Tagged: comic book stores

Mike Gold: Comic Books’ Pot Luck


One of the overlooked outcomes of last week’s election is the growth of the marijuana legalization movement. Buying, possessing and using the stuff is going to be legal for adults in Massachusetts, Nevada, California and Maine – as it is now in Colorado, Alaska, Washington State, Washington D.C., and Oregon. Over 20 percent of Americans reside in states where such use by adults is legal. In over half of these United States, weed is kosher for medicinal use.

reefer-madness-piano-sceneFirst Fun Fact: A few years ago, the Heeb Magazine website informed us that, properly handled, cannabis is indeed kosher. That should popularize the Passover herb plate.

Second Fun Fact: If not for weed, we might not have our direct sales comic book distribution system. Back in the mid-60s, we started seeing retail outlets called “head shops” pop up all over this great nation. These places were sort of like today’s vape stores but they sold snarky buttons, black light posters, incense, underground newspapers (thank you)… but, mostly, they sold supplies for cleaning, rolling and smoking marijuana cigarettes.

In addition to perpetuating the art of speed piano playing, these stores also became the initial outlets for underground comix.

r-crumbPublishers such as Rip-Off Press, Last Gasp, and Kitchen Sink brought us to the worlds of R. Crumb, Skip Williamson, Jack Jackson, Trina Robbins, the unmistakable S. Clay Wilson, and many, many others. They breathed new life into a dormant American medium and influenced a generation of new artists.

These comix were sold directly to head shops on a non-returnable basis. Several years later, Phil Seuling brought this concept of direct sales marketing to the burgeoning mass of comic book stores which, previously, existed largely to sell back issues. Seeing as how comic books were essentially unprofitable in the waning days of newsstand distribution, by providing the model for direct distribution underground comix and the head shops that sold them saved the American comic book industry.

denis-kitchenPersonally, I blame underground comix publisher turned agent, comic book and graphic novel impresario Denis Kitchen. This is because I am a trained political writer and I believe in punching up. My old friend Denis has a great deal of “up.”

So, really, the roots of contemporary comic book publishing were watered by illegally purchased marijuana… which is now increasingly legal in much of this country.

We can only hope that this new trend will have a similar impact upon comics sales. This, and of course damn near anything else.

Third Fun Fact: Next year’s San Diego convention should be real interesting. Damn, I might even go back there!

Molly Jackson: It’s Con and Flu Season!

con and fluNot to sound whiny, but I am miserably sick. I’ve been sniffling and coughing for the past few days. It’s not all bad; I’ve got Star Trek episodes running non-stop and plenty of hot beverages and soup to keep me sated. Still, I just can’t be sick because this weekend holds so much to do!

Amongst other things happening in the city, almost everyone has a chance to attend the In-Store Convention! Despite needing a much better name, it is actually a very cool concept. Comic book stores all over the country simultaneously broadcast a live stream of panels and interviews from the top comic book companies. There are also some celebrities taking part for a full eight-hour day of events.

Now if you are like me and in a major city, then you probably get to go to conventions all the time. However, that is the beauty of in-store con (that is such an awful name!). You get the chance to see every panel, probably much closer than if you were in the audience. And unlike just watching the panels a few days later on youtube, this way you are getting the full con experience. You get to stand on line to get into a crowded space, with poor amenities like bathrooms or food, and spend more money than you would have wanted on cool stuff. Not to mention you will be meeting all these new people who you don’t talk to normally because it’s Wednesday and you just need to grab your comic pull before/after work.

I am willing to bet that this convention was created to help out retailers with another way to drive customers to their stores. And this worse-title ever con can do it. I’ve seen Facebook invites calling people to come to stores and also mentioning sales for that day. I’m betting that other stores might have some other events happening to help drum up foot traffic.

Are you feeling the convention bug again? So go and check out the panel schedule. You won’t have to pick or choose which panels to attend, you can stay there for all of them. Just beware the con flu or end up sniffling like me.

Mike Gold: Buying Comic Books

Pittsburgh Newsstand

For most of those of you who are lucky enough to have grown up near a comic book store, you may be unfamiliar with those hallowed days when we had to go to our local drug store, candy shop), grocery store, and/or newsstand to get our four-color fix.

Right there among the legitimate journals, next to the “men’s sweat” magazines that cover-featured well-dressed Gestapo agents torturing hapless well-endowed American women who somehow got caught up in the war effort, beside the farm magazines and the science monthlies and the news weeklies, awaited our favorite comic book characters ripe for the plucking. We didn’t have fanzines, let alone the Internet, to tell us what was coming out each week. New titles and new characters simply appeared at one or another outlet – no one place had them all – and that element of surprise was vital to our bouillabaisse of comic book entertainment.

Each Saturday my friends and I would hike down Devon Avenue from Kedzie to Western Avenue on Chicago’s north side, stopping at seven or eight different stores that met our needs. Mind you, some of us – most certainly yours truly – had already gone to as many as three different drug stores located nearer to our school. Oh, sure, we did lots of other things kids did back then, like lag baseball cards and scarf down Vienna hot dogs and mock the adult passersby and wise off to the police who seemed to hate us kids (I wonder why?). But that part of our itinerary varied from week to week. The constant was gawking at all those comic book racks.

Afterward we would go to one of our sundry abodes to read our stash, often sharing purchases with one another. Then we would discuss what we read. I remember when my best friend declared he did not think my favorite artist, Joe Kubert, actually knew how to draw. Another in our group declared he was uninterested in the embryonic Marvel Comics line because they were all written by the same guy. “If Stan Lee got hit by a truck,” my pal surmised, “they’d be up shit’s creek.”

Well, I certainly would have been. Fantastic Four #1 came out right when I turned 11 and I was just beginning to tire, just a little bit, of DC’s domination of the superhero genre. Marvel’s continuous growth stoked my interest in the medium.

As Flo and Eddie informed us, before too long those sing-along days were lost to us forever. Contrary to the popular belief of the time, it wasn’t television that really killed comic book sales. It was the slow death of all those mom’n’pop stores as families bought cars, moved out to the suburbs, and shopped in malls and chain stores where the profit margin on a ten or twelve-cent comic book was way too thin to justify retail floor space. Comic books that had been selling a half million or more copies drifted downward to maybe 100,000, and then even lower. Sell-through percentages spiraled down from 70% or more to 40% or less.

Cast-off from the growingly elitist science-fiction fandom, comics fans got organized. Comic book stores started popping up and the wondrous Phil Seuling cut deals with the publishers to get their wares directly into those comics shops. Phil saved our beloved medium’s ass.

The sad by-product of this was if you didn’t live near one of those comics shops, you were out of luck. The average age of the average reader went up as you pretty much had to have access to a car to get to a direct sales store… assuming there actually was one within driving distance. For most… no soap.

It was a deal with the devil but the comic book remains alive in America. Unfortunately, those kids today who live within walking distance of that one-mile stretch of Devon Avenue have exactly zero places to buy comic books and those other three drug stores are all out of business.

Life changes for better and for worse. But it was really fun to be surrounded by all those newsstands.


Mike Gold: The Kids Are Alright

Hey Kids Comics

There was a time, not all that long ago, when kids were not welcome in a great many comic book stores. You might find this anti-intuitive, but the philosophy was fostered by some comics distributors and welcomed by most comics publishers.

 (Aside for those of you who came in late: back in the olden days when comics were escaping from the primordial goo, we had a half-dozen or more companies distributing comics to the direct sales shops. How this devolved into a monopoly might be the subject of a future column, particularly if I’m looking for something amusing to write for my final column.)

There were many arguments these folks used to implore their retailers not to serve the younger crowd. The foremost was “these kids don’t spend enough money to make it worthwhile.” That’s true – if those kids were coming in on their own. The fact is, comics fandom had aged to the point where readers mated, sometimes with other comics readers, and the issue from those encounters brought fourth kids who would be schlepped to the comics shop as their parents sought out their weekly fix. I have never met a kid who wasn’t curious about those brightly colored bits of paper, or a parent who, if they had a couple extra bucks, wouldn’t buy their kids a comic book or two.

A few of us voiced contrary opinions. The foremost was “ten years from now, where are your new customers going to come from?” If the average age of your customer base increases year after year, store owners are going to get hinky about their mortgages.

Which is pretty much what happened. Back in the early/mid-1990s when the King Kongs of collectability fell off the skyscraper, they took a lot of comics shops down with them… and a few publishers as well. There was no real fount of new customers to replace any part of that revenue stream. And the distributor who had been leading the anti-kid chant went ka-blooie.

Rule of thumb: anybody who says or even thinks “hey, this is going to last forever” will be visited by the Great God Hubris, and it will not be pretty.

For the better part of the past 20 years we’ve seen new publishers and reenergized (read: surviving) companies abandon this ridiculous philosophy. Today, virtually all of the larger publishers such as Boom! and IDW have solid lines of comics oriented towards children. I’m not talking about junior versions of “adult” superhero comics – there’s a reason why that’s an oxymoron. I’m not even talking about licensed properties based upon teevee shows that were around when today’s adult comics readers were kids, although there are plenty of those around.

I’m talking about comics based upon kid’s shows that didn’t even exist at the time of the Great Market Correction of the mid-90s. The Regular Show. Angry Birds. Bravest Warriors. Bee and Puppycat. To name but a few.

The more inspired comics shops – those that have the room – have kid-acceptable sections in their stores and hold in-store visits from cartoonists who will entertain the youngest crowd with sketches and even chalk-talks.

Ten years from now, those seven-year old readers will be seventeen years old. Once again, the comic art medium has a future.