Jeremy Shorr has stories to tell. The co-owner of Titan Comics in Dallas, Texas (along with his wife Cecilia) has been in the business of comics retail for 30 years, during which he’s seen speculator waves and industry crashes, internet booms and major recessions, and the birth of a mass comic-centric media culture that altered the way many retailers seek out their customer base.
But during that time, Titan has staked out an identity as a uniquely comic-centered shop, squarely devoted to the sorts of back issue longboxes that have fallen out of fashion in the era of lower sales and higher real estate prices. It’s turned the store into the Dallas-Fort Worth area’s go-to destination for longtime and burgeoning superhero fans looking for the kind of local comic shop that used to define the term.
We spoke with Jeremy on a sleepy Thanksgiving afternoon to find out about the shop, his story, and what he thinks about the changes in comic retail over the past few years. You can find out more about Titan at their website.
The Comics Journal: So, let’s start with the basics. How long have you been in comics retail, and what brought you into the business?
Jeremy Shorr: Well, that’s a complicated answer. The easy, simple answer is, we’re not entirely sure. I started going to a place called Phoenix Comics down in Houston as a customer in 1985. Some time around 1987, I asked the owner of Phoenix out for a date, and it was kind of downhill or uphill or however you want to say it from there. We started getting much more serious, and got married in February of ’89.
We moved to Dallas in September of 1990, and we opened Titan Comics in June of ’91. Because when we moved here to Dallas [Cecilia] got very quickly bored and was very quickly bouncing off walls, and I said “what do you want to do?” And she said, “open a store,” so she did. So in September of ’93, we needed help with the store, I started helping because I had been laid off and didn’t have a job, and I’ve been here ever since. I’ve been actually running this store for 30 years now.
So even by the most conservative estimate, you’ve been in this business a long time. You got in at the height of the early ‘90’s comic boom, and then just as you were hiring people in ’93 came the big comic bust. What’s changed for your business over that time?
Well, another long answer. The overriding picture my wife and I had of a comic book store, the brand that we wanted to have was comic-centric – new comics, old comics, and pretty much not a whole lot else. So over the years, we’ve been almost exclusively comic books. We’ve seen repeatedly, through the downturn of the mid-‘90’s, through a couple of recessions now, that comic books, whether it’s new comics or old – the comic book reader has proven themselves to be remarkably resilient, and resistant to economic hardship. Historically, we have seen that when we get into these periods when money’s tight, the people that we see on our monthly subscription lists will tighten up what they’re reading: “I’m not going to take those three mini-series that tie into everything else, I’m just going to take the main title.” So that on a weekly basis, instead of spending $30, $40, $50, $60, they’re spending $15-$20 less. And as long as I, as a responsible business owner, with all the tools we have today to manage the ordering process and the sell-through process, take my necessary steps to order carefully and as wisely as I possibly can – things get tight, yes, but it’s not a death-knell.
Up here in Dallas, one of the hidden advantages is that the Dallas-Fort Worth has 15 million people in it within a 45-minute drive of my store. Now, I know 45 minutes is a long time for people in the Northeast…
I think 45 minutes is a commute on the New York subway! But you mentioned that in the beginning, you kept a tight focus on comics only. Is that still true now?
Absolutely. I have 4800 square feet. Something like 85% of that is devoted to new and old comics and trade paperbacks, and nothing else. As a sideline, I carry statues and I carry Funko Pops, and I carry some amount of keychain material, that sort of thing. But I can’t tell you how many times people walk in my store and say, “thank God, a place that actually sells comic books! And not a place I have to push past gamers to the eight feet of comics they have stashed in the back.”
I’ve got 150,000 or 175,000 back issues out for sale at all times. And in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, if you go to any store in town looking for back issues, that store tells you to come to me. There’s just no one else in town. And I can’t buy better advertising than that. So a lot of the people who frequent the store are old-line comic collectors. That’s not all the people who come here, but I’m basically part of a vanishingly small percentage of stores that only carries comic books. I don’t even carry action figures.
I know you also operate a couple of online shops. How much does that account for your sales, and how do you decide what to list online versus in the store?
We have three different stores we sell online: I sell on Amazon – I wish I didn’t, but I do – I sell on eBay, and I sell on Comic Collector Live. How much does that contribute? Honestly, over the last ten years, I don’t think it’s broken 10% once of my total annual income. It helps, don’t get me wrong. But it is absolutely a supplement. And in terms of what inventory I list online, it’s either things that have repeatedly proven in my physical store to be unsellable, or overstock, or duplicates.
What’s the weekly routine in your store like? Has it gotten easier or harder since you started up?
Oh, it’s much, much harder nowadays. For 25 years, it was exciting to deal with Diamond. When we first started up, we were with Friendly Frank’s, which was a regional distributor. When Marvel started up with the Heroes World debacle [Note: Heroes World Distribution was acquired by Marvel Comics in 1994, a move that soon led to the collapse of that distributor, with the resulting chain reaction leaving Diamond as the only national distributor for the next 25 years], obviously I went with them, and obviously for DC signed with Diamond. And once everything got to Diamond, I was with them for the next 25 years. Then when DC decided at the beginning of COVID that they were going to do their own thing, followed quickly by Marvel, IDW, and shortly Dark Horse, it went from one – I don’t want to call it streamlined, because there were plenty of bumps in the road, but at least one consistent ordering process to three different ordering processes that I have to make work.
Complexity aside, have you managed to get any better deals on distribution as a result of the greater number of distributors?
Absolutely not. DC discount has stayed consistent with Diamond discount. Marvel discount dropped 5 points. And, yeah, it’s free shipping, because Penguin Random House’s schtick is everything ships for free. And that does make a difference, but they are…what’s the word I’m looking for? They are cavalier in their packing process.
I was going to ask about that. I know there have been lots of reports of PRH taking a long time to get their footing in terms of how they’re packing and securing the comics they’re sending out. How is that going for you?
It’s gotten to where the comics I get from them, unless they’re damaged out of the package below an 8.0, I just put them out on the rack and don’t even worry about them. They improved it for a period of time. Then it got worse again, and everybody screamed bloody murder. And they went, “oh, you still think that’s important! We thought you were done with that.” And they went back to what they were doing before. I would give them an 80%, which for comic books isn’t enough.
Do they just have a captive market, or has there been a dip in sales as a result of the condition the books are coming in?
In my opinion, I think that one of the major reasons the market has been soft the last 6-9 months has been that we have seen a significant drop-off of the speculator market. Now, I don’t care about the speculator market. I like their money, but I made the business decision back when it first started being a thing – which is only about two years ago, that the major speculator market apps, and everybody keeping track of everything on the internet, and YouTube-ing all their comic collections and all that fun stuff – that I’ve never really cared much for the entire speculator market. Because there’s enough scams in the comic book world without people on the internet waving their hands in the air and trying to make money for themselves by trying to spur other people to buy things with the supposed long view of selling it for a profit. I’ve been in the business too long. If that was a viable business model, I’d own 25 stores, and I’d be driving Mercedes-Benzes, and I’d be living in a mansion on an island some place.
Shifting gears a little, have you seen any success translating general public interest in comic book characters and comic book IP into sales in your shop?
Yes and no. There’s always a bump when a movie is on the horizon or a show is hot. Like She-Hulk: when the show was ongoing, and people were engaged with it and enjoying it, back issues of She-Hulk went crazy. And I don’t have to watch things. I barely have time to change clothes. I’m one of the four people in the United States who hasn’t seen Avengers: Endgame. But I could tell you to the day when the She-Hulk show stopped, because people stopped asking about the comics.
But She-Hulk was actually an outlier. When the movies come out, normally we get this groundswell of interest: ok, they’re going to do a Moon Knight one. And everyone was frothing at the mouth, and screaming, and had to buy everything Moon Knight. And then the movie [sic.] came out, and within 10 days of the movie coming out, every single one of those comics that they had been paying premiums for and falling all over themselves for died. Every one. And I have to figure that was part of that “I’ll buy it for some price and sell it for a higher one” sort of thing.
Have you seen anything in the market shift toward manga that’s affected how you run your business? Have you tried getting into that at all, or are you strictly attached to the American market?
I carry what I consider a very modest manga selection. My youngest child, who’s 24, is a major mangaholic, and I rely on her for insights about what we should carry in the store. And I carry about, I don’t know, 15 titles, maybe 18. And they tend to be the big titles where if I rattled them off you’d go, “oh yeah.” I carry almost no sideline ones. My entire manga section is, let’s see, eight foot square. But I sell a bunch of it out of there. It turns over all the time. I mean, shoot, up until eight months ago when all the containers came in from China, you couldn’t get manga for money, sex, drugs, didn’t matter – you couldn’t get manga for nothing. And now suddenly everybody’s got it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still selling it, but here in Dallas we have five bookstores that all they sell is manga. So I’ll stick with this, I’ve expanded it as much as I’m willing to, and I’ll just roll with it.
What do you wish more publishers knew about comic retail? What do you wish more customers knew?
How important the condition of new comics is, because I don’t think Penguin is the only one who is indifferent to that. I think that the data we’re provided from the comic book distributors to order new comics has a paucity that can scarcely be mentioned. The previews solicitations, every single one of them is, “this is the greatest thing ever, you should buy a lot of them.” Really? That’s your solicitation? And it gets really, really old having to sort out the wheat from the chaff in this regard.
A quick story about how things work in comics. Back in the days when I went to San Diego Comic Con, some of the local retailers and I went together. And one of the reasons I went to San Diego was to pick up San Diego variants and artists’ sketchbooks to bring back to Dallas to sell. Back the ‘90’s that set me apart from a lot of other stores. So we spotted Frank Cho – at that point I had been buying stuff from Frank Cho for more than 10 years, and I said to my friend, “let’s go get some sketchbooks from Frank Cho, he’s got them right there on the table.”
So my friend was in front me, and he’s tall and wide – and I’m wide myself, but I’m not nearly as tall as he is, so Frank couldn’t see me. Have you been to San Diego? You can be literally two feet away from somebody, they can be waving their arms in the air and yelling at you, and you don’t see them. So Frank didn’t see me, he saw my friend who asked about the sketchbook, and Frank said, “oh, we’re not selling those yet, we’re waiting to sell those on Sunday.” And my friend asked two or three times, and Frank said, “we just can’t do it, I’m sorry.” And my friend sighed and said, “ok, whatever,” and he moves away so Frank can see me, and Frank says, “Jeremy, man! Want to buy some sketchbooks?” My friend practically had an aneurysm. It’s who you know. And if people know you by name and have a relationship with you, even if it’s just seeing you at the show, that’s still better than some dude who owns a store somewhere.
So what has you most annoyed and excited about comics right now?
I get excited about Wednesday every week. I really do. I love looking at and reading the new comics. Hell, this is the first week in probably a year I recommended a Marvel comic, it was awesome – the Dr. Strange comic that came out, the Tradd Moore comic. I love interacting with my customers. I still get out of bed every day excited and interested to come into the store, and see who’s new coming in. I’ve got one guy who started coming in when he was 12. Now he’s got three kids, the oldest is about 10. It’s great to see that stuff happening. And he’s turned them all into nerds, of course, but that’s a different conversation.
But I still love what I do. I still wake up every day excited to come to work, and conquer whatever new, exciting problem I have to deal with from one distributor from another. But what annoys me most right now? The publishers who don’t keep inventory in stock, particularly of titles which from my perspective should be evergreen for eternity, that they have decided to let go out of print and have no intention of putting back in print.
Anything exciting coming up for the store?
Not really. I try to run a very stable ship. I know that plenty of places, and plenty of people, have problems, and I want to have stability. I’ve had people come into my store for signings, but I don’t have any of those coming up. I don’t really do a lot of events, never have. And I haven’t really had anybody go, “why don’t you do those things?” So I don’t. Part of what I do is listen to what my customers want, and if my customers wanted it, they’d say something.