The Great Awakening

Today at TCJ, Retail Therapy--the column where we talk to those in the sell-these-comics biz--is here. This time, we spoke with Jake Shapiro, from Washington DC's Fantom Comics. 

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

The reinvention of Image Comics, the rise of Saga, and the ubiquity of trade paperbacks are all intertwined as the single biggest change to comics retail in the last decade. Saga is by far our bestselling comic of the last ten years: not only is it a non-superhero comic, but it doesn't have a TV show or movie or video game either. In a world where the "definitive" versions of Iron Man and Captain America are arguably onscreen, it makes a difference that Saga has built its colossal audience as... just a solid comic book. And the collected paperbacks have brought in a whole crowd of people who aren't coming in monthly for the single issues--plus they've increased comics' foothold in the book market. The nontraditional appeal of these titles has even rubbed off on superhero comics, where we're beginning to see more Marvel/DC books with new voices and experimental art styles.

Also in the world of retail, Diamond Comics is pushing their new spinner rack program pretty hard, which will see comics shop owners getting "incentives" if they purchase the racks and get them placed in other businesses. It sounds like a huge pain in the ass that once again places all the onus and financial responsibility on the comics retailer while maintaining the "focus on this one comic book format" philosophy that has served Diamond so tremendously well over the last however many years. 

Retailers qualify by reaching a signed agreement with another business to allow them to place and maintain a spinner rack of comics in their stores for a minimum of six months. Agreements can be reached on a buy-sell or consignment basis with quantities, margin splits, payment terms, and other details being at the discretion of the parties. “There are lots of ways to structure an agreement,” said Schimmel. “We’ve provided a couple of templates that retailers can adapt as they see fit. The program is also flexible in that there are no requirements in terms of the titles or quantities retailers put on the racks.”

The only way this makes sense is if the spinner racks are used to burn off over-ordered garbage at full price via non-traditional sales outlets--that way whatever gets destroyed due to the "this ain't a library" type handling that occurs outside of the bag-and-board world won't hit as hard, because it wasn't going to move in the actual shop anyway. (The idea that a retailer would try to keep a spinner rack outside of their control stocked up consistently with non-returnable books carried on a consignment basis is ludicrous, and the idea that the spinner host--your local non-chain pharmacy, I suppose--will buy the titles outright more than once, only slightly less so). Thus ensuring that the fabled new readers--this phantom class of people who supposedly would regularly pay 4 to 8 bucks a month for the distinct pleasure of looking at something drawn by Ivan Reis, on purpose--will once again have the chance to take a look at a new comic book and be reminded all over again why they didn't want to read these things in the first place.

Oh, and what incentive do you get for participating in this 1988 of an idea? These:

  • Marvel: A 1 in 1000 Variant Comic TBD at time of redemption
  • DC: MAY178593 DARK NIGHTS METAL #1 B&W MIDNIGHT RELEASE VAR B plus a second limited edition comic TBD at time of redemption
  • Image: Retailer's choice of 50 in-stock Image Firsts, plus a 2017 Retailer Appreciation Variant (while supplies last).
  • Dynamite: A high perceived retail value item TBD at time of redemption
  • Boom: CGC Books & assorted Limited Edition Incentives TBD at time of redemption
  • Diamond Select Toys: Retailer’s choice of one in-stock Gallery PVC Figure

My favorite part on the above list is the part where I realized Dark Horse must have overprinted Darkness Calls to a pretty extreme degree to have that be the "get this shit out of here" book a full ten years after the initial release. To be in the room when that decision was made!