Tell us a little about your stores--number of square feet, product categories carried, type of location, number of years in business, type of customer base.
Collector's Edition (NLR) - 21 years in business - 3,200 square feet - Prime location in the building the was the first McDonalds in the state of Arkansas, on JFK Blvd which is also known was Hwy 107 - it is the main North Little Rock traffic artery, and I'm 2 1/2 blocks off the interchange of Hwys I-30 and I-40 and I-67 and I-167 (if you look at a map, these interstate highways all spin from the center of Arkansas like spokes off the hub of a wheel - with me at the center).
The Comic Book Store (LR) - 12 years in business - 2400 square feet - Prime location in the West part of Little Rock that is the center of the town's shopping (this location is not as visible as the JFK store, but has the same easy access and parking).
Both stores carry an extensive selection of new comics - with over 60% of the rack space dedicated to publishers other than Marvel or DC. Each store also carries a massive selection of back issue comics from the Silver Age to current - I've been told that it is one of the better such selections in the country. The customer base is identical at both locations - all ages and both genders. I do not carry 'Adults Only' of any kind, concentrating on creating a store ambience that is family friendly. Mothers think nothing of parking in front of the store and sending in their five year-old daughter unattended to pick up an Archie or manga.
What institutions (schools, libraries, churches, police, charities) do you interact with to accomplish this? Any specific examples and suggestions for other retailers would be useful.
Besides donations of comics for a variety of charity auctions, I also talk at libraries whenever asked.
When I first started 21 years ago, a lot of the local teachers had a negative attitude toward comics. They considered comics to be 'bad reading.' I had kids telling me that because they had bad grades, their parents had taken their comics away and made them play video games instead (I'm still trying to figure the logic of that one out!). I countered with the argument that comics are good reading. When you read a comic you are using the side of your brain that reads a book - in tandem with the side of the brain that interprets visual images.
Essentially, a comic book trains the two hemispheres of the brain to work in tandem - which is what made Einstein a genius. Whenever a child is picking up a big stack of comics, I'll comment to the parent about how their child probably does well in school. They always seemed surprised that I would know that. Reading comics trains the brain to absorb information. In classrooms, kids who read comics regularly are learning almost through osmosis. Now teachers are my biggest supporters. One had a student that they were considering putting in the mentally handicapped program, but first suggested that the parents try getting their son to read comics. A few years later this same boy was placed in the program for the gifted and talented.
For several years now, I've been a regular speaker at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock's Summer Youth Laureate Program for gifted and talented youth. They schedule five speakers, but always have to limit attendance to my session to only 100 students of the 300 in the program. Hey... if you were a kid and had the choice of listen to talks about stuff like Architecture, Agriculture, Flowers, or Comics - which would you choose? Even the hobby shop doing a demonstration of a remote control helicopter had poor attendance, while my class had lots of kids turned away by the teachers.
Concerning the police - it's amazing how many of my customers who shopped with me as children are now working in law enforcement, from cops to the military to the district attorney's office to lawyers. It's a shame that the message of 'with great power comes great responsibility' is being diluted by today's comics. Drama and personal anguish are one thing - disfunctional heroes are another.
How do you manage material for 'mature' readers in your store? Specifically, do you display material for different ages separately? Do your clerks compare the material to the purchaser at the checkout? Do you regulate browsing of mature materials by younger readers?
For mature titles, we bag and securely tape them shut - but do rack them with the regular titles. We do not draw attention to them by giving them a special section, and the packaging makes the books obvious at checkout. As it is, kids don't really seem to notice anything special about them. If a child does try to buy one, when we mention that we will need their parent's permission they usually just pick something different.
In the other cases - I've found that you cannot guess what parents think is and is not appropriate. One mother might not care about that women are naked - as long as they don't use bad language. The next doesn't care about the language, but gets mad about nudity. We make it their choice.
When parents come in with younger children, how do you interact with the parents to create a positive image of comics?
We have chairs for the parents to sit in while their children browse. We always greet every customer who walks in the door and offer our assistance. Parents in turn will tell us how much their children enjoy shopping at the stores because we treat each child as an individual, like we would any adult (actually, many of our children customers behave more maturely than some of the adults).
Do you carry adult (x-rated) comics? And if so, same questions as we asked about 'mature' products in #4 above.
Nope. Nadda. Never. I had one guy come in and ask for a copy of Jeffrey Dahmer versus Jesus Christ. When I explained my store philosophy, he said 'Okay' and left. The next day he called the other store. Recognizing the request, I repeated the answer I gave the day before - word for word. He replied, 'You're okay. I can see where you're coming from. But let me tell you, that guy in the North Little Rock store acted like I was some sort of pervert!' The second time he heard something, it made sense to him. But that first guy who said it was a jerk. I never told him that I WAS the first guy.
Have you ever had problems in your store with parents or others regarding the content of what you sell, how did you handle it, and what was the outcome?
I've only ever had one problem - when a preacher told a mother that Howard the Duck comics were a form a Satan worship. I had her come in, showed her a copy of #8 where Howard is running for President, and said; 'If seeking the oval office is a form of Satan worship, I can't defend against it.' She replied that maybe the preacher was trying to stir up a witch hunt.
How did you handle the comics appropriate for different age levels for Free Comic Book Day?
We put out the all ages comics for everyone to choose from. We devoted a counter by the register and told everyone who came in that they got to pick out a free comic. When a parent said that they were just along for the ride, we suggested they get a second comic for their child. Don't you know that the kid's head snapped to attention with that! Then the parents started wondering if they didn't really want one for themselves. The mature ones we only showed to a few adult customers. For us, they're basically useless. I'm not making a special section, or going to tell a child that he can't have a certain free book. That would be a negative experience.