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Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Here We Go! Here We Go! Here We--where are we going?

I posted the two documentaries yesterday -The Midwest In Panels and The Comic Book Palace- because I think both show something very important that is missing from UK comic book shops. If you are in the UK and cannot work out "what?" well, there you go.

The stores seem to all try to encourage youngsters as well as older artists -even selling, in a number of cases, Small Press comics -though they are not referred to as such. Art pinned up in stores by kids and older customers.  Excellent.  Even in some cases far more kid friendly comic areas, though that requires a lot more space than some comic shops have in the UK.

With The Midwest In Panels we see store owners making points I've been making for years such as Free Comic Book Day is only free to the customers who grab the comics because stores have to pay for them -and it is simply to promote the comic company product. The Halloween Free Comic Book Day is the same thing under a different name but, again, store owners under pressure to keep their businesses making money and keep open have to pay for what is comic industry promotional advertising.

The Diamond Distributor monopoly which they all think is bad -there are a couple exceptions including the guy who jumps up and down whenever a company or the distributor has an idea...even if it costs him money.  In the UK a monopoly is supposed to be illegal but, as the owners in this documentary state: who gives a crap -its comics.

There are some very wise words and, in both documentaries, there are some great pieces of sage (and very funny) wisdom -I laughed in a few places which I was not expecting.

2,500+ comic book retailers in the United States.  Now you know why the UK is seen as a not very important outlet.

But I kept thinking "I'm in the wrong country" though the biggest thing that I realised I missed after watching these documentaries was talking to comic fans.  Fans duck into events now, get what they are looking for and go. Back with the old Westminster Comic Marts there were plenty of comic fans to chat to.  Even the UK Comic Art Conventions (UKCAC) saw fans meeting up, chatting and even keeping in touch -and we wrote to each other back then because there was no email -how fecking hard is it to type a comment or send an email: "Liked that item. Thanks!"??

On the other hand there are examples of old style comic fans still going. A couple weeks back a Russian CBO visitor emailed me with a scan of the missing Tarzan #4 I'd been looking for from the 1990s on.  He was missing two issues.  I scanned and sent him those. Yesterday, another Russian visitor sent me a link for a download of the Tarzan (Russian) I had missing but I've the full six issues now anyway. He was still looking for two issues -I had those two issues scanned so a quick email attachment and off they went.  Back came a "Thank You".

Now uploading and sending that email took a couple minutes. Original scanning took longer but that doesn't matter.  Any real comic fan will tell you of the pain, the agony and the utter anguish of a comic series you read and collected that misses one or two issues. Years of searching -still can't find them. I see myself as having administered pain relief!  And, of course, I got to complete the series myself.

Fans in action. Swap scans in this case, chat about them. Thank yous all round.  No nastiness or bitching or name-calling you get on the fake 'fan' sites.   Gives you a buzz.

We just need more small events that are interested in one thing only: back issue comics and maybe a very selective few small pressers.  With Europe seemingly not open for me next year my brain is thinking.....

Hopefully, even if you do not speak the languages, the German comic related videos also gave you a glimpse of how things are going "over there".  I was disappointed to see German TV travelling to France and Belgium to do stories on comic creators rather than giving time to their own comic creators of which there are a good few -I would publicise them but no one sends me German small press or comics these days...sorry, had to wipe a tear from my cheek.


  1. FCBD is a total pain in the arse, and the fact that shops have to pay for the comics is not exactly secret, and never has been; any comic shop owner will moan about the cost of it if you get them talking (because it's an incredibly hard business to make money in). However, what it is is a good PR exercise, people come in to your shop specifically for the event, very few of them turn up grab what they want and leave without buying other things (this is in my experience of having run quite a few FCBD events) so extra sales are made that help to pay for the 'free' stock. It also encourages new people into the store with titles that are in some way a bit different/special (Gerard Way's 'Killjoys' comic from a few years ago encouraged My Chemical Romance fans into the stores). If you get one or two new customers who become regular and buy one or two titles a month because of FCBD, and it does happen, then it's been a success. Just because it is advertising, it's advertising upcoming product and gets people talking about it, isn't that a good thing? Of course there are the people who just turn up grab a load of stuff and instantly sell it on eBay, but you can't stop them doing it so good luck to them.

    The main thing, however, is that fandom has changed with the Internet. Marts, conventions and stores have had declining back issue sales for years. This is why a lot of stores don't keep them, they take up room and make little money. Anyone who thinks that they can open a comic shop and have loads of back issues that will sell because that's what the fans want (for that read 'what they want') will not have a shop very long. You don't have the one comic someone is looking for? No sale. Have it but not at a price they're willing to pay? No sale. If you want to be ethical about it you will grade and price comics that people offer for sale and offer them 50-60%of what they're worth (because you've got to make money). If you're unethical you'll offer a shitty 'take it or leave it' price that insults the knowledgeable collector and cons those who know nothing. For me honesty was always the best policy and I advised people to do their research and sell privately on eBay, that way they'd get a price more like they were expecting rather than what I, as a store manager, could offer them. And that's the point: if you're looking for back issues you first look online to see if you can get it and how much it'll cost. Over the years the second-hand market is now focused on online sales. If you're a shop with a lot of back issues you basically need to employ someone part-time to run your online presence, create and update listings and manage the sales. If you can't be arsed with all that, sell your back issues off cheap and use them as a loss leader.

  2. It's interesting that, re. back issues, you notice in the Midwest documentary,shops seem to think that you need them. Ebay prices are just vastly over-inflated for back issues and its rare I've found anything I've looked for. For the cost of two back issues from an Ebay dealer I have just bought the final 8 issues I needed to complete my Avengers volume 1 run -that includes shipping. I now buy back issues from the US. Money I'm sure a comic shop would have preferred. FCBD is still a mystery to 99% of the public. I don't think shops should pay to promote companies. I once explained to several people that shop owners HAD to pay and only they got the comics for free. I said that they ought to look and buy at least once comic in the shop but each one said the same thing: WHY should they have to buy anything? It was FREE comic book day after all. Two actually only went into a comic shop on FCBD! I like seeing how store owners in the US look at these things. In the UK I hear a lot of moaning privately but no one wants to speak out loud. The industry is what you make it I guess.

  3. Actually, thinking about it -I have read blog posts as well as local newspaper coverage of comic events and just like the last Bristol Expo the main trade "...were people buying comics from the 1960s and 1970s -one man came from Cornwall to buy a batch of Tarzan comics so, yes, there ARE people out there looking for back issues and shops do what their owners want. I don't think I can be held responsible for views from a hand full of store owners in the US who express their opinions in a documentary made by Americans. THEIR views. Did you watch the documentary?

  4. One way of looking at FCBD is that it's a publicity event. You do get folk wandering in to the store saying 'I've heard there's something about free comics...' Or words to that effect. These are the casually interested who are mainly interested in the word 'free'. In my experiences, there are people who only go into comic shops for FCBD but at least they do go in, and on the whole they do buy other things. The percentage of people who only want the free stuff and then leave is quite low. What the shops are essentially paying for to get the 'free comics' is the publicity that it brings. If you think of it in the terms of how much a business would have to pay a PR/Marketing company to get local news coverage (FCBD nearly always makes it into local press) or to do advertising for you then it makes a bit more sense. Rather than think of it as shops paying companies to promote their product, think of it as shops paying the publishers to help promote their stores. I always hated the amount of organisation that a FCBD took, and the higher bill at the end of the month was always a bit of shock, but the 'event' always paid for itself with the extra sales that were made, I see FCBD as a necessary evil, it's annoying, a lot of work and expensive but it does what it's designed to do: gets folk in the shop, exposes them to comics they might not otherwise have read, and is generally a good fun day for those working in the shop. People go away happy, the shop makes a bit of money and all is well. In all seriousness, a lot of comic shops in the UK are run on a hand-to-mouth basis, a week of extra sales and a bit of publicity will help to keep them going. Of course, this is just my opinion, but with 25 years of experience in selling comics in cities up and down the UK, I've seen how the industry has changed, sometimes for the better, often for the worse, at least it's an informed one.