Thursday, September 01, 2005

THINK ABOUT COMICS 4

By Pat Markfort

What Makes A Good Comic Book Store?

I had wanted to review Kevin Huizenga’s Or Else #3 for this week’s column, but my local store, Lost World of Wonders, didn’t have it. It’s possible they ordered a copy and it sold out before I got there (about 40 minutes after they opened), as they had a couple of copies of the first issue. Of course, it’s also possible that these couple of copies of the first issue were all they had ordered, so they didn’t bother with the second and third issues. Hard to say.

It’s frustrating. I spent the car ride back home complaining about the situation with David. We both tend to get pretty annoyed at lousy comic book stores. But, is it fair to call Lost World a lousy store? When we moved here a few months ago, we were actually quite pleased that we were so close to Lost World, as it’s probably the best of the comic book stores we’ve visited here in Milwaukee. It’s a very large, well organized store, divided just about in half, with a huge selection of manga and anime (the latter of which is available for rental in addition to purchase) on one side, and mostly superhero comic books and graphic novels on the other. I say mostly because Lost World pretty clearly does try to maintain a certain presence for “alternative” or “art” comics, as well as young children’s comic books and some comic strip collections in this section. You shouldn’t have too much trouble finding recent issues of Love and Rockets here, for example.

The staff of Lost World is extremely friendly and helpful. I almost always chat a bit about comics with the cashier who rings up my order every Wednesday. They offer a subscription service through the Previews catalogue, with a discount. They are willing to special order comics you may have missed, if they’re available. The store is always packed with enthusiastic customers on Wednesdays, and a generally friendly, bright mood pervades the atmosphere.

Sounds pretty good, right? Well, it is. I think Lost World of Wonders is a good store. Yes, it’s frustrating that the comics I’m most looking forward to in any given week are the ones I’m least likely to find there. Recently, I’ve had to go elsewhere for Michael Kupperman’s Tales Designed to Thrizzle and Hank Ketcham’s Complete Dennis the Manace. I don’t think they had any copies of the Frank King book, Walt and Skeezix, either. And now, Or Else #3. I think it’s a case of a well intentioned but perhaps slightly under skilled and under informed staff. I get the sense that, while philosophically, the proprietors of Lost World believe that they should carry a wide array of material, I think that the knowledge of and enthusiasm for “alternative” or “art” comics is simply not there. Which is a shame. I think it’s more a problem with the entire industry, though. Of course, retailers are part of the industry, aren’t they?

I try to look at it this way: It’s absurd that ANYTHING that falls outside of a SINGLE GENRE or work ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN JAPAN is considered “alternative.” Seriously, apply that situation in your mind to any other medium, and marvel and the absurdity. But, as ridiculous as it is, it is. That’s the way the comic book industry is right now, and most comic book fans seem to be fine with that. A good comic book store, then, should be set up to cater to these fans. The material that they are interested in should be readily available in the store, every week, and the staff of said store should be enthusiastic and knowledgeable about said material, while at the same time providing assistance to those (few) customers who crave something outside the narrowly defined “mainstream.” That’s what a good comic book store should do. Lost World of Wonders is a good comic book store.

But it’s not a great one. A great comic book store is the “alternative” comic’s best friend. A great comic book store realizes that the entire point of the direct market, as it was originally conceived, is to provide an alternative to the “mainstream,” as well as providing a place to buy superhero comics (and please don‘t misunderstand me…..I LOVE superhero comics. And manga. But I love comics more). A great comic book store realizes that it’s not there to simply serve the industry as it exists, but to work to actively change the industry for the better. To broaden the tastes of it’s existing customer base. To give special attention to books which deserve special attention. A great comic book store is staffed by employees who have a great knowledge of and enthusiasm for all types of comics, especially those deserving of great enthusiasm.

Lost World of Wonders is not a great comic book store.

I don’t know that Milwauke has a great comic book store. I know it needs one….but does it want one? The (mostly adult male) customers I observed at Lost World seemed more than content with the material available to them. Perhaps that’s where it has to start. Perhaps these men need to demand something more. Something better. Something worthy of the enthusiasm with which they purchased their weekly assortment of children’s super hero comic books. I’m sure the friendly and helpful Lost World staff would be happy to help them find such material.

If only someone would ask them.

****

Kick-Ass Children’s Super Hero Comic Books I Purchased This Week, and Brief Thoughts on Same:

*Shining Knight #4, by Grant Morrison and Simone Bianchi: This was the best new comic book I read this week. Morrison’s writing and Bianchi’s art blend together in a perfect alchemy, the result of which is a sort of “super hero comics as poetry” approach that works quite nicely. Galahad is a truly frightening antagonist, with Morrison’s trademark guttural moans used to good effect. A great conclusion to a really good series.
Do not reveal the secret of the Shining Knight!

*Astonishing X-Men #12, by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday. I keep referring to this as the “season finale.” Best moment: “That all you got… …bub?” I thought the resolution of the conflict with Danger and the Super Sentinel was a bit lame, but I liked the idea behind the rift between Xavier and his X-Men. In fact, it makes Danger seem like a much more interesting character in retrospect. Great last page. I really hope David talks about this comic, as his sensibilities in regards to the X-Men seem to perfectly match Whedon’s.

*JLA: Classifed # 11, by Warren Ellis and Butch Guice: Hideous cover. Much better insides. I like the way Ellis is telling this story. He’s doing a good job of reminding us all of the core concepts which make these iconic characters so appealing. Nice art by Butch Guice. Anyone know how long this story arc is supposed to be?

* New Avengers #9, by Brian Michael Bendis, Steve McNiven, and Mark Morales: Another nice looking comic book hiding behind an ugly cover. Anyone else wish McNiven was the regular artist on this book? Once the fury over Marvel’s obnoxious marketing and promotional efforts for this series have died down, I think people are going to realize it’s a pretty good superhero comic book.

* Astro City: The Dark Age - Book One, # 3, by Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson. This was pretty good. I’d sort of fallen away from Astro City but came back for this story arc, originally hinted at in a very early issue of the series. I think it’s pretty obvious where this first chapter is going, but it is only the first chapter in a much larger saga, so hopefully Busiek’s got some tricks up his sleeve. Very well crafted. I especially love Alex Ross’s character designs for this series.

****

Around the Internet:

*A couple of great comic books stores near my old stomping grounds: Big Brain Comics, Dreamhaven.
And in nearby Chi-Town: Quimby’s, Chicago Comics.

*Happy Anniversary Comic Book Galaxy!

* I’m going to ask David to update the Comics-And-More links to include some of my favorite comics related sites, so watch for that.

****

That’s all for this week, folks. I’m hoping to be back next Friday, although my schedule is about to become much busier than it has been, so a late column is not out of the question. I’ll do my best, though.

Thanks so much for reading! Comments are greatly appreciated.

- Pat Markfort
patmarkfort@yahoo.com

1 comment:

Lisa said...

Hi Pat - thanks for sending me a link to your site. As a comic book store owner myself, I wanted to elaborate on what retailers go through and a possible reason why they didn't have the things you were looking for.

1. Previews is a HUGE catalog with HUNDREDS of comics and graphic novels listed from independent publishers. Stores cannot carry one of everything, so unless they hear a buzz from customers or have people pre-ordering the comic, many comics will simply not be ordered by the store.

2. Most comic book readers, especially in this area of the country, are purchasing super hero comics and comics by the larger publishers, not indie comics. While it would be nice to support the indie industry by buying more of their comics, if customers are not buying them then the store won't continue stocking those items - it costs them both financially and in shelf space to stock comics no one is buying.

3. If they had #1 and no one purchased a single copy, they have every reason to expect that no one would purchase #3 - so they would not buy it. Now, if you asked them specifically for it and let them know you'd like to get every issue, they would probably order at least one copy because they knew they had a customer interested. But, if no one shows an interest the store HAS to eliminate the title. You said they take orders - if you want something they do not typically stock you HAVE to order it. Then you'll get it and everyone will be happy.

4. Some of those collected editions you mention - we've ordered them for our store only to have them sit and sit and sit without anyone showing any interest. Those that typically are purchase these on Amazon.com for a significant savings - sometimes our cost. We have stopped ordering many of these types of graphic novels because they cost us too much to have them sit without any interested buyers. If someone special orders one we will purchase it, but otherwise we just can't spend the money on something that no one is buying. Again - let the store people know and they can probably order the items for you.