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Closing A Comic Shop, Eighteen Months On

Closing A Comic Shop, Eighteen Months On

Mario Coleman writes for Bleeding Cool;

It has almost been a year and a half since Apocalypse Comics, the comic shop that I built from the ground up, closed its doors for the last time, and I miss it like crazy.

We had moved into a new premises in the March of 2010 with hopes of bigger sales due to a bigger presence, but our customer base hardly grew at all. Our bills did though, unmercifully stacking themselves up, looming over us and threatening to weigh us down month after month. Each time we would come up with a new money making scheme, but most of the time we were just robbing Peter to pay Paul and it lead us right back to square one. We should have taken the business back home, with no overheads and keeping as much of our customer base as we could from Tattoo Inc, instead we took a risk and rolled the dice and they came up Snake Eyes.

It wasn't always doom and gloom. It started off with just me and Danny packaging up eBay sales in my bedroom at my Mums house. Starting with as little as 30-40 packages a week, we would take hours to stuff the envelopes with the comics that we had sandwiched between two hand cut pieces of card. It all seemed like so much hard work back then, though I think about it now and long for those carefree days. After packaging up the comics, we would take them in carrier bags to the Post Office and stand in line waiting to be served, hopefully by one of the ladies that actually knew how to smile, hand her the packets and that would be us done for the day. On the sunny summer days we would walk to the park, picking up an ice pole on the way, sit on the swings and talk nonsense about comics and/or wrestling. It was a happy time. On Fridays, which was the day that Diamond used to deliver our new books, we would break open the boxes, sort the comics into piles to be bagged and boarded for our small group of subscribers, grab the best or most anticipated comic of the week, sit back and read! Little did I know then how hard business would become as we expanded.

We began to deal at conventions and shows all across the country and made a killing. We had the best selection of graphic novels at every show we went to. Dealers that were old stalwarts of the shows began to dislike our dominating presence as we expanded. They couldn't compete with our selection and we would walk away from each show with a big fat pocket full of cash. And even though we were completely naive of the business pitfalls ahead of us, our youthful exuberance and enthusiasm had us bantering with customers and having a giggle, where some dealers came across as miserable and not bothered as long as they were making money.

Closing A Comic Shop, Eighteen Months On

Then we started to produce retailer exclusive variant covers. We had experimented with a couple of covers, one Army of Darkness variant for Dynamite Entertainment and a Transformers movie tie in variant for IDW. They had done relatively ok, not selling like gangbusters, but shining a bit of a spotlight on us as a comic shop to look out for. It wasn't until we produced the variant cover for Transformers: All Hail Megatron #1 that people really sat up and started to pay attention. The cover was beautifully crafted by Casey Coller and is a homage to the classic cover for Batman The Killing Joke by Brian Bolland.

Closing A Comic Shop, Eighteen Months On

Casey flew over to London from the states and we released the cover as a convention exclusive in conjunction with the London Film and Comic Con. The weekend was incredible, we made a lot of money as well as new friends. This was the highest high highlight of the shop. The cover, which was limited to only 1000 copies soon sold out and we thought we could do no wrong.

Shortly after we began renting the ground floor of Tattoo Inc. Because we were subletting, the rent was very cheap for a high street store front and we began building our customer base as well as making some great new friends. We began a monthly book club, where we would get together each month with a bunch of the regular customers, take it turns to pick a graphic novel, read it and talk about it. The book club is still running to this day, an achievement of which I am extremely proud of. My main objective was to introduce new books to people who may not have read them otherwise and I think it has worked. The club has turned Marvel fans onto DC titles, mainstream fans onto indie books and fans of the obscure onto Superhero books.

Our time at Tattoo Inc was great. Though there were ups and downs, I still think of those days fondly. The overheads were so small that we could take certain risks without too much worry of repercussions… and that lead to our downfall.

I had begun to amass a substantial debt. I wasn't paying enough attention to the amount of money that I was spending in comparison to what we were making and leaving the finances to Brendon to sort out. We began to cut back massively and slowly but surely began eating away at the debt we were in. We weren't worried, even chipping away at it slowly was better than it growing and besides, business was good and the rent was cheap. Unfortunately, we had to leave Tattoo Inc. Because of a contract stipulation that I won't bring up here in public, we had to leave. We were faced with a choice of either going back home and running the business from my flat, or trying to find another shop to rent. Unfortunately we went with the latter.

Closing A Comic Shop, Eighteen Months On

February of 2010 we had finished our contract negotiations for our new premises on Market Street. It was a lovely pink shop that needed a lick of paint and a bit of elbow grease, but it had a tonne of potential.

We had negotiated a very fair deal for our rent and we were ready to open up for business and on the 20th of February 2010 the Mayor of Kettering cut the ribbon officially opening Apocalypse Comics for business.

Closing A Comic Shop, Eighteen Months On

It can't be fun and games all the time though. I was naive to underestimate the cost of opening a high street store, especially without taking into account the limited amount of interest in such a specialist store in the small town I opened up in. Kettering Town Centre was a booming, bustling, vibrant place to be ten years before. I have fond memories of hanging out in the town with my friends every Saturday morning as a kid, but I had unfortunately forgotten to take my rose tinted glasses off and take a good look at what the centre had become. You can't walk ten feet with coming across another empty shop. Most of the empty shops in town have remained closed for months, in some cases years. In fact, as I write this nearly 18 months after the shop has closed, it still remains empty from our last day on the premises.
The customer base that we had built at Tattoo Inc remained loyal, for which I will forever be grateful. We had the best customers in the world, which sounds like a cliche, but a lot of them are now friends, some of which still come to book club every month. They were there at the Gran Opening of the shop and they were there on our last day of business, which along with Free Comic Book Day in May were our three most profitable days. Unfortunately we couldn't expand our pool of customers and whilst the bills mounted up, increasing upon that ever looming debt, the takings weren't growing along with them.

We had one last ditch effort left in our arsenal that would literally either make us or break us. New York Comic Con was coming up and we had commissioned two Convention Exclusive Variants for the show. Another Transformers cover and one for GI Joe. We booked Michael Bell, who had voiced many characters in both original cartoon shows to attend and sign autographs, as well as cover artist Casey Coller and cover colourist John-Paul Bove. If we sold a substantial amount of comics, I could come home, pay off my debts and start again fresh and ready for 2011. By Saturday afternoon it became pretty apparent that that was not going to happen and I had to make the phone call home to Brendon letting him know that we were up shit creek without a paddle. I made the most of my trip to New York. I had good friends with me that helped me let my hair down and not become consumed with depression. We hit the bars, ate some great food, found the Ghostbusters firehouse and I even managed to show my All Hail Megatron #1 variant to Brian Bolland who was incredibly impressed with it, endorsed it and autographed my copy.

So I came home and we began to wrap things up at the shop. It didn't feel sad at the time. We had been struggling for months and it was time to let all of that stress go. We set a closing date, invited everyone and they pretty much all turned up. It felt good, like everything we had worked so hard for was worth it. The people is what I miss the most, the interaction and conversation. The debates we would have over certain characters, creators or publishers. That's the best part about being a geek is sharing your passion with other like minded geeks, even when you disagree, its fun! And I was lucky enough to be able to do that every day for a while and like I said, it is what I miss the most right now.

But I need to move on. I need to close this chapter once and for all and begin anew. I have spent the past year and a half diligently working on becoming a comic book writer. I have written, and continue to write, a tonne of scripts, three of which are being worked on right now by three separate artists which I will talk more about in future posts.
My good friend Frankie convinced me to start a blog to stretch my writing muscles and to hopefully gain a following. From here on out I will post as often as I can about my life, my opinion, what has excited me, what has pissed me off and I will keep you updated as my comics work progresses.

I will say that I am not a professional writer. I am literally starting from the bottom right now and am attempting to claw my way up, so why not tag along and join me for the ride. I may eventually succeed, in which case you can say that you were here with me the entire time. Or I may fall flat on my face and fail, in which case, maybe you can learn from my mistakes. Regardless, this is me. I was worried at first about how I would come across on here or if anyone would give a shit, but I just need to be me and not worry about being who I think people would want me to be. No apologies.

Thank You for reading.

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Rich JohnstonAbout Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.
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