Thank you to everyone’s support and keeping shopping habits semi-consistent during the past 6 weeks. We have gone through a ton of changes since the last blog post graced the internet! New owner and new goals have changed the state of The Hive!
West Texas Esports is recording a Podcast today with us as their guest! Luke Gonzales will be here shortly, and we will be going over Magic the Gathering and Comic Books. Follow West Texas Esports @westtexasesports on Facebook and @westtexasesport on Twitter (no ‘s’).
As I start this article, let me first provide a very quick back story on how the retail side of the comic book industry has operated for the past 30-40 years. For a more in-depth look, Dan Gearino has an awesome book about the history of the comic shop as we know it today and you should definitely check it out.
Prior to the 70’s, if you wanted to purchase comic books, you rode your bike to the closest drug store or news stand and bought whatever they might have in stock in the spinner rack. You might find that next issue of Fantastic Four, or they might all be gone, or didn’t even come in; it was really a luck of the draw.
The drugs stores and news stands would then “return” covers or proof showing that the comics did not sell and would then receive credit from the publishers. Just like with all things, some people are unscrupulous and were essentially robbing the publishers by selling the “unsold” copies under the table and getting the credit on top.
Birth of the “Direct Market”
The advent of the specialty comic shop came right along with the direct market. Basically, a distributor would become the middle man and these burgeoning shops would now buy their comics from said distributor on a non-returnable basis. This, obviously, seemed like the best route for publishers because now, once the product has been purchased by the comic shop, the shop is now the one responsible for the loss if it doesn’t sell.
And things have continued like this for many moons…but today, there seems to be a shift occurring.
There are those like Brian Hibbs from Comix Experience, Chuck Rozanksi of Mile High Comics, and Phil Boyle of Coliseum Comics in Florida that would all scream, YES! These are not young’uns that recently opened shops. These are guys that have been in this industry for nearly a CENTURY of combined experience.
We can also see the national organization for retailers, ComicsPRO, speaking out that something is not right in this industry.
There are practices that are being performed in the market today that are detrimental to the well being and long lasting health of the industry. Publishers are slamming the customer with variant after variant and major cross-over after major cross-over (just to be retconned in a year or so). The idea of more is better is far from the reality of what many shops are dealing with.
In the January catalogue of new products, over half of the new releases were actually just variant covers. Let that sink in.
Shops are being placed between a rock and a hard place because publishers are making the reader / collector feel that they must have it all. The customer is being milked like an ATM.
I’ve had customers in my shop tell me, “I don’t even want to get (insert issue that has a tie in to the current history-changing, cross-over event) but I guess I have to so I can get the whole story.” I told that customer, “No, you don’t. Get what you WANT to read, and leave the rest.”
So, is it all DOOM and GLOOM?
Not at all.
I will not dive into the practices the biggest publishers use. There is plenty of negativity out there on the subject. This is a celebration of the publishers that are making progress!
These are 5 companies who care about, not only, the longevity of the industry, but the customer as well.
Alterna Comics has absolutely exploded in growth. Why?
Price. At $1.50 for most of their single issues, you can literally buy every title they release in a week and spend less than $7.
Retailer ordering. I can order directly from their company (no middle man), get free shipping, and a steeper discount than if I order via the sole comic distributor (Diamond Comics.)
Buy back programs. It didn’t sell, they’ll buy it back or offer trade credit.
Do not let the price make you think that this is bargain basement stuff. These are quality comics at a sane price. The reason they can get buy with lower prices is that they use old-school news print for the interior pages!
Do comics really need to cost $7.99 and up for a single issue??? Using the inflation calculator, a 12 cent comic from 1965 would cost 97 cents today.
If you lean more toward the superhero genre, but are suffering from cross-over fatigue or the status quo that the genre seems to hold dear, you need to look into Valiant.
Like, the previously mentioned, publishers, Valiant has expanded into offering returnability on products that have not sold. They have a very curated selection. They know what they do well and focus on that.
Image is probably the most well-known of these publishers and, in terms of sales, are sitting at 3rd behind Marvel and DC. So to see a premier publisher make strides to support the retailer and customer is SUPER exciting.
No-risk number 1’s. New titles will be available for return if not sold.
Curation. While some companies are trying their dang-est to take over the market share (Dynamite): Image is like “We only want to put out great products and stories.”
Double down discounts on issues after the series premier. Hey, let’s not just focus on selling issue 1, let’s see if we can keep selling at issue 3, 5 or so on.
Increased discounts on graphic novels. Graphic novels are becoming a more popular source for comics than single issues. Image is at the forefront of that wave.
I can totally see Image replacing one of the kings of the mountain very soon if they keep this up. Total Game of Thrones style, but with less sibling love.
This is the beginning.
It seems that every month since January, more and more publishers are taking the state of the comic industry seriously and are offering plans to keep us all healthy.
As you can see, most of these initiatives revolve around returnability.
What does mean for you, the reader? It means that I can offer YOU the ability to exchange the comic. If you’ve been following us the past month or so, you’ve seen us feature books that are exchangeable. If the publisher believes in the book and when I know, as a retailer, I can return it to them if copies go unsold, it gives me confidence to promote it! Nothing is better than easing a customer’s fears and helping them see that there is no risk on their end.
It means that you’ll see us promoting the companies more and more. They have great stories they support the retailer and the customer. They deserve your patronage because they are earning it. They are working their butts off to publish the best stories and are willing to humble themselves and woo you.
Your money is a vote. You work hard for it. Am I saying to stop reading your favorite titles from Marvel and DC? Not at all. You read what you want, remember? All I am asking that you give a bit more attention to some of these publishers that value the customer and the retailer and show it by their actions.
One topic that you’ll undoubtedly hear, if you hang around the shop long enough, is literacy.
We’ve written blogs on it. We’ve spoken at cons about it. We push it often. Why?
Literacy is a foundational skill. Like any other skill, it has to be developed, grown, and challenged in order to improve and provide use. My wife is currently teaching our 4 year old daughter how to tie her shoes. It requires dexterity, coordination, and TONS of patience. But, the intent is that, with continued practice and time, it will become second nature to our Little Middle.
Unlike tying shoes, however, literacy is a skill that is vital for functioning as a fully-formed human, and sadly, it is a skill that is evading a large number of kids in our area.
The definition of literacy includes the ability to read, write, comprehend, and gain useful knowledge. This means that we have to be able to not only read well, but take that information and synthesize it into something beneficial. Medication labels, microwave dinners, power tools, you name it, all require you to be able to read and put the information to use.
Take a look at this infographic.
And this one.
So how do we get kids to love reading? How do we get kids to want to read?? Give them books of ALL sorts. We need to put books in kids’ hands that speak to them and get them excited. If they show an interest in something, get them books about that subject. If your kid loves history, get them books about history. If your kid loves weather, get them books about how weather works. If they love the super hero movies that come out on a quarterly basis, get them comic books!
When a kid finds something that excites them and makes them want to read, even if it’s “above” their reading level, they’ll find a way to read it.
Read with your KIDS! This is vital. Spend time reading with them and having them read to you. Let them see YOU reading. When kids see mom and dad bringing home new books and stocking the home with stuff to read, it promotes the importance of reading in their eyes. Get down in the floor with your little and crack open some of your favorite comics and show them how the panels work. Show them your excitement for the characters and it’ll become contagious.
Our shop keeps lots of the most popular young reader titles in stock: everything from Dog Man to Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Smile. We also have tons of older comics that they can stock up on for a buck a piece.
What is the main take-away? Make books a priority for your littles. Make time to read with them, and for them to have solo reading time.
In short, read often and read a variety of material and make sure that it is fun and exciting. Your kids will thank you for it later on and you’ll help improve the future for them and our community.
Our goal is to promote non-reading and illiteracy, primarily focusing on the plague that is COMIC BOOKS.
Let’s look at the facts:
Comic books have been shown time and time again to increase a child’s desire to read. As their desire to read increases, so does their vocabulary and their confidence in literacy. As their literacy increases (especially by grade 3), the child is at greater risk for becoming a NON FELON and staying out of the prison system. This is intolerable.
Comic books can be a GATEWAY into the “enlightening” world of ART. Children that read comics can be in danger of falling into a creative lifestyle of paint, sketching, color, and who knows what else. Being an artist leaves little room for developing evil plans as a criminal mastermind. Creative arts aren’t nearly as lucrative as ransoming the Earth’s population for trillions of dollars at the threat of erupting every volcano simultaneously. Can a starving artist really pay for your nursing home care?
Comic books can teach empathy, compassion, differing views, and a whole host of noble qualities. What parent wants to raise a child that sees sacrifice for the greater good and standing up for the little guy as characteristics to strive for??
Lastly, and most hurtful; comic books have villainized an entire people group… Villains. We villains are tired of being foiled and having our misfortune publicized for all to see. Not only do we have to suffer the bitterness of defeat on a constant basis, but our lowest points are published on a regular basis for all ages to see. Every Wednesday new comics arrive at comics shops across the country and, every week, we are harassed and embarrassed. It’s like getting punched in the face by Batman over and over.
So, fellow villains and vile parents, let us take a stand here and now and say a loud NO to the comic industry! We will not stand by any longer and allow our bad names to be made public for all to see. We will not stand by and let YOUR kids become literate and upstanding citizens. We will not allow the comic giants to shove their propaganda in the face of our youth any longer.
So, maybe you just went and saw the new VENOM movie staring everyone’s favorite alien costume. Or, perhaps, you’ve been watching The Big Bang Theory and you have thought to yourself, “You know, I wanna jump into this whole comics thing, but I just don’t know where to start.”
Comic books have reached a really interesting point where they are influencing blockbuster movies, top-rated TV shows, and best selling video games, but, for someone jumping into the medium, it can be a rather daunting task and it can really lead to many people giving up trying.
I want to take some time and help you get a feel for some GREAT stories and see if we can’t turn you into a raving fan of a truly American medium.
When taking polls and doing research, it seems that there are a few main reasons that people have a hard time jumping into comic books:
Comic shops seem like an impenetrable and intimidating point of entry.
There are TOO many stories and characters to keep up with.
There is so much history and way TOO many issues to try and catch up.
I want to try comics, but I really don’t care much for superheroes.
I just don’t know where to start.
Do any of these sound like you? Let’s talk and see if we can’t ease some of the anxiety of jumping into comic books.
There are a couple of ways that people tend to enjoy comics, single issues and trade paper-backs / graphic novels.
For those that are new to this world of comic books, I’m going to let you in on the best bit of information in retail; every Wednesday is NEW COMIC BOOK DAY! That’s right, every week we receive a new shipment of comics that are fresh from the publishers. We get boxes full of new stories every week!! Most single issue comics are released from publishers on a monthly or bi-monthly basis, much like a magazine. So every week we get a new rotation of books to enjoy.
Trade paper-backs consist of individual issues that have been collected into volumes based on story arcs. They allow you to get an entire story or, at least, a chapter of a larger story in one book.
Graphic novels are basically books that are written and published in comic form. The material has never been released as a single issue format and then collected, but only as a stand alone work. Raina Telgemier’s “Smile” and Art Spiegelman’s “Maus” are both great examples of “original” graphic novels.
With this information in mind, we have a few different options when it comes to jumping into comics.
1. Start with the all-time greats.
At our shop we have a wall section that features some of the all-time best sellers. These are books that have influenced the industry even decades after their initial release. For anyone looking to jump in, this is a great starting point.
Titles you’ll find include:
The Dark Knight Returns
Marvel Superheroes: Secret Wars
DC Crisis on Infinite Earths
Sandman Preludes and Nocturnes
Daredevil Born Again
X-Men God Loves, Man Kills
X-Men Dark Phoenix Saga
These are all titles that we keep on hand and most are award-winning stories. The sales numbers and accolades don’t lie; if you want to start, but aren’t sure where to begin, this is your best bet because these storylines will help you start a relationship with many great authors and characters that you can then begin to explore and collect.
2. Try out our “Dollar Value Menu”
First, let me say that this idea is not my original creation, but I got it from Ron Killingsworth from Collected Comics and Games out of the DFW area.
We stock a slew of $1 reprints of the first issue of a series. This allows you to get a taste of the series for very little initial investment. If you hate it, it was only a buck and, most likely, you spent more on coffee earlier that day.
But, it you like it, bring us the reprint wave it in our face and we give you $1 OFF of volume 1! How cool is that? The comic becomes a coupon, and you get to keep it. This is a great way to start and catch up on titles that you’ve been reluctant to try.
3. Start with new series launches and reboots.
This way is a little more of a trick, but we have new stories starting every week! Every Wednesday is NEW COMIC BOOK DAY!! It is the best day of the week because we get a whole slew of new books and many of them are series that are just starting or, possibly, a reboot of a current character.
Come by on a Wednesday and we can point out great jumping in points on first issues!
4. Grab some $1 back-issue comics.
What’s a “back-issue”? Basically, it is an issue that was released previously and has been out for anywhere from a month to years. This is a great and affordable way to stock up on a variety of different stories that might interest you.
Once you find something that piques your interest, then you can start your own journey of collecting other issues to complete the story or track down the corresponding trade paper back editions.
5. Visit a local shop and talk to the staff and owners.
We get it. You probably think of the Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons when you think of interacting with the people at a comic shop.
While this may be true in some shops, it is our mission at The HIVE to NOT be that guy. We at The HIVE really try to make all people feel welcome when they come in to our shop. I, personally, love to see families come in to see what comics are all about. We will not make you feel inadequate because you are a “noob” and we won’t look down on you because you aren’t familiar with some particular character or creator. We will not yell at you because you referenced a scene in a movie that was not really part of the comic book cannon.
Just saw Venom and want to read some stories that feature Eddie Brock and his alien symbiote? We can point them out for you!
My job is to help people find stories that they will love for years and years. That’s it. Who better to ask about comics than people who loved the medium so much, they opened a shop to promote it.
When you are ready to jump into the amazing, fun, emotional, moving, beautiful, and engaging world of comic bookdom, The HIVE is here for you.
Reading is a vital component of being a productive member of society, but seems to be oft overlooked in favor of other pursuits. I will spare you from the enormous amount of research available, but I will hit on some of the main points that must be addressed if we want to see our local and national communities thrive.
3rd Grade is vital
Stop forcing kids to read “the classics”
85% of children in juvenile detention are functionally low literate.
Hopes of college can be squashed by 3rd grade.
So why is 3rd grade so important? It’s important because it has shown to be a crossroad of sorts. Curriculum tends to switch by the time fourth grade rolls around. Fourth grade can tend to focus more heavily on math. This means that students that were struggling with developing their reading skills, if they are not confident in them, will really be left behind as math is now the main focus for the next few years. It is kind of assumed that the child can now read, so let’s leave that subject and move on. The implication is that a child who is not currently at a 3rd grade reading level by the time 3rd grade rolls around, the child will have a significant disadvantage in growing in the ability.
Check out what the Reading Foundation has to say about the importance of 3rd grade literacy:
Reading is the most crucial academic skill because it is the foundation for learning. Through third grade children are learning to read; after third grade students read to learn. … In fact, one of the most important predictors of graduating from high school is reading proficiently by the end of third grade.
So, if a student is unable to read well by the third grade, imagine how hard it will be to continue to learn new topics as the child gets into upper grades. The child will be at a perpetual disadvantage with a very strong possibility of dropping out. Highschool dropouts are 3.5 times more likely to be arrested and 47-63% probability of incarceration.
There is some compelling data that states that most people that are incarcerated have a low 6th grade reading level: some studies site it as possibly even a 3rd grade level. One could conclude that a child’s life course is set by grade 3. This is both frightening and sobering.
What does all this mean?
It means that we need to meet kids where they are and to pursue them with urgency. It means that maybe we should open up to different types of literary works and stop forcing kids to read as punishment and out of obligations to the classic approach to engaging literature. Maybe we should ease up on making kids read “classic” novels that have no bearing on their current lives and interests.
There is a ton of research out there that shows the benefits of getting comics into the classroom. Kids love and need comics. If you think that kids today are too fast paced and too engaged in there games and phones to care about comics, I challenge you to put a comic in their hands, or better yet sit down and enjoy it with them.
It starts at home.
Find stories that your kids love and then READ to them from an early age. It helps to develop a love of hearing stories which can then translate in to the love of reading stories. Fill your home with book and let your kids see you reading. Share you love of comics and graphic novels with them. Lay down in the floor and read the newest issue of Batman with them. As I’ve mentioned before, get a stack of your comics and leave them in your kid’s room.
Don’t force reading and don’t make it an obligation. We want kids to see reading as fun and something that they want to do! Reward reading! Get creative with the rewards.
As part of our shop’s mission, we hope to improve the lives of kids in our area by helping them develop this vital ability. Our loyal friends that support us also support our mission because every purchase made at The HIVE helps to put comics in the hands of the kids in our school district as we donate books to schools.
Let’s work with our teachers, schools, and librarians to make some much needed changes and continue to invest in the future of our children.
This might seem like a really odd choice of topic, especially since I own a shop that SELLS comic books, but bear with me as I try and explore 3 different approaches to collecting that can help you get much more enjoyment out of our favorite hobby.
Before you get too up in arms about the collectability of comics, I am not here to bash collectors or those that look to turn a profit on the books they purchased. It is a part of our market and as a comic retailer, I sell some books for more than cover price as well. I simply want to offer a different view point and mindset that can help the new-comer or the fan that is getting fatigued from the relaunches, crossovers, and fighting to find issues to stories.
Stay with me and I hope you will see that I have both the fan’s and the industry’s best interests in mind.
Did you know that at one point comic books weren’t considered collectible items? Way back in the “golden age” of comics (1930-1958), they were considered throw-away entertainment. You could purchase them for 10 cents from the drug store, roll ’em up and stuff ‘ em in your back pocket as you hopped on your bike and rode to your friend’s house. Your mom would then inevitably be cleaning out your messy room, come across your stack of funny books and then throw them in the trash. Many comics were recycled during WWII to use the paper for bonds.
Comics didn’t actually start to become seen as collectible until the early infancy of the specialty comic shop in the mid-late 60’s and early 70’s. It was at this time that a few store owners realized that since customers were missing books in their collection, that they could RAISE the cost of the book due to demand. This is the advent of the back-issue market.
Back issues are essentially issues that have already released and been available on the market for a given period of time. Maybe 1 week, maybe 10 years.
Fast forward to the 90’s. The nineties were a time of boom and bust in the comic industry. The idea of “collectability” was at it’s most insane peak. People were lining up around the block to buy the newest Image release or the new X-MEN #1 in hopes that they could soon retire on their purchase, because hey, that Amazing Fantasy #15 is worth a pretty penny so every comic must be worth something, right?? People were buying new books (especially #1’s) in the hundreds and the publishers were taking full advantage of the market by releasing different covers and generating as much hype as they could.
Unfortunately, the industry forgot a very basic law of business: supply and demand. Yes, that Action Comics #1 is valuable because most were destroyed, recycled, and used for baby wipes (true story…it hurts my heart). Therefore, the demand is high, but the supply is limited which automatically creates the opportunity for an increased value. X-MEN #1 from the 90’s sold 7 MILLION copies. Anytime there is that number of something floating around, it greatly affects the supply and demand relationship.
Now days, most comics are not printed in near the quantity of the 90’s, but that still doesn’t mean that it will automatically become a valuable issue. Some publishers still like to play the collectability game by manufacturing perceived value with variant covers (limited edition or different covers, same story inside) or constantly putting out #1 issues. All this can lead to short term increases in value, but for the most part, it can leave many fans and people wanting to get into comics feeling run ragged and burnt out.
Did you know that Diamond Comics Distributors, the sole distributor for pretty much all comic books, makes it clear to retailers that they do not sell “collectibles.” They sell periodical magazines, essentially. Entertainment.
Now, let that sink in. Entertainment.
I would argue that comic books are one of the only types of entertainment in which you can purchase a product, take it home, read it, and in a few years decide to resell. You can’t do that with a movie ticket. I can’t go to the theatre, pay for a ticket, watch the movie, and then come back in a few years and ask for a percentage of my ticket back. Or, better yet, ask for more than what I originally paid. Comics offer that, and it can be a great benefit of the hobby, but I would like to challenge you to stop thinking of comics solely in terms of collectability and I would like to offer 3 ways to maybe let you enjoy comic books with a breath of fresh air and less fatigue.
Start collecting stories.
Comic books are just that: stories. They have characters, plot lines, twists and turns. Stories.
Find a story you like then ask yourself “what do I like about this story?” Is it the character development, the emotional pulls, the little, hidden treasures that you find through out?
Once you can narrow down what it is about the story that pulls you in, then you can start to branch out and find NEW stories that are similar. Get recommendations from a trusted source (we at The HIVE love to point out things that you can try) and this can open you up to entire worlds of awesome stories that you might not have ever thought of.
The freeing part is that when you start to “collect” stories instead of comics, the worry about potential future monetary value is replaced with personal value as you dive head first into tales that move you. Getting into this mindset also opens up the possibility of collecting the Trade Paper-Back editions (comics collected into volumes for one story) which allows you to get entire chunks of story in one setting for less cost than tracking down single issues. For more on graphic novels and trade paper backs, check out our blog here :
All comic stories have something in common. They have a writer and an artist, which leads me to the next idea.
2. Don’t just collect titles or characters, collect creators.
What I mean is, those good stories you like, they were created by someone or a team of “someones”. Find out who those people are! Chances are that if you liked this particular story from them, then you will probably like their other work as well.
This is my particular method of collecting. I have my stable of creators that I follow and gradually add new ones to the mix. I don’t necessarily collect Spidey comics, but if a writer or artist that I like is working on a run of Amazing Spider-Man, then I will read those issues.
For example, I’m not a huge fan of the character of Thanos. But, when I found out that one of my favorite writers, Donny Cates, was doing several stories with the character, I had to get them. Cates brought a new and fresh take on the Mad Titan and I’m super glad that he is currently killing it over at Marvel.
Some of my favorite creators are Brian K. Vaugh, Donny Cates, Scott Snyder, Robert Kirkman, Nick Spencer, Gail Simone, Cecil Castelluci, Fiona Staples, Raina Telgemier, and Geoff Shaw.
I collect creators and the stories they tell. If they bounce around from publisher to publisher, I follow. If they start writing a certain character, I will most likely pick it up.
Just remember, the characters are only as good as the people behind the story and art.
3. Let kids read YOUR comics.
This is possibly the most terrifying bit of advice that I can give, but, I feel that it will drastically change your feelings towards the “collectability” of comics.
Kids have such unabashed joy with comics and when a child gets one, they have no concern about if it will be worth anything in the future. They simply love the pictures and stories.
Wouldn’t it be great to share your passion and hobby with your kids: to see your favorite characters and stories through their fresh and unjaded eyes? Kids aren’t snobbish, biased, and have little concern for market trends.
Obviously, keep the books you share with the kids in your life “age-appropriate.” Please don’t go sharing Saga or anything written by Garth Ennis with your 6 year old!
Out of the 3 ideas I’ve proposed here, this one might be the most important one you can do.
Our culture needs kids getting into comics and reading. The industry needs more kids getting into stories and developing a love for the sequential storytelling medium. It is VITAL for the continuation of our hobby and the creators that are out there.
Try it today.
Go home, bust open your long box, take that copy of X-Men #1 out of the plastic sleeve and lay down in the floor with your child and let them enjoy it. Better yet, grab a stack of YOUR faves and leave them in your kids’ room next to their bed.
You’ll feel liberated and I can almost guarantee that we’ll see a new generation of readers and fans emerging.
So, in conclusion.
Do I think that all comics are worthless and not meant to be collected? Absolutely not. But, maybe we can try and implement some new thought processes when it comes to seeking out comics and the stories they offer. Maybe we can breathe a little bit and find ourselves actually enjoying what we are buying rather than banking on a return. Maybe, instead of seeing comics solely as collectibles, but rather as stories worth reading and sharing, we can have a much healthier and more robust comic industry.
Many times in comic shops and online you might here terms thrown around like “indie”, or “small press” comics.
What do these mean??
I think to understand what these terms mean, we first need to understand what it means to not be an “indie” comic. This requires us to define what a “mainstream” comic might consist of.
When most people think of comic books, they tend to automatically conjure up visions of Superman, Spider-Man, Hulk, etc. Most of the heroes and characters that we are now seeing come to life on our silver screens and TVs come from 2 companies; Marvel and DC.
Many people refer to these companies as “the BIG Two;” and for good reason. When one looks at sales in the comic book industry across the country, Marvel and DC take up way over HALF of the market in terms of sales.
Part of this is due to the enormous amount of titles that they put out each month, but also, they each have their own cohesive universes with really well known characters. Ask a young kid in Europe or Japan about Spider-man and there’s a good chance they know the character.
They have also been around since before pretty much any of you (myself included) were born and they have survived SEVERAL near collapses of the industry (albeit some of which were brought about by their own bad choices). But, to have survived this long in a game in which consumer tastes change month to month, and even, week to week is no small feat and should be respected in terms of staying power.
That being said, each of these two companies is owned by even larger corporations. Marvel is owned by Disney and DC (along with parent company Warner Bros.) were just bought by AT&T.
So, when an artist or creator is working for either of these companies, all of their IP (intellectual property) and creative work now belongs to the corporations in charge. Not only that, but, every decision that an artist or creator wants to make (because you know…they’re creative…) has to be approved by the company and fit within the mold and model of the company.
So, many moons ago, people started realizing that maybe they don’t want to work for a corporate juggernaut like the big two. Maybe they were even turned down. Maybe they simply want to create and do their own story without having to fit into a mold and have to answer to tons of shareholders. They wanted to be pirates.
Witness the birth of the “indie” comic movement.
An “Indie comic” is a comic whose creators are not bound by appealing to a larger corporation. The creators have complete control over their material and are not subject to rules and standards set by higher ups. The creators are “independent” of the company for the most part. They might be published by a company, but that company does not step into the creative process and control the end product. That means that when a creator develops a new story with new characters, all of the ownership usually remains with the creator and not the publisher.
Indie comics are no new thing. People have been hand stapling and selling their black and white comics that were drawn by hand and copied at Kinko’s basically since the silverage and early bronze age (late 60’s and 70’s).
California (specifically the Bay Area) used to be (and still is) famous for indie comic ‘zines and material that was too edgy for the Big Two.
The advent of the comic retail shop in the early 70’s really helped lead to the birth and growth of the indie scene because now there were dedicated shops that could push these daring and wacky stories to a niche market.
If I had to place the boom of the indie scene on anyone’s shoulders it would be 2 creative teams. Wendy and Richard Pini and Eastman and Laird (Elf Quest and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles respectively.)
Wendy and Richard Pini believed so much in their story that, despite several rejections, began self printing and distributing their books to dedicated comic shops around the country and people began to eat them up.
Eastman and Laird printed their black and white Ninja Turtles for almost nothing and hand sold the early books to shops in the 80’s.
Both of these titles helped to bring indie comics to the forefront of the comic scene. To think that people who believed in their art so much that they self printed, sold, and pushed their books into the spotlight is an inspiration. Copies of TMNT #1 can easily fetch a small fortune now, btw.
When we look at the indie comic scene in our current environment we still see this same attitude of people that refuse to let their creative work be controlled by others. Companies like BOOM! Studios, Alterna Comics, Image, and many others continue to put out really quality material that offers a breath of fresh air to those that are looking for something different.
Let’s highlight what a few of these companies offer.
BOOM! Studios offers not only licensed material such as Jim Hensen’s work like Labyrinth and the Dark Crystal, but original and creator owned stories as well. Many of their titles, such as the award-winning LUMBERJANES and GIANT DAYS offer great stories that are really non-genre. This means that they tend to be stories more about life and all of the awkwardness that accompanies it.
Image Comics is probably the largest indie company around and is the next in line when it comes to market share after the Big Two. Image offers a large variety of stories and characters that can vary from the very dark and disturbing to lighthearted and family friendly. Since indie companies don’t necessarily have their own cohesive universe, you can simply pick one title that you enjoy and read ONLY that one title without fear of missing out on cross-overs and massive events that the Big Two like to through together. Titles such as East of West, Paper Girls, Seven to Eternity, and Invincible all offer great story telling and have the awards to back up the content.
Alterna Comics is a small-press company out of California. This means that while being indie, they also print in smaller companies than say, Image. What Alterna brings to the table is great story telling with an equally exciting price point. You know how some comics (they will remain unamed) have been putting out $3.99, $4.99, up to $9.99 single-issues, well most of Alterna’s single issues are priced anywhere from $1 to $1.99. Alterna prints on newsprint instead of the glossy paper that other publishers use which gives their comics a great old-school quality while also giving an old-school price point. You can literally grab a copy of every Alterna comic we sell for less than 3 comics from other publishers. The stories are self contained and easy to pick up on AND they have a great selection of stuff for young readers. I know that, as a parent, I would much rather spend $1.50 on a comic that my kid might tear up as opposed to $4.99.
Obviously these are just a sampling of the many different publishers out there. If you are a comic fan and find yourself getting a little bored and frustrated with some of the tactics, prices, and storylines from some of the bigger publishers, I would suggest that you give an indie company a try.
One of the things our shop offers is the Dollar Value Menu. Basically, we have a dedicated section (that is growing) featuring $1 reprints of various indie titles. It’s a dollar investment (and we all know that we spend 4x that much for a coffee). If you like the issue, bring it back and we will give you a DOLLAR OFF of volume 1. It’s a great way of finding new stories and expanding your reading.
We here at HIVE know the importance of supporting our indie creators and their work. NO, we don’t hate the Big Two, we love them and need them for a strong comic community. But, I would argue that supporting our smaller publishers is one of the best ways of keeping our favorite hobby strong. It is definitely one of the BEST ways to have a sustainable and healthy industry for decades to come, even if that issue you just bought might not let you retire in a few years (more on collectibility next time.)
So, my final thoughts.
Go out and support the little guys. The guys that bleed their work and have passion behind what they do. Give that crazy sounding title a try, it just might be what you’ve been looking for.
Previously, I gave you guys a VERY brief summary of how the HIVE came to be. Today I would like to share with you guys a bit of what I have learned in my 2 years of selling comics. Let’s take a peak at what’s behind the curtain, shall we?
Fair warning: I might come off as rant-y and gripe-y at some points (mostly because I love what I do and want you, our customer to have a better understanding of how our business works!)
Ordering 2 months BEFORE this issue comes out is a challenge.
We order 2 months in advance and can adjust most of our orders 3 weeks prior to the issue releasing.
Seeing a customer take your suggestion on a book and then fall in love with it, is super satisfying and exciting.
Over ordering can kill your shop, be O.K. with the sell-out.
Pull-lists are vital
It tells you what people are reading and WANT to read
BUT, customers need to pick up their books
Having a pull list and not picking them up can kill a store faster than anything else
The shop has already paid for the books
When I reach out to you about your pulls, it’s not to be mean, its to keep a comic shop open in our area.
Don’t try and compete with the online big boys at their game, beat them with customer service and knowing your market and customers.
Adapt and change with the market
Always try and improve in some way
Keep product moving and fresh
Cut losses on product that has sat and become stagnant
Promoting indie and small print books are a challenge compared to the “Big Two” but is necessary for the growth and health of the comic industry.
Children and young readers and the vital to the continuation of the industry and it is great to see more and more product offered for our “littles”.
i’m getting old and so are you, kids are the future
Having customers feel that they can take “ownership” of the shop is priority.
When they refer to the HIVE as “my shop”
We have great customers that are always spreading info via word of mouth in our area.
Support those that support you and keep your doors open.
We love you guys that come in and support our shop and we hope to continually grow and change and improve to serve y’all.
Thank you all for a great first year and here’s to many more!
I love the extras that come on my blu rays and DVDs (sometimes more than the actual movie.) I love seeing and learning about how the movie came together and the thought processes and paths that brought about the finished project.
As we approach our 1 YEAR ANNIVERSARY from opening our doors, I want to let you guys in on how I got into selling comics and a bit of info on how the retail side of the comic industry works.
In late 2011 / 2012, i started to have this desire to open a comic shop in my home town. I was currently living in Austin, TX and was a frequent visitor of Austin Books and Comics and I wanted to offer MY home town that same, quality experience.
Odessa has been without a true comic shop in approximately 20 years. When I was a kid, we had at least 4 shops in Odessa. My favorite was Cody’s Comics and Cards on Grandview, just down from Daylight Donuts. It was a true “mom and pop” shop and it was owned by a sweet older couple.
My mom would drop me off and run errands while i dug through every back issue bin, usually looking for X-Men or Spider-Man books. The couple that owned the shop knew me and were kind enough to let me spend HOURS in there pouring over everything.
Sadly, Cody’s closed in the late 90’s or early 2000’s and Odessa was left to pass time in the comic void of our own Negative Zone.
Sure, we had Hastings at one point, and a card shop tried taking on selling our favorite periodicals, but a “true” comic shop experience was no where to be seen.
In late spring of 2016, I had a conversation about my desire to open my own shop and that i had toyed with the idea for years. I was convicted in that conversation that I needed to start taking steps to see what would happen.
The HIVE officially started June 1, 2016 out of my house. I had, maybe, 500 comics in my collection and I was determined to do something with them. I spent the summer organizing, pricing, and also buying more comics.
I did nothing but read ab
out the industry and the “do’s and don’t’s” of selling comics and opening your own shop. I think I read everything available on google. I was a sponge. One of the most valuable resources came from the Mile High Comics database where their founder gives his advice for jumping into the business. It is a little outdated, but still tons of great info.
I learned so much from my research and it drove me to push and grow and work to make this dream a reality.
In August of 2016 I had my first comic con. It was the Permian Basin Anime Expo at the Ector County Coliseum’s Barn G.
I was scared.
What if I didn’t have enough to show? What if people in the area weren’t in to comics anymore? Does anyone really want a comic shop in Odessa? So many thoughts in my little noggin.
From my modest collection, with nothing new mind you, I made $567 dollars that weekend. Boy howdy, I was on my way.
I used that money to buy more collections and grow. I had a hiatus for about six months as my family got into foster care, but i never let the dream die.
Fast forward to March of 2017 and I had a booth at the Permian Basin Comic Con X in Midland. I had a bigger booth and more inventory. That was a great show. People really seemed excited for a shop in our area and I was determined to do my best to make it happen.
I started doing little online sales via Facebook, just to keep interest going and keep revenue flowing. I had people coming to my house, which was kinda weird having someone look through comics in your bedroom. My wife was not amused, especially since my collection had overtake our master.
I needed an actual store front.
It was in early May of 2017 that I was put in contact with a guy named Melvin Herron. Melvin wanted to open a gaming store and thought we could partner up since he already had a lease. We started moving in around Memorial Day and geared up for a soft opening on June 10th.
Melvin brought lots of experience and energy and was almost giddy. I remember him saying to me “This is your dream, let’s make it happen.”
An actual comic shop had returned to Odessa.
Many of you that came on that first Saturday are still coming by every week to get your fix. We have grown and changed quiet a bit since that opening and we’ve seen our customers grow with us. It seems like every week we have new faces coming in and becoming friends. We’ve come to know your families as you let us into your lives as you come in and let us share our passions with you. I can’t even express how much the support that my community has shown my shop has meant to me.
From the outset, my mission for the shop was to be more than just a place to come buy comics and games. I want the shop to reflect and support the community that supports us. That is why we are working with school in our area. That’s why we host family workshops. That is why we do toy drives for High Sky Children’s Ranch. That’s why we host fundraisers for families in need. That’s why we love having events, because it pulls people together!
In Part II, I’ll share with you what I have learned about the retail aspect comic industry.