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Floating World Comics

Floating World Comics is a shop for readers, for artists, for book lovers of all ages. As inviting and accessible as an independent bookstore, we specialize in the coolest books of all – comics! Check out a fresh batch of genre comics every Wednesday – superhero, drama, crime, horror, romance, humor, sci-fi, fantasy, action and adventure. Explore the literary section and find your new favorite auteur. Our all-ages section has a wonderful selection of classic and contemporary children’s books and YA graphic novels. Browse the best selection of small press, self published, underground and international comics found anywhere. Jason Leivian started Floating World Comics in 2006, and it has since been recognized as one of the best comic bookstores in the country. The first comic he ever bought was ROM Spaceknight. He likes to collect Bronze Age comics and is currently working on some exciting publications for Floating World’s 2019 season. 

400 NW Couch Street
Portland, OR 97209
Floating World Comics

How long have you been in comics retail?

I started the shop in July 2006, so almost twelve years.

What's changed the most for your business in the last ten years?

I started publishing about… ten years ago. It started as just something for fun but it’s really grown into a legitimate part of the business where I focus a lot of my time and energy now. I love it. I love making books and working with artists and writers.

In the shop I’m really happy with the way our All Ages/Kids section has grown over the past three to four years. That corner feels like a little mini bookstore and there’s a wealth of masterful kids picture books from the last century I enjoy discovering.

How do you decide what titles you are going to carry in the shop?

I’m actually working on my Diamond order right now. For ongoing titles I can look at the sales data from the last twelve months and order accordingly. If a new title is being solicited I use comparable data to try and guess customer interest. What is the creative team? Is it a licensed character that people like? If it’s a total unknown, and looks interesting I’ll try to google some sample pages and see if it looks cool. The back half of the catalog I have to be more selective. When I get to Zenescope I just zoom past and it’s like a victory lap. Some of my favorite publishers are Fantagraphics, Drawn & Quarterly, Koyama; we lean heavier on those types of books. Many of our annual bestsellers come from other places besides Diamond.

There’s a mixture of me creating demand, choosing books that I want to highlight, and also anticipating customer demand. If a customer comes in and asks if we have something in stock, I feel bad if the answer is not “yes.” That can be an expensive guessing game if I’m not careful.

So it’s both prescriptive and descriptive. My tastes are prescriptive: I can shape the curation of the store and create a market for the books I like. But there’s also an attempt to be completely descriptive and reflect what customers spend their money on and what they’re already looking for.

I go heavy on the books I love, and love to share. We hand-sell those books and feature them prominently at the front of the shop. Our store primarily specialized in small press and undergrounds. I go to SPX, TCAF, CAB, Short Run and see all the great independent and self-published material that’s out there.

People often comment when they come into Floating World that they are seeing all sorts of stuff from the internet, but in real life and all in one place.

It was simpler when the store was smaller and I only had room to carry books that I really loved. Now the selection is wider but there’s still not enough room to carry everything. And I wouldn’t want to, it just makes the good stuff harder to find. But I try to find representation of every type of book anyone could ask for. A few months ago I realized we didn’t have much of a shojo manga section so I ordered a bunch of Cardcaptor Sakura and like Skip Beat 3-in-1. Gotta have some steampunk books. Gotta have a Spawn book. Once a month someone comes in asking if you have Spawn. You show it to them, next month you do it again.

My goal is to have enough copies for the Wednesday wall, that’s when most of the sales happen. After that I want a two to three month supply so hopefully there’s not a bunch of deadstock going into the dollar boxes. I guess some shops call those “back issues,” I like to think of them as “mistakes.”

Do you keep up with the comics news--and what does the term "comics news" mean to you?

I tune into most of it though word of mouth or the internet, even if I don’t follow it that closely. I look at every page of the Previews catalog once a month so that’s a fairly comprehensive overview. I wish the industry was more robust overall, so comics journalism was a viable thing and people could be paid well. But mostly it’s just press releases. I don’t blame anyone. Everyone’s doing what they can; it’s just such a niche industry at this point.

It seems like no one has enough time. Not enough time to even read all the good books that are coming out, let alone write about it on a blog or news site.

The book market is a welcome addition. I go out of my way to work with other distributors besides Diamond and get a sense of the larger literary world and art world.

With the small press and undergrounds I stay on top of it a little better. I’m more personally invested. I go to shows three to four times a year and talk shop with creators and publishers in the small press scene. It’s worked out well that I’ve a turned an esoteric interest into something valuable and now it’s my job.

I’m a passionate fan. I love getting obsessed with a particular creator or era of a book and just diving in deep, then putting those discoveries on the shelves.

What's your weekly routine with your store like? Has it gotten easier or harder since you started?

I go in Tuesday to help process the weekly Diamond shipment. It’s always fun and refreshing. No matter how crappy books might be sometimes, every week it’s a roll of the dice and something good might come up!

I work Wednesday so I can interact with the Wednesday customers. Every Wednesday night I do a reorder of the books that sold over the last seven days. Diamond reorders will arrive in two to three weeks, book distributors ship in about one week.

It’s easier now. I used to work alone, six days a week. Now I have an amazing staff to share responsibilities.

The Diamond order used to arrive on Wednesday, the day the books come out! UPS would show up sometime between noon and 5pm. We’re counting boxes trying to get everything ready and customers are coming in asking where the books are. That sucked!

I’m always working at home, with emails, spreadsheets, and stuff. Working on our upcoming publishing seasons.

On Saturdays I like to pull single issues off the shelves and move them to the dollar boxes. I use the cover date or pull date inside the book as a guide. Has the trade already come out? Does anyone still care? I look at all these stacks of unsold books and think about money just being thrown in the trash. I hold onto this pain and it gives me the edge I need to succeed in the future.

What do you wish more publishers knew about comics retail?

I’ll just pick on Marvel for bit, 'cause they’re supposed to be one of the best but they’re really one of the worst.

They have an amazing back catalog of perennial books. Keep them in stock, hire some book designers that don’t seem totally embarrassed, make the books affordable and fun to sell. I’d like to sell Elektra: Assassin, but I can’t. It’s not an option right now. Is it possible to sell Miracleman (by The Original Writer) in a format besides these skinny overpriced hardcovers?

Image does it well. DC does it well. You can see that the DC movies are a bizarre mishmash of their Top 10 All-Time Bestselling Graphic Novels. It’s Alan Moore meets Frank Miller meets Dan Jurgens. But at least they know their material.

Try overprinting your books just enough so that they’re not backordered before they even come out. Have second printings ready.

Don’t use the same marketing tricks on retailers that you use on the public. “Writer/Artist: CLASSIFIED BY NICK FURY, AGENT OF SHIELD” is not appropriate solicit text.

Weekly four-issue miniseries are not fun to order. 

Most publishers really get it: we’re in this together! If retailers can succeed in growing the overall market and comics reading community it’ll be better for everyone. No snake oil please, let’s build a community.

It’s smart when publishers offer returnability on the first issue of a new series. Then retailers can give the book a fair chance to find its audience, before the inevitable sales decline with subsequent issues. You want the sales to start as high as possible before that decline kicks in!

Most publishers have got it down to a science. Then I can see them hitting a wall. Like all the pieces are in place, great creative team, book is on schedule, PDF previews have been sent out. But they just can’t break through and get enough retailers to notice, or help them connect the book with its audience.

It’s tough, but word of mouth is the best. A publisher only has so much weight saying how great their book is. But if I hear multiple random people talking about it, they can’t stop talking about it. There must be something there.

What do you wish more customers knew about comics retail?

Preordering is nice, but word of mouth is even better. Ask about a book you are genuinely interested in. I will remember that when I’m placing my orders and use it to survey the interest around a title. 

Subscription boxes are best for the hardcore customers who know their buying habits, who are there every week or month to buy their stack. No need to set up a subscription box 'cause you feel like you want to support us or some creator on Twitter. The customer that just signs up for Doomsday Clock (all variant covers) then never comes in again. Cool impulsive decision.

This is peculiar to the way I track sales, but if unsold issues are collecting in subscription boxes for 2-3 months it appears that sales on that title are dropping. It could lead to me reducing my orders, which means less copies on the shelves.

Beyond that specific quirk of this industry, customers shouldn’t need to know anything except how to find a comic store in their area. That’s maybe the biggest challenge for some people to find comics. They’re hidden away in specialty shops filled with anime statues and everything’s in poly bags.

I want customers to fall in love with comics because they’re amazing. Because reading unlocks a special magical part of the brain, and comics take it to another level. Because comics is small and you can feel close and connected to it. I hope they don’t get burnt out. I hope they don’t spend a bunch of money on gimmicky crap, feel remorse, then turn away from comics.

What gets you most annoyed about comics right now?

There was a time, not too long ago, when the comics were better than the movies (or video games or whatever cartoon tie-ins). The comics represented limitless imagination and freedom and innovation in storytelling. They delivered an addictive mind-blowing experience.

Now it seems like the movies are the main attraction and the comics are… above average. I can actually read some of them cover to cover and share that opinion with you. They’re okay.

Someone is like, “Oh I loved this Marvel Disney movie what should I read next?” And the answer is too often, well that was it. You saw the movie and that was the thing. Here are some comics where for $4 each you don’t really get much. The movie was actually the best version of this thing.

It wasn’t always like that. 

The positive version of this story is, oh you heard of Fun Home on NPR? Here is Fun Home. You like Akira? Here's six volumes of Akira, the movie is just the first three volumes.

I also see the difference in production. With literary comics the frequency is much less. A book a year maybe. I understand that Marvel and DC are like factories that have to produce thousands of pages a month to keep things running. I can give em the benefit of the doubt. 

What has you most excited about comics right now?

This week, I'm most looking forward to a bunch of books. 

Moebius Library: Art of Edena HC

 I really enjoyed reading the Edena Cycle and spending time in that world. It’s gonna be a treat to discover the reprinted short stories and artwork in this 200-page volume.

Thanos #18

I haven’t read every chapter of Thanos Wins (I discovered it late and issues keep selling out!) but the ones I read were super fun and have made me interested to track down more stuff by Donny Cates. 

Master of Kung Fu: Weapon of the Soul
Moon Knight: Shadows of Moon
Daredevil: Heart of Darkness
Daredevil: Touch of Typhoid
Doctor Strange: Separate Reality
Captain America: Coming of Falcon

One thing Marvel is doing well is their Epic Collections. I just reordered a bunch as part of my recent Bronze/Copper Age obsession.

I'm also looking forward to finally reading Yellow Negroes and Other Imaginary Creatures by Yvan Alagbé. I picked up the FRMK edition at SPX a few years ago. I love NYRC and everything that they put out. It’s a true service to comics readers here in the US.

Sum it up, Jason.

The underground is forever. I don’t have to do anything but sit here and age but there will always be a new generation of youth coming in to tear up what we thought was permanent and sacred and make something new and meaningful to them. They may not care about Daniel Clowes or Sailor Moon or Michael DeForge and they might be wrong, but it’s also great! I am constantly refreshed and reborn through art.

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6 Responses to Floating World Comics

  1. Jacq Cohen says:

    This was such a great interview! Floating World is definitely one of the best comic stores in the world and Jason is a true champion of great art.

  2. Gabe Fowler says:

    Nice one! This made me weep: “I look at all these stacks of unsold books and think about money just being thrown in the trash. I hold onto this pain and it gives me the edge I need to succeed in the future.”

  3. Mark says:

    Been meaning to go there forever…I shall put it on my calendar!

  4. Jason has taught me a lot over the last decade that can be applied to cartooning art, business savvy, reaching your audience and putting forth work you believe in. He makes me proud to be a comic creator. Excellent interview, excellent honest answers.

  5. matthew says:

    my ex-wife purchased a car in portland a couple of weeks ago and we flew out there with our son from cincinnati to pick it up and drive it home. floating world and paisley park were the highlights of our road trip…and montana. goddamn, montana is beautiful.

    but, yeah, it is just like walking around the comics internet and easily the finest shop i’ve ever visited. it was particularly pleasant to not feel like a ‘geek’ or ‘nerd’ while browsing a comics shop, fearing overhearing the inevitable thor vs. wonder woman debate or, worse, being forced to purchase some stupid batman statue that you knocked over and broke…i felt like an art patron. my son was equally impressed. he loves comics, but has no interest in superheroes. he was thoroughly engrossed browsing the kids’ section.

    well done, mr. leivian. you’ve cultivated a fine retail space.

    i’m looking forward to future visits and the next installment of this column.

  6. Emmanuel says:

    Very interesting read, I love to read from retailers. I’d love to get my books available for more retailers, but at the moment, my greatest issue now is how to get the books shipped to retailers at a reasonable price. And as a canadian, it’s especially hard to reach the american market. It’s nice to see retailer attending cons like this. I wanted to attend TCAF this year but unfortunately my application was declined. Will try again when my next book comes out.

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