San Francisco's world-famous comic book mecca, Isotope the Comic Book Lounge is the epicenter for comics coolness. The home of unique events with the industry's biggest names and some of the smallest, too. Including: Grant Morrison, Jim Lee, Eric Powell, JH Williams, Ian Gibson, MC Chris, Dave Johnson, Steve Niles, Warren Ellis, Ed Brubaker, Robert Kirkman, Darick Robertson, Erik Larsen, Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris, Joe Casey, Tom Beland, Rick Remender, Brian Wood, B. Clay Moore, Brett Warnock, Adam Beechen, Andrew Boyd, Ms Monster, Eric Stephenson, Pine-am, Bill Willingham, Jason McNamara, Batton Lash, Jackie Estrada, Rob Osborne, Tony Talbert, Kirsten Baldock, JW Cotter, Danica Novgorodoff
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Events at Isotope the comic book lounge. Included are unique events like Grant Morrison's International Guide to Living Fabulously, Eric Powell's Monster Mash-Up, Jim Lee & Lee Bermejo All-Star Opening, MC Chris performing live, Ed Brubaker Armwrestling, JH Williams Baccanalia, Brian K. Vaughan & Tony Harris Voter Registration Drive, Pine-am performing live, Steve Niles Zombiefest, Continuity Art Show, Warren Ellis Scotch Tasting, Watermelon Races with Andrew Boyd, Tom Beland Eisner Nomination Bash, Brian Wood Month, APE AFTERMATH
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April 27th 2010 (click here for more info)


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Sunday, July 17, 2005

Hey, folks, it's Sean again. In preparation for our dominion of the Isotope, I sent out e-mails to several of our favorite non-retailing comics professionals. After all, if the point here is to see what light fresh eyes can shed on comics retailing, why not run a full spectrum?

I can't believe how accessible comics professionals are-- can you imagine e-mailing your favorite musicians or actors and hearing back? Let alone with some thoughtful, incisive responses to your every inquiry? Sweet Jesus, I love comics and the people who make them.

Here are some of the great answers we got.

QUESTION: What do you see as the biggest challenge facing retailers in the current comics market? And what do you think might contribute to a solution?

JOE CASEY (G0DLAND, Fantastic Four: First Family):
I'm just a lone creator, working hard every month to create comics that retailers can sell. My job is to do the best work that I can, not just phone it in, and provide comic books of a quality that retailers are enthusiastic about and happy to sell to their customers. That's *my* real responsibility as a link in the chain.

As far as the biggest challenge facing retailers, I think most of them are doing the best they can. I think if there's any "challenge" involved, it's all about each store cultivating their own customer base. I'd hate to think that any retailer out there can't tell Publisher or Creator Hype from genuine quality and true reader/customer demand. That's where high orders on crappy comics come from.

NEIL KLEID (Ninety Candles, Rant Comics): Price point and getting walk ins/new clientele.

Comics are damn expensive these days. Why would someone spend seven bucks on Smoke or Superfuckers when they can drop that money on a decent dinner? Or a CD? Or hell, two beers?

As far as walk in/new clientele goes, I mean come on-- you're going to the store on Wednesday. I'm going to the store on Wednesday. How can we get the girl in the next cubicle to go? Or Johnny Keller's Dad in Hoboken? How can we get people to come and buy comics when they don't care and don't know comics are there to be bought?

Look, at cons, right? I know all my indy cartoonist pals and internet buddies are going to buy my new minicomic. But how do I get Joe Public who's just walking through MoCCA because he was passing by and thought it looked cool to buy Ninety Candles or Rant Comics #3? It's about new clients and new readers. How do we get 'em?

[As for what might contribute to a solution:] Good marketing, good exposure.

Sure, people see Batman Begins and want to buy a shitload of Batman comics. Is there any way we can cross market a store that way? How do we get people to come looking for "Isotope" or "Jigsaw"? What's the Batman Begins or EW mention for retail?

Is it write ups in the VOICE and the Stranger? Is it commercials? Is it promo marketing-- cards, posters, ads and flyers?

How do we get people to look for the "retail brand" rather than the "comic/title brand"? Because honestly? I can buy Spider-Man at Barnes and Nobles now. Why the fuck would I go out of my way to find a comic shop?

So we need to stop worrying about marketing books and worry more about marketing the store experience.

ROSS RICHIE (Boom! Studios): Right now, House of M and the Infinite Crisis stuff are garnering all the attention and all the attraction. As DC and Marvel move on from this and become ever-more event-driven trying to top themselves, when does the bubble burst and the fans decide it all sucks? How long can you top yourself? How event-driven can mainstream comics become? We won't know for a while now-- those comics are working, then in 2006 they'll find the Bigger Better Faster More books, then in 2007 we'll start to see them unable to make it Bigger, Better, Faster, or More. Then in 2008, the wheels will start to come off the cart. That being said, Quesada and DiDio are brilliant men who deserve great respect and do their jobs well. Maybe they'll avoid disaster.

I think there's no solution. The direct market is benefiting from this mass emphasis on commercial comics-- retailers are making more money-- and that's a good thing. But it seems like it leads to an evitable boom-and-bust, if the last go-round from 1989 to 1995 showed us anything.

QUESTION: What about the biggest opportunity or benefit for retailers in the same market? Are they taking full advantage of it?

I think the Internet is a great tool for retailers across the nation to communicate with each other. Just being able to check in with other people in your line of work is invaluable. I know that retailers provide each other with copies of sold out books and that's really taking advantage of the communication tools available. I'm sure there's a fuller advantage to be taken, but I honestly think they're off to a good start.

NEIL KLEID: Some are. You've got things like the CBIA that's sort of like the retailers union, I suppose. People talking to one another and finding things out... but there can be more.

Lets say James Sime creates a great POP display for The Losers, right? And suddenly he can't keep the shit in stock. Why not jump onto the CBIA or email a bunch of retail friends and say "Hey-- this worked for me and you might try it"?

And then there’s the glut and diversity of the kinds of creators and ideas out there. Why does every signing have to be a signing? Why not have a Xeric signing/workshop, where folks can come in and learn how to make comics and how to apply for grants and get books signed? How about a comic reading slam? A small press signing of the month? Rethink your in store events, approach a creator to help out and boom! I mean there's tons of us out there and we don't all live in NYC and San Francisco-- every city has a comic book creator. Why not capitalize on that and have them set up an event for you to help advertise the store and in the meantime, help give them exposure?

ROSS RICHIE: The biggest opportunity is for retailers to take these new fans, returning older fans, and newly excited longtime fans, and turn them away from event-driven stuff to more stable projects that aren't so marketing-driven that deliver on the goods. That are well-drawn and well-written, and exist on their own-- outside of the hype. Then you've minted long term fans of the art form that will be around when the hype dies out.

That's where I'd like Boom! to be-- a stable place where great creative work is being done, where fans disillusioned with marketing can stop by and get great art and stories.

QUESTION: How would you like to see your books sold by individual retailers? There are obvious ways to bring attention to any one book, of course, such as prominent displays in the store. But there's no way to do that with every book, considering the space limitations of most (nearly all) stores. So given that, how could your books be most effectively be sold?

Well, retailers and their employees need to be informed about the product they're selling. In the case of comic books, that means *reading* them. Now, with so many books coming out, I know it can seem like an insurmountable task, but I would hope that retailers factor in that reading time for both themselves and their employees.

Obviously, I'm not advocating ignoring the customers because the person at the register is nose-deep in the latest issue of G0DLAND (my new series from Image Comics, plug, plug), but being aware of the product is the first step to what I feel is the most important aspect of retailing: hand-selling. You've got to talk to your customers about the books every week, invite them in to a conversation where you-- as a businessperson-- have the opportunity to turn customers onto books they're not already buying.

This is a business... and there's no shame in trying to actually sell more to your customers than just the books they've already got under their arms. Especially if you like certain books and your customer isn't already buying them, talk about them, get a dialogue going, convince your customers to buy them. Don't be ashamed to be a salesman. Believe me, the most successful retailers out there are great salesmen... and that extends from the look of their store, the attitudes of their employees, to their own personalities.

JAY FAERBER (Noble Causes, Captain Universe): I think little things like shelf-talkers and Staff Picks work wonders. They don't take up much space, but they convey information.

ROSS RICHIE: I'm building a creator-driven company. So if a retailer's going to hand-sell one of my books, I think it would be advantageous for them to say: "This is a new book from Boom!, written by Steve Niles with some great art from Nat Jones and Jay Fotos. Boom!'s a great company, they're publishing DeMatteis and Giffen and Mignola and Waid and Johnson... you should check their stuff out!"

I'm trying to build a mainstream company that's just one step outside the Big Two. Hopefully, retailers can take their Big Two customers and nudge them over a bit-- and into Boom!

NEIL KLEID: I'd like the books to be dusted off every once in a while and rotated to let it see the light of day. I mean, my books been out since September and most people by now have it racked in the back if not in boxes. Would it hurt to have Xeric week twice a year when the new grant winners are announced? Dust off a bunch of Xeric books and create some sort of display?

I think retailers need to do what I had to do at Bloomingdale's.

When I was slaving as a retail associate at Bloomies in men's accessories, I was selling everything from gloves to scarves to hats to bags. And I was reminded that I didn't need to just sell those-- I could sell up. I could sell a glove and then remind the customer that it's getting cold out and they might consider a matching scarf and hey - did you know scarves are 30 percent off? You know they're buying the gloves, but now go for the extra point. Sell up.

Hey, I see you've got a copy of this week's Gotham Central-- you must have seen Batman Begins, right? Did you know it was based on Year One, the trade of which is sitting right behind you on the shelf?


I see you're buying a copy of Scurvy Dogs... that's a funny, funny book. Have you seen some of the other indy comedies we have? Like Evan Dorkin's Dork? Oh, you're just buying it for the pirates? Then you should definitely check out Sea of Red over here. Issue three just hit the stands.

Sell up.

Some pretty sharp answers, gentlemen. James was right-- all you folks behind the counter can learn a lot from us uppity, non-retailin' comics folks. We're all in this for the same reason, right? Because we all love comics? I don't see how listening to each other and backin' each other up is anything but a great goddamn idea.

If there are any retailers out there who'd like to respond to any of these points, drop an e-mail to me (Sean!) and I'll see if I can get 'em up before my reign of Iso-terror is up.

Y'know, the way things are going, I don't think I'm ready to give it up. Maybe changing the locks isn't such a bad idea after all...