Anecdotal Evidence From One Store That Everything Is Great!

Just another day at the office.

Just another day at the office.

This week, I had the pleasure of stopping and shooting the breeze with my neighborhood comics shopkeeper. I don’t get to as much as I used to, partly because I’ve become a lot more lackadaisical about getting to the shop since digital comics became a thing. There were Wednesdays not so long ago when your humble correspondent planned his lunches around the opening of the nearest comic book store or risked losing half the new releases to a sellout. (I’ll never know how that was possible, by the way. I fully grasp how my day-job work ethic allowed for an 11:00 a.m. shopping trip with many discounts at Target, but who the hell were all these other people? No wonder the economy is spinning out like a leaky balloon.) Now, I get there when I get there and see him or don’t. Even if I miss an issue, I never miss an issue. Click!

Even if Digital went belly-up tomorrow, I wouldn’t be all that worried. My shop is amazing. If I’m worried about missing an issue of something, I just tweet my guy and he sets one aside for me. On the rare occasions when I “need” something that’s been snatched up before I make it over, a lot of times he’ll grab it from someone else’s pull-and-hold file (“he only picks his books up once a month; I’ll order him another one”) and hands it over. Thus reinforcing my laziness, alas.

The main reason I don’t stop and talk shop as often as I used to, though, is that I hate to bother him or hold up the line. He’s so damn busy these days.

I couldn’t pinpoint when it happened, exactly, but word has gotten out about this shop. It’s like Cheers in there lately. Every time I go in, half a dozen of the usual suspects are sitting around a gaming table piled with books while newcomers steadily trickle in with questions and quizzical expressions. Granted, it doesn’t always take much to make a comic book store seem packed, but the place always seems packed these days. I said as much to the proprietor the other night while we were waiting for the good people at Visa to purchase my books.

“You know,” he said, “we just had a company-wide staff meeting the other day, and apparently the most successful month in the history of the store was the one that ended two weeks ago.”

“February? You made more money than ever during the shortest month of the year?”

“The shortest month of the year, and I had to close the shop on account of snow.”

Before February, the most successful month in the history of the store was this past December. It’s shaping up to be a pretty good year. I don’t know why, but I do know that before I left he heard I was redecorating my office and gave me half a dozen posters out of the stockroom for free, which ComiXology is never going to do.

ShelvesIf I had told you a couple of years ago, “By 2013, two of these will be going like gangbusters and one will have ceased to exist: your direct market comic shop, legal digital comics, or Borders,” would you in the throes of your drunkest moment have bet against Borders? With Barnes & Noble mid-swirl right behind it in the drain? I know I would have informed you with some confidence, in my capacity as Semi-Professional Comic Book Know-It-All, that the publishers were too petrified of their real customers (the shops) to anger them by going digital, and that the direct market was no match for the all-demographics reach and buying/selling power of a mega-chain like Borders. So much for knowing it all. Or knowing any of it.

Instead, the last bones of the last mall bookstore have been picked clean and I’m reading half my comics on an iPad when I don’t have time to hit the busiest comics store I’ve ever seen. Is it The Walking Dead? Is it the movies? Is it, of all things, The New 52? If my shopkeeper knows, he ain’t talkin’, and that’s fine. It’s really none of my business. (Although for the record, I would punch a newborn kitten on the bridge of the nose to get my hands on some of those ComiXology sales numbers. The curiosity is torture.) All I know for sure is that, after years of gloomy forecasts, after much wailing and gnashing of teeth, my tiny corner of the marketplace is looking pretty amazing right now. It doesn’t prove anything, but it feels pretty good anyway.


Jim Mroczkowski takes his good news where he can find it and puts every week that The Sentry stays dead in the “win” column.


  1. I’m curious to know why/how your store is so busy as well. My LCS recently hired 2 new people on staff, and keeps selling out on some of my pulls (Batman, Saga, Indestructible Hulk) and I’ve gotten the last issue of “Nowhere Men” 3 times. Apprerently speculators have been coming in droves buying multiple copies of books too. It’s probably not any one thing but a few motivators coming together to bring in new customers. Whatever keeps comic shops in business I’m good with.

  2. Right on man. Always good to hear about good local shops thriving. I’ve never really connected with the articles about bad LCS’s because I’ve only had one and its always been good – and I never assumed it was any other way. I’m just lucky.

    Anyways, for whats been causing the success, my guess is that I’m not unique and like the story was for me – I liked comics as a kid, got out of it – and the combo of the Marvel movies, my buddy forcing the first few Walking Dead trades on me, and just more overall awareness of it – made me jump back in a few years back. I bet a lot of folks have similar tales.

  3. That’s fantastic news that some shops are thriving now. A few months ago I went digital and really liked it. I would say 90% of my purchases were digital. But a couple of months later I found the novelty of reading comics on my tablet wearing off. A lot of the time when I’d be reading a digital comic I couldn’t help but check my email or browse the internet. So I found it very distracting. Also I began to really question my judgment for spending 3.99 on a “non-physical” product like a digital comic. So recently I’ve gone mainly back to buying print as I missed going to the comic shop every Wednesday. All I get digitally now is the odd 2.99 digital comic. Even the fact my wife got an iPad recently, in which the comics on it looked way better than they do on my Samsung, won’t sway me.

  4. It’s always a good story when you read about a LCS doing good. My LCS doesn’t seem to be slowing either. The owner s passionate about the medium and has a huge customer base for comics alone. Pair that with a massive local market for Magic: The Gathering and this shop being one of two places to play tournament Magic and he’s weathering the slow American economy just fine.

  5. I remember the guy running the LCS was worried about DC going day and date digital with the New 52, but come fall of last year he/they opened up a second comics shop.

    I read on Bleeding Cool recently that new comic shops opening last year are up 1% from 2011. Whatever that means.

  6. My local shop is thriving as well. And what’s even more interesting is it’s strictly a comic-shop, no gaming or anything like that. Talking to the owner it sounds like there’s no one big reason for it, just that more people are getting into comics. And from my personal observation, his great customer service and friendliness keeps people coming back.

  7. Hi, my name is Scott Samson and I am the manager of The Fantasy Shop in South County Saint Louis, MO.

    As the retailer mentioned in Jim’s article I wanted to comment and clarify a few things. First he had things confused just a little bit. February was our 2nd most successful month of sales in years. Like a bunch of years. For real. December 2012 beat February of 2013 out but not by that much. And these are big time numbers that we’re talking about. To give a frame of reference though, I have managed this location since late 2008 and we’ve experienced growth every year that I’ve been at this location. And not insignificant growth. Double digit percentage growth every year. And the growth has been higher each year over the year previous. Some of this growth is as a result of being at the location longer and longer and more people discovering us but I think it would be foolish to believe that it was simply that or simply anything. Sure, the success of movies like The Avengers and The Dark Knight Trilogy, the success of The Walking Dead on AMC, and the marketing push made by DC Comics for The New 52 have all helped. A good amount of our growth has been outside of the realm of comics as well, with Magic: The Gathering becoming more and more popular in the store and more events being run to support it. But it’s also been the efforts of myself and my great staff. We’ve been experiencing the kind of growth that does not happen by accident. It happens as a result of great management, great training, great ownership, and (honestly) great customers.

    The other thing I wanted to mention is in an effort to clarify something and to cover my own butt. I want to assure anyone who shops with me that might read this article that anytime I snag something out of a hold for another customer I make sure that I can replace it before I hand it over.

    If you all have any questions I’m more than happy to answer them. And if you’re in the area, check us out. ||

    • My LCS also does Magic the Gathering tournaments, is that a significant source of income for your store? Do any of those players ever browse the comics or just buy the cards from you?

    • It represents a nice bump in our weekly sales though it’s not, I wouldn’t say, all that large a portion of our weekly sales. It’s been far more important as a nice bump in the amount of people who come in to the shop every week.

      We have been successful in getting more and more of our Magic customers to check out the occasional comic or two. Largely just from their exposure to clerks talking to other customers or from a desire to have a reason to come hang out at the shop a little more regularly. Those who haven’t gotten into comics have found their ways into playing other board games or the Pathfinder RPG among other things.

    • You identified the key to the future success of the LCS – generating incremental revenue from the consumer who isn’t a hard core comic buyer, but has interest in the fantasy/gaming category as well.

      Think about all the categories covered at a convention. Sell products appealing to that consumer and you’ll grow revenue. Sell Walking Dead merchandise, Hobbit, Dragon Ball Z, Video Games – the universe of this consumer is much larger than the narrow one of comic book buyer alone.

    • Last time at my LCS, the clerks were trying to get this Magic player to check out some comics but he retorted he didn’t want to read anything that required him to know 10 years of backstory. It was a fun little conversation. My store doesn’t really have many people (that I’ve seen) come in for tournaments but they do seem to have alot of people come looking for new cards. It’s good it gets more people into your store tho.

    • dkbrain:
      We’ve been a comics and gaming store since we first opened our doors at our first location in 1981. One of the key facets of our continued success has been the diversity of our appeal. A comic store that sells only comics will suffer from the ebb and flow of that market and find little to help when the publishers fail to properly disperse their releases during a 5 Wednesday month. Having board games, card games, and role playing games in the store and being able to talk about them with a similar level of authority helps to keep things consistent week in and week out.

      Approaching the Video Game and Manga fan bases has been more difficult than most people seem to want to acknowledge. Video games are available at so many other retail outlets and have an entire industry of retailers who deal specifically in their sale/resale. Getting in to that market is not cheap by any stretch of the imagination and with so much built in competition certainly not something that can easily equate to additional success.

      Manga and Anime are both things that we’ve tried to carry in the past and things that we experienced success with for a while in the distant past but once Big Box Book Stores started carrying Manga it became difficult to compete with a store that could carry the kind depth on the product as they could. With Borders closing we’ve started to dip our toes back into that market a little bit here and there but only with the additional incentive provided by companies like Viz releasing their “Viz Big Editions” and “3-In-1 Editions” that allow us to carry their product in a fashion that necessitates only stocking 10 books instead of 30.

      I think that you are also forgetting one of the central things that could help more comic stores to succeed: Hard Core Super Hero Comic Readers diversifying what they read week to week. One of the quickest ways to bolster the health of a comic store is to try out something new. The more people who read the same number of comics that they currently can afford but diversify what they consume the healthier the market will be and the more open to recommendations and more open to finding new books on their own when a series they are passionate about concludes.

      The key to getting someone who isn’t a comic fan interested in comics is to show them something they can dive right in to. Very few of my Magic regulars who read comics are superhero readers. Most of them read books from Image or Valiant or Dark Horse because they can find interesting stories that don’t require them to know back story or to pick up other titles in order to grasp the whole of what they’re getting in to. That is the most important first step. Once they are getting something (in one case it was Colder, in another it was Bloodshot, in another The Lookouts) they are looking at the shelf and are bound to find something that jumps out at them and will make their way home with them.

    • How is the new Valiant doing at your store dude?

      Nice to hear from a succesful retailer by the way!

    • Valiant has been doing quite well. Performing around the levels of mid-Image or mid-Vertigo titles on most of their books.

  8. Yeah my story is pretty simiar, my store (the amazing Up, Up, and Away in Cincinnati) is never empty, the part time employees are enjoying more hours and the owner has been able to take some time to be on the board of a brand new local convention and do the podcast/media circuit surrounding that.

    I think its just a confluence of all boats rising right now. The mainstream media attention on comics and conventions and “nerd culture” in general has probably never been as high for such a sustained period of time. The success of The Walking Dead and the movies definitely is a driver as is the success of kids and teen driven content like Adventure time and My Little Pony.

  9. Kudos to that LCS!! From the article and photos, it looks like a greatly organized, well stocked, customer friendly enviornment!! I went to Midtown Comics here in NYC on a thurs and the store was packed!!
    Interest has been generated(upcoming movies?the internet?) and I welcome more comic interested people!!
    BTW digital seems to be losing its shine, not sure why

  10. It is good to hear that the comic book industry is doing well! I get tired of people saying that comic books are going to be replaced by the digital format, or that not enough young readers are picking up the hobby to sustain the creation of comic books. My LCS is doing quite well, probably because of the diversification of the shop like most others. The sell comics, toys, apparel, Magic cards, Kendama, among other things. They also make money from the drinks and snacks they sell while having Magic card tournaments

  11. As a former customer of the South County Fantasy Shop, and a current customer of Up, Up, and Away (mentioned earlier in the comments), I can say with some amount of certainty that the success of both shops is at least partially due to the strength of the folks running them.

    Scott at the Fantasy Shop is the most knowledgable and enthusiastic comic guy I’ve ever had the pleasure to speak to. He reads nearly EVERYTHING and, while he will give a fair critique of a book if asked, never has anything nasty to say about a comic or publisher. He truly seems to love his job and it’s evident anytime you enter the store.

    It’s all too common (in my experience) to overhear customers and too often managers at comic shops grousing about the incompetancy of this publisher, the poor quality that book, or that weak skills of such and such creator. This was the case recently when I was trying to track down the new Valiant titles shortly after my move to Cincinnati. No store in the area had the books on hand, not because they had sold out of them, but because they chose not to order them (or in a few cases had grossly under-ordered and weren’t restocking). One store owner actually told me to my face that Valiant was going to fail and that I shouldn’t waste my money. Well, I certainly wasn’t going to waste my money in HIS store.

    Cut to Up, Up, and Away, the final store in my search for Valiant. They didn’t have a few of the issues on hand, but they were happy to order the second printings for me, as well as make sure that the newest issues got added to my shiny new pull asap. Since then, they’ve become the only store in the area that gets my business. The staff there (not just the owner) has gone out of their way to make sure that I have whatever books I want (even when I’m a little late to the party in some cases), and have always given me good advice when I ask for their opinions on something.

    Not every comic shop is run by someone who enjoys working retail. Often, the people who are most passionate about comics aren’t “people persons” at all. When you get that right mix of customer service and expertise, though, it makes all the difference in the experience of the customers – which is why we not only come back again and again, we also tell our friends.

  12. Comic books have shown year-on-year growth for the past year, at least in circulation.

  13. My LCS, The WIzard’s Tower in Barrhaven, Ontario, Canada, has always been great to me.

    When it comes to business, I want to say that their main income comes from Magic: The Gathering (card sales and tournaments). On more than one occasion, I’ve been stuck in line behind people buying well over $100 in individual cards lol. But when it comes to the comics, they treat me good.

    They’re the only store in the greater Ottawa area that gives Diamond preorder discounts. I give them my money 2-3 months before the book ships, and I pay about 20% less per book, which adds up (a $3.99 USD book comes to $3.23 CAD; that comes to a little under $20 in savings a month). At the beginning of March, I told them which books coming out in May that I wanted, and they handled it. They’ll pull all of them for me, and I come in once a week (usually Saturdays) to pick them up. They give first priority to people who do what I do, making sure that every person who pre-paid gets their books and putting the rest on the shelf.

    And I can usually could on the books coming out that week to be on the shelf in sufficient numbers that, if there is one that I want to check out but don’t want to commit to pre-ordering yet, then I’ll be able to off-the-shelf it easily (and they sell those for US cover price, not some lame Canadian markup). I did that with Avengers. I was unwilling to commit to $3.23 x 2 for 3 months, so I picked up Avengers #1 when it came out easily (didn’t care for it, so I didn’t buy the rest or start preordering them later).

    They also have TPBs and hardcovers at US cover price (admittedly common in Canadian comic book stores, but unheard of in Canadian regular-book stores, and the difference between US and Canadian cover prices can be huge; older Essential books are $16.99 US, or $27.25 Canadian). And older TPBs that don’t sell as well are 2 for 1. The TPB selection isn’t amazing, but they’ll order anything I ask them to.

    When The Wizard’s Tower’s satellite store in the University of Ottawa campus closed down (they were forced out because the university was renovating that part of the campus), they wanted to keep their customers, so gave everyone a 40% discount for a month. Sadly, I was only buying like 4 books back then.

    I’m on a first-name basis with the owner, the manager, and the girl that works weekends (who is also running their booth at Ottawa Comic-Con in May). I walk in the door, and 9 times out of 10, by the time I reach the counter, my books are on the desk.

    Because I’ve been buying digitally lately as well, I’ve managed to convince the owner to explore making a digital marketplace for his store through Comixology, so that when I do buy digitally he gets a piece of the pie. He’s looking into it, and will probably launch it next year.

    I’m ashamed to say I once waivered in my loyalty, looking at a store closer to my workplace (it’s a good 30 minute drive to The Wizard’s Tower every week, which can slowly eat into my savings in gas money). But the other store I looked at didn’t even care to respond to my questions about their pull list mechanism. Also, when I asked the other store about Diamond preorder discounts, the store clerk actually said “I’m not sure that’s a thing,” questioning my intelligence. I explained what The Wizard’s Tower gives me, and she just said “yea, we don’t do that.” So I dropped that like a stone and remain loyal to The Wizard’s Tower.