Comic Stores – Cockroaches or Elephants, in the Coronavirus?

Brian Hibbs of Comix Experience in San Francisco, California, has been one of the comic industry go-to guys for comment during the coronavirus pandemic. On Bleeding Cool the other day, he called the situation an extinction event for the direct market, a quote that waa carried around the world and back, as well as breaking the news that Image Comics was making all its titles returnable. He also took his Graphic Novel club online, and at noon pacific time (3pm ET, 7pm GMT) he will be talking on YouTube Live to Laura Knetzger about he book Bug Boys for the Kid's Graphic Novel Club. Send questions to brian@comixexperience.com with the subject line of "Questions about BUG BOYS". He'll ask what he can live.

But he has more words to say about the comic book publishers who made their title returnable in this time of understandable concern – and those who did not.

Sometimes they call Direct Market Retailers the "cockroaches" of retail (because we survive the craziest shit), but the real truth is we're the "Elephants": we NEVER forget.

I am going to REMEMBER who stood up for the kinds of relief a closed-by-government store NEEDS (Image, Boom!, Dynamite, ETC) and REMEMBER who hasn't (Marvel, DC, Diamond). We need certain specific things (extended billing, full affidavit-based returns, reduced production schedules to "hits only", Minimum Advertised Price to not force all of our trade into mail-order, bandwidth expansion of our messages, more) and I think we've communicated them clearly in the industry forums, and some of our partners have given us (STILL) Radio Silence (DC), Plans That Don't Actually Help (Marvel's increased discounts), and Platitudes.

Personally, I am pretty sure that Diamond is going to treat me right even without a public statement (my emails to my credit rep has gone unanswered which reflects, I earnestly believe, my general relationship with Diamond of "I'm going to tell you what I am going to do, and you're going to say 'OK', because I am a 30+ year account who has never been out of terms, and I've kept every promise I make", but I'm not worried about a Perfect Diamond Account. But I'm worried, FUCKING WORRIED, about anyone who might be on COD.

Or Net 7 or 14.

Comic book stores, with a few notable exceptions, aren't in this for the giant windfall profits (LOLZ!!!) — I mean, there's a business path to make windfall profits in comics, but that's more a thing about Late Stage Capitalism than something about the actual market of readers of comics, really — but we take on what might not be significantly more than minimum wage jobs for maximum punishment from our vendors because we fucking love the medium we're in.

Anyway, the business of dispersing individual periodical non-returnable items with a cover price of $4… well, the math on the mediocre margins had previously worked out for most of us because the average mechanical transaction time was 30 seconds or less.

To set up a new remote situation (Curbside, delivery, ongoing payment, whatever individualized detail you want to say) can take ten minutes or more per transaction now, via email or phone, and even fulfilling them each can take significantly longer… there's just not enough money to actually make a profit vs what labor and space costs in California. Jeez, let alone my own costs.

And I am committed to making sure that everyone working for me gets paid as they should.

You, comics consumer, check in with your local store, make sure your "pull list" is up to date, and (if your financial situation allows) that you've made arrangements for your store to charge you through this crisis.

And if you have anything left to spare for a comics shop in San Francisco, we'd be happy to sell you a membership in our awesome Graphic Novel of the Month Club (www.graphicnovelclub.com/start) — we have a kids one too!

Monday is the deadline for the roughly FORTY PERCENT of comics retail spaces that are *already* mandated closed-by-the-government (because MOST COMIC SHOPS ARE CONCENTRATED IN URBAN AREAS!) to place FOC and get clear guidelines to see if we have any White Knights.

It seems we don't, and it's just the smaller wedge of the industry that's banding together. That's OK. We're also cockroaches.

But we NEVER forget.

He has been echoed by a number of other retail figures,

Phil Boyle of Colisseum Of Comics

 I agree with everything except the minimized schedule. Most of the low-print books are subs only and that's about the only thing we're going to be selling for the next month or two.

William Schanes formerly of Diamond Comic Distribution

While historically Brian and I have disagreed more often than agreed on a wide range of topics, I've always felt there was a deep mutual respect for each other. My almost 28 years at Diamond, as part of their executive team, and on the board of directors, I often fought what felt was worth fighting for behind the scenes, as that's the way I prefer to address the hot topics of the day. In this case, at this time, this is an entirely different situation. I applaud Image Comics, Boom, Dynamite and other for stepping up.

I've talked with Steve a Geppi a few days ago, and while I will not relate the specifics of that call, what I did attempt to impress upon Steve is that this is his defining moment, his action if his comic book lifetime, nothing he has done in the past comes close. I've even exchanged some text messages over the weekend, being out of character, urging, urging him to step up…now.every day counts. DC and Marvel should have already come out with wide ranging programs to help with comic book specialty retailers herculean task in fright of them.

Marvel offering higher discounts is tone deaf…clearly no clue to the new reality. Diamond can't not speak for either DC or Marvel, but he can speak for many of the publishers and other product lines Diamond does control, maybe as much as 30% of all publications and products it services into the marketplace. Comic book specialty retailers, like all other small businesses are in real jeopardy, and they need strong ground breaking leadership from the big 3…DC, Marvel and Diamond. Otherwise, the scorched earth left overs will be a very grim comic book reality.

Charles Rozanski of Migh High Comics

Brian, sad to say, I have been preparing for this moment for over a decade. I was once one of the largest new comics accounts in the nation, but one by one I have been closing stores, and reducing my reliance upon the new comics market. Your observations about margin and the need for returnability are totally apt. I have also had a "credit card on file – or prepay" policy in place for all of our new comics customers. That allows us to instantly cut back when funds disappear. Ordering new comics blind is far too dangerous these days.

On the flip side, our business as a "pop culture repurposing outlet" has been booming. We buy collections of comics, toys, statues, etc. from private individuals, which allows us the flexibility to cut back instantly if times are bad, as they most certainly are now. In better times, however, we are able to provide liquidity to individual fans who oftentimes are in dire need. This part of our business is now 80% of our gross, and nearly all of our earnings. I strongly encourage all comics shop owners to seek to adapt to this model, as it will not only increase the odds of your survival, but also provides financial help to our fan communities. All of this is, of course, dependent upon being allowed to open our stores, but at some point normalicy will simply have return. In the meantime, my encouragement to everyone is to hang tough. We are all seasoned entrepreneurs, with amazing skill honed through years of struggle. Working together, we will all finds ways to survive. Love is love

Ron Hill of JHU

Dan DiDio is sitting on a beach somewhere laughing his ass off

You can see Bleeding Cool's industry coverage of the effects of the coronavirus with this handy tag,

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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