Tilting at Windmills #46
By Brian Hibbs
(Originally Ran in Comics Retailer #47)
Whether you want to admit it or not, the paradigm under which we do business has transformed in the last 18 months. Sales are dropping faster than they can be adjusted for, and the industry "spin" is more concerned with putting a bright face on a collapsing economy, than for bold and dynamic leadership that can bring us out of the hole.
(example: The introduction to the December sales charts in Diamond Dialogue reads as such: "While overall retailing forecasts for the 1995 holiday season predicted flat or slightly higher sales compared to last year, comic book speciality shops stood poised to wrap up the year on a more upbeat note, thanks to the collision of several familiar characters who have captured the attention of fans and the public-at-large for generations." A nice piece of positive writing, to be sure -- but completely untrue for the industry as a whole. Sell-in to retailers is significantly down from Christmas 1994. We're not "poised" to do anything except fall off a cliff. And, while I suppose it could be argued that it is not in a distributors best interest to panic it's customers, the least I believe they should do is not out and out fib to us...)
I don't think it is any surprise to you, gentle reader, that I believe the time of the universe-spanning continuity driven super-hero is coming to an end. We had a great ride for awhile, but it's over now. But, lest I be accused of over-arcing negativity, let me observe that it doesn't have to be the end of what we know as the direct market, if only we can retool our industry into provide us with more long-term substance.
It is no secret that I believe our future lies in a paradigm more like that of a bookstore, than of a magazine rack.
I heard a frightening statistic the other day – one which (as of press-time) I haven't been able to confirm. What I've been told is that less than half of the retailers in this business have ever ordered backstock from the Star System.
Frankly, I don't believe you should be allowed to call yourself a comic book store unless you have, at least, one copy each of these five TPBs in stock at all times: Dark Knight Returns, Maus, one Sandman volume (prolly Doll's House), Understanding Comics, and Watchmen. That's less than $50, your cost, and it represents the basic beginnings of a permanent stock section in your store.
At Comix Experience, we have more than 750 "permanent stock items". When a new comics Wednesday rolls around where there is barely enough salable material available to really bother to throw the doors open (mid-November had several such weeks), it is this permanent stock that allows us to maintain our cash flow.
Not only that, but it is this permanent stock that draws the "civilian" in -- they don't want flimsy pamphlets that contain 5% of a story! They want a book that has a beginning, middle, and an end.
The more permanent stock that retailers have effective access to (and effective is defined as systems like the Star System and Hyperlink where a regular pipeline is quickly available for little or no retailer carrying costs), the stronger this industry can become.
Given that (as I write this) Christmas is a little over two weeks away, allow me to present my Holiday Wish List -- material that has gone out of print, or out of easy availability, but should be brought back. Material that the "civilian" might be interested in. Material that can provide a foundation for us to build from.
One quick note: some of this material might be sitting in a warehouse somewhere or another, waiting to be sold (I'm thinking, in particular, of titles formerly published by Eclipse) -- but it does none of us any good unless this material is listed on Star and/or Hyperlink. I'm also aware that some of this material is available in Europe – but there is no homegrown source for it that I'm aware of.
In no particular order, here is my Top 25 Wish List:
1. Blood by JM DeMatties and Kent Williams
2. Garth Ennis' "Irish trilogy" (True Faith, Troubled Souls, For a Few Troubles More)
3. A1 (the original anthology series, not the Marvel/Epic second [failed] try)
4. Stig's Inferno by Ty Templeton
5. Anne Rice's Vampire Lestat, Master of Rampling Gate, Interview with a Vampire, and (if it can be finished) Queen of the Damned
6. Daredevil: Born Again by Miller and Mazzuchelli
7. P. Craig Russell's adaptation of The Magic Flute
8. Lone Wolf and Cub!
9. The Moebius series of GNs -- Marvel had, what, almost 20 of these at one point?
10. The Groo reprints -- Sergio Aragonnes is one of the few comics artists which almost every person in America is familiar with
11. Jon J. Muth's adaptation of M
13. The Alan Moore 2000ad library -- Halo Jones, Skizz, Dr & Quinch, and the two short story books.
14. Grant Morrison's Zenith
15. Dan Brereton and James Hundall's Black Terror and Psycho
16. The Marvel Masterworks series
18. Mike Allred's early work: Dead Air, and Citizen Nocturne were the two trades, but there is still plenty of Grafik Musik/Graphique Musique material left
19. The Comico Grendels!
20. Signal to Noise. That we can't get this Gaiman/McKean masterpiece in the US is a crime
21. Miller's Elektra work -- Elektra: Assassin (with Bill Sienkiewicz), and Elektra Lives Again
22. Old Classic Illustrated, in collected form. This could be a monster hit
23. A TPB of Moonshadow
24. Stray Toasters, by Bill Sienkiewicz
25. Simon Bisely's Slaine
What books would you like to see back in print?
Brian Hibbs, owner of Comix Experience, wants to hear from you! Write him at 305 Divisadero St., San Francisco, CA, 94117, fax him at (415) 863-9258, or e-mail him at 70314.3013@CompuServe.Com