I wandered into my local comics shop this past Wednesday, as I’m likely to most weeks. It’s not always Wednesdays, as my shop owner (and it’s primarily just the one guy doing the lion’s share) is great about keeping my pull list up to date. I’ve been known to skip weeks at a time, confident that the books I really wanted will be waiting for me. My shop is pretty generous with the freebies, too, whether it’s Free Comic Book Day issues, Legion Flight Rings, posters, or this week’s freebie–an issue from AfterShock Comics called Support Our Shops, or S.O.S.
Skip down a bit if you want to get straight to my review of this issue. Before that though, I think it’s important to know why this issue exists in the first place.
For the past few months, I’ve tried to stop weekly more often than not, just because I realize this pandemic has hit most small businesses pretty hard.
The Big Problems: A pandemic, a distribution shutdown, and DC being DiCks
Comic shops especially have had a rough go beyond just the economic hardships most companies have suffered through because their primary supplier, Diamond, shut down operations for weeks, and when things started back up, a company that accounts for roughly a third of the industry, DC, went rogue and tried to upend the existing model. I’ve talked about it before, but the way I see it is that DC’s new business daddy–AT&T–has made moves to align their comics distribution with their existing book distribution timelines, which by itself is understandable, but the way it has happened has been sloppy at best. They’ve backed two new distributors that are also both comic shops, resulting in waves of paranoia from older shops (would you want to give a competitor all of your business ordering information?), increased cost (now shops have to pay multiple places for freight/shipping, often at more expensive prices), and disrupted scheduling (DC wants their materials on sale date changed to Tuesdays, the rest of the industry has used Wednesdays for their on-sale dates). There are other places you can go to find more informed opinions regarding the big switch and whether it’s a good thing or a bad one. Customers, creators, and retailers have all called for changes to the way comics have been distributed for some time; it just seems like now would be a better time for stability to rule the day. My conversations with people in the industry has been limited to my local shops, which don’t seem to be fans of DC’s moves, but you never know. Perhaps it’s the shakeup the industry needs?
Digital Delivery Models
An additional factor that has crept up in the past decade, but became increasingly prevalent once the world was shuddered into their own homes has been the rise of digital distribution as opposed to physical. Digital isn’t bad, it’s just different. Plenty of entertainment modes have shifted to digital subscription models. Most folks don’t buy cds any more–we tune up Spotify or Apple music or Amazon or whatever and have access to bajillions of songs at our fingertips. Want to watch movies or tv shows? You’ve got an increasing number of streaming services, whether it’s Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Disney+, HBO Max (the rollout of which is another thing DC’s business daddy AT&T butchered), or whatever service from your favorite media conglomerates. The point is, folks are getting accustomed to paying one monthly rate for access to tons of content. Marvel has one of these services in Marvel Unlimited. DC has their DC Universe Streaming, which also includes TV and movie content that shuffles in and out of HBO Max, and there’s a Comixology Unlimited option that includes a variety of companies under its Amazon-owned umbrella.
New comics not included in these subscriptions are also available at the same cost as buying the print edition, just without the clutter or need to put on pants and venture outside–both genuine benefits as people spend more and more time at home. The biggest downside: it cuts out the comic shop that has fueled the industry for years, because digital (and movies and CW shows) don’t really push readers to keep reading like a traditional shop might.
The Argument for Physical Comics
That brings us to the focus for today, the physical issue that ended up in my stack this week that makes the argument as to why comic shops matter.
So why bother with the paper copies? Print media in general has been on a downward spiral for years, so why not abandon the floppy comics? There’s always the same basic arguments for physical media of any type. You own it, so a subscription service can’t just take it away at any time. It’s easier to loan to friends without also giving them the same passwords to your bank account and credit cards. You don’t use the same password for everything, do you? That’s a bad idea.There’s the collector’s aspect–this is the one that gets me mostly. I have collections dating back to when I was in my single digits age-wise that I enjoy keeping up with.As far as some comic-specific arguments, there are a few. You can drop a physical book in the tub and just ruin your book, not your entire iPad. That portability applies to camping or beach trips, too. You do NOT want sand in your electronics. Also, I really enjoy flipping through the back issue bins, specifically the discount dollar bins. I feel like an archeologist travelling back into the past as I mentally catalogue, “got it, got it, read it, can’t believe I bought it, don’t want it, never saw this before, Andy would like this one, this is trash, got it, WHAT IS THIS?” It’s fun for me. It reminds me of the great stories I’ve read in the past and contains tons of untapped and readily affordable potential future reading. Plus, there’s something to being able to hold a piece of art in your hands the way it was originally intended. The feel of the paper, the smell of the ink–it all factors in. And with comics in particular, the process has always been single issues, then collections. Without strong single issue sales, stories don’t get collected into other formats or the word of mouth to become more popular. What could be the next big thing from an up and coming creator could die on the vine without anyone to notice.
So Why Bother with Shops, Anyway?
S.O.S. Support Our Shops from AfterShock attempts to answer that question in as shop-friendly a way they could.
Aftershock is an up-and-coming publisher featuring top name creators working on their own stories, oftentimes featuring stories outside of the traditional superheroes of the big two.
A favorite around the Ghost offices has been Cullen Bunn and Juan Doe’s Dark Ark, which tells the tale of the other ark than Noahs–the one filled with monsters–and unicorns, weirdly enough. Friend of the show Russ Braun has his book Jimmy’s Bastards through AfterShock as well. So they put out solid work is what I’m getting at. I also had the opportunity to meet their publisher Joe Pruett at C2E2 this year. I sat in on a panel he was in, and then followed up with a friendly conversation at his booth a bit later about the future of comics. What works, what doesn’t, that kind of stuff. It was incredibly insightful to be able to pick the brain of a comic publisher. It’s clear this guy cares about the industry. And he’s not afraid to put his money where his mouth is. In this case, that meant putting together a book free of charge to comic shops that they can either choose to give away to regular customers or charge whatever fee, all of which goes to the shops. So for the shop owners, it’s either a goodwill gesture for customers or a small financial windfall. If my info is correct, you shop can still order copies as well if you didn’t see any this week.
In the book, a variety of creative teams tell an origin story of their love of comic shops, and there are some quality creators involved.
Curators of Fine Collectibles:
The curation of comics is another thing great shops can do. You just saw the Black Panther movie and want to know what’s next–ask the folks at the shops. Usually, they can point you towards some great stories, both with and without the Black Panther involved. The best shops don’t just sell the stuff, they help get folks excited about and spread awareness of great stories. Jamie McKelvie, Ro Stein, and Ted Brant give you a little story about that.
Finding Those Missing Pieces:
There are few things more frustrating than having parts 1,3, and 4 of a 5 part story. Even with subscription services, there are often inexplicable gaps in their services for whatever reasons. If you find a shop with a decent back issue selection, problem solved. When DC started their 100 Page Giant Program with Walmart a few years back, I remember being panicked about finding the issues as they came out because Walmart doesn’t keep backstock. Of course, DC discontinued many of those books without finishing the stories. Did I mention DC seems like a bunch of dicks right now? Anyway, Cullen Bunn, Leila Leiz, Guy Major, and Marshall Dillon tell about a roadtrip and one of my favorite things: the joy discovering new comic shops to fill in those missing parts!
Supporting the Arts:
The fact is, comic creators, artists, writers, etc., can earn much more from a physical sale than they can from a subscription click. Up and coming artists and smaller scale publications arguably have a better chance of being seen if they’re physically existing on the rack as opposed to buried seven pages deep, too. Jerry Ordway spins a tale along with Marshall Dillon on letters to show as such.
For one, shops–the good ones anyway, can be islands in an ocean of solitude. Many comic aficionados have served some time on the island of misfit toys, feeling like they don’t fit in. But when you see that shop lined with comics on the wall, the bright posters, the shelves of trades and graphic novels and racks with toys–it’s like stumbling into a nerd embassy. You can find that place where you feel like you belong, which is a big deal, especially for those folks that feel like they don’t have that place outside their homes. Knowing there are other people out there interested in the same things as you–it’s huge–not just for making friends, but for the feeling of belonging. The same is true for conventions, but I don’t see the convention scene rebounding any time soon. That makes the shop experience even more important. They provide belonging, inspiration, and occasionally motivation as detailed in a handful of the other well-done stories in this issue. So stop by your local friendly shop and support them if you can.
An Additional Reason:
One of my favorite annual events in the comics industry is usually the first Saturday in May: Free Comic Book Day. Publishers give out sample books, retailers usually have sales or events. This May, the event was cancelled due to Covid craziness. Instead, Free Comic Book Day has been changed to Free Comic Book Summer!
Instead of a one day event, books will be spread out in smaller batches throughout the entire summer. Check out www.freecomicbookday.com to see what’s in store and when–it starts as soon as this upcoming week! There’s always great stuff you’ve probably heard of, and great stuff you won’t see coming.
So if you love comics, get out there and support your shops. They have a purpose that keeps the comic industry churning along, sometimes even in spite of itself. They’re one of the last bastions of print media, hanging on thanks in part to events like FCBD and AfterShock’s S.O.S. book.
Until next time, I’ll probably be checking in on the local shop to see what’s new!