Confessions of a Comic Book Guy is a weekly column by Steve Bennett of Super-Fly Comics and Games in Yellow Springs, Ohio.  This week, Bennett looks at the digital future for comics, the importance of customer service, a new direction for Archie, and the recent comment flow.

One problem when you plan for the future is sometimes you don't know what future you'll be facing.  Twenty years from now we may snack on cotton that's been genetically engineered to be nontoxic (as well as being high in protein the seeds supposedly taste like chickpeas) and complain about how Wal-Mart keeps putting up the decorations for Diwali (the Hindu festival of light) and Eid ul-fitr (the Muslim holiday celebrating the end of Ramadan) earlier and earlier.

When it comes to comics going digital we automatically assume the worst case scenario, that our customers will abandon us the way people migrated from radio to television in the 1950's.  But it's just as likely instead of stealing away our base the easy availability of comics online will instead create a whole lot of new readers, and potential customers for us.

It's what I think, it's certainly what I hope but I don't know.

I know I've written repeatedly on the subject but the importance of customer service really can't be stressed enough, certainly not in a recession when people can get our product for free in the comfort of their own homes.  I place into evidence this excerpt from "The Sad Illusion of Harry Customers," a piece by David Lazarus that appeared in the Nov. 11th edition of the LA Times:

Customer satisfaction has become such a scarce commodity in the business world, it's now a selling point at a time when companies are increasingly desperate for shoppers' dollars.

"Customer satisfaction has always been a major concern for most companies," said Lars Perner, an assistant professor of marketing at USC's Marshall School of Business. "But it's fairly difficult to implement. It's pretty labor intensive."

He said that as long as low-low-low prices remain consumers' main priority, and as long as turnover remains relatively high among workers at service-oriented businesses, most companies just can't afford to keep sufficient numbers of well-trained staff on hand to meet customers' needs.

"So they make do with what they have," Perner said.

We've come to accept not just bad customer service but no customer service.  It's the price we pay for the discount prices at the super stores, but I continue to be amazed at the places that seem to have a strict "no repeat business" policy.  I've been driving for roughly thirty years and spent at least a week of it waiting for my cars to be fixed; it's never been what you'd call "fun" but a couple of weeks ago I had my worst experience ever.

Almost as bad, knowing that it could have been at least a little less horrible if anyone associated with the business had the slightest idea of how to communicate with customers.  Nobody told me when they had to send out for a part or that it was taking longer than expected because they didn't have the right tools for the job.  And of course at no point did anyone say anything like "I'm sorry."  And to hang a lampshade on it (as they say over at the Television Tropes & Idioms website) the next day when I called the company's 800 number a representative told me that complaints should be sent via email.

So it turns out that my "strictly no repeat business" comment wasn't just a snide turn of phrase but their actual official corporate policy.  If any of us ran our businesses that way we'd be out of business quick but then repeat business is our bread and butter and while we don't have most of the advantages of the big chain retail outlets we've definitely got them beat when it comes to customer service.  And not to disagree with Lars Perner but it's not particularly 'labor intensive'; it's just a matter of talking to customers and, just as importantly, listening to what they have to say.

On a completely unrelated note, Archie & Friends #137 features "A Night At The Comic Shop", first of a two-part story by Fernando Ruiz where a meteor lands in Riverdale's Pep Comic Shop which somehow unleashes the company's backlist of characters.  We're not just talking Pat the Brat, Cosmo the Merry Martian and Super Duck, and since the Red Circle heroes are currently otherwise engaged there are special appearances by Kardak the Mystic, Sergeant Boyle, Sam Hill (even I didn't know that Archie had published a hardboiled detective comic back in the 1950's) and of course Rang-A-Tang the Wonder Dog.*

Back in June when Archie Comics gained a new co-CEO in Jon Goldwater he expressed interest in creating projects featuring some of these characters; hopefully this comic is only the opening salvo of Archie doing just that.

And, finally, it's ok if Jay Bardyla of Happy Harbor Comics finds these columns "tiring and frustrating" (because, frankly, sometimes I do too) but I am sorry if I have given the impression I believe "the good old days were so much better than now" because I don't.  Just because a man has an unjustifiable affection for Rang-A-Tang doesn't mean he's not interesting in what's next; if I was living in the past I wouldn't be here to enjoy Marvel's new breakout character Hitman Monkey.

I also seem to have become connected to Buddy Saunders most recent comments.  While I certainly agree the bulk of the mainline Marvel/DC superhero titles have material in them I wouldn't want small children exposed to these comics aren't intended for small children and haven't been for a long time.  And while I'd always like to see more all-ages titles (like Pat the Brat, Super Duck, Cosmo the Merry Martian, etc.) I'm afraid the number we have now is probably as many as the current direct sales market can bear.

* I had always assumed that Rang-A-Tang's name was supposed to make people think of Rin-Tin-Tin but it suddenly occurred to me his name is also how most people pronounce "Orangutan."  But why you'd name a dog after an ape is an entirely different matter.

The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of