Comic Store In Your Future No More?

Rod Lamberti of Rodman Comics of Ankeny, Iowa writes weekly for Bleeding Cool. Find previous columns here.

We are in uncharted territory. I am still stunned. I went to Florida in the last week of February and now many of the places that were packed are shut down. Las Vegas is now for the most part shut down. Whole states are ordering people to shelter in place. We are in uncertain times. The coronavirus is spreading and killing people. Sadly, there will be more people who will get this virus and die.

People are understandably concerned. Taking precautions is wise.

With things changing so rapidly we are still adjusting to the latest news and the next day something new happens. Such as Monday's comic related news. Steve Geppi, Chairman & CEO of Geppi Family Enterprises and Founder of Diamond Comic Distributors just confirmed the news with the following statement, in which he confirms that product intended for sale in April and beyond will not ship to stores in Northern America.

This year's Free Comic Book Day went from not just happening on May 2nd to suddenly being for the whole month of May. Then it was announced it is being pushed back into the summer. All within 24 hours.

What happened? From my limited point of view, most places are now mandated to have no more than ten people gathered together. Free Comic Book Day is all about the lines and the crowds, which is currently very frowned on. A quick out of the blue decision to make it for the whole month of May was made. Why? Because the comics may be free to customers but comic stores still pay for them. Those "free" comic books cost money to make and now they are going to be stored until later. That means payment for the books will happen later on. Making May Free Comic Book month was quickly done away with. Comic stores were not included in any part of the decision. How to upset someone? Telling them of a change and how their money is going to be spent without their impute. How to make it even worse? Do this while all this other craziness is going on.

Businesses exist to make money. They take in money to pay their bills and for people who own a business it is their income.

For myself, 2020 was doing pretty good. My comic orders were lower than they were last year at this point. Our new comic sales were not lighting the world on fire though I was not ordering like they were. I have noticed that the higher-priced anniversary issues and giant one-shots are not doing as well as I had thought they would and I cut orders for them. Marvel's upcoming crossover is not getting anyone here in store excited. The return of the creative team from Dark Metal doing a follow up project is good news along with the announcement Three Jokers limited series is done and coming out.

What for us is doing well is the back issues. Graded comics have done well. New comics were still a part of our business, just not as much as in year's past. They were of course still a good percentage of our business.

Now with things changing so fast it is no longer a question how bad things will get, it is now when and if a business will have to close, how long will it take to recover and will various businesses ever recover? While working on this on a Sunday it was announced barber shops and massage parlors here in Iowa are to stay closed. So far, we are still open though for how much longer is anyone's guess. I would say this week the hammer will fall for all non essential businesses to be closed here in Iowa. Hoping not before Wednesday of course.

Bleedingcool has already reported on comic stores closing thanks to this coronavirus. The question is how long would a store closing last? Two weeks? Most, not all small businesses could absorb that. Though make no mistake there would be those that could not and that is a lot of money lost through events uncontrolled by the business. Odds are businesses would have to take a loan. A month? That is going to be a fatal blow to many small businesses. Two months? That is a bridge too far for many. I myself would have to walk away from Rodman Comics. Meaning that is a hole way too deep to try to get out of, especially if no one has any idea how long this will last. Take out a loan for how many thousands of dollars? How long will all this craziness last? Two months? A year? No one knows. It's hard to prepare for the unknown. Will people be too shell shocked to want to spend money on collectibles at the same rate as they were before all of this started?

Another issue is when will Diamond start sending new comics again?

Collectibles are the first thing most people cut back on when the economy goes soft or bad. This of course makes sense. Rent or a mortgage, food, monthly expenses come first. Comic stores will feel a lot of pain if this goes on for months.

The unknown is what is truly hurting here. We have not dealt with something like this before. It is new and scary.

While I appreciate Image stepping up quickly to help comic stores by making all new products from them within the next 60 days returnable along with calling on other publishers to help comic stores, it may not be enough even if things get back to monthly comics. Marvel and DC are owned by bigger corporations. Marvel announced better discounts. To me that was a sad joke. Higher-ups may flat out not care what happens to a publishing division or more worried about other areas of their business.

I, like many comic store owners, have not heard anything directly from Diamond such as a telephone call. I learned about this week being the last week for new comic shipments by reading about it on Bleedingcool. This is disheartening. Having just one vendor for comics might indeed now be a fatal mistake.

I want to see Rodman Comics hit the ten-year mark in October. I plan on doing what I can to make it happen; within reason of course. When I first opened there was a time when I realized that despite wanting to succeed so much and trying so hard, I may fail. I had to draw a line and say if it hits a certain point, I have to end it. Meaning I could take out loans though how far in debt would be too much? Right now, it is scary. I also know I am fortunate that no one I know currently has the coronavirus. I understand why these scary changes have happened. To slow the spread of the virus so it does not over tax hospitals and become even more deadly.

Wish I had a more upbeat article for everyone. I wrote this up fast and turned it in quickly because just over the last few days of typing this up so much changed and I had to keep changing what was already typed up. I love comics. I have enjoyed them from when I was a kid. I hope to see monthly new comics back as soon as possible, maybe even with another new distributor. Hoping to see a return to at least normal as soon a possible. Everyone be careful out there.

About Rich Johnston

Head writer and founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world. Living in London, father of two. Political cartoonist.

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