Tagged: Raina Telgemeir

Ed Catto: Fighting the Trend, a Retailer Expands

Last Thursday in this space, Glenn Hauman wrote about comic shop owners who can’t seem to adapt to the ever-changing retailing reality. On the flip side of the coin are the many industrious and innovative retailers who have indeed figured it out. These are the folks who have learned how to survive through the industry’s ups and downs, as well as through the nation’s economic upturns and downtowns. In the year 2017 (and I’m pretty sure it will be the same way in the year 2018) storefront retailing is a difficult game for anyone to play. And so, in this week’s column, let’s take a look at one Geek Culture entrepreneur who leaned how to play the retailing game with skill, pertinacity and grace.

Ash Gray has been running Comics for Collectors in Ithaca NY since 1981, and next month he’s expanding his store.

In the 70s, Gray started by selling comics by mail with ads in Alan Light’s Comics Buyers Guide. He eventually met a fellow mail order retailer, Bill Turner, who also lived in Ithaca, NY. Together they launched the Ithaca Comic Book Club. That led to next starting Ithacon, now the nation’s second’s oldest comic book convention. They pooled their resources to then open Comics For Collectors in 1981. This comic shop, in the shadow of both Cornell University and Ithaca College, was nestled on second floor of a downtown building.

The store’s business grew over the years, and soon they switched locations, expanding to a ground level location. During the boom years, Comics For Collectors become a regional franchise, spreading to locations in nearby Corning and Elmira. As the industry contracted in the early and mid-nineties, they hunkered down, closing those stores and focusing on the main location.

“We were in the middle of an economic downturn,” recalled Gray. But they had been there before and knew how to operate during these conditions. “I look back when we opened in the early 80s. Economists said it was a downturn when we started.”

Eventually, Turner would lose interest in retail, but Gray pushed on. “The current location gives us 750 square feet of retail space. But we’ve maxxed out on space. We have a lot of graphic novels and book type products,” said Gray. “We’ve tried to be creative in displaying in the last 10 years.”

And that’s what the expansion will provide for Comics For Collectors. Gray is able to add another 700 square feet in the adjacent storefront that is part of the same building. “This location become available when the bookstore decided to retire,’ said Gray. “It’s worked well for a number of local merchants. The bagel store has expanded. There’s a new waffle restaurant that did the same thing, opening a portal to their new space.”

Comics for Collectors will do quite a few things with their new space. “We’re looking to expand the selection and “viewability” of the product lines. What makes people pick up a book is the cover art. They pick it up, take a look and then decide to buy it.” So it’s important for Gray to display comic and book covers.

“It’s never good,” Gray noted, “when a lot of things get smushed onto the racks.”

The expansion will also allow the store to showcase more Young Adult graphic novels. Locally, both kids and parents locally have responded well to the lines of new graphic novels and comics inspired by creators like Raina Telgemeir. Ithaca’s a town of readers, and often families want to own the books they’ve read in the libraries, or want to get the books before the local libraries acquire them.

Comics For Collector’s additional space will also showcase board games like Settlers of Catan by Mayfair and Munchkin by Steve Jackson Games.

When it comes to these board games, Gray says, “I’m interested in education. These games can be intimidating.” So the expanded store will have an expert onsite Saturdays to help consumers sample and learn about the various games.

A strong comic shop is more than just a retail space to help locals acquire products. It’s about community, providing services and employing locals. Over the years, Comics For Collectors has employed many people, several of whom have gone onto careers in Geek Culture companies and publishers.

And along the way, Ash Gray has had to bob and weave, to change and to adapt to an industry that can be confusing and is always evolving. But he’s managed to do it for years. With this expansion, it looks like he will again.

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Comics for Collectors Grand Opening is scheduled for Saturday, December 2nd, and will feature specials, activities and professional guests, including Steve Ellis and Laura Van Winkle. For more information, check them out on Facebook or Instagram.

Ed Catto: Geek Culture – How Far We’ve Come!

Libarary 2

When I was a kid an ad in my local Pennysaver newspaper caught my eye. It was placed by a guy selling old comic books. In those pre-Internet days The Pennysaver was a weekly community newspaper that served as a want-ad compendium. As a young boy this particular ad was especially glorious because (1) I loved comics and (2) living a small town like Auburn, NY, I didn’t have a lot of ways to get old comics. Sure, occasionally we ordered by mail, but this was different.

IMG_1891One problem was that this seller lived on the “other side” of town. Way over on the bizarrely named Frazee Street. And Mom was very suspicious that there were sinister motives involved. The person placing the ad might have been luring young boys, like my pals and me, with the siren call of comics. After much discussion, I wore my mother down and she said she’d supervise a visit to this suspicious seller of old comic books.

The first visit was… fantastic! This collector had amazing stacks of all the old comics my neighborhood cohort and I had previously only dreamed about. We were eager to read Silver Age Marvels. To us, it was like finding buried treasure. And the collector (“a guy named Joe,” in fact) priced his wares fairly. His method was to charge us 60% of the stated value in the Passiac Book Center Guide Catalog. Yes, in those early days, the Overstreet Comic Book Guide was a mere babe in publishing years. Instead, the local gold standard by which to judge a comic’s worth was with the mimeographed and stapled pages of the Passiac Book Center Guide.

Library 3Well, Joe wasn’t an axe murderer and, in fact, over the years he,and his wife and kids became family friends. But it was a slow process for my mom to get over her maternal trepidation.

Now, contrast that story with the recent classes I’ve been teaching. I’ve been asked by local organizations – Bergen Community College and the Ridgewood Library – to teach courses on “How to Create a Graphic Novel.” That’s a fancy way of saying “Teach Kids to Make Comics.” These courses are tailored to high school, middle school and even elementary school kids. We review the basics and quickly shift to the creation stage with several short exercises. And you know what? These classes have been very close to full or SRO every time!

Spurred by a thirst and curiosity for pop culture and comics, kids want to know more and their parents want them to know more. And they are not intimidated. These kids want to fully engage and create their own stuff!

Some kids are talented in drawing and some are natural born storytellers. Some are a little shy, but typically even they are fully engaged by the last 10 minutes of class. In general, there’s not a lot of hesitation. In fact, so many of the students are eager to share their pop culture credentials with me. They want me to know that they know comics and graphic novels and plotlines from superhero TV shows and artists’ styles and Marvel Comics trivia. Way back when, I’d work hard to hide all that from my peers or teachers.

IMG_1896And at the recent classes in the local library, the staff trotted out many of their graphic novels to show to the class. And they sure knew their stuff. The library staff was vigorously promoting comics to the kids – cool stuff like the collected editions of the new Ms. Marvel comic and Scholastic’s Graphix books by Raina Telgemeir.

In fact, I couldn’t help but wonder if librarians are the secret weapons on the front lines of Geek Culture – but that’s probably another thought for another column.

It was great to have parents drop off their kids to learn about comics. It was encouraging to see how passionate kids (of many ages) are about Geek Culture. And I think it would be cool to follow some of these kids and see if the spark that was lit turns into something more.

There you have it: community approved Geek Culture for all supported by all. We’ve come a long way from Frazee Street.