Comics Sales Rising as Movie Sales Fall? Comic Store In Your Future

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

I was surprised. Our third quarter (July through September) was better sales-wise than the same quarter last year. We cut back hours because of coronavirus, closed on Thursdays, even had a week when we lost power on a Monday, and did not get power back until Friday. No Friday Night Magic or gaming events. We reduced staff and yet somehow, we had better sales than the previous year's third quarter. Better sales with less, of course, means more profit. What else was different? I was at the store more. I put in even more hours because I worried after reopening if our customers would return. Would our customer base take a hit due to the economy? Was the collecting habit broken for many comic collectors? Would there be lasting implications from the shutdown? Could Rodman Comics even survive after being closed for months? I never dreamed we would pull out a very profitable quarter so soon. We even gained new customers.

Comics Sales Rising as Movie Sales Fall? Comic Store In Your Future
Comics Sales Rising as Movie Sales Fall? Comic Store In Your Future

What helped? Lunar as a distributor for DC Comics. Zero damages or shortages the entire time we have been using them. Lunar shows it can be done. Diamond, even with decades of "experience" in the business, send the vast majority of their shipments to us with damages and shortages. I would say maybe two of the regular Diamond weekly shipments have not had an issue after Diamond started shipping again. I had one of the non-weekly shipments show up with one Arcee Transformer action figure. I was invoiced over a hundred dollars for it. What was wrong? I was supposed to get a case of various Transformers action figures, not just one. Transformer action figures are getting more and more popular at the store, which is great, but sadly, I never received the case of Transformers I ordered. I thought it was weird. Did another store get a case of Transformers minus Arcee? I understand mistakes happen. We are all only human. I make mistakes though I try to own up to my mistakes and work to not repeat them. What hurts is when Diamond shorts something ordered for a customer, then the replacement fails to show or is damaged; I get stuck in the cycle of often waiting on Diamond. A comic I get invoiced for does not show or shows up damaged, then the replacement copy shows up damaged, now the customer is still waiting for a non-damaged comic. This doesn't make comic collecting enjoyable for anyone when someone orders something and repeatedly has to wait after the release date just to have the actual comic or non-damaged comic arrive. Who takes the blame for the delays or not being able to get a comic? The comic store ordering through Diamond. It isn't Diamond because the person is dealing with the comic store directly.

We are doing well money-wise. I already spent some of the profit. We gave out free Rodman Comics T-Shirts as part of our 10th anniversary. I had a few hundred made up. Our 10th anniversary made me think of the past 10 years though I often think of the future. How will the future treat the store? It is often a foolish waste of time. Years ago, I had no idea there would be a virus in 2020 with a lack of government leadership to combat it. Our Iowa governor seemed to love being in the news. For a while, there were daily closings of businesses. On a Sunday, the governor announced they closed down salons. The next Thursday, it was announced bookstores were to be closed. It forced me to watch the news conferences to see when we needed to close. During the shutdown, I knew that after reopening, if people were too scared to go out, the economy would be in trouble. I have a paid airline voucher for a trip I have no desire to use anytime soon. Movie theaters are taking a beating. I actually went and saw Tenet. We saw the movie at the IMAX theater with a total of six people there. Three of them were because of the group I was with. That is far below, making it a profitable showing for the movie theater.

Sadly, I believe part of the reason we are seeing an increase in sales is because of the lack of new movies. No new Marvel or DC films or any real big releases help comic sales more than if they were actually coming out. Meaning Aquaman, Avengers and all the other films based on comic properties failed to bring a bigger audience to comics, even their own comics. With movie theaters not having the draw they used to have, people have more money and time to spend on other activities, such as comic books. Comics can easily be read in the safety of one's house without interacting with other people.

What will the future hold for us? I often see on Bleeding Cool about a comic store closing. I wonder at times if that could be us one day? Of course, I hope not. Right now, we have a great group of people as customers. I hope to be able to say that forever. Though, as I have learned, there are plenty of things out of my control. Some of my customers I call friends have recently moved or may move. One friend just moved out of state. He found out he had coronavirus while moving and had to complete the rest of the move himself. Luckily, he did not get seriously sick, and he had not been in for weeks. Another customer friend might be moving to Wisconsin for his work. A family that buys comics and I call friends might be moving because of work. We lose customers, and we will keep losing customers at times through no fault of our own. We will, of course, do our best to keep getting new customers. We caught a break by being one of the first stores to order through Lunar. Tuesdays went from just being open to get the Diamond shipment ready to making it comparable to the new comics Wednesday level of sales. People were hungry for comics, and we were there to supply them.

If Rodman Comics was not around, would I "retire" from an office job doing something I do not enjoy or find fulfilling or one I do enjoy? Many years ago, I had a great job as a coordinator. I was the supply guy for a company. I had a great supervisor and great coworkers. I was with a payroll company. When the interest rates dropped, they lost millions in easy money. Companies gave millions over for payroll, and the payroll company made money off the interest of having their money before issuing paychecks. Layoffs started, and sadly things changed. Currently, they do not even rent office space in central Iowa, and the people left now work from home. It's been roughly fifteen years, but even to this day, I talk with some of my old coworkers and get together with them. My department had gone from twelve people to four. I was honest and stated I was tired of playing survivor for my job. Years later, after I left, the whole department was no more. Ironically trying to dodge being laid off by leaving only got me to a different company that I ended up not liking at all and would leave me jobless for six months during the Great Recession. Fortunately, I was able to land a much better paying job with better benefits.

Could there finally be a second Rodman Comics location in the future? Not this year or next with what now looks like the virus-carrying on into next year. Who knows, 2022 may be the year.

Does the future hold more than just Lunar and Diamond Comics for comic distributors? Some more publishers might be fine with going with their own distributor. Diamond caused a lot of chaos when they shut down and were unable to pay for comics. This showed how fragile things could be by having one distributor. I order various games, such as Magic the Gathering and more through multiple distributors, and find it very beneficial. Could more distributors for comic publishing be in the future?

Will digital kill the physical comic market? After years and years of online chatter of how the local comic store is doomed because of digital, will it actually happen? I myself have heard and read about this so much I am numb to it now. If it were ever to happen, it will not be for decades and for sure not during my lifetime.

A scary future, one without any movie theaters? I hope not. The movie industry employs a lot of people. Plus, part of the reason I think I enjoyed Tenet is because I had not seen a movie in such a long time. I miss going to a theater for a movie.

A new golden age of comics? Sales here in the store have certainly improved after the reopening this year. Some titles looking like they could be canceled at any time are booming now. Spawn is now a hot book. I thought after the last anniversary issue; Spawn would drop back to low sales. It has stayed very popular. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are now hot. TMNT the Last Ronin has a crazy amount of heat. A person who was never into comics came in wanting to get it. We got her set up with a pull box for it. Walking Dead used to be the comic that brought in newbies to the store. Could Turtles be the new outside draw?

How would I be okay with my end? With me, it's on a chair outside in front of the store window reading a comic. Think of Godfather III when Michael Corleone passes away, though with a comic book in hand. For whatever reason, that is what I have in my mind. That said, I intend to live forever.

Odds are no matter how much I think of the future; it will be nothing like I thought it would be. That is what makes things interesting. Trying to guide what happens for the future, then reacting to what actually does happen.

Stay safe, everyone!

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About 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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