Think About The Future, Eckhart.
Here’s a thing to bear in mind for every aspiring comic creator out there, and while I think about it, every publishing company, as well.
Everything not in Previews is a pain in the arse for your average Funnybook retailer.
For those of you who don’t know how Previews works: This is Previews. Make sense of this. As your job. Every month.
If you’re not mad enough to try and make sense of that for free. Previews is a monthly publication, roughly the size of the Argos catalogue listing all the products being offered by most of the heavyweight publishers to ship in two months time. We, as retailers, have to sit down with this thing and essentially gamble our continued existence on correctly ordering just enough copies of items to keep our customer base happy without overstocking (As most comics are non-returnable unless they’re very late, everything we’ve ordered, we’re stuck with, so if we can’t sell it, we’re lumbered with expensive and undesirable stock.) or understocking (If you don’t have enough of the desirable items of the month in stock on a regular basis, customers just tend to say ‘Well, if they’re not going to stock POP!/ DHP/Mars Attacks/Insert you chosen example of a comic that’s obviously understocked here, then I might as well going to the place up the road and pick up my other stuff there at the same time.)
Honestly, I can’t imagine how you settle down and try to make sense of Previews if you don’t ave a strong working knowledge in the history of adspeak, a study of Naomi Klein’s ‘No Logo’ and George Orwell’s ‘1984 ‘and the attitude ‘Okay, how are they going to try to get us to overorder ourselves into bankruptcy THIS month?’ If you are new to the Game, here’s some things that happen that you ought to be aware of.
(By the way, even if you don’t have a hand in the ordering process, I cannot recommend to new comic shop staff that they get into the habit of reading Previews on a regular basis enough. I know of at least one employer that seems to actively encourage their staff to be as ignorant of new comics as possible. This might sound like an easier job, but you’ll find down the line that your employer has left you with virtually no transferable skills beyond ‘Running a till’. You’re going to need more than that to survive. Trust me.)
I cannot say enough good things about this process. Every comic shop that’s still open today must have employed this technique or some variation of it in order to stay open, so here’s how it works.
You’ve just opened up a new comic shop. You set up your Diamond account .Tuesday evening comes around. You clear out the customers and this week’s new comics arrive. Let’s say, hypothetically, you order in 100 copies of the new issue of Amazing Spider-Man for the month of September. You stash aside 30 odd for standing orders and phone ins. 5 of those are variant covers, so you do whatever it is you do with variants. You’re left with 65 regular issues of Amazing Spider-Man that you put on the shelf. Fine, so far, so good.
The next step is what you do if you’re smart and want to stay alive.
Come Sunday, you take a spreadsheet that lists every comic that ships that week and the 1st, 2nd and 3rd weeks of the month. You sit there with your remaining copies of Amazing Spider-Man and count how many copies you have left. The following Sunday, you count and record that amount again. Then again the third week. The next week is the week the new issue should ship. Whatever number of copies you have on that third Sunday is the number you cut your order of Amazing Spider-Man by for your next order. (Barring whatever copies you want to keep for back issues, etc.) You repeat that process for every comic you stock that you order from Previews
And you IGNORE THE FUCK OUT OF ALL VARIANT/RATIO BASED INCENTIVES and stick to your numbers, regardless of whatever you’re offered in the next Previews. Holofoil 1 in 50, Die-Cut 1 in 30, 3D Lenticular 1 in 75. You’ll see all kinds of numbers going on eBay for all this stuff, and it’ll be easy to abuse your ordering system to go for the quick profit. Marvel and DC will LOVE you for ordering all that stock. But you’ll still be lumbered with a bunch of stock that looked amazing in Previews, on the websites, but now it’s taking up a lot of space in your shop. Did it all ship on time? Then it’s non-returnable. To get the 1 in 75 cover, you have to order 75 copies of the comic. It isn’t Marvel or DC’s problem whether you can make a profit on the other 74 copies you’ve just got in or not.
Comics doesn’t work like the newspaper or magazine industry. You don’t get to send your unsold copies back for credit. You have bought all of that stuff firm sale.I’ve literally seen shops go under because they focussed on short-term variant gain. I can guarantee you there are shops across the world who are still looking at their faded and yellowing Secret Invasion/Final Crisis variants gathering dust on the walls and wondering what they were thinking.
(Sure, there are some shops that seem to have variants all the time, and I’ll bet you Dollars to Doughnuts that every time the money that pays business rates, site bills, staff wages isn’t being generated by new comics sales and can afford to screw up their orders from month to month.
This is why whenever I see comic creators or shop staff saying ‘Oh, well, variants are just some fun, you know?’ it does my utter tits in. The way Archie does variants (They offered every cover to the Death Of Archie issues on a ‘Order as you like basis.) or Image’s efforts to make their 2nd and later printings as attractive as the original covers (particular shout-out to Sex Criminals, here.) is fine. The concentrated effort by publishers to try to make retailers ignore their own sales figures to artificially increase pre-order numbers is less funny and more, given how small the comics business is now and how many shops have gone under because they clearly didn’t know what they were doing before they opened up their copy of Previews.
That’s literally just one element of the thought process that goes into managing a comic shop, but actually, while we’re on the subject…
Tom, Jim, Axel, Dan. Let’s talk savvy for a minute here. Pretend the Rubes aren’t here. Hang on, I’ll find something for them to get outraged at…
Right, while they’re angry, look, we need to talk here. Here’s the thing. All of us who have the book? We’re old enough to have lived through at least three Infinite Crises or two Professor X deaths. We know the score with what you’re doing with your punters, and that’s fine. We could probably do without double-digit Captain America issue ones or such, but you probably don’t need us being quite so straight and explaining to punters why not every crossover is an essential purchase or telling them they can always find the Skottie Young variant covers on Google Images for free, so we’re balanced out, I reckon.
I get why you need to do the ‘Classified solicitations. I understand why you don’t want everyone to know who’s writing and drawing The Future’s End books, you don’t want the Gossip sites to blow your Third Act Reveal or anything. You want them to be surprised by the events. That’s fine, I dig you don’t wanna show your Aces until you’re playing the last hand. Just meet us halfway here.
Instead of running to the world’s media when you solicit a book two months before it hits the shops because it has some content that’ll get the real world interested for good reasons that could potentially expand the reading population, like the female Thor or having Sam Wilson be Captain America (Which has the little fat men in stained t-shirts who want to keep the Clubhouse Girl Free Because They Have The Cooties looking nervous at various marts I’ve been to, so keep it up.) How about this?
Get in touch with The View, The NY Post, whoever a couple of weeks before Final Cut Off Date. We’ll get a wave of people who want to buy the product as it’s coming out, rather than their hearing about it and then forgetting by the time said comic hits the shelves. Let us know what’s going on so we can give you more money! Realistically, we basically need a Retailer version of Previews so we can see, say, Wolverine #55 is going to feature the Death Of Sabretooth or such and will order more copies accordingly. If we just find out with the rest of the Rubes, we can’t prepare for it, you don’t print enough copies as we didn’t know to order more, customers can’t get them, nasty parasite scalpers end up with the copies and neither of us actually benefit from the effort. Just those lowlife schlubs who only care about any comic if they can sell it for more than cover price. And screw those guys. They made comics bad enough in the 90’s.
And after all, too much lead time can sometimes really backfire on you, right?
That’s just two elements of everyday life working in a comic shop when it comes to dealing with new stock. I’ve been lucky enough to work in shops that were very concerned with carrying stock outside the Diamond order, and as we learn to co-exist with Comixology and Amazon undercutting the price of new Hardcovers and Trade Paperbacks, specialising in something beyond the Wednesday shipment is going to be something we’re all going to learn very quickly or die, so we go into old British comics, Undergrounds, Toys, Manga, Small Press.
Most of this is easy. Undergrounds, Back Issues and such are offered as collections are easy enough to go through, Toys and Manga have their own catalogues and such. When dealing with private individuals though, things get…difficult. I’m not going to go into why too deeply, but I will say that talented artist of ‘ It Girl’ (available on Comixology here) the upcoming ‘Elsie Harris Works Here’ graphic novel and also appearing in my favourite comics related project of 2014, the Locust Moon produced Kickstarter project Little Nemo: Dream Another Dream, Jessica Martin has perfected the ‘How To Make Retailer’s Lives Easier.’ booklet.
Jessica’s booklet is perfection because here’s the reality: With the best will in the world, I probably won’t remember your blog, or that I’ve got your card, or such. It isn’t malicious, more that it gets filed under ‘Things That Will Get Dealt With When All The Things To Do With The Shop Making Money Now Are Done.’ and will possibly be forgotten. For the record, and I think this needs restating, when we sit down to do the final numbers for Previews, we have the customer orders, the cycle sheets, anything we need to remember and then we’re in the process for a good three or four hours, usually arguing for quite a bit every time.
Every bit of information that isn’t on the table will be forgotten. If you solicit a comic but want us to go chasing the actual creative teams on your website three weeks later or plain refuse to tell us the actual content of the comic that you want us to pay non-returnable money for, you seriously run the risk of us saying ‘No, this just isn’t worth the trouble of ordering any more. Why not spend the money on publishers who are straight with us rather than turning our job into some kind of scavenger hunt?’ Don’t assume any title is beyond dropped from the shelves. What we need, ultimately, is simple information that gives a rough idea of what we’re getting for our money two months down the line. Jessica has fulfilled that brief perfectly.
What Jessica has done has created a high production value A5 booklet composed of 5 pages,(10 sides) In it, she lists what’she ‘s worked on previously, examples of what her comics look like, where to find her content, what’s she’s got coming up in the future and how to get hold of her if I want to order any of her stuff. And that is literally all I need. Ideally, what I’d have is a whole bunch of these from various comic creators who want to try to sell their work outside the main channels and I’d sift through them and order as and when needed. Simple. Do this. It’ll be worth the effort. This is how you stay both alive and relevant.
By the way, if you haven’t read ‘It Girl’, it’s well worth the effort of hunting down a copy. A touching tale of Clara’s life and a rather poetic ending. Jessica’s passion for the subject drives this period piece to be a debut that looks like the word of a studied veteran decades into their craft picking a vanity piece to work on, rather than the first time out of the gate. Jess’s artwork is somewhere between Guy Davis and Eddie Campbell on this project, and I see her as one more valuable contributor to the book that’ll probably bankrupt me this Christmas. Seriously, if you have a comic fan in your life, either they want Locust Moon’s ‘Little Nemo:Dream Another Dream’ or they don’t know it exists and they will love you for getting it for them.
Simple, intelligent. Hopefully, the future.