Third Eye Comics is an internationally renowned comic book superstore based in Maryland known for their incredible selection, and friendly, welcoming staff. From one of the most comprehensive selections of graphic novels in the world to a thoroughly well-maintained and stocked selection of current comics, back issues, and more, Third Eye has become a destination for comic fans worldwide.
Steve Anderson & Trish Rabbitt started Third Eye in 2008 when everyone told them the worst thing in the world to do at that time was open a comic book store - and, ever since, they've grown the store from its humble beginnings in an 800-sqf little space into the monstrous 10,000+sqf superstore it is now, accompanied by a second location and a sister gaming store. For hours and locations, check out their website!
TCJ: How long have you been in comics retail?
Steve Anderson: 17 years. I began working at a store when I was 19, and did that until I opened Third Eye at the age of 26.
What's changed the most for your business in the last ten years?
The biggest difference now versus then is the return of a collector's market for comics again. When I began working in a shop in the early 2000s, that market was not very strong, and when I opened Third Eye in 2008, it still wasn't a major component of the business.
It wasn't until around 2011, 2012, and onward, that we really noticed there was an audience who bought comics much like record collectors buy vinyl.
Up until that point - things like alternate covers, 1st printings, and more hadn't been as big of a thing on our radar.
Is this a new audience entirely, or an audience that is already buying that is now buying collector's items as well?
From what we could tell, it was a mix of both new readers getting into the hobby, and existing readers finding more satisfaction out of collecting. It's not necessarily collecting in the way that some people would think (i.e "I want to buy this because it will be worth _____"), there's a little bit of that, sure, but it seems more centered around owning artifacts that really celebrate whatever it is the fan is into.
We are a full line store, so it's more of a process of deciding what NOT to carry. We try to literally have everything for nearly every audience, but in some cases, there are books htat have proven not to be a fit for the store.
On the other hand, we do put a lot of thought into which titles we're going to really get behind and support, and there's a number of factors that influence that: who is the audience and does this look like something they will respond to, who is the creator and what is their past record (i.e consistent release schedule, quality, etc.), and then, finally the most simple but #1 most important part of ordering any book: cover design. Cover design is so underestimated, and is such a huge part of making sure your book speaks to its audience.
What kind of cover design do you think works best in your store? Do you have some recent examples that you would like to see more of?
Good cover design that pops consistently has a few major components: strong cover art that conveys the tone of the book, big and clear title / logo design that rests near the top half of the book (while we full-face everything, many stores use waterfall-style racks, which can hide the title), and a clear issue # & price (preferably near the top of the cover as well).
Essentially, a good cover should be able to be seen from across the store. If someone has heard about a book in conversation, or online, the more visible things like title / logo and issue # are - the easier it is for them to connect it back to the things they've heard.
Examples of great cover design in the last few years - Kick-Ass (in fact, most Millarworld books tend to hit right with cover design), Saga, East of West, Copra, and most recently, the 1st chapter of the Deathstroke Vs Batman storyline is pretty much a clinic in everything that I love to see in a good cover. I loved it so much I even attached an image. The title logo is a bit lower than I'd like, but it's central, and it's clear, and it communicates the start of a major story arc.
The addition of the "part 1" in the top right corner is perfect.
And, the Lee Weeks artwork communicates exactly what the story has, and gives it a very strong "This is a new story. This is important" kind of feel.
Do you keep up with the comics news--and what does the term "comics news" mean to you?
I don't really follow any news, I'm sorry to say. I keep an eye on what the publishers are communicating to us, and what people in general are digging (it helps me find new favorites!), but other than that, I do not follow any kind of entertainment news closely.
What's your weekly routine with your store like? Has it gotten easier or harder since you started?
Oh man - this is where I could go on and on. All I can say is I keep a lot of lists, I'm up at 6AM every day, working by 730AM, and am working until 9PM every night. I'm super into routine, and schedules, and if I dug too deep into that, it would be confirmed I'm insane. I have much more to keep track of, and the industry as a whole is much more complex than when I started, so I would say things are more difficult, but that I have a better handle on dealing with them.
What happens when you go out of town? Do you go out of town? Are you bringing someone up to take over your responsibilities?
I love to travel, for work and personally, so I'm on the go a fair amount of the year. I keep pretty much the same routine (taking time zone changes into account). I'm pretty good at being able to sit down and dig into my work anywhere. We have a pretty large crew at Third Eye between all the teams, and I've been consistently building all of our full-time employees over the years to handle things all the time.
I could be away from the store for a good while, and as long as I am working remotely, nothing would change, because of the strong team we have. What I find myself doing more so than bringing up folks to take over responsibilities, is bringing up folks to take on responsibilities so that it allows me to do more for the company as a whole. There are a few things that I really have a hard time letting go of, but I've gotten pretty good over the years at identifying those things, and being realistic about just how much I can have on my plate at one time.
We pride ourselves on having very low turnover at Third Eye, and because of that, we're super lucky to have one of the most dedicated, knowledgable and committed teams in retail - not just comics retail, but retail as a whole. It's our staff that has allowed us to grow as much as we have, and they're what provides me the constant motivation to make the stores bigger and better.
What do you wish more publishers knew about comics retail?
That we actually want the books to sell, and will use the tools to help find the ceilings on them if you give them to us!
All of us love comics, and have passion for them, but at the same time - this is our livelihood and we are business people as well!
What tools do you want to see from publishers?
This is a complicated question. I mean, I think we all say more outreach to folks outside of the hobby, right? But, we do a fine job of creating our own outreach at Third Eye, and honestly, I kind of prefer it that way, because it gives us a much stronger handle on the messaging.
I think the one thing that I personally wish we had more of was relevant information. The way that most information gets put out to comic book stores is essentially the same as how it goes out to the press. It's just one big blast. It's bad for both parties. For retailers - some of the really relevant stuff we need (i.e major character reveals, key moments in the books, creative changes, etc.) is held back as the creators do not want the story spoiled.
For the press - there's a ton of unnecessary information that bogs down the hype for the book that is obviously targeted to retailers. There needs to really be two separate channels. Most of the retailer mailers are very similar to the press going out. Also - less is more. We get buried in solicit emails, emails about new lines, etc. After a while, you get numb to it, and it makes it way harder for that really special gem to stand out.
I think we're just now starting to see the beginning of two clear channels, one to retailers and one to press / fans, and that once that information is centralized and delivered in a way that is consistent and actionable, we're going to be onto something really powerful. I've been singing their praises a lot - but, the team at DC has done an amazing job of communicating with retailers over the last year.
What has you most excited about comics right now?
We're constantly looking for new ways to get comics into the hands of folks, and have been experimenting with pop-up shops and kiosks in places like in-door malls. We launched our first one this past Spring to coincide with the release of all the high profile films, and so far, we've been super happy with how stoked people are to discover a comic book store, that may have never stumbled upon it.
I think we're on the verge of 2-3 years of some of the most exciting times for direct market stores. There's a ton of great content that's brewing and bubbling up out of all the publishers right now, and I think we had a necessary reminder in 2016 and 2017 that the number one thing that makes the medium healthy is good stories that can only be told in comic books. I love all the excitement that films bring to comics, but I'm even more excited about seeing stories like Donny Cates's Thanos Wins or Scott Snyder's Metal that can only be told in comics. It seems like there's a return to that kind of storytelling, and less of a focus on a graphic novel that'll sell off an end cap at Wal-Mart.
Don't get me wrong: those graphic novels are great gateways, but if the stories inside them aren't GOOD, they're not going to capture the new readers we hope them to. We really need the next generation of X-Force: Dark Angel Sagas, Blackest Nights, and Chew graphic novels, that captured and excited the new readers movies drove in circa 2008-2010, and I think that we're going to be seeing a lot more material like that.
As far as the immediate future? This week alone is stacked with the kind of stuff I'm talking about.
I loved Coates first run of Black Panther, but thought it got a little lost in all the weirdness going on with Marvel with CIVIL WAR II, etc. This new one is everything I love about comics: great storytelling, a bigger-than-life story (the Intergalactic Empire of Wakanda! Multiverse awesomeness!), and gorgeous artwork.
It's even better that this comes on the heels of what was easily one of the biggest movies in a while from Marvel to really drive sales on a character, and provides a really exciting starting place for people to start collecting Black Panther. Plus, some great variant covers by Tom Beland and Artgerm!
Josh Williamson has really carved out his niche as the best Flash writer since Geoff Johns redefined what the book could be many years ago (think the Scott Kolins era, with all those great Wally stories!), and FLASH WAR looks to be one of the biggest things to come to the Flash. I think this one will take a lot of folks by surprise, and send them running to their shops and jumping onto what is already one of DC's best monthly books.
Devilman Classic Collection Volume 1
We've seen a big resurgence of interest over the last few years in manga, and the publishers really are doing a great job of keeping up with the demand. One of the most refreshing things about manga that we're seeing now is something similar that comics in the U.S saw about a decade ago where the audience is very hungry for the classic and influential material, and really appreciate it being presented in a nice format.
There's been a ton of great reissues, but on a personal note, I have always been a huge Go Nagai fan, and this looks like a great way to share Devilman (one of my favorites of all time!) with people.
Sum it up for us, Steve.
I wake up every day feeling the same way I did when I first opened Third Eye: "holy shit, I sell comics - this is great!" No matter what challenges come at us, there's no better satisfaction than knowing I can wake up and go to bed every day loving what I do, and being surrounded by so many incredible people, both in terms of staff and customers, to do it with.
Comics really are special. It's the last form of entertainment that still can't fully be figured out, and completely drained of what makes it special. Every few years, popularity will surge and they'll try. You'll see a lot of what you saw 2-3 years ago with every big box coming in to get what they can from it - but, every single time: we're given a sharp reminder that the thing that makes comics special is the fact that it IS a weird medium, and that weirdness is what makes it special, and keeps it from losing its magic.
As much as I want to see everyone reading and loving comics (and I truly do, that's literally our mission statement at Third Eye: to find a comic for everyone!), you shouldn't be able to buy Thunder Gods and Dream Kings in the aisle next to toilet paper, and deodorant.
This is why the comic shop is important, and will never die.