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?"