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Talking Comics: A Repeat/Forward

I'll probably be doing a lot of repeats as I scour my archives looking for pieces to put in my book proposal - and a big thank you to everyone who left a comment or emailed me last night about book publishing. I received some great advice as well as a few offers of help and/or calling in favors on my behalf. It is very much appreciated. Anyhow, I'm in the middle of writing a longish piece on graphic novels, in response to this article in the New York Times. It won't be ready until later this morning, but writing it did remind me of something else I wrote on the subject a while ago and I'll take this opportunity to bring you a repeat. Consider it more of a forward to the upcoming post. ******* When I Rule the Comic Kingdom: May 12, 2003 I went to Borders this weekend and, as usual, headed over to the Graphic Novels section. And, as usual, that section was populated by the dregs of the earth. Is there some code of comic book fan ethics that I havenít received? The one that says you must smell like you havenít showered in eight days and your clothes should look like you slept in them and you should have the personality of a wet mop thatís dripping with both dirty water and sarcasm?
Every time I go to Borderís itís the same thing. Thereís a small crowd of under achievers gathered around the anime books and Marvel collections, practicing their mouth-breathing and crotch-itching while they read. They never buy. They always read. The last time I was there, I got into it with one of the neanderthals who wouldnít move from his spot even though it was obvious I wanted to get a book from the shelf. I ended up calling him a fanboy, and that was like a stake through his heart. I think he spontaneously combusted. Iím a comic book geek. I admit it. But Iím not like them. I didnít read the entire Akira series while sitting on a stool at the local bookstore. In fact, I was trying to buy the first Akira volume yesterday when I was thwarted by a drooling fanboy. I mean that literally. He drooled. The spittle hung from his mouth for a few seconds before it dropped onto the Art of Hellboy. My stomach turned. My appetite for Akira disappeared. Why donít I just go to a comic book store, you ask? Thereís three comic book shops within a mile range from my house. The first is a single-person run shop that was once a used-book store. The guy follows me around the place, repeating the same lines over and over. You like Frank Miller? You like Frank Miller? Have you read 100 Bullets? You like Frank Miller?. The selection in the store is not worth the aggravation of being shadowed by a 400 lb parrot every time Iím in there. The second is the one we used to call the Star Wars Store back in the day. It was a small shop on a side street that specialized in Star Wars figures and had boxes upon boxes of indie comic books to browse through. They eventually moved down the block to a huge space. They have a great toy selection, but they insist on grouping things together into sets, so you canít buy individual figures. They pride themselves on their glass-shielded displays of old action figures that sell for the price of a college education, yet they donít carry enough new toys at reasonable prices to let you do anything else but stare wistfully at the displays. The comics section of the store might as well have a huge sign that says Marvel Whores. Enough said. The third store is a small, narrow shop that sometimes carries the indie comics I like to read and has a good selection of figures and back issues. The problem is they are also the Grand Central Terminal for Magic gatherings and Yu Gi Oh! tournaments and whatever other card games the kids are playing these days. I know that in the far reaches of the store there are boxes filled with great back issues, but I donít feel like elbowing my way passed the pimply-faced kids and overgrown teenagers speaking in the language of the Cult of Cards to get through to them. So Iím left with a 40 minute car ride to Port Jefferson or a 40 minute train ride to New York City if I want to find some Slave Labor items or back issues to complete collections or something besides superheroes. Iíve been thinking about opening my own comic shop. Iím pretty sure I could find backing. There are plenty of empty spaces available around here. Justin would be more than competent at running the store full time. I just wonder if there is a call for it. How would I go about finding out how many comic book fans there are around here that would clamor for the indie stuff that canít be found anywhere else? I would love to have a full anime section that doesnít have Dragonball Z as its main attraction. There would be an imports section and a reading area (with a No Drooling sign) and I would never, ever hold a Pokemon tournament on the premises. I would have a whole area just for comic art. Sure, I would stock all the Marvel and D.C. stuff, but I would carry heavy doses everything else. People would never come in and ask for some obscure title like Creed and have the person behind the counter look at them as if they were crazy. You wouldn't have to watch the salesperon make 100 quizzical phone calls as he tries to find you a copy of Blade of the Immortal - Blood of a Thousand. I have a million ideas on how to make it work, but right now itís just a huge fantasy rolling around in my head that I like to shake around every once in a while. (originally appeared on ASV on May 12, 2003)

Comments

Oops, let's try again.

I empathize with your buying anguish. Having clerked in a comic shop, I can tell you there are two types of fans: normal people who happen to enjoy comics, and the fanboy (usually a boy) who is the basis for all of the stereotypes regarding comic book fans.

I can only hope that I fit into the first category. :)

But, in all seriousness, I think that comics are enough of a subculture that socially inept and unkempt people are drawn to them. In other words, comics don't turn people into drooling fanboys, the disaffected and alienated just find it easier to latch onto comics.

Good luck with your book.

Maybe so, but the comic book store I patronize in NYC (Jim Hanley's Universe) actually has a pretty interesting cross-section of customers. Sure, there are the fanboys, but it's a lot broader than that.

Given JHU's unbelievable choice of GNs and off-the-beaten-path comics just naturally attracts the non-droolers.

"If you build it, they will come," y'know?

The reason game/comic stores hold card tournaments is...

They bring in huge piles of money.

Income is necessary, and it's hard to stay afloat these days just selling comics (in which, for these purposes, graphic novels and manga are included).

Now, with enough capital, something like you describe could work, in a big enough market.

But there're sound economic reasons why so many places host tournaments and sell cards, most of which boil down to "making payroll and paying the lease".

jeremy:

You're right, of course. I've met a lot of comic fans from a variety of different backrounds. When I commented earlier, I kind of lumped all those people into one group: ie, the people that came in that you could have a reasonable conversation with (the "normal" people). It wasn't my intention to shortchange the diversity of fandom out there. It just came out wrong.

Interestingly enough, the fanboys aggravate the shop owners, as well. But as Sigivald pointed out, their business is just as solid, if not moreso, than the average consumer.

And with the card tourneys, you have customers bringing in their friends and classmates. Word of mouth is a lot more powerful in the fanboy groups.

I've seen many comic book shops come and go, and heard many people say they could do it right. But I think that comic books are probably a horrible business to get into for the same reason that independent book and record stores are always failing: the market has changed.

I want to go to a store and check things out and browse and read a bunch and eventually buy things, but I always know that whatever I find can be had for thirty percent off over the internet. I'd like to support local businesses, but I also need to pay my bills. My entertainment dollar only stretches so far.