, and it’s not something that is unique to our hobby/ business.

  42. Just a note to everyone:

    NO ONE PICK ON ERIC REYNOLDS! Pound for pound this guy has done more for comics in the last decade than almost anyone I could name.

  43. To respond to “Rakarich”:

    “So with your comments, I am to assume you are saying that ‘respected industry member’ Reynolds DOES speak for all of FANTAGRAPHICS with his comments?”

    No, I said pretty much the opposite of that.

    “Let me ask another question… Did Mr. Reynolds have to name 4KrazyKatz by name in his post? Did he have to put a link to the store’s website? Could he not be general and say he went to an LCS in the Washington State University area and still get his point across? Once again, bad form. This LCS owner is now getting slammed and I believe it is unfair to him.”

    Actually, I respect Eric for naming names. More people should. There’s way too much loaded argumentation and dubious example-making in comics discussion for the subject to be taken seriously without specifics. The only thing that would be unfair to the shop owner is if Eric made stuff up, or if he painted all the stores in Spokane for something that struck him about one.

    “My I make a suggestion to Mr. Reynolds to pass along to the powers that be. Make your products returnable by LCS owners. I would bet a dollar to a donut that a bunch of LCSs would take more of a gamble on Indy books if they weren’t carrying the load by themselves. FANTAGRAPHICS could forge new ground in the Indy market if the made a bold move like this. WOuldn’t you agree?”

    Fantagraphics attempted multiple returnable material efforts while I was there and offers their books on a returnable basis through at least one distributor right now.

    It’s more difficult than you might think. Diamond isn’t really conducive to facilitating such efforts, which means a lot of stores can’t/won’t participate. Also, my knowledge of the modern direct market indicates that initiatives such as you describe may not be taken for their face value but are just as frequently strip-mined for advantages specific to that store.

    In other words, it’s at least just as much the store culture as it is barriers to selling. You can have the greatest programs in the world, but if a store doesn’t want to sell something, it won’t. As we’ve seen from the years of abuse that Marvel and DC have inflicted on store owners, if a store wants to sell something, they will no matter how high the cost.

    I’m all for stores selling whatever the heck they want — I’ve had a statement saying as much up on my site for about three years now — but I agree with Eric’s sentiment that not offering a wider array of comics at this point in the market’s progression could be seen as a sad thing (if someone with Eric’s job didn’t have that view, I’d fire them!) and that shops should be expected to have a rudimentary knowledge about their industry because of the nature of the market. That’s a systemic problem, by the way, not just on the stores.

    TJ, I hope you’ll take Eric up on his offer. He’s not offering just to offer.

  44. Many direct market stores are now setting up accounts with trade-book-world wholesaler Baker & Taylor or Ingram to ensure better stock levels, better discount on reorders, and returnability (all plusses over Diamond at least until any changes as rumored by Rich Johnston take place at Diamond).

    I’m not sure if the better discount is always true. B&T does have a better stock (especially on manga) than Diamond, but they actually order some of their stock *from* Diamond, and as a result, their discounts are usually lower even on indie books when it comes to reorders. Unless you’re a smaller store, you’re likely to take a discount hit on anything you order from B&T. It’s relatively small, but it’s there and it does add up.

    Which isn’t to say I don’t order from B&T every week, in fact I do, but it’s not all wine and roses there either. Granted, there is some returnability, but it’s not as easy as “OK, round up whatever we didn’t sell and decide we don’t want and send it back.” It’s another complicated task in an already crowded workday for most retailers.

    Let me ask another question… Did Mr. Reynolds have to name 4KrazyKatz by name in his post? Did he have to put a link to the store’s website? Could he not be general and say he went to an LCS in the Washington State University area and still get his point across? Once again, bad form. This LCS owner is now getting slammed and I believe it is unfair to him.

    For my part, if Mr. Reynolds had been in my store and had this bad an experience (and I don’t believe he would, but just saying if he did) I think I’d want to be named by name. At worst, it would allow me to know to defend myself and my conduct, at best, it gives me a lesson that allows me to improve my store’s service.

    But then, I’ve never been a fan of the “Somebody in this room did something bad, so I’m going to tell you all not to do it” type of thing. It’s OK if everyone has done it at some point, and you’re wanting to make a general point, but if you want to tell one person to stop doing something, tell that person. Otherwise they’re going to assume you’re not talking about them. And worse, folks who didn’t do anything wrong are going to worry and wonder if they screwed up, when in fact they’ve been doing just fine.

    I know if I read someone’s blistering account of a bad experience in an “Austin area store” I’d be paranoid that it was mine until I found out otherwise. I’d rather be called out if I did it, and left out of it if I didn’t. Generalizing in order to paint with an even wider brush (as many in the comments do, and Eric Reynolds specifically did not) seems more unfair to me.

  45. Thanks, Heidi, but I can take the heat and should have expected it. Ultimately, if my comments lead to a healthy discussion about what makes a good store, then so be it, and I can take the criticism. I opened myself up to it.

  46. As this news item fades into the sunset I want to take a moment to thank you all for a wonderful debate. :)

    Rakarich

  47. Tom Spurgeon: “Wait, I guess he did suggest that someone did a toolish thing…”

    His exact words: “What a fucking tool.”

    Can’t you read?

  48. What’s wrong with tools? Our ability to use tools is the attribute that sets us apart from (most of) the animals. And, speaking personally, my tool has given me many happy hours of entertainment. On the other hand, if you’re speaking of “Tool”,the musical act, then “unforgivable” isn’t NEARLY strong enough a term of opprobrium.