Talk with Glynnes Pruett and you hear it right away: this woman is a go-getter. There's verve in her voice. The same energy is notable in the photos and videos she posts online and is evident in how she runs her store, Comic Book Hideout in Fullerton, California. Like her peers in the retail comic book business, as much as she's focused on surviving a shutdown and a global pandemic, she's thinking about what's next. She is, like it says in the pages of the old pulpy-smelling comic books she loves, a woman of tomorrow.
Nearly a month after she closed her her store she posted a list of 'what ifs' on the Facebook page of Comic Book Hideout. It's the kind of inventory one takes when the world seems held together by sadness and silly string. It's also one of those lists that requires reading between the lines. Pruett has been slinging comics in one way or another since she could walk and no shutdown or economic collapse is going to force her to walk away, certainly not now. She's got too much energy for that. This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity. -- Keith Silva
The Comics Journal: Tell us about Comic Book Hideout and how long you’ve been working comics retail?
Glynnes Pruett: I started working in comics with my dad when I was in elementary school. My dad did that as a hobby and so I’ve been in comics now, gosh, like twenty-five years. I opened Comic Book Hideout originally in 2012 in a tiny location, it was only a thousand square feet and then within eight months I had outgrown that location and moved to a three thousand square foot space that I’ve been in ever since. I have about eighty thousand comics in the shop. We’ve [won] Best Comic Book Store in Orange County six, maybe seven, years in a row from OC Weekly [and] the Orange County Register.
I have an art gallery. We do new art shows every month featuring local artists, traveling artists and different comic book professionals. I also teach classes for comic book creation and script and screen writing for kids and adults out of the Hideout and also in the Fullerton school district. I have a music studio in my store for kids and adults, guitar, bass, drums, piano, banjo, ukulele, mandolin, voice and songwriting. We do two comedy nights, stand up and open mic, two nights a week. I'm the instructor for ‘Puff, Pass and Paint’ which is an adult painting class kind of like a wine and paint except we smoke a bunch of weed and paint pictures. I have game night every week. I have a special needs program which allows special needs individuals to gain job experience along and I also run an internship program. My store is really community based and it’s really about the experience of coming to the store and hanging out with my staff and my regulars.
When did you close and what’s the status of The Comic Book Hideout?
I think we got the shutdown order on March 13, so Friday the thirteenth. It’s been over a month that we’ve been closed. March is really the kick off to the best months of the shop’s fiscal year. The next five months is when we have the most events, the biggest events and the most profitable events for the entire year and so the spring and the summer is really what jump starts our financial year. So not being able to have people in the shop is devastating. If this had happened in the fall than I would kind of be twiddling my thumbs and working on projects. I’ve created my calendar for the year to revolve around [March through July], you know, what sales projections would be and getting people into the store and this just throw a big ol’ monkey wrench into all that. I’m sure all stores are feeling that same vibe. Missing out on Free Comic Book Day is like cancelling Christmas.
How are you adapting and coping with your store being closed?
So coping is difficult on a personal level, we’re all feeling the anxiety that comes with an international pandemic and also the anxiety that comes with the economic collapse and the political repercussions that are happening and there’s so … much … heavy … shit happening. A lot of my personal coping has been trying to step back and look at the bigger picture. And evaluate what we want as a society. There’s going to be a new normal when we come out of this. And what do we want that new normal to be? For me, professionally, it’s all about finding that pivot. I’ve designed my entire business to be one way. Most comic book stores have an online presence as a cog in their functioning machine. And for me, I’m old school. I like talking to people. I like seeing people. I like touching things. Shopping online is not my favorite way to shop. So I have not invested a lot into my online markets. So that’s the first big pivot. Oh, shit! There’s no more excuses, Glynnes, you gotta’ get this shit online! That’s a huge undertaking and it’s really time consuming and a pain in the ass. So getting my eBay stuff up to date, getting my Amazon store, creating a Facebook store, I mean, you can imagine with inventory like I have, that’s a huge daunting task. For the last decade, I’ve had a really great team helping me out and [now] it feels like I’m back to basics. Back to me being the only one that can handle shit and having to do that. We have a pretty strong Instagram presence. I was already doing weekly videos, Picks of the Week and Weekly What’s Up telling people what we had going on in the store. So now we’ve transitioned to doing live claim sales and I’m just trying to put out enough content to keep my viewers engaged and keep my customer in the loop via social media. And letting people know how they can support us. Because people genuinely want to support their favorite places. I think we’ve been really lucky to see that with our customer base. Right now, we’re still able to do curbside pickup. I don’t know how long we’ll be allowed to do that. As things get more and more dire that sort of thing maybe less and less of an option. Right now, I asking if people want me to ship it to them or if they want to pick it up curbside.
Are you going to continue the online shop once you reopen the shop?
Oh, definitely, if I’m going to put the work into it I’m definitely going to keep it. For me the experience of buying comics is that, that experience. I want to go to a store. I want to smell the old parchment. There’s something really tangible about it. And for me, because I grew up with comic books, as it is for a lot of people, there’s so much nostalgia and love of the medium itself – part of that is very tactile. And so I think people that buy comic books online are doing it out of necessity and not necessarily that it’s their first choice. I think people want to go to a store and touch things before they buy them. It’s not like buying dish soap or something. With comics you’re buying something you have an emotional connection to and part of that satisfaction is the journey. I grew up before there was the internet to buy comics. You had to go and hunt things down. [You had] to have a paper list you would cross off, you know? I’m old school. I really appreciate that treasure hunting aspect of it which is why I’ve designed my store the way I did. I wanted to make a space that’s safe for everyone. And makes everyone feel included. A lot of comic book stores are exclusive in an obnoxious way, you know? We’re all here for the same reason and most of that reason is for the love of comic books. There’s no reason to exclude anyone from that.
What was your reaction to Diamond’s decision to cease distribution? [This interview was conducted prior to Diamond’s announcement on April 17 of plans to restart distribution in mid-late May]
Whether you’re pro Diamond or not, they’re the monopoly in this situation. I think the inclination to try to blame someone is misplaced. My real concern is the industry as a whole. My initial reaction when Diamond decided they were not going to ship new books was, ‘oh, O.K., that makes sense, I don’t want to get product I can’t sell to people.’ Initially that makes sense. ‘We’re closing down all the stores so we’re not going to ship new books.’ I have no idea what Diamond is going through as a business. I’ve heard all sorts of rumors and gossip. I’m not leaning one way or another. I’m rooting for the industry as a whole to survive. And that’s not selfish in that I want my store to survive. If there were no new comics and Comic Book Hideout was turned into an antiques store, again finding that pivot, I think I would still be able to survive and make my store meaningful. It would lose some of its purpose and that purpose is a big deal. I have almost 300 pull customers so that’s a huge chunk of my business, revenue and making sure the lights are kept on. If things are going to happen and we as retailers are not in control of them, our bitching and complaining isn’t going to change what needs to happen. We need to take a breath and say, ‘how do you make your store work if this doesn’t come back?’ I think there’s going to be a massive shift in the industry as a whole. But there was a massive shift when the bubble burst in the 90s and a lot of stores didn’t survive, but out of the ashes came new kinds of stores, new animals. We’re in the forest at the moment and I think seeing who makes it out of this is going to create a new level of responsibility and to create industry standards for the future. And thank the gods that so many people are trying to give us aid. The government is trying to give us aid. BINC is trying to give us aid. But really stepping back and realizing what that purpose of your store is and what you want it to be in the future. I believe in comic books which is why I have a comic book store. I believe in the power of comics and art and that stories about justice and humanity [are] important. I think it’s important to remember those things and why we love the medium the way we do and the affect they have on us as people.
Publishers have not released digital versions of new comics. A couple of weeks ago this was a concern and now not so much. Where do you stand in the digital vs. brick and mortar debate during this crisis?
Marvel and DC are going to continue to put out product because they have the market. They have the market for [digital distribution] and they’re directly connected to the consumer. They’re not worried about comic book stores more than Diamond is. Diamond needs us to survive. DC and Marvel don’t need us to survive. They are giant moneymaking machines. And although they can make art that has heart and soul and we can all be moved by it on occasion, they’re giant corporations that don’t give a hell about us. This is a perfect excuse for them to do what they were planning on doing anyway, which is pushing digital. Print media is on its way out and we know it. I’m not afraid of digital because I know that’s the way of the future, but there’s a tactile sense about comic books that is vital to people’s connection to the medium. As comics move to digital that market is going to be a much younger market. My eleven-year-old little sister is total techno geek, she’s so smart and she knows so much more about computers than I do as a grown woman with a business. So the market for digital comics isn’t for me, it’s for her. [It's] for the next generation of comic book readers, who will read comics on their iPad or on their phone. I think digital comics are not something to be feared like “tomorrow” isn’t to be feared. It’s going to happen anyway. You have to go with it. And what can you do to create that market of nostalgia and celebrate that paper product you still value. When we shake out of this crisis, that’s going to determine how the next fifty years look in terms of digital versus print. Marvel and DC have a biggest opportunity to change the way they structure things since the bubble burst in the 90s. I think it would behoove everybody to structure things for the longevity of the medium. Who knows if that’s going to be in favor of comic book stores? I think that’s the real question.
What are the ‘what ifs’ of the retail comic book business post-COVID-19 and how do you move forward?
To start, I think a lot of it has to do with distribution. What if there isn’t a monopoly for distribution? Part of the reason Diamond works the way that they do is they’re a one-stop shop. If Diamond were out of the picture, how many comic book shop owners or managers are going to be willing to go out of their way to get what they want? I don’t think ‘what if there are fewer comic book shops’ is a what if, I think that’s going to be a definite. I don’t know how much less. The shops that remain will have a greater share of the market. But what about the customers whose comic shop closes? What if there’s a drop in demand for comic books? The economic downturn that’s happening due to this disaster is severe and I think that the ‘what if’ is about demand for comic book stores. And what happens to those stores that are left, how do they reevaluate their business and create new strategies or diversification.
What’s your plan for the Comic Book Hideout post-COVID-19?
Thankfully, I’ve been a savvy businesswoman and I have enough saved up that I’ll be able to weather this storm. As of right now, even if we don’t come back until later in the summer, I think the Hideout will be able to make it out of this. I think when we do bounce back, it will be a big bounce. When people can visit their favorite places, they will want to do that. Even if people might not have as much expendable income, they are going to want to be somewhere. And because of how my store is structured, my store is the place to be.
What has this crisis taught you about the retail comic book business?
Right before this crisis, I had gotten my store right where I wanted it to be. I had a great team of about six people. Sales were up. Our social media was up. Everyone was happy and satisfied. And I was at the top of my game. My husband and I just got married. We were thinking of buying a house. I was going to get pregnant in the next year. So for me, personally, I was chugging along at a good pace. This crisis has definitely taught me to be grateful. As business owners, there’s always obstacles and fires that need to be put out and everything seems like the end of the world until you really get to something that’s the end of the world. This crisis has definitely shown me what I have built -- and often complain about -- is a wonderful and special thing so it helps me to reflect and be grateful for the time and energy I’ve put in to make my business unique and how it brings happiness to other people. And the other thing to remember is shit can get taken away in a heartbeat. Things can change and the world can be different in the blink of an eye. Living a life of gratitude is always my goal. We can all be guilty of griping about things that now on the grand scheme seem a little bit silly. Lead with kindness. If you have the opportunity to interact with other people, choose kindness. Even if that means giving a wave or saying hi when you walk your dog. Being able to maintain kindness and sweetness in the face of adversity is really what’s going to show people how we’re going to make it out of this and create that new world that we’re going to be stepping into.
How can people support their local shop and/or Comic Book Hideout?
As for your local shop, check in with your store. Send them an email. Send them a direct message on social media. Ask them what they’re doing and how you can support them. Getting a message from a customer that says, ‘hey I know you’re struggling. How can I support you?’ That’s going to go a long way. As for the Comic Book Hideout, we’re doing a live claim sale every Wednesday, California time, but we are open for shipping all over the country. So if you send us a message of what you’re looking for, we’re happy to ship it out to you. And we’re going to do curbside pick-up for as long as they let us. We’re still trying to get comics to the people.