Martha Thomases: Love Your Friendly Neighborhood Comics Shop
Have I mentioned lately how much I like comic book stores? Even as more and more of my friends buy their comics digitally (and I buy more of my prose books digitally), I still like to get my comics in hard copy. I like to get them on Wednesdays when I can. I like to get a big stack and find a comfy chair.
And yet this morning, when I woke up with an uncharacteristic and bewildering tummy ache, I didn’t reach for a pile of singles to take with my to the bathroom, or to my comfy chair. Instead, I wanted to read original graphic novels.
So I was interested to read a conversation among comic shop retailers about how they like original graphic novels – or OGNs, as they call them.
If I might over-simplify, most don’t. I mean, they like them, but most of their business comes from customers like me, who buy single issues month after month. Some say that, even among their regular customers, the higher-priced items are bought online where the customer can get a bigger discount (often bigger than retailers gets from their distributors).
I get this. Stores find their customer base and then do their best to serve that base, providing the products they want and, with luck, also providing products they don’t know about but will love when they see them. A great store will look for ways to broaden its base, attracting more and more customers over time.
Perhaps I am inferring more than is intended, but I also sense that some of the retailers are saying that since OGNs don’t do well for them, that it is a waste of time for publishers to print them. And that kind of thinking makes me crazy.
When I worked at DC Comics in the 1990s, the marketing department spent a lot of time, money and effort working with the direct market. This makes sense, because it represented something like 85% of our sales. At the same time, to satisfy this market, we would often delay shipping books to other markets (that is, bookstores) so that comic book shops could have a month to six weeks to exclusively offer the product.
And this made me nuts.
I’d like to say it made me nuts for altruistic reasons, that I favored a free market or equal opportunity or something. Instead, my ire was selfish. It was hard to get critical attention for a book that wasn’t available in a bookstore.
Leaving the plight of publicists aside, however, there are lots of other reasons for publishers to offer OGNs. Comic book stores no longer serve every possible customer for graphic story. One retailer mentions Paul Pope’s Battling Boy, saying its a best seller for him, but not doing nearly as well as most collections. And yet, the longest line I saw at the Book Expo trade show this year was for Pope’s autograph, primarily booksellers and librarians.
Those markets also move a lot of books, frequently to an audience that wouldn’t go to a comic book store. Artists and writers (and publishers and publicists) should be encouraged to make money in every possible market available to them.
Which brings me to what I read today. I don’t think any of these are designed to be direct market bestsellers, but I bet they each have a sizable potential readership.
Rick Geary’s Madison Square Tragedy is the story of the murder of Sanford White by Henry Thaw, a story I was familiar with mostly because of Ragtime. Geary’s storytelling is straight-forward, full of detail that brings New York City in the early 1900s to life. With very few words but a deft use of faces and body language, he conveys the tensions among the high society of the time.
And then I reached for Harvey Pekar’s last book, Yiddishkeit, which is two years old but I’m just getting to it now. It’s a history of Yiddish culture going back to the Middle Ages, but my favorite parts are set in New York from the late 1800s to the present. There’s some chronological overlap with Geary’s book, but I don’t think any of the players knew each other. My knowledge of Yiddish comes from Lenny Bruce, Philip Roth, Sholom Alecheim and Isaac Bashevis Singer (whom Pekar loathes), but I loved this book. It reminded me that my people have a long tradition of fighting for social justice while arguing amongst themselves.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, my tummy is better but it’s snowing out and that comfy chair is calling. I’m going to check out the highly recommended Cursed Pirate Girl. With luck, I’ll also have a cat in my lap.
SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman
SUNDAY: John Ostrander