Friday, March 26, 2010

My Ideal Comics Shop

A little while ago, I wrote an almost-completely ignored post about what an ideal comics shop might look like. It garnered all of two comments (and one of them was from Nathaniel), so I just let it go and decided to never write the intended follow-up to that post.

But today, since I can't really think of anything else to write about, I figured I'd beat a dead horse, go back to the well, add one more cliche, and write about what my own, personal comic book shop would look like.

You know, if I had money to buy things like a store and product and all that.

Plus, since it's Friday, I'm in a pretty decent mood today and I feel like writing about comics. Tomorrow, I plan on going to one of my favorite comics shops in the afternoon and picking up a few things I haven't been able to find elsewhere. The shop is local, but it's not the shop I frequent every Wednesday for my new books.

This one's a little further away from home, and I don't have the same kind of personal connection to the store that I do towards my LCS. Still, the way this other store is set-up is pretty close to perfection in my eyes when it comes to how a comics shop should look, so I figured it'd be a good model to use when constructing an ideal store.

First of all, this shop has a lot of space. Which, I know, is not the easiest thing to come by these days. Rents (especially rents in the New York City Metro area) have climbed to near-impossible rates, and getting a decently-sized store in a good commercial area is easier said than done. And it's closer to Fantasyland than it is to Frontierland.

If that makes any sense.

But we're talking ideal here, so let's forget about silly things like practicality and money.

To me, the number one requirement when opening a comics shop is size. (Insert joke here.) There needs to be plenty of room for customers to walk around freely and to not bump into one another every time someone reaches up to grab a toy on that top shelf, or bends down to dig through a back issue bin.

A close second to the size of the shop is the amount of light the shop has. And this is incredibly important, especially when it comes to drawing non-comics-reading "civilians" into the store for the first time.

We've all been to the stereotypical, dark, dingy comic book store, right? There's that eerie, florescent track lighting with one or two panels out or flickering, and making that weird electronic noise just above your head somewhere in the back of the store.

And that's kinda creepy, especially when material, let's say, at the back of most comics shops is inherently creepy.

Lighting is crucial to the success (or, at least, un-creepiness) of any comics shop. Beyond the obvious curb appeal of looking into a bright, friendly-looking store, good lighting makes it easy to read the books that you're going to be buying. And the thing I always think of when I look into a new comics shop for the first time is, "would I let my kid go in there by himself?"

Now, clearly (and thankfully), I don't have a kid, but I'm close enough in mental stability to a twelve-year-old that I know what I'm talking about. If a parent can walk into a comics shop with their child once, look around, and be immediately at ease with the surroundings, that parent is more likely to let that child return to the store on his or her own in the future.

Which could lead to a life-long love for the comics medium.

After lighting comes smell. Smell is crucial. Smell is so important that it should be a non-factor. As in, there shouldn't be a smell. Other than the faint, musky odor of old books, there's no smell allowed. And ya know what? There shouldn't be a faint, musky odor of old books, either.

So, to clarify and to summarize--no smell in the store.

Okay, so, after size, lighting, and smell, comes product. Wait, no. That's not right. Um, let's go back a minute, can we? Before size, lighting, smell, and even product line, my ideal comics shop has a friendly, knowledgeable staff of people working on the floor and behind the counter.

Which, put simply, means, No Trolls Allowed.

Unfortunately, we've all had that experience with a guy (it's always a guy, so I'm not being sexist here) behind the counter who doesn't even bother to look up when a customer enters the store. He's rude and distanced, and when he rings up your books, he doesn't look you in the eye or say "thank you," and he stuffs your brand new comics into a bag carelessly.

In short, he's Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons, and while that character is hilarious and kinda whimsical on the show, in real life that person is terrifying. But like many stereotypes, this one is rooted in a half-truth, as there are certainly people like him in our hobby.

So, yeah, friendly staff that actually reads (and likes!) comics is a must for any store.

But after all that, a store is only going to be as good as the product it sells, so selection is key. Personally, I think a store owner needs to be familiar with the product he or she sells. More than that, I think a store owner needs to be passionate about the product he or she sells.

Sure, you need to know what's hot and what the fanbase is currently into, but you also need to add your own style to the selection. Which for me would mean a quality section of horror comics and an Eric Powell/Goon display.

Passion is contagious, and whenever a shop employee has honestly recommended something to me, I've given it a shot.

I also think a shop needs to have a nice balance of old and new. For example, if you have the current Ed Brubaker run of Daredevil trades in the store, you better also have the Frank Miller run from the 1980s.

Same goes with Batman. If you have Hush and RIP, it would only make sense to also carry multiple copies of The Dark Knight Returns and Year One.

Now, while I think the speculator sector is a scary one, I think back issues are a key factor in any good shop. Comics collectors come in all types, and a good number of folks are dedicated solely to vintage books.

So a nice selection of back issues is key, and I think every discerning shop needs to have a smattering of "Wall Books," or titles that sell for a premium. Sure, they're a large initial investment, but just having a blue chip book up on the wall can draw a crowd.

And that's always a good thing.

Finally (since I need to get to work!), I think adding a personal touch to a store is important. It shows you care, and it allows you to stand out from the rest. For me, adding a coffee bar, a couch or two, and some original art would make my shop like a home.

And that's about it. Nothing too fancy. How about you guys? What would your shop look like? Let us know, and in the meantime, Happy Friday!


Scott said...

The personality of the person behind the register does matter, yeah. My mother was reluctant to let me go to the comic shop because she thought the guy who owned it was a mean person who cheated me out of my Magic cards.

He was kind of rough around the edges.

I will say that a lot of the times I don't post comments, it's because I kind of wonder whether there's a point; sometimes it feels like talking to a wall.

Flashman85 said...

Apologies for that, Scott. Alex's schedule now leaves him with about 2 hours of physically/mentally exhausted free time per day (by my estimates), and I'm juggling a brand-new job, this blog, YouTube videos that I had scheduled to be finished in December, work on GameCola (which has recently been a high priority so that what I have to present is still relevant), a barbershop choir, volunteer work, a weekly D&D campaign, even the vaguest sense of a social life, and, if there's any time leftover, Tales of Monkey Island.

I work best when I've got a big block of time to work on creative endeavors such as writing, and sometimes it takes me a little while to warm up and present a thought-out response to a comment, especially 'cuz you and zharth tend to leave thought-provoking responses that require a little more detail in my response than, say, the average YouTube comment, which is usually a snap for me to answer, even if it's a little meatier than usual.

That's why I'll go back and sweep through multiple posts and respond to everything at once, rather than one at a time as comments first appear. As I mentioned in a post a little while back, I had been letting the blog slip a bit, but it's been a growing focus the past few weeks, and the next step is to get back into a regular schedule of responding to comments.

Of course, it doesn't help to be at PAX East this weekend and only have time to respond whilst I'm waiting for other people to get ready to leave in the morning, or late at night when I should really really be going to sleep.

As for the rest of the Internet, everyone is welcome to post comments here! You can post anonymously! The spambots do, you can too!

We absolutely appreciate the comments, though, Scott. Though seeing the statistics in our sidebar suggests that we may actually have readers, we're always glad to see that people are thinking about what we've written, and would take the time to say something to us.

So, to actually respond to the content-related part of your comment, I agree that personality is a big factor... once you're in the door. I've seen a few comics shops that I myself wouldn't have gone anywhere near if I weren't a grown adult and already into comics; outward appearance is key to drawing someone in, and personality/non-funky smells are key in preventing people from running off once they're there. Everything else Alex mentioned is for getting return customers, I should think.

Scott said...

I didn't mean to gripe at you guys, since I realize you do have lives! Sorry about that.

I guess one big thing is that my mental image of comic shops in general is really colored by the one I grew up with -- a large, very bright shop in the middle of the mall. It's hard for me to imagine the stereotypical dingy movie comic shop outside of anywhere but a movie.

I'm looking forward to your PAX write-up!

Flashman85 said...

No worries!

And the idea of a comics store in the mall is a little foreign to me, actually, as I've only ever seen that once, at a train station, and it was more the size of one of those newspaper convenience stores!

AJG said...

I, too, apologize for the lack of answers to comments. And in my case, it's my utter lack of a life outside of working and looking for work that makes for my utter lack of free time.

Which is just sad, really.

But to answer this comment, I'm with Nathaniel on the comics-shop-in-a-mall thing.

Not many like that anymore.

I was talking to a buddy last week about a store I remembered in my hometown when I was a little kid. It was a tiny little store in a strip mall and I remember going there once and buying a Batman toy.

Apparently, there was a large number of comics shops around where I grew up. Of course, this was in the 90s during the boom...