Comics Will Break Your Heart: An Open Letter to Comic Shop Owners

Published on January 15th, 2013

Dear comic shop owners —

I know it’s hard. I’ve worked in shops, I’ve visited them all over America, and I’ve studied them, like you probably have. It never gets easier. You have to fight a changing marketplace, changing customer needs, and whatever else the universe might throw your way in a fiscal year.

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All that having been said: some of you are your own worst enemies. If you’re whining about whatever stunt the companies are pulling, if you’re complaining about this customer or that customer to your employees or customers (they bend books, they talk slow, they smell funny, they play Magic the Gathering, god forbid – yes, we know what they do), if you’re complaining about employees who won’t get their noses out of the books and their thumbs out of their asses, if you’re complaining about other local stores, if you’ve at any point said “yeah, man, business is rough,” you’re a huge part of the problem.

openletter1Why don’t you give yourself a break? It’s not the 90s anymore. Any fortune and fame you make, you’re going to fight for. If you’re complaining about the comic companies, or about Diamond, whatever — it’s out of your control. You’ll never change it. What you can change is how you do things in your store. You should find something you like, and put a spotlight on that. It might not even be a comic. The four walls (or more, anything can happen) of your store are a canvas — it’s all potential energy waiting to be used.

If you’re complaining about customers, for the love of God, don’t do it in the store. The community around you might be tighter knit than you think, and you need every friend you can get. All you need to do is say a delinquent sub’s name out loud and have his friend in the store, and you never know how many customers you’ll lose from that chain. If you make this attitude seem acceptable to your employees, they’ll do the same. Save yourself the trouble. Bitch about it at home if you have to. Keep it out of the store.

We all know that comic shop business practices can get a little funky. Under-the-table pay, compensation in books, general avoidance of the American Tax System. You’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do. You hire your friends, you hire the awkward kid whose day you want to brighten up — whatever it might be. If you’re a control freak, know what you’re getting into. If they’re trying to help and they do things their way, establish where the line is. Know what you’re willing to tolerate, but also understand when they have an idea that’s better than yours. If you start to feel uncomfortable in the business you own, chances are, the problem is yours, not theirs. If you have a manager who’s better at the job than you, if you have employees who are contributing and know what’s happening, it’s okay to step back. This is what you want, believe it or not. If you don’t, try to examine why that is. If it’s the other side and they’re not pulling their weight, establish a three-strike system and write-ups like any other smart business. Give people job descriptions. Just because it’s only vaguely legit doesn’t mean you can’t treat it like it’s legit.

You might be in an area rich with comic shops — maybe even ones better than yours. Be friends with the good ones. If they won’t be your friend, deal with it. If they’re horrible, with an inexplicably loyal customer base, let them bury themselves. There’s no bad publicity you can give them that they won’t give themselves. Do your own thing. Don’t fight with anybody unless the person you’re fighting with is laughing with you. You need all the help you can get.

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Comic shops should be fun. Too often, we turn them into boys’ clubs, or places where we sit and whine about our life problems. We engender conflict, and we tear down taste, and we wonder why the money isn’t coming. Often, we’re doing it to ourselves. Any day you work with the public, you have the chance to make someone’s day better. What we do can and should make a difference, especially when we’re peddling art. I’ve heard people call the retailer the nerd bartender, the nerd therapist, the piece of shit. You can do any of those things. It’s the choice you make when you unlock the door every day. Just do things you’ll be happy with when you read the Yelp reviews.

Adam Witt
Adam@ComicImpact.com

photo credit to Simon Hausner.