An Impromptu Interview

This is an excerpt of a larger conversation I had with a friend last night, who is now getting back into comics after a long hiatus. He just so happened to ask all the right questions, so I figured it would make a pretty interesting read for anyone wondering about some of the behind the scenes goings on of a comic shop, local conventions, DC Rebirth, and more. Enjoy!

 

Christian:    So, DC basically found a clever way to sync the continuity of Flashpoint and the New 52? I fell out of comics before the New 52 and jumped back in with Rebirth

Gordon:    Rebirth is the follow-up to the Convergence event a couple years ago. The event itself went over about as well as a fart in church, but the concept was good. Namely, do away with the whole multiverse thing, condense it all into one reality, and take everything back to its roots, as opposed to the New 52 mindset of "dark and gritty". Not everything from New 52 still stands, mostly just the stuff people liked.. lol

 

Christian:    Lol..  I always feel bad for die-hard fans of a particular character when the publisher completely disregards continuity

Gordon:  Rebirth is my first wide exposure to the DCU. Prior to that, I had only read a handful of DC books. Always been kind of a Marvel Zombie... but now, Marvel seems to have a hard time coming up with anything good, and DC is having a hard time doing anything wrong. DC has actually been pretty consistently outselling Marvel, which I'm not sure has happened since the early 60s.

 

Christian:   That's crazy

Gordon:    Fortunately, DC seems to have found that perfect middle ground that's brought back disenfranchised pre-52 fans, while NOT alienating those who enjoyed New 52. The biggest risk they took was with Batman, as the New 52 run is widely considered the best Batman in decades. For Rebirth they switched the creative teams on basically everything. Big risk, but it netted them HUGE rewards. I'm actually really REALLY glad it paid off for them because it forced Marvel into abandoning it's "All-New All-Different" line in favor of a more traditional Marvel U. Had DC not succeeded with Rebirth, Marvel would still happily be replacing staple characters with unknown, rookie versions of their characters. Marvel once again tried to kill the industry, but DC saved it.

 

Christian:    I'm jealous at how many books you get to read! Perks of being the Pres!

Gordon:    Truth! I just wish I had the same amount of time as I do comics in my reading stack!

 

Christian:    Do you guys get all of your new books on Wednesdays? Is that pretty standard throughout the industry?

Gordon:    Yessir. Wednesday is the big day every week! We pick up our books from Diamond (they have a monopoly on comics distribution) on Tuesday, they hit shelves Wednesday morning.

 

Christian:    I look forward to hearing more about your business model. My understanding is that it's tough and requires lots of guessing insofar as inventory.

Gordon:    Often times my customers know more about what's coming than we do as shop owners. We have no special insider knowledge, and we order 60-90 days before a book is released. It's a massive guessing game on what's going to be hot, and what's going to flop.

 

Christian:    Big lines on Wednesday mornings?

Gordon:    Wednesdays are definitely our busiest day of the week, but it's always a crap shoot. Greatly effected by the weather. If it's raining, we're probably pretty slow.. lol

 

Christian:    Too bad they no longer publish The Wizard lol.

Gordon:    Yep. No Wizard. Only price guide on the market is the annual Overstreet guide, so most everyone determines value by checking eBay listings, filter out "sold items" then average those prices against the grade of the specific comic.

 

Christian:    How many cases/boxes are waiting for you at Diamond on a Tuesday?

Gordon:    We're a small shop, so for us it's anywhere from 6-12 boxes or so, depending on the volume of books released in a given week

 

Christian:    Free market capitalism! Love it!

Gordon:    Yessir! The secondary market in comics is one of the best examples of free market capitalism around! It can be great and infuriating at the same time.. lol. I hate it when something I just want to read gets crazy expensive, but it's great when a book goes for a premium on Day One!

 

 

Christian:    Yeah, and it seems like the most random books can fetch big dollars. Like Batman Rebirth #1 9.8 is going for over $50! It's only a year old!

Gordon:    A lot of times demand is based on 1st appearances, new creative teams, really awesome cover art, popularity of a character, whether or not there's a movie or TV show, and rarity. There are a ton of factors that make speculating an inaccurate science, but you can sometimes make safe bets when that perfect storm of factors comes together.

 

 

Christian:    Do you think we'll have a speculation-driven market like we had in the early '90s? That almost ruined the industry.

Gordon:    That's really where we're at now, thanks the the big and small screen adaptations. It's brought a lot of people into the market who only care about "value", not storytelling. That's what drives prices crazy, especially on indie books. Everyone is trying to force the next Walking Dead by jumping on every new #1 that comes out, and getting disappointed when it doesn't materialize as a $1000 book. I tell people ALL the time "buy what you like, not what TV likes". There is ZERO guarantee that new Image Comics #1 is going to be worth the paper it's printed on in 6 months, but if you're buying because you enjoy it, it'll never lose value to you.

 

Christian:    That's a great point.

Gordon:    I mean.. it only benefits me if people buy the crap out of everything, but it does me no good if people feel they've wasted their money and don't come back. I can develop better, more fulfilling, and longer lasting friendships with customers who genuinely enjoy what they're buying and keep coming back.

 

Christian:    Did Universal Comics have a booth at Comic-Con in Bmore?

Gordon:    We did Baltimore Comic Con every year for many years, up through 2015. Unfortunately, it's gotten too expensive to set up, with little return. All told, we have to do about $3800 or so in sales to break even, and it's hard to go above that. We didn't participate in 2016 or 17, and have no intention of setting up in the future unless policies on vendors and prices change.

 

Christian:    Wow, didn't realize it's that expensive to have a booth.

Gordon:    In 2015, it was $1000 for a 6' table, plus $75 if you want electricity, plus $75 if you want secure internet access, plus $28 per day per vehicle to park. Factor the cost of the product you're selling, and your break-even is about $3800

 

Christian:    Holy smokes. Yeah, you have to move a lot of paper to hit the break-even point.

Gordon:    The whole event can be disastrous if your table is in a bad location, it rains, or your products just don't sell.

 

Christian:    Man, how many boxes of back issues did you have to haul to the Convention Center? And I'm sure you had security concerns. Locking up all your items at night, etc.

Gordon:    It was a LOT of boxes. I don't remember exactly how many. And also the wire racks and things you need to build a wall for key books. Ugh.. loading in and out is another whole story. And a long one. Remind me and I'll tell you about that, and the most popular Comic Con scams and theft methods. Caught a guy trying to steal all kinds of stuff right off our wall one time.

 

Christian:    Yeah, better off staying in the shop. I've only been once and I remember it being a bit overwhelming.

I can only imagine San Diego. Ever been to that show?

Gordon:    No, I'm undecided if I'd ever want to go to San Diego. It looks awesome, but I've been told it's so packed you really can't get around or enjoy the place.

My favorite shows are the small ones. There's this guy who puts them on every 2 months or so in Timonium and Laurel. Calls them "Clandestine Comic Cons". Google search it. They're in hotel conference rooms. These smaller shows are like $3 or $5 to get in, that pays for the room, only $65 for a vendor to set up, and it's basically all comic books. No cosplayers, no weird Chinese knock-off sword sellers, none of the gimmicks. Just tons and tons of actual comic books at reasonable prices.

 

Christian:    That sounds really cool. Is there another one coming up anytime soon?

Gordon:    Yes, but I'm not exactly sure when. Probably November. He usually spaces out on the calendar around the Baltimore Con, for obvious reasons.

Christian:    Right on.

 

Christian:    I noticed that there aren't too many shops in the Bmore area. There's your shop, CC, and the one in the city. Where does this guy pull most of his vendors from? Out of state?

Gordon:    There are more than that.. Cosmic in Catonsville, Chuck's in Dundalk, Twilight in Glen Burnie, Alternate Worlds in Cockeysville, Amazing Spiral in Towson, Comics to Astonish in Columbia, Fudd's Rabbit Hole in Pasadena.. couple more I know, too, but can't remember their names! There are also a lot of guys who set up there but don't have brick and mortar stores

Shazaam in Pasadena, too

 

Christian:    Oh, cool! I was in Timonium yesterday and Googled "comic book shops Timonium" and it only kicked back like 3 or 4.

Gordon:    There's a website, FindAComicShop.com, I think it is. You can search by zip code.

 

Christian:    What do you think about digital comics? Do you think that's the future, or will print comics always be around?

Digital comics don't hurt the market as much as people seem to think. They only makes up about 15% of the market, and I'd venture that most of that is people redeeming the digital vouchers in print comics.

 

Christian:    Yeah, I need the real thing! There's something about holding the book, looking at its cover, and smelling the pages.

Gordon:    Most everything from DC and Marvel includes a voucher to download the digital version for free. If you buy it digitally, it's the same cost as print. And I agree, nothing beats holding a real comic book. Stan Lee once said, no joke, "Comic books are like boobs. Sure, they look great on a screen, but wouldn't you rather hold them in your hands?"

The Mighty Marvel Mess

Marvel Comics has a long history of innovation and reinvention. Few eras in the publisher's long history represent this more than the one we're currently suffering through, but it looks like things may be turning around sooner than later.

Enter: Legacy. The next event from Marvel (after the current one, that is..). Legacy apparently aims to reintroduce Marvel's near infinite roster of beloved classic characters, pairing them with their newer, younger (attempted) replacements. This means we'll be seeing Miles in action with Peter, Riri with Tony, Jane with Thor, Kate with Clint, and so on. Marvel is planning a series of ten 1-shot comics to bring these icons back to the front and center of the Marvel Universe.

And, with the House of Ideas clearly running on E, it's long past time they take a look back to what made them THE dominant force in comics in the first place. Give the fans what they want. Stop trying to shoehorn flimsy new characters into powerful and iconic old costumes. This wouldn't just be a case of fan service, or even shilling for a quick buck, but rather a show of intent to the masses of Marvel readers that are left feeling disillusioned and abandoned in favor of a "new" generation of heroes that, quite frankly, are incapable of filling out the borrowed tights they're trying to wear.

I always figured it would take hitting rock bottom in sales for them to consider this. It now seems Marvel has not only hit the bottom, but slammed clear through the basement floor. Perhaps in the depths of sales hell, they'll take a moment to look back on the core of what once made Marvel the mightiest home for heroes the funny pages have ever seen...

But will it be enough to dethrone the Distinguished Competition as the former and current home of heroic storytelling?

DC suffered a problem similar to Marvel's current woes in the not-too-distant past, when it shook off decades of continuity in favor of it's New 52 reboot. While it felt fresh and exciting in the beginning, it didn't take long for the luster to wear thin. Readers longed for the characters and stories they'd known and loved all their lives, not the darker, grittier, colder universe that the New 52 offered. DC listened to their fans, and their response has been nothing short of a rousing success according to critics, fans, and sales figures alike. Rebirth brought back all the qualities that had been lost, and they couldn't have chosen a better time to do it.

DC Rebirth has not only managed to bring back multitudes of fans who had given up on the New 52 universe, but also succeeded in bringing in truck loads of former Marvel fans, still unable to find their footing in the "All-New, All-Different" universe. Thousands of people (myself included) were reading about DC heroes such as Aquaman, Hal Jordan, Hellblazer, and more that they had previously ignored or shrugged off as dorky, old, or irrelevant. These new readers are now hooked, and Marvel is going to be hard pressed to win these folks back. After all, why should they come back?

For all the flack thrown at DC for rebooting their universe, it seems many Marvel zombies are unable to recognize the exact same thing when it happens in their own sandbox. Don't believe me? Just take a look at the Recent Comics racks in any local comic shop. At any given time, there seems to be at least a half dozen new #1's, often times for series that never made it into the double digits of issue numbers. More than anything, this demonstrates that Marvel has been focused more on the cheap sales pop a new #1 brings than they are in actually telling good stories in those books. So, why should disillusioned Marvel fans come back to a universe that can't commit to a series for more than 10 issues, on the vague promise that they intend to return to their roots? That's a question for Marvel to answer, and it's a question that's best answer lies at the core of what wrecked their line in the first place: Secret Wars.

Personally, I enjoyed the Secret Wars series very much. It wasn't without it's problems, but the arc was a massive undertaking that mostly succeeded in what it was trying to do. The issue here is what, exactly, they were trying to do. It seemed the intent was to merge all the alternate realities and timelines into one Marvel universe. That doesn't sound bad on the surface, but what we were left with was nothing short of the dismissal of the iconic, existing heroes in favor of newer, younger characters. Had Secret Wars not happened, or had it ended differently, Marvel could've kept it's Ultimate universe and populated it with all these re-imagined characters, leaving the fan favorites alone to continue doing what they do in the mighty Marvel manner.

Perhaps Legacy will do just that. Or, perhaps, it'll be just another example of Marvel pushing an agenda over good story telling, massive crossovers designed to get you to buy titles you otherwise wouldn't, and another excuse to slap that #1 logo on the cover and milk their fans for another $3.99 (or $4.99, or $5.99). This reader is sincerely hoping for the former but, as they say, I'll believe it when I see it in the funny pages.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

So this has been my first year (well, 8 months) on the business end of the comic book industry. I've learned so much this year, met all of you reading this, and had a blast doing it all along the way! We've had LOTS of changes in the shop and our business model since I came on board, and I think it's all helped to make a huge improvement in the Universal Comics brand. There's still much to do but, as you've all seen, we've been making steady progress! What else would you like to see us do with the shop? Any products or titles we're not currently carrying that you'd like to see on our shelves? Drop us a line and let us know!

Thank you all for an amazing first year being a part of Universal Comics! I'm looking forward to seeing you all this week, next year, and what exciting improvements we have in store for 2016!

-Gordon

Dark Knight III: The Master Race

Frank Miller's Dark Knight III!!

"The Master Race". That's what it's called. Sounds EPIC. Universal Comics is proud to announce we are NOW accepting Pre-Orders for both the Standard and Collector's Edition of this seminal series!! 

Dark Knight III: The Master Race is the most ambitious project ever from DC Comics. It's being released in two formats:

The Standard Edition is 32 pages and features a 16 page mini-comic bound to the main book by a tip in plate for $5.99

The Collector's Edition of each volume will be released after the Standard Edition and will collect both the standard 32 page comic as well as the 16 page mini-comic in a single Oversized Format. The eighth volume in the landmark series will include a special slipcase designed to hold the entire set. Each volume will retail at $12.99

Stop in today to reserve your copy of one, the other, or both!

Let the Games Begin!....Soon!

We've been talking about getting gaming up and running for some time now, and it looks like the first wave of games we'll be carrying is Walking Dead TacDex, DC Justice League Dice Masters, and Marvel Dice Masters, with Magic: The Gathering to follow shorty after!

Walking Dead TacDex is a fun and easy to learn twist on the basic card game War. Special Action cards change the gameplay up on the fly, a High/Low Battle Marker flips the rules in an instant, it features original illustrations by Walking Dead artist Charlie Adlard, offers fast rounds with infinite replayability, and has a low cost entry point.

DC and Marvel Dice Masters both feature a robust cast of characters from their respective universes, interchangeable sets, highly collectible booster packs, endless replayablitily, and fast paced head to head action! This is a more complex game than The Walking Dead TacDex, so you can expect longer and more in depth battles of a more competitive nature. Build your own dream team of heroes and villains to conquer your adversaries one battle at a time!

We're really excited to get the gaming started, and we hope you'll join us for all the action packed fun!