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Tony Esmond’s Comic Shop Survival Guide – Part Three: Choosing Your Comic

The Usual Comic Buying Suspects by David Broughton

Art by David Broughton

There isn’t a week that goes by that one of the downthetubes team reads a post or receives a news item about declining comic sales, some articles blaming comics piracy, others the cost of comics, the end of physical print.

But what if a lot of it is just down to how off-putting the whole process of buying a comic from a comic shop is the main reason would-be comic fans don’t bother?

Here, Tony Esmond continues to offer some guidance for those attempting to buy a comic for the first time… and the perils you may face!

Caveat: Not All Comic Shops Are Like This. Honestly…  and we do offer you a handy map of UK comic shop’s right here on downthetubes

Choosing Your Comic

Think about what you like. Don’t think about what you think you should like because someone has told you it is cool. These are the Devil’s thoughts. He is playing with you. Beelzebub and the Demons of Advertising are trying to hook you in….

Sure, “I’ve heard that Squirrel Girl is well written.”

STEP BACK.

IT IS NOT. (Well, not really.)

It is a load of hyped and cutesy guff that people pretend is good. It’s like that indie band who lasted two albums and NME kept saying were geniuses. It’s like that art house movie about staring at the sea.

THIS IS HYPE.

Being a comics fan is all about seeing past the bullshit. Recognising what is really actually good and seeing through the veil of mundanity that masquerades as ‘event comics’. Read what you like – plain and simple.

Comics are also a fiction. Also, they are normally set in a fictional world full of fantastical beings and unreality. This is neither the real world or a world that needs to be a battleground for agendas. It is about stories. Stories of all kinds. It is not an axe to grind, unless that particular axe fits into the story you are telling. Don’t force your real world agendas into the pages of these fictions. If you do, you will be constantly disappointed. If you are looking to satisfy your political agenda by reading comics you will be sorely disappointed.

(On the Planet Krypton, they think you are boring too).

If you are the sort of lad or lady who looks for comics purely based on the gender/ race/ sexuality/ species/political background of the inker/ what online stores the editor likes/ what newspaper the office manager reads/ that it’s a comic created by bears who were used to test bubblegum etc (etc, etc, etc.) –then I wish you luck in your next hobby. Because you ain’t gonna last long in this one.

Likewise , if you are the sort of reader who is worried about damage to the staples or a slight curl in the cover paper then there are a couple of easy steps you should take.

  1. Put the comic back
  2. Leave the store
  3. Hand your computer in at the local police station. (They may also be interested in any storage devices you have hidden?)

Just remember this mantra – “Comics are for reading.”

I digress.

Having identified a possible purchase, pick up the book that you like the look of and leaf through it. Look good? Yeah? What’s the art like? Read a little bit. Like it?

Look at the price.

Expensive, huh? Yup.

That’s the way it is these days. Overpriced at every turn. A comic will take you (at most) 15 minutes to read. Think about that for value for money?

If it is too much then put it back and head to the back issue bins. These shops normally have some £1 or 50 pence boxes. Grab something from there if you prefer.

Remember. This is not a race. Take as long as you like. Let inspiration hit you. Find something that you are going to enjoy.

Read a trade paperback (a collection of previously published comics) if you like. (But remember Manga is written backwards by foreigners to confuse you).

Most other comics in comic shop’s are written by Americans, who have problems with spelling, politics and firearms – so remember this when reading their usual murder filled crap. (Thank God for Brexit!)

You’re Nearly There!

Can’t find what you are looking for? Why not ask?

Approach one of the staff. As we mentioned in Part One of this Guide to Buying Comics, they will either be the type who are actually working or the type who sort of sit about reading, looking at their phone, watching loud YouTube videos or chatting to their hipster mates (they can be quite loud – wear earplugs).

Their words will be confusing. They speak without meaning and mostly so that people will look at them.

Remember to act casual. Say things like “Chill” and “Whatevs”. These are coded signals to hipster central. They will see you as one of the lazy snowflake millennial nation. (They still won’t really help you, but it makes the whole thing a little less awkward.)

“Hi, I’m looking for something about (insert subject here). Can you help?”

The Answer (I guarantee will be) – “If we have it it’ll be back there.” They then point/ wave/ gesture at the back of the store, where you have of course previously looked…

Count to ten. Look annoyed, but don’t say anything (we are British after all). Then wander off looking elsewhere than where they have pointed (this minor triumph may make you feel a little better).

There is a good chance that they won’t actually know the answer. They only work in the shop because their friend Rosamund/ Trilby/Flat White/ Bakewell/ Custard Hat/ Pilchard/Edmundo/ Beehive/ Frank told them that it was a “cool” place to work.

• Follow me on Twitter @Ezohyez

• Our thanks to David Broughton for his art on this series. Many downthetubes readers will recognise David’s work for Papercuts and Inkstains, Zarjaz and more, but along with the wonderful Shaman Kane you really should check out his new fantastic creator owned project Detective Gallo and the Unholy Company, available to buy now from him direct here | Follow David on Twitter @DbroughtonDavid 

The opinions in this article are not necessarily those of the entire downthetubes team, most of whom would like to point out that like Tony, they have a great local comic shop, but it took a while to find! Check out our Comic Shop Map, maintained by Colin Noble, here

• Tony Esmond’s Comic Shop Survival Guide – Part One: Dealing with Comic Shop Staff … and other customers

• Tony Esmond’s Comic Shop Survival Guide – Part Two: How To Buy A Comic

• Tony Esmond’s Comic Shop Survival Guide – Part Three: Choosing Your Comic

• Tony Esmond’s Comic Shop Survival Guide – Part Four: How To Buy A Comic (It isn’t always that easy!) – The Actual Buying Bit

About Antony Esmond

Antony Esmond
Antony Esmond is a comic reviewer and writer - his hips don't lie.

5 comments

  1. Chris Halliday and others commented on this item on Facebook in a public post: “An awful lot of the smaller local comic shops in the UK are tiny, dingy, smelly places with surly or just plain odd staff. However, I can highly recommend both Excelsior and Forbidden Planet in Bristol for a very pleasant shopping experience.”

    “Back in the days when I occasionally bought them, the problem was being able to follow a story told in tiny chunks, with no guarantee that you’d even be able to get hold of all the chunks,” said Paul Rhodes. “For a long running mag like DWM you could place a regular order with the newsagent, but for something that would only run for a few weeks, that didn’t make sense.
    Much easier to wait for them to be collected together into a book.”

    “The great fun for me was trawling the spinner racks of newsagents in Woking, Guildford, Knaphill- and Chertsey, when I could get my dad to drive me – every Saturday looking for the latest issues,” recalls Dave Morris. “I was a 10-year-old Marvel hunter-gatherer.”

    “I well remember entering my first ever comic shop – Forever People in Bristol,” recalls comic artist and writer Kev Sutherland. “I had never in my life seen such an exciting thing, an Aladin’s Cave of comics. Some in cardboard boxes, some on shelves. All amazing. Imagine my excitement when FP became my local when we moved nearby in 1989. They closed just a few weeks before my first comic festival, Comics 99. I took this to be the final death knell for comic shops.”

    Brad Brooks concurred: “I remember Forever People with fondness…It reminded me of the old Forbidden Planet in Denmark Street as there were lots of hidden nooks and crannies where you could pick up some amazing stuff–I found a copy of Spiegelman’s Breakdowns, old undergrounds & fanzines and old back issues of The Comics Journal there. I was very sad to see it close.”

    Dean Simons sprang to the defence of a title mentioned. “I thought Squirrel Girl was rather funny. Admittedly I came in about a year or so after the hype machine rolled through.”

    “Different strokes for different folks!” I replied.

    Publisher and shop owner Kenny Penman offered a more serious comment. “I didn’t quite get the point here. As a comic seller I would prefer to sell good stuff to you but, I am also quite happy to sell you the most commercial stuff going. It isn’t my place to change your mind – I’ve heard enough of people putting down Transformers and bigging up Watchmen – as John says – different strokes. If they want to collect and never read it – I still do this a lot – then I’m cool with that too.

    “Whatever your customer wants try to support their choices – if they ask if you read something or like it – say ‘not myself but a whole lot of people love it’. You might also then go on to say this is also really good too, if you are looking to try something new. I still spend way to much time in other comic shops and for the most part they are small – but unusually these days (I think) dingy and uninteresting – sure they still exist but the same might be said of records stores, games shops etc.

    “Overall the whole market has come way up, you have a gender balance behind tills, you have a gender balance which is probably running 60/40 now, often 50/50 on the male/female customer count. Far cry from how it was. My main bugbears are silent shops (just pay the PRS your shop will improve 100% from music), super-noisy shops (function of age) and mobile phones behind tills. Other than that I’ve had a lot of excellent experiences in UK comics shops of all sizes and cut of jib. I think your writer is looking for comic effect more than the real idea of how stores work.”

    “In Book Two of Read Em and Weep, I’m researching just how male orientated and cliquey comic shops were in the late 1970s,” noted 2000AD creator Pat Mills. “I vaguely recall from my own visits, but as they were often very off-putting I didn’t linger long. So I’m using a mole for some original details I can use! I saw from Big Bang Theory it’s still the way I remember them at least in the States. Spaced also had that feeling. At least there are some great exceptions now, like Gosh.”

    “I’m not sure tv sitcoms are a great barometer of contemporary comic book shops as they seem to lean on stereotypes more than anything,” responded Dean Simons. “Especially in the case of Big Bang Theory.”

    “It’s good to know they’re changing,” Pat replied. “But they were certainly that way in the 70s through to the millennium. In fact they were worse.”

    “The Science Fiction Bookshop in Edinburgh had two regular female comic customers when we started running it back in 1986,” says Kenny Penman. “Now in its ongoing incarnation as FP Edinburgh gender mix is about 50/50. Our two customers were a woman who was a writer in the fan scene of the time and reviewed comics for that who had a big standing order. Our other girl was a very cool, with-it, glimpse of the future and a huge 2000AD fan. It started to change with Love and Rockets, Tank Girl and Deadline etc and the introduction of girls behind the tills in most of our shops. Manga really massively increased the non-male shoppers and toys like POP! vinyl have cemented that.

    “I loved comic shops in my own fanatical collector way back in the day, places like Dark they Were were just hallowed meccas, I like them more now, though.”

    “I think it is fairly simple,” notes publisher Dave Elliott of comic stores woes. “When most of us started buying comics, Marvel and DC put out 25 to 30 titles a month at 25 cents each. Fairly easy to pick them all up with pocket money or a Saturday job. You could collect them all. If you really got into them you could start buying back issues. Getting a full run of something was reasonably achievable. Now Marvel and DC put out 70 titles a month averaging $3.50. You can’t afford them all so you either follow creators or certain groups; Avengers, Batman, X-men etc… Collectors are your core base. Break them and you’re struggling. Change creative teams every other issue and you’re screwed. Marvel and DC are struggling through on mass copies to retailers for speculative buyingbon rare variants. That’s gotta bust soon. What then?”

    “Spot on, Dave,” replied David Pollock. “My dad used to buy me an entire month’s Marvel releases in a newsagent for £15, now it’s only middle-aged guys with decent jobs and/or nothing else to spend their money on I see buying stacks of comics in FP. But I do wonder if floppies are like singles to the record albums of graphic novels. I guess the best of the latter might work for a wider market?

    “I think the bigger problem is that there is too much material being produced,” feels Dave Elliott. “I would urge the industry to produce less material but at a higher quality. Build things to last longer than Wednesday.”

    “We used to get 4 weeklies in our house in the 1970s,” commented our very own Colin Noble. “For someone to get the same amount of comics now, you are looking at £15 a week.

    “I struggle to afford £15 a month let alone £60 for myself and that’s not including the rest of the geeks in this family!”

  2. Following up on this tongue-in-cheek item about the state of comic stores, by Tony Esmond, here are the ICV2 reports covering Marvel Senior Vice President – Sales and Marketing David Gabriel’s recent comments on the state of Marvel and retailer response, which prompted national coverage on BBC Front Row, NewsNight and in The Guardian. Part 1 – https://icv2.com/articles/news/view/37154/marvel-retailer-summit-day-1; Part 2 – https://icv2.com/articles/news/view/37153/marvel-retailer-summit-day-1. Bleeding Cool ran a news story in response here: https://www.bleedingcool.com/2017/04/03/comic-store-future-marvel-finally-open-talk-retailers-heck-breaks-loose/; and there is a great article on the whole kerfuffle caused here on The Verge, which has a lot of great links in it: http://www.theverge.com/2017/4/3/15161012/marvel-comics-sales-diversity-politics

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