Tagged: Comics Cubed

Marc Alan Fishman: Are Comics Shops Intimidating?

How do we earn new fans of comic books? Not comics characters, mind you. Long before he could recognize them immediately on a page, my son learned about the Avengers via movies, Batman via cartoon shows, and Spider-Man via his pajamas. As he and my younger son grow up, they will no doubt be immersed in comics culture. It helps when daddy is chained to his desktop computer and/or iPad Pro every day making his own comics, but I can easily imagine how their generation — with more content in more available mediums that I would have in my own childhood (which in itself was fairly diverse all things considered) — could lose comics in the shuffle so easily.

While he was joking, my good friend and comic retailer Shawn Hilton (of Comics Cubed in Kokomo, Indiana), was quick to make his request to save the industry at large. “Destroy all devices with “I” in the title, get rid of cell phones, and destroy the internet. Minecraft and YouTube have to be wiped out as well.”

He makes a point. The ubiquitous market of video games and streaming video compete with pulp and paper in the most unfair of fights. Find me a kid who chooses prose to pixels, and I’ll show you a diamond in the rough. I’m not here to pat myself on the back. I personally didn’t find a love of comics specifically until I was in middle school, and even then my initial liking of them was tied specifically in with wanting to have more in common with my-soon-to-be brother-from-another-mother, Unshaven Comics’ own Matt Wright.

Another friend of mine, mother to an bright and amazing nine-year old girl, was quick to denote the barrier to entry in the subculture. When I asked her if she ever took her child to the local comic shop, her reply broke my heart.

“We have. She always grabs a few at Free Comic Book Day, and she purchased a Donald Duck comic once. The store intimidates her though, even though she knows on of the staff (our next-door neighbor and friend works there one night a week to pay for his books). Dan Mishkin belongs to our synagogue as well, and she enjoyed a comic book workshop he taught recently, and she’s “writing” her own book now too, but she doesn’t like the comic shop. She feels more comfortable at a traditional bookstore. Comic shops are not generally welcoming places for nine-year old girls.”

Let’s dissect that a bit. Her daughter is one of the good eggs, the kind we strive to hold amongst our ranks. The lure of Free Comic Book Day clearly has worked a bit. The local community hosting a comic book workshop helped too. But twice in her response my friend is clear: “the store intimidates her.”

In the war to win the hearts and minds of the next generation of comic book fans, I am of the opinion that it will begin and end with the local comic shop. While Shawn may do battle with smartphones, tablets, and YouTube, I am apt to defend those distractions to the death. It can never be us vs. them. There is room for both electronic and paper entertainment. Marvel, DC, and the industry writ-large is holding up their end of the bargain — saturating the market with high quality adapted works for TV, movies, and video games. They’re introducing the next generation to their characters and storylines right where that next generation is looking. The local comic shops must find the way to build the bridge from those screens to their doors.

I should note that the publishers bear the burden of offering comics that keeps kids coming back. I freely admit I got event-comic’ed to death. The continual need to collect books I didn’t want to ensure I got the whole story felt (and was) a cheap ploy to ply my money from my hands. The tail wagged the dog too much, and I was forced out of weekly books — opting instead to seek more backing of Kickstarters and artist alleys at comic conventions to satiate my need for sequential art. The devil is always in the details.

I know that without my own hometown always have a comic shop nearby, I would have never found myself rifling through a long box for a back issue. Without a (mostly) friendly staff there to hold my books weekly, make excellent suggestions and jabber with me when I wanted to vent, I’d never have become a subscriber. To save printed comics, we must save small businesses in our communities. In turn, those businesses must do what they can to attract all manners of customers and serve them. I don’t profess to know that specific secret mind you; it’s why Matt and I turned down the chance to own our own comic shop about a year ago.

Inevitably, I’ve ended up as a snake eating its own tail here. The comic shops must be all-inclusive. The publishers must produce meaningful work at an affordable price. Kids have to see the value in the printed comic being physically in their possession over dropping bitcoins into Candy Crush. Inevitably many comic shops wind up catering to the older generations with more disposable income and they don’t care about kids coming in for some all-ages books. The publishers produce the cash-grab-friendly crossover event comics because time-and-again it lands them predictable revenue in an ever-growing marketplace with hot competition.  And the kids are lured away by Minecraft. Ce la vie.

But I remain a vigilant optimist. The next generation of comic book fans are out there. The only way we’ll earn their fandom is to do the work to earn it.

So… what have you done to keep our medium alive today?

Marc Alan Fishman: Retail Me Not!

Once again, I have been sought by my good friend and comic retailer Shawn Hilton (of Comics Cubed in Kokomo, IN, don’t-cha-know) to cover a comic cash calamity. Per his post to me:

Amazing Spider-Man #25 from Marvel was originally solicited for $3.99, but now has been changed to a $9.99 price tag.

In the past Marvel has had a few Deadpool comics weighing in at $9.99 for a normal numbered issue. Is this price gauging?

As a retailer who directly benefits from these sales I’m always excited about the potential to bring in more cash to the register, but as a fan I don’t think fondly of these more than double priced issues in the middle of a normal run.

A normal comic buyer may forgo a stand-alone one shot or an annual that has a hefty price tag, but for someone collecting Amazing Spider-Man passing on a normal issue like #25 means missing out on a major part of the story.

I’d also be interested in seeing if this issue has a higher digital theft rate. I don’t know if digital theft is a thing or not, but I bet several people look for a way to read it online instead of forking out $10.00 for a book.

Plenty to cover there, Shawn. Let me preface my opinion with a fact: I am not a comic retailer. I am merely a fan. A fan with a strong opinion muscle, a very short attention span, and a tight wallet. With that in mind, here’s my take:

Is the jump from a four-dollar book to a ten-dollar book price gauging? I don’t think so. If the team on the book is solid, the story benefits from the added pages (assuming the hefty price tag comes with additional content), and the issue itself is significant in the numerology (#25 would assume the book itself is now entering its third year in publication per this volume). If Marvel – or any publisher – doesn’t make it a habit of supersizing their issues without distinct cause, I personally don’t see it as price gouging.

But you better believe that if I were to be a normal subscriber, the week a book more than doubles in price means a week I choose to leave a few books in my box. As was often the case when I regularly subscribed to various series, some weeks would be heavier than others. What I oftentimes would do is simply profess to spend the same amount weekly on my books (say 12-15 bucks, if I recall when I was in the thick of it). If I was subscribing to several Marvel titles, the week they drop a double-sized issue on me is the week I’m dropping something else from my take home bag.

The larger question would be why Marvel, or any publisher for that matter, would make the jump in size. My guess is they only do these supersized treatments on high selling pulp. It makes little sense to deliver a ten-dollar experience on Great Lakes Avengers unless it’s consistently being scooped up in the top twenty monthly titles. Again, this is merely my opinion. As a fan I’m always willing to give the benefit of doubt to the creators. Assuming editorial assigns their creative team a mega-issue, they do so knowing that the writers and artists behind the book can fill the pages with meaningful and worthwhile content.

Should the bigger issue not add to the current storyline ­­– and be peppered with clear filler like interviews, essays, pin-ups, and the like ­– then you’d better believe I’d be an unhappy camper. The Mephisto is in the details, so they say.

What of digital theft? Well, only now do I personally own an iPad that sees regular use. With that in mind, you bet your sweet bippy I’ve downloaded ComicBlitz as well as ComiXology to eventually load up on comics during my lengthy day-job jaunts around the country. Because of the ubiquity of these apps, combined with my being an adult with disposable income, digital theft seems somehow below my purview.

But if I were to put myself back in the more Bohemian mindset of CollegeMarc, the idea that content could be procured sans-capital most certainly would be tempting. I hardly believe if I were otherwise subscribing to a paper title, I would specifically lift a single issue due to a heftier price tag. Simply put, if the book is enjoyable, as a fan, I’m in for a penny and therefore in for the pound.

Ultimately it’s quality of product that determines the bristling of my brow. If a comic book makes me dig deeper into my pocketbook, but delivers a satisfactory punch of prose? Then, drain my bank account. As my long-standing rule over comics continues to apply: when the book goes south, seek refuse in a better book. Should a book more than double its price but not deliver a worthy experience? Consider that strikes one and two in this subscriber’s book.

I, as always, open the floor to discussion. Who amongst my readers has a dissenting opinion? Voice it here, loud and proud.