The Comic Shop Blues

images-5Some time ago I wrote a column about being pleasantly surprised by a new comic store opening up in my neighborhood. I had visions of this new purveyor of all things comics as a glorious beacon of superhero goodness and all-purpose geekery just a stone’s throw from my house. It was going to be awesome. I imagined the place would fulfill all my comic book needs and then some. I imagined a sort of comic book clubhouse where I’d spend free afternoons just sitting around and jawing about comics with the decidedly pleasant and well-informed staff. I imagined a heavily tattooed female staffer with whom I’d develop a deep emotional bond over our shared fondness for Beta Ray Bill. I idealized this yet-to-be-seen place all out of proportion admittedly, but at the time I was so intoxicated by the proximity and freshness of this comic store that I just sort of went with it. Well, it’s many months later, and I’m sad to say that none of what I’d hoped for has come to fruition. No clubhouse. No jawing. No tattooed girl. Alas, my comic store fantasy turned out to be just that. A fantasy.

And here’s what makes things even worse: despite being spitting distance from my humble San Fernando Valley abode, I almost never patronize what really should be “my” local comic shop. The reason? Simply stated, after a couple of well-intentioned visits to the aforementioned place in the days after its “grand” opening, it dawned on me that this particular store was basically bumming me out. Simply put, I wasn’t having a good comic store experience. Now there’s nothing technically wrong with this particular comic store. They generally carry most of the comics I’m looking for, even if their organizational style leaves something to be desired. And while many of us have had the experience of feeling alienated by the folks behind the counter in a comic store, that’s not the case here. The guys at the register are nice enough albeit a bit bored. Unfortunately, this place, with its supreme lack of atmosphere and absence of any truly authentic comic-loving joy, is just sort of lifeless. Little more than a bland room with shelves for comics.

Now I’m not asking for a tickertape parade or people dressed up like Spider-Man when I walk through 1834571-tumbleweedthe door, but there’s something to be said for presentation and at least a semblance of atmosphere. Humor me with a some original art on the wall. Something that says this is a place you should spend your time and money. And what about events, signings, promotions and in-store appearances? None of that exists in this particular store. I can get my comics anywhere (or buy them digitally), truth be told, so why would I seek out a place with all the charm of a suburban basement? The last few times I’ve been in to this particular place, I would almost swear a tumbleweed rolled by while I was browsing the stacks. And I definitely heard some crickets. Again, it’s lifeless, and I’m looking for more than just a place to grab my books and go.

To further complicate things, I feel incredibly guilty about my lack of patronage to what is a very well intentioned local business. I really do. If these guys close their doors (and I’d bet money that it will happen sooner rather than later), I will feel some pangs of guilt and sadness. When I drive by with my son, he comments that we should go there to “help them.” He’s seven and even he understands the tenuous economics of the comics industry. There’s part of me that totally agrees with my son’s sentiment, too. I know that comics stores are closing all over the country, so here we are spoiled by a new one and we’re not even doing out part to keep it afloat. Is that my problem? I’m not sure. Part of me feels a responsibility as a comic collector to at least support what is truly my local comic store. But I have needs too. And as a money-spending man of a certain age, I know I’ve only got so many trips to the comic store left and damn if I don’t want them to be good ones. All this raises the question: Is it my responsibility to patronize a store that isn’t really giving me a whole lot in return?


One store that does it right.

Ultimately, I wouldn’t go to a restaurant that was continually failing to deliver with its food. And even though it gives me a warm tingle to give the guys in this store a few bucks once in awhile, there’s no question that these are essentially “pity purchases.” So what’s a comic collector with a sub-standard comic store nearby to do? Do you bite the bullet and give your dough to a business that’s technically failing the customer? Or, do you speak with your wallet and let the market dictate the success or failure of an underwhelming comics joint? Truth is, I’ll still probably wander in and drop a few bucks once in a while. I’m a softie that way, so I’m good for a pity purchase now and again. And there’s part of me that understands the dream of owning a comic book store, so it’s pretty easy to put myself in this particular owner’s place. Guilt is also a strong motivator, as is basic empathy for someone fighting the good fight. When I think about worst-case scenario, namely a purely digital world without brick-and-mortar comic stores, I’d hate to look back and think that it was partly my fault because I put my personal aesthetic and experiential needs before those of the comic-buying herd. What do you think? What do you require of your comic store besides books? Is simply being open enough?


Gabe Roth is a writer trapped in the suburbs of Los Angeles. He is of the mind that comic stores should sell beer. He’s @gaberoth on Twitter.



  1. I speak with my wallet. I know the difference between a shop that’s trying and one that’s not. I love my shop and continue to drive an hour to go every month or so. It’s nothing incredibly special, but all of the staff are incredibly polite and helpful. It took me a few less satisfying visits at other places to find this one. Shout out to Crescent City Comics over in New Orleans, LA.

  2. I wouldn’t feel guilty at all. It’s not your duty as a comic fan to keep them in business – it’s their job to give you reasons to want to spend money there.

    I have three shops all within 20 minutes of my house and tried them all when I moved to the area. In the end, the one that was vibrant, clean, organized, and had staff that did not suffer from a lack of social skills won my business. Hopefully some of these shops that are losing business to competition will be smart enough to realize what the other shops are doing well. If not, maybe they’re just not cut out for retail business.

    • totally agree. As a consumer its NEVER your fault if a shop, publisher or creator has financial problems or goes out of business. The grass roots-y ness of comic fans is great at times, but we often forget that we are customers and need to take care of ourselves first. This isn’t a social cause, its a customer/retailer relationship. They have to EARN our business. Just having store hours isn’t an automatic.

  3. I feel the same way about the LCS up by my parents’ house in Westchester County, NY (no, the weirdness that there aren’t terribly great comics stores in Westchester is not lost on me). I haven’t lived there since I left for college, and after moving have experienced some absolutely fantastic comics stores.

    When I am visiting over the holidays or some other reason, I totally have a “pity shopping” experience. This one store has been there at least for the past 20 years, yet I’ve never seen a single other soul in there. Their selection of new comics is atrocious, and anything they never stock anything they’ve deemed “adult content” – which translates to anything not Spider-man or Justice League. The ONLY bonus of this is that comics such as Punisher, Daredevil, X-Men all get lumped into a “Adults only” bin at the back for $1.

    The selection of TPBs isn’t terrible, but they’re all bagged so you can’t flip through to see if you want to buy something. I understand that this keeps them in good condition, but it is not conducive for browsing, at all. When the store itself is primarily geared towards these trades, it makes sense to me that you’d want to rethink how “available” they are. They do have a large selection of toys, but I have no interest in those (not enough space for books, even!).

    I really have no idea how these guys are in business, and it’s genuinely a depressing place to look for comics. But, like Gabe, I feel an obligation to support them out of pity. It’s a terrible store, but that doesn’t mean I won’t go back and pick up some of those “Adults Only” comics for $1. (It’s amazing to me that Silver Surfer can be “Adults Only” – is it because he’s naked?). Last time I was in there a few months ago, I picked up the full series of Nick Fury vs. S.H.I.E.L.D. in single issues. The owner told me they haven’t been touched since the series came out. I know I could have gotten them cheaper online, but this was a total pity purchase. It felt like charitable giving.

    Ultimately, like any business, only the strong should survive (or in this case, stumble along somehow).

  4. A comic shop is what you make it to a certain extent. To have a place to jaw comics takes people, and usually a few, so idea are if you hang out then more people will hang out, and soon you might be able to walk in and have fellow comic lovers talking shop. I have to drive 40 minutes for a shop that does signings and such because the money to do those kind of things just isn’t there for the closer shops. I have 2 within 20 minutes, and both have their own strengths. I make it a point to patronize both because I feel lucky to have them both and want it to.stay that way. For me being open is enough. They’ve provided the foundation, its up to me to make it something I can call my own (in a weird someone else owns it kind of way). Go spend some time and money and see if things change. If they don’t then its just a bad shop and is doomed to fail because one customer just won’t cut it.

  5. My LCS also sells alot of collectible toys, cereals, lunch boxes etc.. Theres all kinds of cool stuff hanging from the ceiling, I love the atmosphere. the owner sells a good amount of Anime and manga(which I’m not into but I’m glad its there).. I’ve gotten to know the owner and staff fairly well over the last couple of years and they’re really nice people, I don’t sit around talking comics too much but thats not my gig( I do that on iFanboy) Whenever there’s a comic convention around I make sure I hit his booth and buy something. I guess my point is YES there should be more to a shop than just having some comics on a shelf.

  6. The main things I look for in a good shop: they have a pull-list system that ensures I always get the comics I’ve ordered without fail, there is a good discount without pulling some excessive number of titles, they’re not always sold out of other books I want that particular week that aren’t on my pull list, the shop is organized, new comics for the week are never marked-up in price, and the clerks are willing to converse about comics and are friendly.

    As far as decor goes, I prefer a light touch when it comes to standees, posters, collectibles, statues, gaming stuff, slabbed comics, and action figures. I like a store where reading is the main focus rather than a “geek” culture aesthetic or a focus on “collecting.” But I realize many shops survive by offering the full range of Diamond products, so if there’s an abundance of these things, it’s not a deal-breaker. Just a personal preference.

  7. As consumers, we basically expect the equivalent of a hand job delivered with any brick and mortar shopping experience. I mean – you’ve already paid with your time and money to get there – the shop (any shop) needs to deliver the goods and the service you want.

    So – my local LCS – now only one city block away – I walk my dog’s past their store 2-3 times a day… no pull list, no discount. So I get all my comics online, no muss, no fuss.

  8. My dream is to open a comic shop with a nice lounge area, where you can play games and drink craft beer.

    Anyone want to fund that for me?

  9. Digital killed the LCS. Too many times the comic I was looking for was sold out or not even ordered. Yes, they can special-order it…or I can download it instantly and basically have access to it anywhere either on my computer, iPad, or iPhone.

    • 100% disagree. I have tried digital, but still prefer the real thing. They don’t have the thing I want? They’ll order it, and it’ll be there when I’m back in next week to pick up my comics. Or they recommend something else to me that I will also enjoy. These people work in a store that has all comics, they usually know a fair amount of good stuff (ok, maybe I’m just lucky with my LCS).

      If anything, the LCS is thriving in my community!

  10. There is a comic book shop 3 blocks from my work. Its right across the street from the shopping plaza that has all the lunch places. This shop is possibly THE worst comic store i’ve ever been in. Its beyond a dungeon. 10 yr old movie posters faded beyond belief in the windows..Its like somebody’s old garage full of broken and dirty used toys and geek stuff. Grime and dirt, broken overhead lights. All the comics are just thrown on magazine shelves in no kinda order. New comics that are bent and damaged, Owners and staff that aren’t very nice and very awkward. I went in to look for the first (and last time) on a lunch break and they were visibly annoyed that a customer was in the shop. These types of bad shops need to go away. (its been there for years apparently)

    Speak with your wallet always. I’m a customer. Earn my business. (pro tip: i shouldn’t need to get my shots, before visiting your shop)

    I drive a few miles down the road and deal with the bad parking to go to “the good shop”. I don’t get to go often, but the owner and staff remember me (or pretend to) and treat me like an old friend. Clean, awesome shop full of awesome stuff, that you spend 2 hrs in before you even notice. The best.

    • ” i shouldn’t need to get my shots, before visiting your shop” Ha! True, true…

    • Not that I’m asking you to, but you should have identified the place so we ALL could take notice and stay away.

      You get mad props for doing that much reconnaissance for your story, Wally.

  11. I know this struggle all too well, since I own and run a shop. While we obviously want all the local comics fans to come in and have a good time and keep us in business, I completely understand that they have the right to go elsewhere if we suck. So yeah, you go above and beyond for them. Because you were going to anyway. Because if you didn’t get into this business due to the passion you have for what you’re selling, then you are a moron and you will soon be closed. To those who might be on the fence about your local shop, I only have this to say: try to meet them halfway. If they don’t have the book you’re looking for, don’t get salty until you’ve asked them to special order it for you first. If they don’t have any events, ask about it. Most folks want the best for their shops, and are simply too busy to stay on top of everything. Running a small business is rewarding, but sweet Jeebus is it a LOT of work.

  12. I use DCBS for my comics needs nowadays, but still drop in on various shops from time to time (less so now that I’m not playing much HeroClix any more).

    Important stuff:

    Good consistent regular hours.
    Pretty well organized, or at least organized enough that I can find stuff.
    Wide selection – I’ve stopped going to places that only carry the most mainstream of mainstream comics. And not just comics – games and toys and what not, too. We geeks have broad interests.
    A staff that doesn’t look at me like I’m crazy if I ask for something that’s hugely popular a week or two after it comes out, as though they’re the only place I can get it, or that I can’t just go online and get it.
    Staff that I don’t have to gently correct when another customer asks them a question.

    The owner is probably the most important part. The story I used for years, all through college, started off great. Clean, kept regular hours, pull lists, and he’d clearly been reading comics his whole life. He was an artist. It was great. Gradually, though, it went downhill. I never knew when the place was open until I got there. When it was it was more of a place for he and his friends to hang out, eating and playing WoW or a D&D game. Store became very messy. I had to break it off. I just couldn’t count on the place any more. It was actually pretty painful.

    My favorite place now, though, is very much the opposite. He stocks just as much indie stuff as Marvel/DC, and if you ask for something he’ll immediately whip out his phone and order it. He encourages gaming and has plenty of room set aside for it. I went back-issue diving once and came up with a bunch of West Coast Avengers; as he was checking me out, he said wistfully, “These are all out of my old collection.” Damn it, typing this all out makes me want to go back to weekly issues.

  13. First it sounds like the biggest problem is that you set up some expectations that the shop didn’t live up to. This seems to be the most common geek complaint about anything. Expectations are a bitch. Being excited for something makes us unreasonable about it, then we are saddened when its not what we want it to be. Happens in comics, movies, TV, retail and people. That’s our fault as much as theirs.

    Second instead of speaking with your wallet, speak with your mouth. It doesn’t sound like they are doing anything bad they just aren’t doing anything good. Most people who open comic shops have big love for comics but often no idea about how to run a business. Perhaps you could talk to them about ways to improve things. You can do that in a nice respectful way ( ” here’s what you are doing wrong” is not the way) maybe they’ll take it well maybe they won’t. If they are struggling they may welcome the help. Start by asking how business is, mention it doesn’t seem like its very busy, if they are doing fine and they just happen to run a shop that’s not your thing then fine, but if they are struggling, you could offer suggestions. It’s not a consumers job to make the retail experience work, but it is a nice gesture and its a comics fans job to help out other fans that are trying to live their part of the dream. If you are willing to support” small time creators or publishers, why not extend that to retailers. Most of them are fans too, most of them didnt really understand how it all works when they decided to try it. Being involved in almost any part of comics is a fools game. The only people who would do it are idiots or people blinded by their love for comics and thank god they do, or we wouldn’t have comics.

    Lastly comics retail is hardly dead. Overall Sales are up year over year and with the exception of 2 or so years where the economy was at its lowest, it has been on the rise for a while. New comic stores will only help that growth

    • Didn’t @Molly McIssac have an article about finding a new comic shop and being disappointed with that too? I think so, cause it was one of the first I read on here and had several debates going on in the comments…

      Yea, if you like the guys there and they’ll take suggestions offer them ideas on what to change. Have events, sales, game tournaments, anything to make the place more exciting and drum up sales. Of course it’s up to them to connect with customers and make them want to come back.

      Also, I read somewhere you’re not supposed to ask a store owner “How’s business?”. I forget where, something about if business is bad they won’t tell you out of fear you’ll take advantage. I use to ask that at my LCS but I noticed the owner would get depressed sometimes after I asked.

    • FINALLY!

      How is your local store owner going to know things are not what they could be if the clientele don’t say anything? Don’t criticise them. Ask whether they have certain products, are they planning any signings or opening the floor up for local comic book artists to work in public?

      Does the store have a copy of Previews on the front counter for customers to flick through? Then point out stuff that might be cool.

      If you don’t let them know what you want, how can they make their store someplace that you want to visit?

  14. I live in Augusta, GA and there is only one comic book store and it is horrible!
    The second you open the door and walk in, you’re assaulted with horrible BO. The store feels dirty. The new comics are placed standing upright so they slump over and are damaged. I think the owner (Paul) genuinely cares but i think he delegates comics operations to one guy and magic the gathering operations to another guy, etc. I think his employees are the reason why the place is suffering. There are boxes upon boxes of comics stacked underneath the tables that no one has access to. The employees never get off their fat asses from behind the counter to help me locate anything. I rarely RARELY buy anything from them. Since they are the only store in town, my business has gone online to

    • Sounds like Augusta is a great city to open a new, well run comic book store.

      … Or take the time to revamp the one that’s already there. Quickly!

  15. As someone who has been reading comics for 20+ years, and is striving to open his own shop, these stories are making me quite sad. I have so much I want to do, but plans really just fell apart.

  16. For any comic retailers…your store hours can be the make or break. All too many shops have 10-5 or 6 store hours. That just makes it really difficult for people with full time jobs to patronize your business. I’d say keep at least one night like a wednesday open later. I was pushed towards digital in part because none of the shops in my city are open past 6pm.

    • My shop is usually open 10-8, and on Wednesday (when it hosts Magic tournaments) until 9 or 10 pm. Same kind of thing for New Year’s, Halloween, and it’s fairly recent 5th anniversary.

  17. I happen to live in very close Proximity to New York City where I can get there in less then 10 minutes by train. I have the choice of going to my lcs or one of the many fantastic stores in NYC. Now I’ve tried, I’ve sincerly tried but really fuck that place. First time I went in there I asked about Uncanny X-Force and this jerk off behind the counter goes “nobody really likes that” This is in 2010 mind you and about two months away from issue 19 with Opena having Angel and Psychlocke re-unite with the giant ship expliding in the background. Since then they never have issues that I’m looking for. Conan the Barbarian, Scalped, Locke and Key, Multiple Warheads ect never have it. The final straw came when I went there hoping to get my brother in law a copy of Brian Wood’s Conan trade and Vol 1 of Brandon Grahms Prophet. Didn’t have either. And I get it that LCS services fanboys first and Superhero books are always going to be popular the most popular style. Hell I mostly read Superhero comics every week myself but if I can’t even get a god damn Conan trade from Dark Horse at minimum I’m sorry but I’ll take the extra 15 or so minutes it takes to grab a train and walk to Midtown comics. I don’t want to support a store that is only supporting the corporate properties of an art form that I love dearly.

    • Conan is a corporate property.

    • Which area are you in? I know most of the NYC or surrounding stores, including most of Nassau and Suffolk.

    • @merlin: Conan is published by an independent company not a corporate subsidiary. I think you understood what I was saying but thanks for trolling. Your awesome.
      @crecentcity: Jersey City in Hudson County. Were across the Hudson river from Downtown Manhattan. Are you from LI?

  18. I have to say, my shop is pretty good. They have been in operation for more than 20 years and is the only comic shop in the city (we’re only about 50,000 people). I used to buy comics and sell toys there when I was like 10. I didn’t buy a single comic between the ages of 13 and 27 but Treasure Cove was there to take me back when I was ready. The owner pulls, bags and boards my list for me and there is usually one or two other guys to strike up a converation with.

    My only complaint would be that he doesn’t have a great selection of comics that aren’t on your pull list because his primary business is toys, magic the gathering cards as well as antique collectables. Of course he can order anything and sometimes will order series he thinks I might be interested in, like this week he got The fall of the house of Usher and has done the same with Jupiter’s Legacy.

  19. I love my LCS, it’s fun, friendly, within driving distance, and carries most of the stuff I want to buy. The store is filled with cool stock, lets in lots of light, and has events 15 times thru out the year. I usually spend a few hours there on a given Wednesday reading stuff I’m uncertain of and talking with the clerks. A few months back, the clerks were too busy to talk and hadn’t been keeping up on the current reading, so I lost a chance to talk comics and that cut my enjoyment in half. Things are better now, they’ve expanded my pull list and usually they have a few moments to chat about whatever or just joke around. Actually they joke around alot, if nobody’s talking to them and it’s quiet they usually start a fake argument with each other that you hear anywhere in the store. I love going there, and I’ve been giving them busniess for 9 years.

    Now when I was out of town at my old College, I visited the LCS there. It was drab, dusty, quiet, the stock was 6-8 months old, and the owner was really rude whenever I walked in there. I still gave them business, but I bought alot less than my other store and was really encouraged to buy more. A comic shop is a comic shop, and I need comics; but you’re only going to get so much out of me if it isn’t fun.

  20. Hiya, I’m James Sime, owner of Isotope in San Francisco & long-time iFanboy amigo. As folks probably know we’ve thrown lots of events together with Conner, Josh, Ron and hundreds of you wonderful people over the years, including MorrisonCon last year. There are few comics communities I love more than this one!

    I absolutely want to say THANK YOU for the the “One store that does it right” caption under the photograph of my store. We’ve worked extremely hard for 12 years to create an amazing store that redefines what a comic store is and can be, and I’m proud to say have helped influence a generation of retailers and some country’s best and most beloved stores. I’m truly blessed people like what we do.

    However, I’m not thrilled to be associated with this particular article and subsequent dogpile. Sorry… yuck. These kind of articles make me sad and why would my beloved friends at iFanboy want to make me sad?!

    Gabe, you are clearly very passionate about comics and comics retail and I LOVE YOU for it! I love that the comics industry is filled with people just like you, Conner, Josh, Ron and the rest of the iFanboy world. It’s the reason why I like this site so much, because you guys truly do exemplify everything I love about comic fans.

    And I also love comic stores. Because when done right a great comic store can offer things that digital comics or mail-order companies never could and never can. And, just like you, I think they should!

    From personal shopping (my personal specialty), to a place for creators to work (this week had Erik Larsen & Ed Luce sitting at my drafting table), to events (my first part of 2013 schedule of events includes Rick Remender, Jerome Opena, Matt Kindt, Brian Posehn, Jason Aaron, JH Williams III, a live show with Akira The Don, and a launch for a 10 year old comic creator named Aidan Hernacki)… but most importantly a comic store can be a place to hang out and meet new people who love comics as much as you do. Build relationships, form life-long friendships, and yes even fall in love (it happens *a lot*). You don’t have to take my word for it, just ask iFanboy’s own Ron Richards why he moved across the country to San Francisco, where he met most of his SF friends, and why he got an apartment two blocks from the Isotope!

    But here’s the secret… none of it was built in a day. It always takes new shops a few years to find their sea legs and get rocking. And that means if you want to influence a new local shop into becoming the awesome community you wish it was YOU CAN. AND NOW IS THE TIME.

    All you have to do is get involved. And you don’t have to volunteer sit and run the register. I’m talking about something bigger and better. Offer to host a graphic novel club, organize a creator in-store event, teach a class for the local kiddos, start a writer’s workshop or an art consortium… the sky really is the limit!

    YOU ARE THE LOCAL SCENE. Make it awesome and it will be.


    – James

    since they’re a new store . This is your chance to help them create something beautiful.

    • I bet that store in Augusta GA someone mentioned would have just as easy a time hosting events with creators as Isotope does.

    • Isotope is the gold standard. If any of you are looking to open a shop and want to see one run right, get yourself to Fell St. In SF. I live an hour and a half away and make a point to stop in every time I’m in the city. I walked with my kids a mile or so from our hotel one morning only to find the store wouldn’t be open for another half hour. James saw my predicament and let us in early to shop. I’ve taken several SF friends who couldn’t see themselves in a comic book store with me, and all were pleasantly surprised and sounded like they wanted to come back and spend time there. My LCS, Red Sky Comics in Merced, is really great too (I have a feeling that the owner, Mike, took a tip or two from James & Isotope) but I never pass up an opportunity to visit Isotope when I’m in the city.

  21. Maybe if they had an event surrounding someone who works for one of the most preeminent comic websites it would help them out a little…

  22. In my experience comic creators are not only willing to do in-stores but always very appreciative of being asked. They don’t have to be huge superstars to be great guests, just pick people who make stuff that you like. And remember… 2002’s Matt Fraction eventually became 2013’s Matt Fraction, and Matt will always remember where his first in-store was (Isotope). You can contact most creators through their websites or social media, that’s the whole reason they have public websites and/or profiles. So don’t be shy, JUST ASK THEM.

    For you folks who want to get active creating an awesome comics scene (either fans or my fellow retailers) you can find out what creators are local to you easily. Tom Spurgeon from Comic Reporter has a great resource that is updated every year:

    Comics By Local Scene

    And when you guys are throwing awesome events with awesome people… don’t forget to invite me too! I like a great party!

    – James

    • that’s an exhaustive list @JamesSime.

      Hell, if you can find the likes of a Darwyn Cooke in Nova Scotia then anything is frikkin possible.

      I’d love to see more stores do artist events (not necessarily signings, which i think have limited appeal), but more interactive things like comic workshops or panels. I know Isotope does these, but would love others to follow. There’s no school for comics like ye olde’ comic shop!

    • Thanks for posting that link, James. That’s a great resource that I’ve never seen before. Are there resources you would suggest for someone wanting to open a shop? Is ComicsPro a good way to go? Or is there more basic advice like “get a business degree.” It seems like there’re a lot of details with regard to licences, taxes, liability insurance, dealing with Diamond, credit card processing, and a slew other things that I’m not even aware of. Did you just dive-in and figure out that stuff as you went along? If only there were some “best practices” how-to manual.

    • I wrote a future retailer an email about this stuff recently, so if you folks don’t mind, I’ll cut-and-paste some of it below. There’s a ton of great reading material I’d recommend!

      And YES, business school would have helped SO MUCH, I just dove in head first and learned it (and lumped it) as I went along. But if you’ve got the time I’d definitely suggest it. I had to really bootstrap the Isotope, didn’t even have a credit card or a checking account when I started out. Just a WHITE HOT LOVE for comics. And also for people. And most of all, people who love comics.


      NEW RETAILER INCENTIVES FROM DIAMOND COMICS DISTRIBUTORS – They didn’t have any of this stuff going on when I was starting out, but it sure would have been nice! The distributor will help you out, write to them and find out everything you can about these programs.

      COMICSPRO MENTORING PROGRAM – I’m no longer a member of this organization (just not for me) but you should probably look into it. Lots and lots and lots of smart people running that organization. And if you can link up with other new retailers too, that’s always a good idea and can be very valuable for you. And also the future of industry too.

      EXPERIENCE ECONOMY – I didn’t know any of the *words* for what I was doing when I opened, I just did it all by my gut and my instincts. Probably a lot like you right now, actually. This book will give you the language and business terminology you’re missing to better articulate what you’re trying to create. My retailing philosophy is right in line with what I found under the cover of this book, so it was great to have someone who did go to business school to tell me what I was doing with my store all those years and what my philosophy and methodology is called in business circles.

      WHY WE BUY – A great book on the psychology of shopping. And… same thing as the book above. I definitely don’t agree with everything here but I was blown away to read a book on analog retailing that incorporated so many of the things I’d been doing for years simply based on “this seems good” and “this feels right” instincts.

      STREET FIGHTER MARKETING – You’ll probably read this book and realize part way through that you’ve got 1000 better ideas for marketing your store than the guy who wrote this ever would. Don’t worry… that’s EXACTLY why I’m telling you to read it! Every time the author suggests some yawn-inducing vanilla idea in this book it will totally piss you off and inspire you to come up with even more ACTUAL GOOD MARKETING IDEAS OF YOUR OWN.
      And that, my friend, is a very good thing.

      TILTING AT WINDMILLS – A series of two books from IDW about running a comic shop & the industry written by long-time retailer Brian Hibbs. While some of my core retail philosophies differ from the author, Brian’s a very smart guy so you can probably glean a lot of good info. I’m told lots of new retailers have found these books invaluable.
      Don’t buy them from the Evil ‘Zon Empire, get you copies directly from the man himself:

      (OLD ASS) THE COMIC PIMP – I wrote about 2 years worth of columns for CBR about retail, marketing, events, and my own personal comic selling philosophies when I was just getting rolling. Much of the details are out of date now, as things have changed in the industry quite a bit in the last 10 years, but the marketing stuff is still spot on for a growing, hungry small businessman. It’s a little rough around the edges and has a real “back of the house” feel, so probably not for everyone, but you’re a punk rock guy too, so you’ll probably dig it. I did what I could to impart as much useful info at the time as I was able.

      The Comic Pimp archives 1:
      The Comic Pimp archives 2:


      Hope that helps some folks!

      Any future retailer should take some time and make sure they really, really want it before proceeding. Because it’s small business, and small business is hard and you’ve got to really, really fucking want it. But if making that dream a reality is what you really want I’m here to tell you it can be done! Never, ever listen to anyone who says you can’t. Or that your ideas are too crazy. Or that it’ll never last. Because 12 years ago they all told me all that nonsense too.

      Life is short, live it to the fullest.

      Oh and for the record, digital comics haven’t hurt my business. Quite the opposite! It’s put more comics under people’s noses and that’s an AMAZINGLY GREAT THING for my shop. And I also sell digital books through Comixology ( so that’s nice too.


      – James

    • @JamesSime: A mere ‘thank you’ seems insufficient for the thoroughness of that response, but Thank You for being so friendly and generous in your advice. I hope some of the seeds you’ve planted here take root; the iFanboy community is a good garden for these sorts of ideas. I’m gonna start checking out those links. Thanks again!

  23. If this was all i ha to bitch about, I’d count myself VERY damn lucky! Jeez

  24. I’ve been with my comic book shop for about 3 years now. It is a very small store but the owner (Alex) is a cool guy and he’s always been patient with me in looking at the rack and figuring out what I want. Of course I feel a bit bad because he gives me advice on what to buy but sites like this kinda make that pointless (Since he always recommend stuff that you guys already point me too). The store seems to be more for Magic or various card games then comics but that’s okay. I don’t feel awkward or out of place if there’s more Magic people then comic fans.

    It sure beats one of the other stores I tried to stay at before the one I’m at now. The signs around it had joke signs and one said “BEWARE DOG WILL BITE YOUR ASS!” and I thought that was a joke. Turns out, the moment I open the door, a scary dog is barking in my face and the owner had to make him heel. Then I walk around the place (and this was much bigger and almost the size of Jim Hanley’s for reference) and I wanted to pick a book up to flip if I wanna buy. The instant I touch the book the man yells at me that ‘If you wanna touch you gotta buy!’….At that point someone comes in the store and I sneak my way out. So while my store is small and might not be the most perfect place in the world; it is a million times better then what I could have had.

    The store I go to by the way is THE COMIC BOOK STORE in Glassboro, NJ. I know some people (like Ed) used to go there and it would be cool to see more of an iFanbase there. Here’s their website if you’re interested:

  25. Great column.

    When in Dayton, OH, visit Bell, Book & Comics. It’s one of the best ‘small’ LCSs in the country. Literally recession-proof and probably the only thing keeping that little shopping-strip vital! They just keep getting better! Thanks. Peter!

    I live in South East CT now, but still shop there. It’s that good.

    • I go there occasionally when my store runs out of stuff I need. It is a good store and the owners are very nice to me despite not remembering me everytime I walk in. But my LCS has been good to me for 9 years and I’m hope to have 9 more; shout out to Superfly Comics and Games in Yellowsprings,OH!!!

  26. My personal tastes in a comics shop are completely bi-polar- the completely ransacked warren, replete with stacks of unorganized books, rat-tailed staff with broken acoustic guitar and maybe a stinky cat (the Back Issue, Nashua, NH, circa 1984), to those with polished floors, Mission style furniture and a benevolent staff (Bergen Street Comics, Brooklyn, happening now). The author successfully makes a good point about being an engaged retailer (whatever you’re selling).

  27. I live in Savannah, Ga, and we only have two comic shops, both owned by the same guy. One is in the middle of town, and is not very organized, not very clean, but has a great selection of comics, has a pull list, and has a couple of nice guys that work there that know me by name and pull list number. The one downtown is really raggedy and also rents dvds. The owner is usually there, and to the casual observer seems like a raging jerk, but you just gotta get to know him, which most people aren’t going to do. I have taken the hour to and back drive to Statesboro to go to the one comic shop they have, and it’s awesome. Bright, clean, friendly, and full of back issues.

  28. Ultimate Comics in Durham/Chapel Hill has all the good points mentioned-clean, bright, well organized, with staff that knows what they’ve talking about and weird enough without being creepy. The other places in town are either too much of a boutique or so over run with role playing games that comics are an after thought. Didn’t know how good I had it until I read other’s bad experiences.

  29. People have to vote with their wallets and not feel guilty about it. I mean, at least not beyond a moderately low threshold. Don’t have your LCS order something and then leave them hanging and decide that you’re just going to get it online.

    I live in an isolated area, so my trips to the “L”CS are few and far between. The shop is so small that, for whatever reason, almost every single time I go there they screw up my pull list. Inevitably, there will be one comic that they didn’t get in. Or maybe the owner sold my copy to someone else? Sometimes comics will be in my slot which aren’t mind. But maybe the owner is just giving me “first dibs” on certain issues? I only pay for what I want; I don’t have to buy whatever’s in my slot, but still… it’s super annoying, especially because the owner himself has another business and isn’t even there half the time.

    The thing is, I really LIKE the owner, know him and his wife and daughter personally. And I understand that he has a very small shop, so when Diamond short changes him on his order, he may not have a copy of Uncanny Avengers for me that week.

    But after a certain point, enough’s enough. This past week I just dropped all of my $4 Marvel books. You know what I found out? I can buy them right from Marvel via good-old-fashioned mail order subscription for 45% off!

  30. I think this question speaks more to the modern “gimme gimme” generation. I am happy if when I go to a comic book store they just have what I want.

  31. I have experienced one too many substandard comic shops to hardly care any more. There are just way too many that are dumps and who do not try to cater to their customer base. A couple of months ago, I made the move to mostly digital – and have had very few regrets. Now, instead of going every Wednesday to my LCS, I go every other week or so to pick up the few remaining issues that I still have on my pull list, plus a few mags that I subscribe to through them. I really do think that the days of the LCS are numbered. We are quickly reaching a transition point in the comics industry. I don’t think that because I buy comics digitally that I am imperiling the comics industry or hobby. In fact, I believe that I am investing in its future. My love of comics is not tied to my experience in a given store, but in the comics themselves – whether digital or real copies.

  32. Some of my favorite “bad moments:”

    * Having an owner rant about the comics industry being crap before going back to his computer (and in full view of customers) looking at porn.

    * Calling one store, not being sure if I called the right number since they answer with “yeah?” going in anyway, and being supremely disappointed.

    * The creepy, underlit, low ceilinged shop where three guys hovered around watching movies and no one asked if I needed help.

    * The “tell me a price you’d like to pay/make me an offer” stores when I’m just looking, not really interested.

  33. I’m extremely fortunate. My ‘local’ store is only about 6 blocks from my house and has a great staff, a great atmosphere, and other great customers I can talk ‘shop’ with. Not only that, the customer base, like myself, is mostly indie-oriented, so not only do I get all my books, the guys always have cool indie titles on display I may not know anything about, but always end up being worth a look. Not to mention toys, shirts, unique art on the wall, signings and parties…Arcane Comics in Ballard, the best shop in Seattle! If I had to relocate, I’d still try to get there!