Confessions of a Comic Book Guy is a weekly column by retailer Steve Bennett of Mary Alice Wilson's Dark Star Comics in Yellow Springs, Ohio.  This week, between his always entertaining asides, he covers in-store salesmanship.


Once more work unpacking this week's comic book shipment ceased so we could sit and read as a group Infinite Crisis #6; this time we had established special protocols banning audible exclamations of surprise, horror or amazement so as not to ruin an upcoming plot point for others.


Suffice it to say it was enjoyed by all, but it was also, undeniably, impenetrable claptrap; a comic so self-reverentially dense no light could escape its gravitational pull.  This wasn't just my opinion (although I thought it was at first).  I conducted a blind test, showing a copy to a friend who'd grown up reading comics and still stopped by Dark Star for the latest copy of Young Avengers when she was in town.


I'd say she had a good working knowledge of super-heroic conventions and even grasped the concept of multiple super-hero universes, yet she couldn't understand a word of it.

Not that she was supposed to; if ever there was a comic book designed to repel the casual reader it's Infinite Crisis.  To fully understand it not only do you need an encyclopedic knowledge of current DC comics, you have to have the original Crisis on Infinite Earth committed to memory.  It might as well have 'Hey, This One Isn't For You!' on the cover.


But then, it doesn't take much work to sell other comic book guys on it.  Retailers can (and should) put up the promotional posters and distribute the flyers provided by DC, and while positive word of mouth in the shops doesn't hurt it's DC that does most of the heavy lifting when it comes to hype.  Whether it's on web sites (their own and the news ones) and in publications like Wizard and CBG; basically everyone who could be interested in it is already interested in it, so it's just a matter of whether they have the money or not.


But I'm not here to gripe about Infinite Crisis (except that it should be weekly; I can't wait to read the ending), I want to write about salesmanship.  It's a topic that doesn't come up often enough in our business, mostly (I think) because we tend to think of sales as being a sleazy dodge where someone forces unwanted merchandise on unsuspecting consumers at inflated prices.


Plus most retailers I talk to generally don't think in terms of selling comics as much as talking to their customers about them; something as natural as breathing for most of us.  But this week a mother who'd never bought a comic book in her life, let alone read one, came into our store and wanted to buy a couple for her eight year old son.


First, I had to steer her away from the regular Marvels that wouldn't be appropriate for him - and I don't just mean when it comes to 'mature subject matter'.  There probably isn't anything in the current issue of Amazing Spider-Man his mother would deem inappropriate, but he's probably not going to enjoy a story almost entirely about Peter Parker testifying in front of a Senate Committee.


So I took her to the kid-friendly spinner and showed her Marvel Adventures Spider-Man, Scooby Doo, Simpsons, and Franklin Richards, Son of a Genius.  She picked out one each of the first two, along with a pack of Pokemon* cards, and happily exited.  I suppose you could call that 'salesmanship,' but it's really  just talking and listening, having and giving information; pretty much what you're probably already doing.


Like this week, when an adorable little girl came in and picked up a copy of the latest W.I.T.C.H. graphic novel and carried it around the store while her father browsed in our used book section.  Now, I like kids but as customers they tend to have a fatal flaw; they generally don't have their own money.


It's the parents who actually have to buy the things they want and getting them to buy one more (let's face it) completely nonessential item can be tough.  I overheard enough of their conversation to get that Dad had no idea that W.I.T.C.H. was the basis of an animated series running on the Disney channels, had a positive, girl-friendly tone and with 124 pages for only $4.95 was quite a bargain.


So I told him, which sold him.


I suppose Dark Star is luckier than a lot of other comic shops; we get a regular parade of civilians streaming in with an interest in comics.  And whether they want to know what's a good manga series for their twelve year old nephew or are just curious as to the parentage of Supergirl (today, I swear, I had a woman come in convinced she was the daughter of Superman and Wonder Woman), we've got the answers.  We've just got to be ready to give them.


*Just curious; has there been a sudden, inexplicable increase in interest in Pokemon cards at any of your stores?  As far as we can tell, hereabouts younger sibs have come into possession of their older ones' Pokemon card collections and now can't get enough of them.  If it's gone under your radar, Pokemon is just about to celebrate its tenth anniversary in America; whenever I want to make myself crazy I consider how the original Jonny Quest had only 26 episodes while there are well over 400 episodes of Pokemon -- and counting.