I Think I Can Manage is a weekly column by retailer Steven Bates, who runs Bookery Fantasy, a million dollar retail operation in Fairborn, Ohio.  This week's column is part two of a two-parter on the death of comics.


As I see it, for the comic book industry to thrive (not just survive), a few things must occur.  First, DC and Marvel must voluntarily pull inward, reining-in their respective campaigns to grab every piece of the pie for themselves.  Publishing fewer titles of a better quality generating higher sales per comic ought to translate into stable profits.  So instead of a half dozen series chronicling the solo adventures of Rogue, Nightcrawler, Gambit, Kitty Pryde, Storm, and Professor Xavier's pool boy, publish a decent anthology; better yet, why not run the stories in the extant X-Men Unlimited?  DC could easily trim a little Batfat from its publishing schedule, as well as some Kryptonian clutter, freeing-up some of the consumer's cash each month.  Of course, DC and Marvel are afraid readers will buy books from the competitor, not from them, and they are reluctant to yield even a portion of their market share to the other guy(s). 


My gut feeling is that X-Fans and Bat-Fiends and Super-Friends will remain relatively loyal to their favorite characters.  Look at the recent rebirth of Green Lantern -- a corps of old-time Hal Jordan loyalists are helping to drive sales through the stratosphere, having waited years for the return of their favorite ring-slinger.  That loyalty can carry over to a company, a universe, or a family of titles. 


CrossGen customers were, for the most part, dedicated to the company, buying every new title as it came out -- until the publisher saturated the market with inferior titles and forced their supporters to be more selective.  For a brief, shining moment, it looked like the Florida-based upstart publisher was the golden child, offering a viable, saleable alternative to DC and Marvel.  CrossGen's self-destruction made many retailers wary of supporting small press comics.


However, retailers (and distributors) must support alternatives to the Big Two.  Going back to a previous column on diversification, a business with all its eggs in one basket is more likely to fail.  Experimenting with new, small press titles, and racking a section of something different, will make your store a destination point for more than just Marvel 'zombies' and 'Johnny DC's.'  Go slowly, cautiously, into alternatives -- there are too many of them, as well, and a lot of them are pure unadulterated CRAP -- and don't be afraid to leave them up a little longer than a month.  Many small press publishers print on infrequent schedules, and their supporters are not as Pavlovian, with the monthly mindset of most mainstream collectors.  This can be a huge advantage over the serial super-hero offerings, which are often virtually unsellable a week after release.  In some cases, such as Johnny the Homicidal Maniac or Milk & Cheese, a small press comic can be 'evergreen,' selling strongly for months or years after its initial release.


Some stores, like Laughing Ogre in Columbus, Ohio, and Quimby's in Chicago, have built both a clientele and a reputation over the years by promoting alternative fare.  By supporting, stocking, and displaying, small press, ground level, and underground comics, these shops have buffered themselves from the retail rollercoaster ride sometimes associated with the Big Two, particularly Marvel (remember Heroes World?  Bankruptcy?  Bill Jemas?).  I'm not even sure you can buy a Marvel in Quimby's, and if they stock DCs, you can bet it'll be Vertigo.


With home computers capable of generating graphics and letters once reserved for big publishers, and cheap printing options available both here and overseas, it's become almost too easy for amateur creators to crank out a self-published comic.  As I iterated above (just so I could reiterate here), there's a huge steaming pile of small press titles, waiting to steal your money.  Be careful out there -- ordering in garbage will do nothing for your business but eat away your bottom line. 


While many small press publishers advocate an 'open door policy' at the distribution level, I say distributors must become more selective in what they support (that includes Cold Cut, FM, and others, not just Diamond), in order to protect retailers from wasting their time, energy, and money, investing in scrap paper.  As harsh as this may sound to some, the truth is that not every comic has merit, not every artist can draw, not every writer can tell a story.  Clogging your shelves, your backstock, and your dumpster, with this material is a waste of resources.  Be discriminate.  Your customers will be.


Realistically, most stores cannot afford to abandon DCs and Marvels, nor should they.  Both publishers are employing great writers and artists, who are arguably producing the best super-hero (and peripheral) comics ever created.  These books sell, and sell well, offering a decent mark-up and a predictable sell-through.  Most importantly, your customers want them, and it is your responsibility to provide for them (if you care about paying the bills, that is).  However, expanding your repertoire and offering a few alternatives should also be a priority, as it may help you increase both your traffic and your sales, by attracting a new clientele not so keen on spandex tights and domino masks.  But be careful -- all alternatives are not created equal, so use some caution as you wade into the small press pool.  With some research, common sense, and a little luck, you'll find a mix of small press alternatives that your customers will appreciate and buy.  Who knows -- you may even find a few you like.


            Comic books are dying.  Not at my store.  How about yours?



List of Small Press/Alternative I Recommend

30 Days of Night:  Bloodsuckers Tales

Army of Darkness




Dr. Blink, Superhero Shrink


GI Joe

Gold Digger



Johnny the Homicidal Maniac

Nightmares & Fairy Tales

Queen & Country

Shaolin Cowboy


Sonic the Hedgehog

Strangers in Paradise

Stray Bullets


Recommended Trade Paperbacks



Clan Apis

Milk & Cheese


Pakkin's Land

Silly Daddy

Tale of One Bad Rat

Walking Dead

Wandering Star