Talk the Talk, Walk the Walk is a new weekly column by Kendall Swafford of Up Up Away! in Cincinnati, Ohio.  This week, Kendall Swafford reports on the recently completed ComicsPRO Annual Meeting in Memphis.

I’ve taken up the task (and opportunity) of reporting on this year’s ComicsPRO annual meeting.  My point of view is this; I’m a single-store owner, having purchased a failing existing store in 2006.  I joined ComicsPRO about 18 months ago, and this is my second annual meeting appearance.  I am speaking strictly retailer to retailer, and I wanted to share my experience with both the ComicsPRO members unable to attend, and any serious, professional, successful retailers that are wondering why the heck they should join ComicsPRO.

I’m not a joiner by nature.  It’s not that I think I know it all, seen it all, done it all, I’m just not that social.  In the fall of 2008 I’d come to the conclusion that ComicsPRO was important; not only to me and the success of my business, but to the industry as a whole.  Many professional organizations have come and gone, but I believe ComicsPRO has a long shelf life.  And that’s never more evident than at the annual meeting. Just joining’s not enough, though.  We’re not just chasing members for the dues, although clearly, the money is important to keep ComicsPRO viable.  We’re looking for a few good men.  And women.  Retailers that are passionate about the alchemy of selling comic books and believe in themselves and their strategies and their stores.

For the second year in a row, day one is DC Day.  DC Entertainment believes in us as an organization.  DC Entertainment wants to interact with retailers that are serious, passionate, tireless advocates for the artform of comic books, and the art of selling comic books. DC puts their money where there mouth is, filling the entire day with programming that matters.  The big change in DC Day this year was the reduction of editorial presentations of upcoming product, and a quantum leap forward in the interaction and two-way conversations between DC and the attending retailers.  DC puts their money where there mouth is by sending the most important cogs in their wheel to interact with us; CO-Publishers Jim Lee & Dan Didio, VP of Sales Bob Wayne, Token Suit John Rood, Vertigo boss Karen Berger and a small army of other staffers.  These people realize our time is as valuable to us as theirs is to them, and we spent the day trading real, high-level, forward-looking ideas and building a consensus on the concerns retailers collectively share.  Honesty was welcomed and valued, and opposing points-of-view were never discouraged.  With the recent realignment of DC’s management team and strategy, many have been unsure of DC’s plans going forward, and how a group like ComicsPRO fits into those plans.  Whether I spoke to them as a whole, or any of them individually, I walked away feeling like DC values their relationship with ComicsPRO more than ever, and as Martha Stewart taught us, that’s a good thing.

Day one wrapped with a very special party at the Rum Boogie Café on Beale Street, courtesy of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.  Chatting with Jeff Smith was a gas, but the best fun for me personally was sharing drinks and swapping stories with Paul Levitz.  I’d never met Paul before, and as all of you should know, direct market retailers would have a much tougher row to hoe without Paul’s tireless behind-the-scenes efforts on our behalf.  Honestly, I don’t believe any of us would be doing this if not for Paul.  It was an honor to hang with him for a short time this week, and Paul was honored with the first annual ComicsPRO Industry Appreciation Award.

Day two was devoted to most of our other sponsors; BCW Supplies, ComiXology, IDW, BOOM! Studios, Archaia Comics, Dark Horse, Radical, Top Shelf, Graphitti Designs, Reed Exhibitions, Top Cow, Diamond Comic Distributors, Bitter End Systems (MOBY) and Image Comics featuring the keynote address by Robert “I’m the worst public speaker ever” Kirkman.  Whew!  Again, editorial presentations were limited, but open forums on such topics on Digital Publishing and Looking Forward were the order of the day.  Throughout the day, the conversations were often freewheeling, always open-minded, and rarely if ever contentious.  Whether you’re a fan of these publisher’s (or manufacturer’s) product lines or not, their love and passion for the medium and for the business is infectious.  Hang out with Chip Mosher for more than five minutes & you’ll see what I mean. Like many of us, they live and breathe this stuff.

Day three wrapped with a BOOM! Studios breakfast and saying goodbyes to everyone.  I’d be remiss in not mentioning all the time spent with friends and colleagues new and old; during meals, cocktail parties, elevator rides and more.  Every minute spent with these fine folks is a minute I learned something new.  Jud Meyers and I discussing (and completely agreeing about) how important music is to the atmosphere of your store.  He gave me “Customer Playlists” and I gave him “Disco Wednesdays.”  Disagreeing with Ben Trujillo about the parallels (or lack thereof) between digital comics and digital music, and at the same time, thanking him for persuading me to buy MOBY last year.  Taking notes from George Stasky about A) the challenges of running multiple stores and B) great imported beers.  Taking more notes from Phil Boyle about multi-store operations, and the merits of a great web presence such as his. And promising Amanda Emmert to step up my volunteer efforts within the organization.

Amanda Emmert, ComicsPRO’s Communications Director, is tireless.  Unwavering in her support of the organization, these meetings (and literally a thousand other things) just couldn’t happen without her tireless efforts.  If you attended the meeting and didn’t thank her in person, do it now.  If you missed the meeting or are not a member yet, know that Amanda is on your side, and the group couldn’t function so efficiently without her.  I bring this up about Amanda because she needs us.  ComicsPRO needs us. More members. More volunteers. I know I know, you’re busy.  I’m busy.  We’re all busy.  I can think of six different things I should be doing instead of this.  But this is important.  ComicsPRO needs volunteers, big and small.  Ask Phil about his committee, or Atom! about his, and all too often too much gets done by too few. And I’m not throwing stones, I’ve not done my part.  But I’m here now, and I’m telling you it can be done.  It’s important.

With early census estimates placing our retail community north of 2,400 storefronts, ComicsPRO has tremendous potential for growth.  We’ve proven that the giants in our industry respect us collectively, and value our contributions individually.  Our voice can only grow louder, but not without you.  If you’re already a member, thank you.  Consider taking a few minutes a day or a few hours a month to lend a hand.  If you’re not a member, the math is simple; member benefits more than pay for the membership.  I won’t take the time now to review the many member benefits available, but Rick Lowell is constantly looking for (and finding) great deals for ComicsPRO members.  What you get from this organization is far more valuable.  You get to share ideas, concerns and questions with fellow retailers from all over the country, and a few over the border.  You get to be part of a professional community that is respected by the people that help shape this industry.  And you get the sense that we’re all in this together, and everything’s gonna be at least OK, and probably a whole lot better than that.  Sounds like a comic book I may have read once...

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