Len Katz founded The Joker's Child almost 15 years ago. Located in Fairlawn, New Jersey, The Joker's Child has always been primarily a comic book store, though Katz carries a wide variety of comic and movie-related merchandise.
Tell us a little bit about your store? Well the store's been around for about 15 years. We have a clientele that ranges in age from about 4 to 84, though most of customers are in their twenties. It's a destination store, so we don't have a lot college kids walking by, it's just a neighborhood store. Physically the store is about 2,400 square feet. We moved about 5 years ago to the present store. Our original store was about 1,000 square feet. From the time we opened we've always dealt in action figures and toys that were related to comics. Even 15 years ago we thought it was a good idea because people who buy comics also buys toys that relate to those comics.
Looking back over the 15 years you have been in business, what's the best experience you ever had with movie-related merchandise? The original Batman movie. When we first opened in 1988, well the Batman movie was in '89. The build-up to the Batman movie was incredible -- even the Spider-Man movie, which is getting a lot of hype doesn't have that same kind of build-up. The only thing that has come close to the Batman movie in scope was Pokemon -- the only thing that became 'that next big thing.' It was ten years later, because you had Batman in 1989 and Pokemon in '99, which was as big or bigger. If you make a pattern from it, it seems like every ten years there's something that's really crazy, that hits and becomes a big thing in our industry. Even though Pokemon wasn't entirely our thing, it was enough of our thing that we were able to capitalize on it.
At the other end of the spectrum, what's the worst hit you ever took with movie merchandise? I'd have to think, because there haven't really been too many, the worst was probably those McFarlane toys that were related to Little Nicky. I think that would be the worst, 'cause I think we still have cases of those figures floating around. And it's not like anybody is ever going to want those, though you'd think everybody would want a dirty-talking bulldog.
What do you think will be the big movie for your store in 2002? Spider-Man for sure, because there is enough merchandise built into the store already that, though obviously there's going to be a lot of Spider-Man merchandise floating around, if enough people want to search out and look for the comics (and we're hoping Free Comic Book Day helps that along too), we hope they will find us. It's nice to sell all the merchandise that we sell, but what really helps our business in the long run is if people who don't buy comics now, start wanting to buy comics and become steady customers.
What are you bringing in for the Spider-Man movie? We're carrying the trading cards, the movie action figures, the lunch boxes, toys, the bobble heads -- even stuff that we would shy away from in general. We will even carry Spider-Man trash cans, because if there is enough interest people will want it. I think it's going to become a franchise and they will turn out a movie every two years. If enough people like Spider-Man it will be good for us, it will give us visibility.
What do you plan to do for Star Wars? For Star Wars, we're carrying t-shirts, books, toys, cards and comics of course. There aren't nearly as many toys as before, they're not going hog wild like they did the last time with tons of Applause stuff plus everything else. This cycle reminds me of The Simpsons. When they first came out they totally overlicensed the property and the stuff was closed out by the ton. They cut way back on the licenses and finally it came back -- The Simpsons toys do real well for us now. So hopefully the toys for Episode II will do better than the Episode I stuff, but as far as Star Wars goes, we've always carried the figures, even before they started redoing them in '95, we bought and sold the original figures.
Would you say your store does better with a blockbuster film like Spider-Man or with a cult film like a Ghost World? I think we probably do better overall with a cult film. Basically, over time all the Jay and Silent Bob stuff, the movies, the toys the graphic novels have done very well for us because it is very cult-like, and we don't have much competition; with Spider-Man we're going to be competing with the mass merchandisers who are selling the same things, so the only thing that makes us different is carrying the back issues, graphic novels, the things you won't find in the mass market.
Speaking of the Wal-Marts and Targets of the world, how do you compete with them? If people are looking for a specific figure, we do all right, because you might be able to find the line in the mass market, but you may well not find the figure you're looking for. Many times they get stuff in, blow it out and they are on to the next thing. It may cost a couple of dollars more at our store, but we will stock it and we will know whether or not we have it in stock.
Do you sell videos or DVDs of comic-related films like the X-Men or Spider-Man when it comes out? Yes when it first comes out, and as long as we can carry them. We make sure the video stuff we stock is comic-related, we don't sell Sopranos episodes.
What is the best time to sell merchandise from a movie like Spider-Man? From now till about a month after the movie comes out -- and then again around Christmas time if no one has the figures. One of the things that is really key is how the mass market retailers buy things. Every comic shop should have somebody there who works at Toys R Us--it really helps. My favorite toy line that we carried recently was Shrek -- a great example of something that was a little outside what we normally carry, but because it was McFarlane Toys, we carried it. Sales were slow at first, but when Christmas rolled around and the movie made it to video, it seemed that nobody but the comic stores had the toys around here, and since we had to buy cases from McFarlane, we had them and they did great. But in general the best time for selling this stuff is from around two months before the movie opens (if you can get the toys--I've got the Spider-Man toys and they are selling well) 'til about one month after the movie opens. Then there's a big gap and Christmas rolls around. But if Spider-Man comes out around November 15 on DVD, gets all hyped again and it's Christmas and there you go -- another great chance to sell.