This month we introduced Counter Culture, a new feature running twice a month to give you a closer look at the business side of comic retail. We started of with an interview with PoP!-favorite Super-Fly Comics & Games of Yellow Springs, Ohio. For our next trick we’ve assembled a group of five other stores to answer a PoP! Top 6-Pack of questions about the current goings on in the direct market. Joining us this month are Kelly Harrass of Lost World of Wonders in Milwaukee; Marc Hammond of Aw, Yeah Comics! in Skokie, Illinois; James Nurss of First Aid Comics in Chicago; Patrick Brower & Dal Bush of Challengers Comics & Conversation in Chicago; and Brandon Zuern of Austin Books & Comics in Austin, Texas. Now that we’ve filled out our name tags, on to the questions!
It’s been over a year now since the DC reboot. Now that the dust has settled are they selling any differently in your store than they did before Flashpoint and has the fan’s disposition to them changed at all?
Lost World of Wonders: They’re selling better than they used to, that’s for sure. Sales have gone down since the beginning of the reboot, but they’re still above what they were pre-reboot. Justice League is selling the best that it has in years. The fan reaction has become rather mixed as the months go on. I’ve seen quite a few people greatly cut down on their DC titles, some of them dropping every single one of their DC titles. The fans who were new to DC are still on board for the most part, but many of the long time fans are getting tired of the continuity mess created by the New 52. The readers are still into the reboot, just not as much as they were when it started. The only book that remains an exception is Batman. People are still losing their minds about that comic.
Aw, Yeah Comics!: Our store opened after the initial fervor for the New 52 began. We see a decent amount of movement on the back issues and the trades. With the exception of Batman, none of their titles are in the high numbers as far as subscribership. Batman and Justice League sell the highest on the shelf for us, but they don’t scratch a lot of what the Marvel titles have achieved for us. The rotating door of titles being cancelled, creators being shifted, editors leaving, and mini series that really mean nothing keeps any of the DC titles from building any momentum.
First Aid Comics: The DC reboot was very successful in our store. Justice League, the Batman titles, and Action Comics increased dramatically. Aquaman and Wonder Woman were surprise hits that continue to sell very well. We’ve seen more lapsed comic fans returning to DC, rather than new fans. Many of those returning fans were readers that had crossed the store to the Marvel section. Marvel continues to outsell DC, but DC is much more competitive in the super-hero universe. Now, we need a relaunch of Vertigo. Image continues to grab that market…
Challengers Comics + Conversation: Like most shops, we saw a surge of interest the first month of the New 52. Sell-outs across the board, tons of excited new readers, DC seemed like they were unstoppable. A year later… they seem stoppable. Batman, and to a slightly lesser extent the Batman franchise, sells tremendously well. Justice League, Animal Man, Swamp Thing, Action Comics, Green Lantern and Wonder Woman sell well. Everything else is basically a wash. There’s not been one title I can recall that launched from DC in 2012 that I would call a success (Batman Incorporated, if that could even be called a “launch”, would be the exception). Titles like Talon and Dial H, which seemed well-positioned to be hits, shed readers incredibly quickly. Whatever allure the “New 52″ brand might’ve had, it’s not a factor in people’s purchases any longer. All that said, our DC sales are still way, way higher than they were in the summer of 2011. The bottom 70%-80% may be unimpressive, but the top 20%-30% is selling so well that it more than offsets any drag.
Austin Books & Comics: It’s been a dramatic year for DC. They finally took the number one spot from Marvel after a long period of lagging behind. And although the change to the New 52 had its critics, I think everyone was interested to see what they did with it. A few titles became surprise hits, a few floundered and got cancelled, and Batman, as always, is still popular. DC is selling stronger now than before Flashpoint, thanks to the renewed interest and new readers. Now it’s up to them to keep fans interested. And as far as they fans are concerned, I’m seeing more DC supporters – many of them new to comics – than I have in awhile.
What has the response to the Marvel NOW! relaunch been in your stores thus far?
AYC: Huge. We have sold the largest numbers on any titles since we opened in the last two months. But, even more importantly, we have seen retention in the first few crucial months, as well as people coming in who are returning to comics. I know the same happened for most shops with the New 52. I think the rolling out of one or two new titles a month, and the retention but now adherence to continuity, really helped them get their foothold.
FAC: Marvel NOW began with a lot of customer sighs, but has been very successful. Customers were all in once they realized the stories they had been reading were not being wiped out for a new universe. Stand out sellers are All-New X-Men, Avengers, and Uncanny Avengers. Thor God of Thunder and the Deadpool series continue to grow, with fans just beginning to discover how good the creative teams are on these titles. Only a few weak sellers, the usual suspects.
LWoW: It’s been really positive. We haven’t seen the same sort of interest that the New 52 got, but it seems like current Marvel fans are pretty excited for what Marvel has coming. The only complaint that I’ve heard about Marvel NOW! is that the books ship too often.
CCC:In opposition to the boom and bust of the first few months of the New 52, Marvel’s been ADDING readers with each month. Uncanny Avengers did well with the first issue, but we issue #2 sold faster than #1. All-New X-Men, we literally cannot keep it in stock. New customers are trying out Indestructible Hulk and Thor: God of Thunder, then coming in for the subsequent issues on their next visit. Not everything’s a hit, though. X-Men Legacy was DOA, Cable & X-Force and Fantastic Four are struggling, and most upcoming books are being greeted with a “wait and see” attitude, rather than an immediate reservation. Still, nearly every relaunched book is out-performing the book it replaced.
ABC: People are crazy for it. If there’s one thing Marvel has proven they’re good at, it’s relaunching. New fans are drawn in, but it wasn’t a severe and universe-changing relaunch that puts off older fans. And the grumpy fans that hate relaunches have just come to quietly accept Marvel does this. I think we all crave a change in the status quo, and both Marvel and DC – in different ways – gave the next generation of fans a good starting point and it shows with the surprising number of sellouts.
Once the dust settles from relaunches and reboots what do you think is the best thing the Big Two publishers can do to keep whatever new readers they’ve gained from such events?
FAC: It is interesting watching Marvel and DC take two such different tracks, or what appears to me to be very different tracks. Particularly, as the publishers so often echo each other in stories and events. I believe DC should stay committed at this point to keeping a tight editorial reign to develop the new DC universe as a whole. Readers want to know how it all ties together, how can there be so many Robins in such an apparently short history. How does Action Comics Superman become the Superman in the current storylines? Marvel is finding great success in letting its creators take some chances with the characters. While everyone has been yelling about the “death of Peter Parker” it has certainly worked and gotten people excited and talking about the book. Amazing Spidey 700 and Superior Spidey 1 have been great sellers and bring in new and old readers to the store. Much like AvX, people may complain but they keep reading all the way through wanting to know what Marvel is going to do next. Marvel needs to keep being willing to put everything on the table and really play with the characters. Clearly with the Disney dollars behind them, there is no need not to take some risks with the comics and do some out of the box story lines.
ABC: Events are always a big deal, but if the story isn’t compelling, the fans will use them as a jump-off point. Scott Snyder’s “Death of the Family” storyline is Batman is an excellent example of a well-conceived event that has not only drawn in new readers and maintained folks that jumped on for the New 52 launch, but also got these same readers to try other Bat-family titles to see more of the Joker’s story.
AYC: Consistent storytelling and art from solid teams. Give the teams a chance to build up a following as much as the characters. Tell stories that matter, and don’t be afraid to inject some whimsy and fun into the books.
CCC: Continue to deliver. That may seem obvious, but continuing to deliver the same type of story, by the same creators, is instrumental in keeping newly won readers buying titles. Jettisoning an artist, a writer, a direction, or all of the above only enforces readers’ skepticism, making it more difficult to get them to try future titles from a publisher.
LWoW: Focus on telling good stories and try not to overload the new fans. Most people who haven’t been collecting for years will just drop the hobby completely instead of cutting back on their spending.
Will Marvel & DC’s classified solicits for their FCBD books affect how you order them for the event?
CCC: Not especially. Marvel and DC will likely formally announce their FCBD books before we place our monthly orders (DC already has, as of this writing), if not by the Final Order Cutoff a few weeks after that. We’ll have all the information there is to know by the time we place our final orders with Diamond.
ABC: Nah. We order a LOT of FCBD books, increasing every year since the original FCBD. Last year we gave out over 20,000 comics, and almost everyone wants the Marvel and DC issue. So we know they’ll be a big hit, regardless. Plus, we trust both companies to not just do a reprint. Both Marvel and DC have learned that their FCBD offering is great opportunity to get new fans hooked on the next storyline.
FAC: No. Free is free. I do expect more of my regulars than previously, wondering if there are going to be any big reveals/events in the classified issues. Besides, I’ve never ordered enough FCBD books, as we continue to grow each year to bigger and bigger crowds!
AYC: As a newer store, they absolutely make me think twice. The same with Marvel’s TBA posters. We’ll cut back, and wait for the FOC.
LWoW: No. The Marvel and DC books are what most people are looking for when they come in on FCBD. No matter what, those will always be what we order the most of.
Many people think that 2013 will be a break-out year for creator owned comic work. Do you think that will be the case and if so, why or why not?
ABC: I hope so. There are a lot of great comics out there not getting enough attention. We’re a huge supporter of creator-owned titles, and we actively work at getting folks to try these lesser-known stories. I’m not sure what will make it a break-out year, though. Even if there are more being published, they still need to be read and shared, talked about, covered in the comics press, and promoted in stores.
FAC: Yes, Image continues to excite my customers with great new series: Manhattan Projects, Saga, Thief of Thieves, Walking Dead, etc… And I expect creators will want to continue keeping ownership as long as titles like Peter Panzerfaust continue to be picked up for television and film. Rightfully so too.
LWoW: Honestly, I’d say 2012 was a break-out year for creator owned comics. Image had so many of their series have sell outs. Saga came out and blew everyone away. The 100th issue of The Walking Dead was the highest selling comic of the year. What I’m hoping is that this trend keeps on rolling. I’ve got no idea if it will, we need good creators out there to put out good comics.
CCC: I’d say that 2012 was the breakout creator-owned year for us, starting with the release of Fatale, continuing with the first issues of Saga and Revival, and ending with the launch of Mara. All of those titles did incredibly well for us, and were huge factors in bringing in a large number of new customers. 2013, then, should be even bigger, as all those books will continue to come out, alongside anxiously awaited books like Jupiter’s Legacy, Sex, East of West and Five Weapons from Image.
AYC: With major names like Morrison, Hitch, Fraction, DeConnick, Millar, Hickman, and more returning to a larger focus on creator owned work, or at least including it once again in their portfolio, that is absolutely the case. The trick is will it drown out creator owned voices that we have not heard yet?
What hidden gem do you think people haven’t been reading enough of and is there anything in particular that people should keep an eye out for in 2013?
LWoW: Archer and Armstrong was the most fun I had reading a comic this past year. Fred Van Lente is doing some great stuff on that title. I’ll always say people should read Casanova and I know not enough people read it because I am literally the only person that buys it at Lost World. If you enjoy Hawkeye (which everybody needs to read) and Matt Fraction’s run on Defenders, you should give Casanova a try.
FAC: Rather than any specific title, I hope that the trend continues where people are readers first and collectors second. I want to see more customers buying the Saga volume one collection and then immediately jumping onto the single issues. I love that my customers hit the fifty cent bins looking for good cheap reads, not the investment issue we missed and put in the discount box. The biggest surprise when we opened was discovering how diverse our customer base’s interests are and the types of material we can sell: we sell Archie comics to Saga from Image to New Avengers with Black Panther to Secret Wars from the 1980s and back to Daniel Clowes’ Eightball. I love it all, and above all else to put the right book into a readers hand.
AYC: Titles that do well in our store, but need to reach a larger national audience would definitely include Revival, Hoax Hunters, Fatale, The Sixth Gun, Where is Jake Ellis, Masks, and many more. Keep an eye out for East of West, too.
ABC: Stumptown. I’m a big fan of the new wave of crime comics coming out these days, and the most prominent are Criminal and the other offerings from Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, and Darwyn Cooke’s adaptations of the Parker novels. And if you’re not reading those, get them immediately! But Stumptown is this great, modern noir with a tough-as-nails female private investigator. Her cases are interesting and dangerous, and she has this great, smirky Han Solo charm that is challenging to write without the character coming across as a jerk. Greg Rucka, Matthew Southworth, and Rico Renzi are creating one of the best-looking, thrilling crime books out there, and not enough people are reading this Oni Press book. As for what to look out for, we all know about the big Marvel and DC books. Now go try a creator-owned title! Look out for those!
CCC: Right now, I’d have to say Oni’s The Sixth Gun is a criminally-overlooked series. It’s a fantasy-western by Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt that mixes the best elements of Lord of the Rings and True Grit. If folks are looking for a companion book to Saga, that’s one place I’d steer them. For 2013, there’s no shortage of things to be excited for. Lucy Knisley’s Relish and Paul Pope’s Battling Boy from First Second. Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Seconds from Random House. Helheim and the Double Fine collections from Oni. Scott Snyder and Jim Lee’s Superman book from DC. The Wake and Trillium from Vertigo. Faith Erin Hicks’s Adventures of Superhero Girl collection and The Last of Us tie-in comic from Dark Horse. And hundreds of other books from dozens of other publishers. It’s going to be a phenomenal year.
That’s it for this month’s 6-Pack! We’ll see you next month with another store spotlight and an all new set of questions to ponder over with our retail friends.
Filed Under: Features