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
Isotope the comic book lounge features the love for the comics with world class comic book pimps, the Isotope Award for Excellence in Mini-Comics, and popular industry mixers
The Staff at Isotope the comic book lounge. Sexy comic nerds and so much more!
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
Pictures glorious pictures! Photos and videos of the world's most beautiful comic book store and the sexy cool people who shop here. Jim Lee. Grant Morrison. Eric Powell. PINE*am. MC Chris. Danica Novgorodoff. Alternative Press Expo. Toilet Seats.

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DASH SHAW at the Isotope!

Join us and comic creating genius Dash Shaw in celebration of his latest book BODYWORLD from Pantheon

April 27th 2010 (click here for more info)


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Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Isotope Takes Home The Gold
"2005's Best Comic Book Store"

The San Francisco Bay Guardian offers the best independent reporting of news, culture, arts, and entertainment for the Bay Area. And they also host the annual Best of the Bay awards, which are copied by many and rivaled by none.

This year the Guardian celebrates 31 years of it's Best of the Bay issue with more than 400 reasons to be glad you live in the San Francisco Bay Area. Including everything from Best New Restaurant to Best Bonding Experience While Running 200 Miles to Best Place to Dress Your Butch to the Best $3.50 Sandwich to Best Place to See Dead People.

So it's an honor to be recognized by this great independent paper and the people of the San Francisco Bay Area. This is from this week's Best of the Bay issue:

From all of us here at the Isotope... thank you San Francisco Bay Guardian for all the kind words, and thank you SF Bay Area for all the love!

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

A Look Into The Future
w/ Goon Creator Eric Powell

There can be no denying that at the Isotope Eric Powell is one of our most well-loved creators. The multi-Eisner awarded The Goon continues to bring in the big four-color enjoyment each month and Billy The Kid's Old Timey Oddities has been fast becoming one of the staff's all-time favorites.

Powell talked with Newsarama about The Goon, Billy The Kid's Old Timey Oddities and his upcoming Devil Dinosaur one shot at Marvel.

Eric Powell: The Goon And Everything Else

Michigan Goes Indy
w/ SNAP! The Comic Arts Festival

This week the war of the big bank comic convention juggernauts has erupted with the pop-culture conventions battling it out to bring in as many A-List comic creators as possible and to stake their claim to late summer comic conventioneering domination. The topic has been a heavily discussed one on blogs and messageboards the industry over.

But the most interesting news of the 2005 comic convention season isn't about pop-culture con behemouths pounding each other in the head... the real news is SNAP!

A showcase for indy, small press, and self-published comics in the grand tradition of SPX, MOCCA, and San Francisco's APE Con, SNAP! is designed to showcase local talent and to create a community amongst Midwest indy comic creators and their fans. Founded by Katie and Dan Merritt of the excellent Green Brain Comics, SNAP! stands tall in the eye of the comic convention hurricane, celebrating the artform, the artists, and bringing something truly special to the 2005 comic conventioning season.

SNAP! The Comic Arts Festival
5121 Oakman Blvd.
Dearborn, Michigan
Saturday, October 29th

For more information, check out the official site

UPDATE: A tip of the Isotope scotch glass out to The Great Curve and Fanboy Rampage and Neilalien and Entertainment JournURL for helping us spread the good word.
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    Monday, July 25, 2005

    Larry Young Talks Spidey 3
    Could He Be On To Something?

    What's the reason these two actors who are both slated to be in Spider-Man 3 look so much alike? AIT/PlanetLar Publisher Larry Young has an idea why Sam Rami has cast both Topher Grace and Tobey Maguire in the same movie. And it's an idea that's been called "Fanboy Dynamite."

    Has Mister Young cracked open the top of Spider-Man 3's Pandora's Box and let loose the biggest secret in Hollywood?

    Larry Young's Loose Cannon @ CBR

    UPDATE: Young's theory isn't the right one according to who revealed a major movie spoiler today.

    The Life of Johnny Cash
    Film Trailer On-Line

    There can be no greater icon of American music than the gravel-voiced Johnny Cash. A man who spoke his mind and made his own way in life, Cash transformed himself from a poor sharecropper's son into a living legend and in the process he made some of the greatest American music ever. Living life to the fullest and experiencing both the highest of heights and the lowest of lows in his 71 years, he walked the line between saint and sinner, hero and villain, hellraiser and deeply religious Christian. He stood tall for the little man and forged his own path through the world of popular music in a way few others have. With three generations of the family Sime passing down a well-loved and worn collection of first-print Johnny Cash albums to their next of kin, the songs and struggles of this bigger-than-life man have provided influence and inspiration to at least one Isotope staff member since birth.

    Years after his death Cash's life is being immortalized on the big screen and the trailer is now online. Check it out:

    Walk The Line

    Saturday, July 23, 2005

    International Superstars Visit
    New Isotope Location Launched in High Style

    This last Wednesday the Isotope hosted the All-Star Opening featuring Jim Lee, Lee Bermejo, Matteo Casali, Michele Petrucci, and Grazia Lobaccaro. These international superstars were awesome guests, generously signing, sketching and chatting with their fans long past their scheduled signing hours. The waiting throng enjoyed great local beers and wines along with great company and comics while they waited for their turn behind the velvet rope for a tete-a-tete with the creators.

    The evening's festivities were captured in stereoscopic 3-D by the utterly awesome Römmel Jamias for your vicarious viewing pleasure. To get the full effect of this next-best-thing-to-being-there event experience use the traditional red/cyan 3-D glasses, which you can get here if you don't have a pair of your own.

    For the weak of heart who cannot bear the eye-popping goodness of Jim Lee and company in 3-D, there are are pictures for your viewing as well. And, of course, no Isotopic evening with all-star creators would be complete without beautiful new toiletseats to hang in the Isotope's Comic Rockstars Toiletseat Museum. Like this one:

    (click for more)

    Thanks to all who attended and especially to Jim Lee, Lee Bermejo, Matteo Casali, Michele Petrucci, and Grazia Lobaccaro for breaking in our new digs with style and panache!

    Friday, July 22, 2005

    Get Out Your Grey Suits and Bowties
    Paul Reubens Day 7/23/05

    Tomorrow the streets of San Francisco will be running wild with Pee Wees in celebration of the third annual Paul Ruebens Day. This annual celebration of the 80's greatest television icon includes a besuited parade/pub crawl, an after party of Playhouse proportions including a Miss Yvonne beauty contest, a Pee Wee kissing booth, a midnight Big Adventure mass, exclusive footage of the very pornographic films Paul Reubens was arrested for watching on July 26th 1991, and much, much more.

    Sponsored by the Center for Sex and Culture, Good Vibrations, Peaches Christ, and the Friends of Pee-wee. Prepare yourself for an outrageous, outlandish, and truly Reubenesque event!

    For more information check out

    Grant Morrison & Jim Lee
    Do WildCATS for 2006

    Although it's official announcement has been slighty spoiled by some obviously uninformed intern at Wizard Magazine, there can be no denying the sheer largeness and glory that is the teaming of Grant Morrison and Jim Lee on a re-launch of Wildstorm Comics flagship title.

    We here at the Isotope have a big round of applause not only for what will assuredly be an excellent book but also for the brilliant recent career choices that have seen Mister Lee teaming up with writers like Frank Miller, Grant Morrison, and the comic store that truly has no rival.

    Nicely done, Mister Lee! We look forward to checking out WildCATS in 2006!

    Isotope Gotta Whole Lotta Love
    For The SF Bay Guardian

    The SF Bay Guardian is one hell of a great paper. An award-winning, independent, alternative weekly newspaper with a strong local focus, specializing in investigative reporting, political commentary, arts and entertainment coverage, and consumer-oriented features. The Guardian sets the pace which other independent papers the nation over try to keep up with.

    If the only love the Isotope ever got from the Guardian was the three "Best of the Bay" awards we've received, we'd be more than happy with the attention this paper has brought our way. So this last week when the Guardian chose to run a piece on our new location in the business section they made us a very, very happy staff.

    You rock SF Bay Guardian, and most especially you Chellis Ying. We're all throwing up our goats in your honor over here.

    Wonder Woman Pilot on the Big Screen
    Sunday July 24th

    No city in America loves Wonder Woman more than San Francisco does, from her early comics in the 40's to her campy TV show from the 70's to her continued comic adventures and there can be no doubt SF will be the most fun city anywhere to catch the Joss Whedon helmed Wonder Woman movie's opening weekend come 2007. One only need to consider that Wonder Woman was created by Dr. William Moulton Marston (a ground breaking psychologist known for his love of feminism, polygamy, bondage, gender role research, as well as for inventing the polygraph test) and it's pretty easy to understand why SF appreciates so many of the varied aspects of the character.

    So what could be more fun than a showing of the 1974 Linda Carter pilot in the heart of SF's Mission district? Come laugh, yell, oggle, sing along, eat free popcorn, and be lulled by the beauty that is Wonder Woman along with spacerock bass maestro Stoo Odom (of Thin White Rope & Subarachnoid Space fame), SF author Sherilyn Connelly, and producer/director/musician Jim Fourniadis.

    Bad Movie Night featuring Wonder Woman 1974 Pilot
    @ The Darkroom
    2263 Mission St (Between 18th & 19th)
    Sunday July 24th. 8pm.

    Tuesday, July 19, 2005

    The Great Retail Experiment Ends
    & The Isotope Staff Returns

    After a weekend long conquering of San Diego Comic Con, the bags are unpacked, and the Isotope is restored to its natural state.

    Ah, it's good to be home!

    Starting tomorrow you can expect to see Ian Yarborough, Jared Guenther, Kirsten Baldock, and James Sime back in their rightful places.

    And for those who have followed The Great Retail Experiment, you can expect a full assessment of the lessons learned, the strategies suggested, and the retail experience presented during that project here on the Isotope Communique as soon as we bid Jim Lee a fond farewell.

    For the last time, this is Sean Maher reporting from the Isotope Communique. It's been a hell of a weekend, now hasn't it? Nora, Graeme and I took our brief time in command of Isotope at full friggin' tilt, jumping from new customers to parties to blog updates to display changes to scheduling arrangements to cleaning up to phone call after phone call and e-mail after e-mail to, at last, addressing in a real way the absence of kids in the comics reading community. With my consciousness drifting away from the huge lack of sleep, I've time for one last post - wrapping up our work with the kids, handing the reins back over to Old Man Sime (dangit), and closing with a special announcement.

    And looking back, as my eyelids fight desperately against a crushing gravity, I'm remembering this morning's events with a single, reassuring thought in my mind.

    Well, that felt like success.

    We just had a full class of 15 kids (aged about 11 to 13) in the store for about two hours. Their teacher, a princely fellow named Greg, brought them in shortly after 9:00 this morning.

    Nora and I were up late the night before, along with the apple of my eye, the lovely Molly Hirschfeld, preparing for the lesson. We had several copies of Firebreather ready for the kids to read, a vocabulary list written out on chart paper, and a concise lesson plan.

    Then I'd been awake until the wee hours of the morning, my eyes wide with anxiety. I don't know how to handle kids. I don't know how to teach. What the hell am I doing?

    Turns out I didn't really need to worry so much. Greg told me this was a great class of kids, but I was totally unprepared for what a charming bunch of tiny people he was bringing my way.

    They walked in and a young boy named Benito immediately walked up and offered a handshake hello. What a class act! Nora and I barely had time to introduce ourselves before the kids went scrambling to the racks, intensely curious about what entertaining goodies we had to offer.

    After a moment or two, though, it was time to get down to brass tacks. And Greg was a great man for the job, talking to the students firmly but with a friendly tone. Soon they were all seated in the semicircle we'd made from the Isotope trademark benches.

    We began by further introducing ourselves, talking for a moment about how we'd gotten into comics and answering some questions-- What was the first comic? was a tricky one, as anybody who's read Understanding Comics knows, so I turned the question around and asked if anybody knew who the first super hero was.

    When they guessed Superman, I congratulated them on their fine answer and told them it came out in 1937. 'Cause, you know-- I remember everything as happening a year before it actually did.

    When we were done with that, I turned to the chart paper we'd set up on an easel, and asked the kids if they could name as many comics as they knew. We quickly filled up two sheets of paper, affixing them to the wall so the kids would have some confirmation of their ideas. (One clever little bugger kept turning around to the comics racks behind him and raising his hand with titles he saw there-- I could believe he'd seen Preacher somewhere, but by the time he started naming Sea of Red and Ultra the jig was up!)

    Then we prepared for the reading by doing what some call the "Prediction Exercise". Nora and I described the premise of the book, telling the kids it was about a teenage boy whose dad was a dragon and whose mom was a human-- what would life be like in a new school?, we asked.

    "He'd be scared."

    "He wouldn't know anybody."

    "He wouldn't make friends."

    God, these kids were breaking my heart. I'd worried that the story was maybe a little too saccharine, that they'd want something more cynical and modern, but they went right for it without a hint of sarcasm.

    Then we started the reading, assigning different parts to each kid. They were a little nervous to take Duncan, the lead character, when we told them it was a big part, so teacher Greg stepped up to the plate, doing a fantastic reading of the character that had all the kids listening and reading.

    When we were done reading, we discussed the story a little bit more, exploring the ideas the kids had had before reading, and talking about where the story might go next. I'm telling ya, younguns are one hell of a wellspring of imagination.

    Then it was time to set them loose. They asked a few more questions-- Benito, the hand shaker, had three or four by himself-- and then attacked the comics racks with hungry eyes.

    As we'd expected, Fantastic Four was on a lot of their minds. After balking at the price tag of the Ultimate Fantastic Four trades I'd set out, some kids needed help finding single issues. Benito found one he was really happy with, as you can see below (he's on the left):

    One of Greg's aides started looking through another FF book with some of the girls, taking particular note of the cheesecake factor.

    Her comments?

    "You know, it's really nothing you wouldn't see at the beach."

    After about 15 or 20 minutes, it was time to wrap things up. And wow, I really wasn't expecting the slam I got at the cash register!

    And on their way out? Well, I didn't want anybody leaving empty handed, so I'd bought a whole big stack of books from quarter bins I'd raided throughout the city - I didn't want anybody leaving empty-handed. You can imagine how popular that was! And Greg was happy to pick up some books for the kids who hadn't been able to come... and confessed to wanting a couple for himself.

    And you know, that would have been enough for me. I would have been really happy if that had been all that happened. But then there was the coup de grace, the final touch that sweetly seared the whole affair into my mind forever.

    Just before he left, Benito came back up to us at the register. He held up his bag, the Fantastic Four snugly taped inside for safety, threw us a huge smile and said:

    "This is the first comic I ever had."




    Giving it up.

    We didn't want to. Last night, as we finished preparing our lesson, Nora suddenly realized it was our last day closing up and had... well, a little bit of an episode.

    After applying a mild sedative, we were able to settle her down. Then we both stood behind the counter for a moment, surveying the brilliant kingdom that was so briefly ours, with sleep-deprived satisfaction.

    Once we got that settled, we headed for the door. But wait! Was that Graeme showing up at the last minute? Looking silly and having fun and reading a newspaper?

    Don't be silly. That wasn't Graeme. We all know that Graeme always looks distinguished and intelligent, never has fun, and can't read. Was he even actually here this weekend?

    Well, of course he was. He was just in the bathroom when you stopped by.


    Of course, death is not the end.

    I'm proud to announce that today, I enter blogging manhood. You've all seen my blogging puberty-- the silly, dramatic name, the inconsistent content, the days of orbit when I was out of contact. I'm ready to put all that behind me.

    Ladies and Gentlemen, you are cordially invited to my new blogging home:

    Sean Maher's Quality Control

    This is pure content, now. The Zealot's Lore was my grace period, a steep learning curve that taught me a lot and prepared me for a fun new direction. I'll do my best to make it worth your while, and I'm confident that I can.

    This is Sean Maher, on behalf of Nora Lally-Graves, Graeme McMillan and myself, signing off.

    Johanna Draper Carlson responds to my "I know I'm missing something" about genre racking in comic stores. Go read.

    Monday, July 18, 2005

    Hey guys, it's Nora. For anyone who's interested, I've posted a 5-page prelude to my graphic novel. Here's the link. Check it out, give me feedback, all that jazz. I'm going to go soak my aching right hand in a vat of warm salt water now.

    Ah, what a swirl of emotions as I head into my final full day of controlling the Isotope. This has been a huge thrill, an incredible workload, a rush of the happiness that comes with success... and now I'm getting a touch of melancholy, not wanting this to end.

    But it doesn't have to. Not yet. Because we've got one last ace up our sleeve.

    Here's the last question we asked our comics professionals in the e-mail interviews you've read below:

    What audience do you think is missing most from the current comics market? How should we get them back?

    JOE CASEY: Kids. And I honestly don't know how to get them into the stores. Because it's not like any kid wouldn't love it inside a good, well-run comicbook store. I know *I* did when I first went into one. I thought I'd died and gone to Heaven! But I suppose it's tough to get their parents to take them there. And without comics being mass distributed, it's hard to know if the newest generation of kids even knows that comicbooks exist, not to mention the existence of great stores like Meltdown or the Isotope that are packed to the gills with them. I know they'd love a lot of the material being produced right now, but they've got to find the stores to be able to get at it.

    The audience should always be refreshing itself. That's the only way comicbooks have survived all these years and if this latest generation of late teens/20-30-year olds are the Final Generation to really buy and support the business as we know it, then it's only a matter of time before that audience moves on and there's no one new to come in and replace them. I don't want to work in a dinosaur medium. I love comicbooks and I want my kids to one day experience them with the same joy that I've always gotten from them. Believe me, I'm looking forward to taking my kids to the best comicbook stores all over the country... I just hope they're still there when I *have* kids...!

    JAY FAERBER: Kids, from 10-year-olds up through teenagers. So many of today's current readers got hooked as kids, but we don't seem to be hooking many kids these days, and I think that's a distribution problem. The answer is to get comics back into grocery stores and 7-11's and stuff, but that's far, far easier said than done.

    ROSS RICHIE: Kids and women, most obviously. Marvel's making a push into 7-11s, that's a huge deal and I applaud them. I'd love to see DC do the same thing. They're well-capitalized companies that can make an investment and draw kids in to the direct market and into bookstores. They're the only companies in the marketplace that can pull it off -- it's a tough job, but in order to bring them in, the companies have to go to where they are in the right format at the right price point. I have no idea what that is.

    Pretty consistent response, eh? Everywhere you turn in this industry, people are freaking out that there aren't enough kids reading comics. Now, if we want to change that, everyone has to do their part, from creators making comics that are appropriate for kids, to publishers marketing their books in ways that will reach them, to...

    Well, to direct market comics retail shops.

    The move into 7-11's is critical, yes - I know that from personal experience - but those spinner racks are a contact point, an introduction - the real comics experience is in shops like this one.

    It's time to stop bellyaching about creators and publishers and do our own part.

    It's time to get kids into our stores. And we're just the people to get it done.

    My first thought in trying to bring children to the shop was: How the hell are we gonna get kids into the shop? I mean, you can't exactly rely on them to get themselves here. They don't have cars. They're probably not allowed to go to weird new places by themselves. Their parents are at work all day and don't want to drive around to some damn weirdo cartoon store just because their kid saw a flier.

    You know how you CAN get a whole bunch of kids together at one time, with an adult to organize them and transportation of their own?

    Step #1: You talk to schools.

    So, once we had that figured out, I gave my mom a quick call. Turns out she's a school principal out in Daly City. We're in the midst of summer, so our options are limited a bit, but there's always summer school going and there are always kids who'd rather go on a field trip than sit in the classroom all day.

    So mother dearest put me in touch with a teacher working in San Francisco, and she put me in touch with the teacher she knew who she thought would have the best class for this sort of thing. Turns out the fellow's got a class of about 15 children, ages 11 to 13, with learning difficulties that place their reading level at around 3rd or 4th grade.

    Oh. Holy. Crap.

    How perfect is that? What an incredible opportunity are comics! The images reinforce the meanings of the words! It's a perfect transitional learning tool.

    We have to sell it that way, for now. Because, y'know, we're not going to have a lot of success convincing parents that it's OK for their kids to be reading comics instead of textbooks, and for the moment we have to accept that and play to it. The comics will speak for themselves when the kids get in here, and the immense fun to be found in the medium will get them reading more. But up front, that's a tough sell.

    They're in school. They're supposed to be studying, not having fun. Right?

    Well, that part, I don't have to worry about. The comics are gonna provide all the fun by themselves. I don't have to do much on that end.

    So, in order to get this to work for the school - so the principal doesn't get a bunch of angry phone calls from parents - we have to make this trip WORK.

    And frankly, that's easy. But I've got the cart ahead of the horse, here, because there's something I'm forgetting to do.

    Step #2: Pick a book that's appropriate for the age group you're dealing with.

    We've gone with Phil Hester's Firebreather, because the concept of a teenager whose dad is an evil dragon seems like a good fit. There's a great moral backbone to the story, some fun action (that only gets gory for about one page), a kid dealing with tough, real issues, and of course, it's Phil Hester so you don't have to worry about it being good or not. Other good possibilities we can up with were Bone, Daisy Kutter, Usagi Yojimbo, DEMO, Hench, and Street Angel. We chose Firebreather because we figured it would appeal to the Fantastic Four movie fans, it dealt specifically with a teenaged character, and the language was just about a spot-on match for the kids we're working for. If you try something similar, you'll want to be sure to do the same - tailor the books you choose to the audience you're targeting. Don't just pick a personal favorite because you are a grown-ass man and not a kid. Even the stuff that you liked when you were a kid may not be a good fit for today's kids. If you're having trouble picking something you're confident will be appropriate, try running it past someone who works with kids - I discussed every book I was considering with me ol' mum and after flipping through each one and discussing it with me and Nora, she agreed that Firebreather was the best choice. I'll admit that I had an advantage through knowing, well, my mom, but if you don't have this kind of connection, just try talking it over with the teacher you're working with - they'll surely have an idea of what works for their students and what doesn't.

    Step #3: Make it academic.

    Look, the school's gonna get in trouble if the kids are goofing off at the comic book store during a school day.

    So after you pick the book, find a way to make it an assignment. Customize the assignment to the book; I'm having the kids do something called "choral reading," which is when they all read aloud as a group. I'll be assigning diffferent kids to different characters, and maybe periodically having them all read a passage together. In my mind, this is a lot like when we read Shakespeare in high school. After they're done reading, there will be a book report (the laws of the paper trail apply to schools just as much as they do to legal proceedings). I'm trying out a one-page Word file with questions like:
    • Who were the main characters in this story? Use a few words to describe each one.
    • What was the setting of the story? When did it take place?
    • What was the main conflict or problem that the characters faced?
    • How was this conflict or problem resolved?
    • Did you like this story? Did you dislike it? Explain why in at least three sentences.

    Thing is, I didn't come up with any of these questions. I got them by discussing what to do with the teacher.

    Y'see, good teachers are always looking for a new way to educate their kids. And they'll recognize that comics are a great way to do that if you pitch it right. Me, I just told the truth - comics were a big part of how I learned to read, and I'm excited about the possibility of sharing that with other kids.

    You get a teacher on your side, he or she is gonna be your best resource for counsel and assistance. I've tried to take care of as much of this as I could, so as to make it easy for the guy - after all, he had to fast-track his permission slips, etc., to fit my schedule and make it in before Old Man Sime comes home!

    I've got no idea if this will work. Could be these kids will hate me and hate the book and not find any comics they like and not be able to read any better than when they came in. I've never taught kids before. I've only done public speaking on a few sparse occaissions.

    I'm throwing the dice. Tomorrow morning, I'll see how they come up.

    To the gentleman who apparently has had bad timing when trying to call me all weekend at the store: I shall definitely be there between 6 and 7pm PST tonight. So call then and reveal your identity.

    Thank you.

    - Graeme

    (Oh, and Sean? Talking about changing the locks is the kind of thing that will get Jared ready to kill you. You should just do it without telling anyone.)

    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...

    Hey, it's Nora. I just wanted to chime in on some of the things Sean talked about, and add my own impressions. First of all, and most importantly, I want to second Sean's feelings of elation. Pride is exactly the word I'd use, and not hubris-- not self-pride-- but pride in seeing the results of our hard work. Pride in realizing that something you thought you could never do is in fact, right now, being done, by you. I would have never seen myself being comfortable meeting and greeting upwards of 30 strangers a day. I never thought I would be able to translate my love of comics into something a consumer would understand or respond to. I assumed that I would feel awkward and incompetent when it came to making customers comfortable.

    Last night, none of those things were the case. Every new stranger was a small success, a new face taking in the Isotope for the first time. I was gratified to see a lot of friends show up who had never heard of the store before. This was also a test of the somewhat tricky art of hand-selling. As Sean said earlier, we both came into this enterprise assuming that we were going to pimp the hell out of our favorite books to first-time readers. As I had cut my teeth on the DC Vertigo line, I was all prepared to spread the gospel of Sandman, Preacher, and Transmetropolitan to the uninformed masses. But I ran into a strange phenomenon-- I found that it was actually far more rewarding to sell someone a book they wanted to read, and not a book I wanted them to read. Sure, it was entirely satisfying when someone who had purchased Sandman from me that afternoon came in that night to tell me how much he loved it. I could understand his point all too well. But the more challenging situation was to find books for people with very different tastes.
    A friend of mine (a long-time comic reader) brought in his wife and asked if I could do anything to find her a book she liked. She was receptive to anything I gave her, but she didn't latch on to anything. I finally asked my friend what stories she really liked reading, and found out that she really dug realistic stories and everyday happenings put into the comic format. When I passed her a copy of Four Letter Worlds and gave her the spin on that, for the first time her eyes lit up and she practically yanked it out of my hands. Same went for True Story STG-- it was like I had switched on the comic addict inside of her. That was so much more fulfilling than creating a new Preacher reader in my own mold. I knew that she was going to go home and actually enjoy reading what she had bought. Plus, since I had shipped her an anthology, she was going to be exposed to a whole slew of authors and artists that she could choose to explore further. Win-win situation for all involved, and that's the best kind of sale I could make.

    Something else that I noticed and didn't expect was that many of the first-time readers I saw went straight for the trades. I assumed that a lot of readers would go for single issues so that they wouldn't be risking a lot of money on something that wasn't a sure thing. But it seemed that having a whole story in one volume outweighed the initial cheapness of the issues. I think most new readers were leery of getting sucked into the serial game, and instead preferred to drop a Jackson on a trade that they knew would have a beginning and an end.

    Lastly, having a comfortable environment really did work wonders. With our own (insanely amazing) DJ at the helm and some drinks on tap, everyone relaxed into the vibe of "hang out, look around, and see what you like." I think new customers identified with the bar wavelength that we created, assuming that it was fine for them to stay and talk to their friends, look over the books, ask questions, and generally treat the whole experience as a night out instead of a visit to a store. I think most of them left without even realizing that they'd spent a good two hours having a great time at a comic book shop. Fantastic.

    Well, I've talked your ear off enough for the moment. Time to close up shop for the evening. Check back on Monday, there's more in the works!

    As exciting as it was to be throwing our very own party at the partyin'est comic book store in the world, a big part of the excitement for me was getting to observe a lot of these folks in what was, for them, a totally new environment, and a totally new medium.

    I mean, we all have a basic knowledge of how to read comics from the funnies in the newspaper, but a whole book? Big pages full of artwork, double-page spreads, square binding? A lot of qualities of this format are new to people. And a few things surprised me.

    1. It's All About the Art

    Having read comics since I was about 6 years old, I've gotten to a point where the writing is vastly more important to me than the artwork, generally speaking. I don't deny that the artwork is an absolutely essential element, and that at its best it adds qualities to a comic that the writing cannot possibly accomplish - but personally, I'll be much more inclined to enjoy a book with great writing and lousy art than a book with lousy writing and great art, y'know?

    But as all these people were picking up comics for the first time last night, I heard the same thing from them over and over again: "I like the art, maybe I'll check this out." Not once did I hear, "Is this well written?" or anything along those lines. Not one word about writing - some folks were interested in the premise of various books, but never the actual quality of the writing.

    Several years ago, I was arguing about rap with a friend of mine. I said the actual raps were the most important element by far, especially since rap is a kind of music that focuses so heavily on language and vocal rhythm. She said that might be true, but that nobody would listen to a great rap with a shitty beat. The beat was the most important part of the song, she said, because it was the first thing people hear, the first (and often, only) chance for the song to get your attention. If it had a good beat, then maybe you'd stop and listen to the lyrics.

    Same deal with comics art. Nobody's got the time to sit down and read the first issue of every comic they look at; the writer's talents need time to be demonstrated, and that's not time you're gonna get from such a casual new audience. I'm convinced now, more than ever, that the two elements work in perfect concert in comics; neither one CAN be more important than the other, because they both need each other and fulfill story elements that are impossible to replicate, and each one needs the other.

    So, when selling comics to new people? Don't bother with "the dialogue is really great," at least not at first. Hit 'em with the premise and show 'em what it looks like.

    2. Variety Is The Spice Of Life

    We made a number of really big sales last night, and one thing I noticed that was consistent in each and every one of them was a wide variety of comics. I'm talking different genres, different art styles, different sizes, different formats, different price points - every element of the comic as a piece of commercial art. New readers don't want to put all their eggs in one basket. Nobody got five Grant Morrison books, or a big stack of X-Men trades. This is a remarkably diverse medium, with a lot to offer in many different capacities, and it strikes me as immensely important that we had the range of stock that we did. We've all heard folks complaining about comics shops that only carry Top 50 books - they're standing in the way of independent creators, stagnating the commercial development of the medium, and on and on. There's always a point where that argument falls apart, because no retailer is under obligation to others in the industry - they've got their own money on the line, with very little room to maneuver within the direct market, right? I mean, all the pressure's on THEM because of non-returnability, so why SHOULD they take a risk just to help out some struggling new artist? Why should they gamble their own livlihoods to support anyone else's?

    The answer is that they don't need to. Diverse stock is IMMENSELY PROFITABLE. If you're selling to the hardcore, long-time super-hero readers, that's good, because they're a fairly reliable, loyal consumer base, but they're not a growing population. If anything, they're diminishing. And frankly, they don't require much management - the "capes customers" I've had coming in know exactly what they want, they usually know where to find it... there aren't any questions. There's no real room for input from me, aside from the usual (and very fun) fanboy arguments and reviews. The folks who need your attention: everybody else. And those folks aren't necessarily (or even likely) going to have the same taste as your fanboys. They're going to want a range of products; you don't see many successful record stores that sell just hip-hop, or movie theaters that only show comedies. (There are exceptions, sure, but they're few and far inbetween.) Why would you limit the product available at your store? I'm telling you, the money is there to be made.

    All it takes to get started is the stock, some friends who have some friends who have some friends, a keg or two and some good music, and a little chutzpah.


    3. This Is Gonna Take A Minute

    So, I'm really anxious to do a good job here. I really wanted the Experiment to go well - I want to do James' awesome store justice, and I want to accomplish something for myself. So when I saw people browsing around the shelves, I got really excited. Then they'd pick up a book, and I'd get even more excited. They'd spend some time turning pages... then put the book back on the shelf. My heart sank. Oh no!, I thought. They don't like it! They're not gonna like anything else! I'll never sell them a comic and they'll never come back because they're just not interested! The impulse was strong to walk up and start being a little more aggressive, hand-selling some books and moving the customers along the shelves until we found the right thing.

    I resisted. Something told me, leave it alone. Plus, there was a hell of a lot of plate-spinning to do, with so many people in the store having a good time and needing new drinks and new folks walking in who needed a friendly hello... I just let it go. Then something wonderful happened. The browsing folks? They all came up to the register with huge stacks of books.

    See, people have to be comfortable. They have to be sure they're spending their money on something they dig. There's nothing wrong with somebody not liking the comic they're looking at - there are plenty more out there, and if you have a sincere, confident love of the medium, you know that there really is something for everyone. I think that's the tick that held me back from interfering; even if they didn't keep holding onto whatever comic is was they had at the moment, they were still reading. They were still interested. Nobody picked up a book, flipped through it and then walked away. They just moved a little farther down the aisle.

    If I'd gotten involved, I think I'd have ruined their concentration. Instead, I just got them in the store and let the comics do the talking.

    There's a lot to be said for hand-selling and customer service, but sometimes that means letting them do what they want to do.

    Can I just say one more time how excited I am about how last night went? I seriously never thought I'd be able to pull this off with such success. I don't know exactly how Graeme and Nora feel, but I can't help but feel a swell of personal pride at a job well done. I'm doing it. I'm running Isotope.

    And, y'know, maybe that's part of the point of this experiment. Larry Young published True Facts and told everybody, Hey, check this out. I published my own comic and I was really successful at it. if I can do it, so can you. Perhaps this is me and James doing the same thing.

    Because really, while I'm still a very small fish in a very big pond, and I've only scratched the surface so far of what makes successful retailing... I'm feeling really enthusiastic and I'm working hard to make sure this is a great store to be in. And I think it's working. Maybe there's a lesson here - are we all capable of comics success? Is this really do-able, even for a know-nothing Joe like me?

    Can each one of us play a real part in improving the industry?

    It's looking good.

    Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Cloud Nine.

    That's where Nora and I are. Right here.

    Last night's party may have been busy enough to keep us from updating the blog, but it sure didn't keep us from showing a healthy crew of happy guests a great time, swallowing hearty portions of beer and cocktails, getting down with fine, fine DJ chops, and selling a hell of a lot of comics.

    You'll remember from my earlier post that we'd scored a set from DJ Kevlar Skills? Well, I've just gotten in the long line to give this guy some serious praise. Kevin was a blast to hang out with, he picked up some great comics on his way out, and his mix kept everybody feeling great for a solid three hours. Everybody loves the DJ.

    So, the party itself. LOTS of new people in the store. Many new guests brought cheer to my cold, wicked heart as I saw them browsing some of my favorite comics.

    In between phone shots I took a minute to survey the buzzing gathering of new friends and faces.

    Then a couple of the ladies started vamping it up, enjoying a nice head-buzz from the humming atmosphere, and the humid air of comics love. And cocktails.

    Aside from the beautiful women, several comics were very popular with this new crowd. Kyle Baker's NAT TURNER, Joss Whedon's SERENITY, Adrian Tomine's OPTIC NERVE, and Robert Kirkman's excellent THE WALKING DEAD all made a great impression (and helped fill the cash register, too). Of course, the opening pages of Frank Cho's ZOMBIE KING were the proverbial talk of the town...

    As the party wound down late at night, I took a moment to relax and enjoy a healthy mug of delicious Fat Tire beer, completely killing the keg as it wheezed its last precious drops into Michael Jordan's Space Jam head.

    I tipped it back, let the cool chocolatey ale pour down my throat, and stood atop the Isotope balcony, surveying my kingdom with immense satisfaction.

    James Sime Checks In
    From The Grand Hyatt

    I can't say what's going on in San Francisco, but me? I'm having the best San Diego Comic Con ever.

    First up, let's talk about the Eisners. The Eisner Awards are something that is very important to our industry and one of the things that makes the world of comics great. And here at the Isotope if we like something we support it, which is why we not only attend the ceremony each year but also sponsor them financially on a level equal to that of Diamond Comic Distributors. It's an honor to get to do our small part to help make these ceremonies possible... especially when the Eisners are as good as they were this year.

    Going in I feared it would end up being an utterly depressing affair this year because of the passing of Mister Eisner but it turned out to be a very upbeat event. Perhaps the ceremony ended up running a little long but for me it was really special to hear everyone's rememberances of Will and to see the out pouring of love and respect for the man.

    Congrats out to winners Darwyn Cooke for DC: The New Frontier, Eric Powell for The Goon, James Jean for his beautiful covers, the Best Penciler tie of John Cassaday and Frank Quitely, and most especially to Brian Vaughan, Tony Harris, Tom Feister, and JD Mettler for Ex Machina. All well deserved!

    You may or may not know that Smoke and Guns saw pre-release here at the Con and the response has been phenomenal. Kirsten and Fabio Moon have spent the majority of the con behind the table signing autographes and having a great time. Rest assured I will not be coming home until we buy an original art page from this beautiful book. Oh yeah, and Kirsten has a great story about getting hit on by one Brian Michael Bendis... be sure to ask her about it.

    I've been fortunate enough to have enough time to hang out with Daniel Merlin Goodbrey who as you may remember was this year's winner of the Isotope Award for Excellence in Mini-Comics. Last night featured margaritas with Brian K. Vaughan, hanging out at a hip hop club with Joe Casey and Robert Kirkman, an awesome Tenacious D show, a really great preview of King Kong, and cocktails with Ursula creator Gabriel Ba. Still haven't got to meet Douglas Fraser who does the awesome Mort Grim comic from Adhouse Books, but I'll definitely be hunting him down today.

    Everybody has been really excited about the Isotope's sexy new home, this Wednesday's Jim Lee signing, and Kirsten's next book Satisfaction Guaranteed. And for the record, Jared is popular this year!

    This year I've been taking a lot of great pictures so you can expect to see those when I get home.

    ... and speaking of pictures, it's 10:30 on Sunday morning and we still haven't seen any pictures from Sean and Nora's party last night? Could it be that the pace of retailing Isotope style is more than they can muster?

    Edited by Graeme, to fix the image link. And now I want to know all about Jared's popularity, because I am a shameless gossiphound.

    ...You read the color supplements, the TV Guide...

    Obviously, this is Graeme. Who else would quote Blur? Sean and Nora are all about their Obie Trice and KRS-ONEs. Me, I'm the throwback to Britpop. Anyway, am I the only one sad to see that neither Sean nor Nora attempted an entry post-party to tell everyone how it went? Or, at least, mention how tired they were? There's still time for that - and pictures, hopefully - later on today, of course. But for now, it's time to take you, dear reader, behind the music...

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    "Events" are part of the whole Isotope thing. Who hasn't heard of the Ed Brubaker Armwrestlethon, or the Ex Machina Voter Registration Drive/Election Night Party? Or, for that matter, this week's Jim Lee signing? So, one of the first things that Sean, Nora and I thought about when we were first offered the keys to the store was that we had to have some kind of event. But that presented its own problems: For one thing, the Isotope regulars were fairly likely to be in San Diego at the Comicon. For another, we could hardly hope to outdo what James has made one of his many reputations doing. And, for a third, whatever event we came up with had to bring in people who wouldn't normally come to a comic store.

    The Great Experiment, as last night ended up being called, came from the idea that we shouldn't treat the Isotope as a comic store for a night. Instead, we wanted to push up the "lounge" part of "The Comic Book Lounge" name, bringing in a DJ, showcasing all the original artwork on the walls (on both paper and toilet seats) that's already been bringing in random people walking past, and kind of offering up the comics as a sneaky almost-afterthought. The idea was to introduce new people to Isotope as a venue instead of a store, and then - hopefully - be there for them to come back afterwards and wonder what this whole comic thing was all about. We invited some people we thought might be friendly to the whole enterprise but might not know about Isotope, or what comics could offer them: Kevin Gill, the DJ for the whole shebang, works in the gaming industry, and so brought some of his colleagues. Students from the local Academy of Art were flyered and invited. Stores we liked - like Amoeba - were postered.

    Did it work? It seemed to, short-term. Longterm, that's something for James to find out; if things go to plan, people who'll have gone to the store for the first time last night should be introducing themselves to him, and the rest of the regular staff, over the next few weeks and months...

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    Above: The Great Experiment poster in situ. And, look. Is that posters for Wednesday's Jim Lee event beside it? Yes. Yes, it is.

    Saturday, July 16, 2005

    The excellent DJ Kevlar Skills, a.k.a. Kevin Gill, has come in and fine-tuned all the equipment he'll be using, and all I can say is DAMN, this is gonna rock.

    In addition to having working with the Insane Clown Posse, the skillful Mr. Gill is also working on the controversial video game, 25 To Life, which The Man has tried to ban for (I can only assume) it's wicked cool premise - you can be The Law or you can break the law. It's the ultimate cops n' robbers game, and the trailer looks wicked.

    Things are swingin' this afternoon. Lots of cool folks coming in, lots of great comics flying off the shelves. On top of that, I'm reading free comics in what little spare time we get, which as you can imagine, is totally cool.

    Sean here, and I've got a couple of pretty elementary observations, but ones I think should be of some value nonetheless. Everyone loved my How To Sell Me Your Comics bit, so here's some ideas from the other end of the spectrum.

    1. The customer is a person, not a wallet.

    So this kid (I'd say about 18-y/o boy) comes into the store yesterday, right, and he looks around for a minute and doesn't find anything he wants. We get into a discussion about realistic superhero books, and he says he didn't like Marvels or Kingdom Come because of the "useless 'normal person' characters." Step #1: Swallow it. I loved Marvels and Kingdom Come. But I don't have to whip out my claws and fight him about it, and honestly, I can see where he's coming from. Step #2: Think about what he says, and respond to it. Hey, how about Astro City? (Oh, damn, we don't have any of the trades stocked up yet.) Well, that's okay, he says. I've gotta take off now, but maybe I'll come back later. Hey, that sounds great, I'll be here at least until nine.

    7:30, 8:00 or so he comes walkin' back in. I recognize him and welcome him back, and after we talk a little more he finds a hardcover copy of Hip Flask, asks if he can sit down and take a look at it. Of course, I say, take your time, just chill out on the couch with it for a bit. He's flipping through it and gets excited about the art, so I do a quick internet search to see if we have anything else by the same artist - because Hip Flask is, after all, thirty bucks. I find out the artist's done some work on Incal, and I show the kid our Humanoids section. If you like that art, buddy, you should really spend some time checking out these books. "Hey, thanks, man, I appreciate it!" At this point, I'm pretty sure I'm not making a sale - the kid just don't have any damn money on him, I figure. No worries. IT'S OKAY. The point is to let him enjoy himself at the shop, because people notice that kind of thing. Not only that - he gets a call on his cell phone and steps outside for a second, but I can still hear him. What's he saying?

    "I'm at this place called The Isotope. It's awesome! You should come down and check it out."

    Ten minutes later, in walks the kid's girlfriend. She just moved to San Francisco. She loves the place. Guess what? She taught a course in graphic novels at the guy's old college. Now we're friends with a comics professor, just like that. Do you have any idea what kind of opportunities that opens up? How valuable it is to be one of the stores breaking down the gender barrier? (Reference the Isotope's recent award for Best Comic Book Store in which to Be a Girl.)

    Be patient, be hospitable. Good things happen.

    2. This is a library.

    You think people can find this many good comics just anywhere? The direct market comics shop is the most focused, diverse source of comics entertainment in the world. If you don't think letting people sample the work for free is a good idea - you are missing the hell out. This isn't just a place for people to buy comics - it's a place for people to discover comics. Is it any coincidence that the RIAA's crusade against MP3s listeners synchs up directly to the plummeting revenues of the music industry? I think not. The more people are allowed to explore, the more likely they are to find something they want to buy.

    Also, inviting people to read makes them feel more confident in their purchase. They don't even have to actually take you up on the offer; the mere invitation itself shows confidence on MY part and therefore reassures the customer that they're making a worthy purchase.

    3. Help customers sell themselves books

    Brian Hibbs of Comix Experience came by a few minutes ago and asked what my biggest "retail surprise" so far was - what have I learned? My answer was easy: I came into this with the idea that I'd pick a book - one from my own private reading agenda - and just sell the hell out of it. Doesn't really work like that - I'm finding myself a lot more effective when my salesmanship is responsive. Somebody's picking up some Frank Miller books and wants to branch out to other writers? Well, how about Preacher, for some comparable balls-crazy humor and hyperkinetic testosterone? Somebody's picking up the first issue of Serenity, maybe they'd like to take a look at Whedon's first Astonishing X-Men trade. "He's writing X-MEN?" Yeah, but he's using all the same dialogue ticks and characterization you're familiar with. BOOM, right there - a potential new super-hero reader. You have to encourage questions and you have to sell them what they already want but don't yet know about. It's your job to be more informed than they are; there are far too many comics around for the average reader to keep up with and the only way a lot of them will be able to branch out and pick up new books is if you show them the way. You have to make EVERYTHING as easy as you possibly can for every reader.

    That's not specific to retail, really - that was one of the main points I made in my column about convention salesmanship. The reader, the customer - they're at the very bottom of the pyramid. They don't make a profit in the same sense as everyone else in the industry. So while relationships between and among retailers, publishers, distributors and creators are all very similar, working on a symbiotic model of mutual profit-making, a lot of give and take... the customer has to be given everything. They're parting with their hard-earned money in exchange for nothing but stories on paper. There's value there, or else they'd never come back. But they aren't obligated (or in many cases, inclined) to assist in the process of getting that value. You have to show it to them.

    Hey, Nora here. It's another beautiful day at the Isotope. Sean and I are hanging out, chatting with customers, putting up some new featured shelf items, and wondering why more good artists don't team up with good writers instead of going at it themselves. I cringe in anticipation of joining that stereotype-- assuming that first qualification will ever fit. :)

    Further frustration due to the fact that my iPod won't hook up to the iBook here, meaning that I'm having to sift through James's playlists. This is no disrespect to James, but when I want to hear KRS-One, I can accept no substitutes. We spent yesterday having an awesome Michael Jackson and blues/jazz marathon with the satellite radio. I've spent the morning so far flipping through Wanted (good stuff), helping customers, and talking with the DJ about tonight.

    It's funny, working retail at a comic store, especially one with as nice a vibe to upkeep as the Isotope, I find that talking about comics all day isn't anything like a strain for me. I've never been too much of a rabid fangirl (Ellis and Harmon notwithstanding), but I always loved chewing the fat about my favorite titles. And now, it's like someone's paying me (well, in spiritual capital) to talk about my favorite stories all day long. As if they were saying, "Tell me why you love your favorite band. And then go tell that guy over there. And then that girl. And feel that rush when they're just as excited about it as you are. Spread your particular brand of insanity." It's a great way to spend the day. You meet so many different kinds of people, all into comics for different reasons, and you start to realize what you look like from behind the counter. You see yourself as one of those people, pulled into comics by a specific gravity that is particular to you. They usually fall under the heading of "I love reading them" or "I love looking at the art" or "I can't wait to see where my favorite character is going"-- but people who come into the shop seem to see you as the gatekeeper to all of these worlds, and if you appreciate them as well, if you can talk to them about those worlds... it's fabulous.

    Somehow the counter makes me feel less inhibited about sharing my love of comics with everyone who comes in the door. They're here for the same thing that I am. And I realize that a lot more fully now that I've seen how many kinds of people fit that description. Or maybe it's that I'm finally starting to realize why you would open a shop like this, what it means to be a fan AND a retailer, and how you could hardly be anything else. Or maybe, lastly, it's the feeling of seeing how all the roles overlap, like a shifting kaleidoscope: the comics creator who stays up nights cleaning her pen nibs with a toothbrush in the sink and playing god with the panel layouts; the retailer who opens up shop in the morning, letting the sun stream in the windows and handing customers a book that makes their eyes light up; the customer who comes into the store and searches out the issue she's been salivating over for weeks, then spends half the afternoon there looking at what her friends picked up and shooting ideas back and forth with the staff.

    It could be that I'm just waxing rhapsodic because it's sunny outside and things here are going well. It's just that there's so much more to enjoy about running this store than having the keys to a swank place with curvy red walls.

    Graeme: So, here's the thing. Sean, Nora and m'self... We're nobodies in this big biz that is comics. But unlike the usual loudmouthed nobodies on the comics internet, we know that we're nobodies. So we decided to ask some somebodies what they'd like to see happen if they were in charge of a store like the Isotope. We'll be running some of their responses over the weekend every now and again when we get too busy to actually write anything ourselves. First up to bat? Patrick Neighly, of Mad Yak Press:

    I'd like to see genre racking, with a focus on graphic novels. Someone who likes spy stories is probably walking home with The Losers and a Nick Fury reprint, but if they're not already scoping out indie books then they're going to completely miss Queen & Country or The Interman or my own Subatomic. Genre racking puts all the spy books together regardless of publisher, shifting the focus to content. Like, you know, a real book store.

    He's not the only one who's had that idea, as Ross Richie of Boom Studios shows:

    If I had my druthers, there'd be a store display -- Walking Dead on the left, Zombie Tales #1 on the right, a raft of IDW stuff in the middle, plus some other indies I'm sure I'm forgetting. If you're a really cool store, perhaps some TALES OF THE ZOMBIE black and white Marvel magazines from the 1970s.

    Both gentlemen had a lot more to say that we'll probably get to later, but I'm stuck on the genre racking thing for now. Let's be honest, both Ross and Patrick possibly have ulterior motives for suggesting such an idea, what with both Mad Yak and Boom being small publishers who both only have a handful of books out right now and all. But the thing is, it's a completely logical idea. Why do most stores - including the Isotope - more-or-less stocking everything by publisher (or, to be more accurate, by Marvel, DC, Image, and Everyone Else)? What does that actually mean, apart from creating some kind of Publisher Apartheid (and there's a phrase that's going to come back and bite me on the ass before too long, I'm sure)? I don't even see the benefit of doing it, now that I actually come to think about it.

    Stocking by genre makes so much more sense to me that I'm sure that I'm missing something extremely obvious that's been a reason why it hasn't been the practice all along. For the mythical New Reader that we will, at some point, get around to discussing how to lure into the stores in the first place, it makes sense - they can go find the genre that they like and everything's there in one place for them to choose from. They probably wouldn't recognize (nor care about) different publishers, anyway. For the non-mythical old readers, they might get exposed to books that they might've missed because they didn't see them in the back racks, between books they have no interest in. I mean, Zombie Tales has Keith Giffen, Mark Waid and Dave Johnston involved. Why isn't it selling in, say, Formerly Known As The Justice League numbers?

    I'm sure I'm missing something really obvious, now.

    Sean: Well, I'd say it does make a lot of sense that your big spender customers are gonna know where to turn when you've got your stock organized by publisher, and I've noticed that James currently has everything from DC organized by imprint - makes it easier for your more hardcore fans, and super-easy for you, personally to find the product FOR your customer; involves you in the book-selection process, which I've noticed is in some cases very important. Folks look up at these shelves upon shelves of material they have ZERO familiarity with and it gets intimidating; since many publishers tend to have a consistent "flavor", showing somebody the shelf-space where they can find similar books to, say, Channel Zero - it might be helpful. Personally, I'd like to try the genre racking thing, or perhaps find a way to Incorporate both; it may mean doubling up on stock in some cases, but you run Into the problem - as we quickly did when considering rearranging the stock ourselves - of books that either defy genre (Grant Morrison) or indulge in several different genres (Mike Mignola). Do you double-stock? Is every book that does that WORTH double-stocking? I mean, I know we can move multiple copies of Hellboy, but there are other books that aren't as popular and choosing their "dominant" genre influence is totally arbitrary and creates problems that publisher-sorting doesn't have.

    Still, as you say, there's no reason whatsoever for new readers to have any loyalty (or interest, even) in specific publishers.

    Comix Experience, Brian Hibbs' store just up the road, displays by creator for a number of big creators. This is another alternative, and another one that makes an incredible amount of sense. "Hey, you liked Watchmen? This is From Hell, it’s what he did next." That Brian Hibbs, man. He's a smart cookie.

    Graeme, you know James had the same thing up at the Noriega location, right? I'm sure it's on it's way back - stop sweating. You're getting on the leather.

    Dammit, Maher, I thought we weren't going to talk about my perspiration problem in public... I'd be happy to see it back at the new store (alternative racking, not my sweat), but I can't really think where it would go (physically in the store, I mean. Perhaps the table in the centre? Or the shelves behind the sofa?), you know? I'm completely obsessing about this genre stacking idea now - I can see where it would annoy existing customers who are used to just hoovering up that week's DC titles or whatever, but part of me thinks that existing customers will be able to adapt quicker than it would be take to explain why publishers should be kept separate to brand new customers... Because we're still backseat driving to a certain extent, seeing as we're only doing this for a weekend instead of a lifetime, I still think that it's an idea worth trying and working out the kinks (double-stacking mixed genre books? Or should you just choose a primary genre for each thing and handsell mixed genre ones?)

    Graeme: If you'd told me that I'd be involved with running a comic book store when I was a kid, then you would've seen the face of a very excited, very acne-ridden, young boy. My first trip into a comic store was like finding Aladdin's cave in the heart of suburban Glasgow. It didn't matter to me that the store itself was roughly the size of a small cupboard, that there wasn't really any rhyme or reason to the way that things were laid out - in fact, most of the comics were randomly piled up and falling off shelves so that, if you wanted to find a particular issue of something, you'd kind of have to get on your hands and knees and search through everything. It didn't matter to me that the guy who ran the store was this weird, kind-of-seeming-stoned, bearded guy who was very helpful and nice and all, but still seemed kind of removed from the real world. Even the slightly musty, stale smell of the place didn't bother me. I had found a store entirely devoted to comic books. It was heaven for me.

    Not so much a heaven for my mum and dad, mind you. And, as I was but a kid when I found this store, it'd be unusual for me to be in Glasgow without at least one parent in tow. So, whenever I went to this store - with a regularity that could even be called "every single time it was possible, thanks very much" - they had to come with me. And I remember that, more than anything, they found the place funny. Not scary, not off-putting or any of the other things that people tend to have as criticisms of comic stores these days, but funny. They looked at it as if it was some kind of experiment gone wrong, as if the owner was just this comic book fan who had one day decided to open a store without having any business plan, shelving or common sense, and that the store was staying alive purely through the kindness of strangers and siren song to other proto-geeks like the teenaged me. More often than not, they'd send me into the store while they disappeared to have coffee for half an hour, rather than come into the place themselves.

    There's something to that, I think. I don't really know what, though. It sticks in my head, the feeling that that store wasn't really seen as a real store, but some kind of clubhouse. The first time Kate (my lovely wife) saw the old Isotope, she said something along the lines of "It seems like a real shop," as opposed to the other comic stores I'd dragged her to. That sticks in my head, too. It seems kind of sad that comic stores that feel like "real" stores are a rarity, you know?

    Nora: Throwing my two cents in here, what I think you're after is partially that comics are [now?] no longer for a specific, marginalized sub-group of unpopular young kids. Not only have the people who loved comics in the 60's-70's grown up to become adult comic book lovers and retailers, but they're now seeing a younger generation of comic book readers that remind them of themselves - and part of making a real shop is sharing your love of the medium with kids just like your younger self (and any adults you can hoodwink into the shop). In a sense, giving them what you never had as a comic geek back in the day.

    I don't know whether to take that "unpopular young kids" thing as an insult or not.

    Heh, more a stereotype of the world at large than an insult. :)

    I think there's a part of that, but more what I was after is: Why can't comic stores be real stores? Why do we settle for the small niche market? Why do we stay in the direct market? Are comics just scared of playing in the real world?

    I think part of the reason comics "settle" for the niche market is exactly due to that phenomenon-- that the subculture supporting it is used to being marginalized, and now that comics are cool, we want to make sure that "not just anyone" can be a comic fan now. Sort of like the "I heard that band back when they weren't famous" mentality. I don't share that opinion, but I can definitely feel it in the air. As if fanboys/girls are used to paying the social dues for liking comics, and now that it's cool to do so, there's an air of bitterness.

    I think the last thing a lot of the core fanbase wants to do is to open comics up to the world-- find their favorite series in Walmart, for example-- just like that band you like being on MTV once or twice is cool, but them playing a Christmas concert in Times Square to thousands of screaming fans makes you feel jilted and abandoned.

    Maybe that's just my take on the idea. Any subculture likes to think that they're superior to the mainstream, and part of that is making their culture hard to find or attain, as if to make you prove that you're cool enough to be part of the group.


    Nothing wrong with rambling in my book.

    I see what you're getting at, and I agree. It's just that it's not something I'm happy with, you know? There's a book called The Manual, by a British pop artist (in the pop art and pop music senses) called Bill Drummond; it's a tongue-in-cheek guide to creating a hit record, and there's this great part in it about that very attitude, the "don't sell out, keep something to yourself", thing:

    "Taking the angst-ridden, 'I'm above all this!' outsider stance only gets you so far and even then takes sodding years and ends up with you alienating vast chunks of the Great British Public who don't want to be confronted with [the Jesus and Mary Chain's] Jim Reid's skin problem on a Thursday evening."

    The idea of paying fanboy/girl dues is interesting, if only because I suddenly realized that I have no idea how you and Sean got into comics in the first place. Have you two paid your dues? Should I be throwing both of you out of the store because you can't tell me what space sector Hal Jordan patrols?

    I guess the real question is-- how do you open up comics to the mainstream comfortably without having legions of fans feel like you're giving away the secret code to the uncaring masses (who will then exploit it to their own ends and ruin everything)? Man, that could be a brilliant allegorical comic book in itself.

    What is it about comics that fans feel the need to protect so venomously? Elitism thrives in all forms of media, and yet movies are mainstream without losing their indie edge (there are just different forms/values to movies, some are considered art and some are fluff-- just like comics now-- but at least 60% of them could be considered mainstream, which comics can't boast). What is it about comics that makes everyone want to keep hoarding the industry greats like secret jewels under the bed? Comics fans don't seem to be big on sharing the wealth unless they're sharing it with other "proven" comic fans... maybe because they want to be special by having that wealth only at their fingertips?

    I have in no way paid my dues. I couldn't tell Hal Jordan's space sector from a hole in the ground. I came into comics when I was 17 as an art form and a storytelling medium, hooked by Sandman and Preacher and several other stories that tweaked my brain and visual centers far more than anything I was seeing either on film or in print. And part of me has always had this remove from superhero comics entirely because of that "paying dues" viewpoint-- so you don't want me in your club until I prove myself? Fine, screw your stupid club. I don't need it. And in part I honestly don't-- the superhero stereotype has never appealed to me. But I know there are good stories waiting in there for me to discover them, once I get over my bias of being unwanted in that sphere (as a reader and to some extent as a girl—I mean, girls can giggle and look cute but a lot of fans won't take them seriously unless they pay EXTRA dues to fit in).

    Wow, there's your rambling, Graeme. ;)

    Are comics fans more self-loathing than fans of other media? I don't know. In a weird way, I think that every media has their share of possessive fans, it's just that, with comics, that's all that are left, you know? Or maybe I just spend too much time looking for Fanboy Rampage fodder and it's skewed my sense of reality. But if I'm right - which would be a shock, I know, but go with me on this for a second - then surely the answer is to bring more casual readers to the medium? And to do that, then the trick is to introduce casual readers to the idea that comics aren't just whatever their preconceptions are. Shove Smoke and Guns or Signal To Noise or The Goon or whatever under their noses and see what they think.

    Which may be what we're supposed to do, here. But how to do it, in that case?

    Sean: Well, Graeme, to answer the opening question; I've been spoiled in this regard. Of the five comics stores I've made myself a regular at in my comics-reading life - two of them before the fall from grace the industry experienced in the mid-90's, three of them since I rediscovered the medium through Preacher and Sin City - only one has even come close to being a crapbox along the lines of what you're talking about.

    My first comic was Incredible Hulk #329, in early 1987. I was six years old, visiting my grandparents, and picked it up from a spinner rack at a Quick Stop (think 7-11, and also consider now the wisdom of Marvel's recent efforts to break out of the direct market). I read it about a thousand times on the 8-hour car trip home. I begged my parents for more; my old man saw a great way to get me reading, and found me my first home-away-from-home.

    It was a place in Pacifica called Coastside Comics, and my dad had done some construction work on the owner's house - bingo. I needed a ride to and from, of course, but it was a great way for my parents to get me out of their hair for an hour at a time so they could, say, do the grocery shopping. The layout was one I ended up seeing all over the place - islands of back-issue boxes in the middle of the space, with the newer issues face-up on racks along the walls. The owner was a sweet-faced, clean-shaven fellow in a flannel shirt, who always welcomed me into the store by name and gave me free run of the place - I'd pore over every rack trying to find cool new stuff, and spend all my allowance on the Hulk and Spider-Man and anything I could find that had monster-men in the shape of animals. Pure visual joy.

    This guy was brilliant. He didn't do all the work, of course - if he'd been selling cooking magazines I'd have just as soon gone to Safeway with mom and dad and gotten my free sugar cookie. But he was an affable adult who set me at ease; I felt safe in the store, like hanging out at a friend's house.

    I began to think of the comic store as a "clubhouse," as you put it, but I don't think that prevented it from having a "real business" vibe, any more than a pub's regular customers prevent said pub from being a real business - if anything, I think the social element present in comics retailing gives the medium a leg-up over other media. To find a similar environment for film, or music, or literature, you'd have to attend a festival or buy a ticket to a show or join a book club. If a comics retailer is doing his job right, all you have to do to find a fun, smart social environment for comics is walk into the store.

    I've always heard about the Comics Dungeon style of retailing, but I've been lucky so far to avoid it - with one major exception that I'll talk about later. I'm interested, though, in addressing the whole concept of comics as an unaccepted medium, a refuge for freaks and geeks, outsiders who've turned social Darwinism to their supposed advantage and made themselves insiders.

    That Hulk issue I told you about, my first comic? The story was called, funnily enough, "Outcasts". It featured the Rick Jones Hulk on the run from SHIELD, just trying to find a place where he could escape and live in peace; he stumbles on a weird community of Gamma-mutated animal monsters and enjoys fitting in with his new friends until those government bastards show up, persecute everyone who's different, force the Hulk into a fight that destroys all their stuff and sends him bounding on his troubled way. It's a classic underdog story; I've always thought the character was as much Phantom of the Opera as he was Jekyll and Hyde.

    And the Phantom wanted nothing more than to be accepted and loved; that proved impossible, so he resorted to being feared, and the only way to do that was to show that he was powerful and dangerous. This translates pretty well to super-hero comics - we've all been hearing for years that they're basically a power fantasy for boys who want or need it. Sure. So maybe that's where the defensiveness comes in when people consider the medium becoming truly "mainstream". Or maybe there are just some assholes who don't like to share and it's time we broke their damn cookie in half and gave a piece to their younger brother - the new comics audience.

    For a long time, the industry has pandered to this audience, from creators to publishers to retailers, and there's no reason not to - they're great customers. They've got a lot personally invested in the books they care about, and they've stuck through many of the coldest winters.

    The problem is not that we've served them loyally; it's that we've served them almost exclusively. To make comics a bigger business, a safer place to invest and a more lucrative medium on all fronts, the place to start, as many smart comics businessmen have realized, is by expanding the audience. That's one of the most important things I want to talk about here: finding new readers.

    Talk away, in that case, Mr. Maher.

    Something that we're going to have to address in that case is whether the direct market, and by extension, specialty comics retailers, are hurting the medium. I'm as much of a direct market basher as the next man, for no other reason than the fact that it's ended up dominated by Marvel and DC and marketed almost completely at people who want to keep it that way. And, really, I don't know whose fault that is: Diamond, for offering favorable terms to Marvel and DC? But they only do that because that's what sells. If, through some strange freak of reality, Alias started publishing books that everyone loved, I'm sure Diamond would break their back looking to please them. So is it the customers' fault? And if it is, how do you fix that? Get new customers who want something else? But they'd be entering a market that's dominated by and geared towards people who want superheroes, so they'd either have to be dedicated enough to search out the "something else", you know?

    One of the reasons why companies like Tokyopop have been so successful building alternative audiences seems to me to be because they're doing it outside the Direct Market. So should all alternative publishers try to build core audiences of casual buyers outside the DM, hoping that a high enough percentage of that audience will then become interested enough to enter more specialized comic stores for the more obscure titles? Should they abandon the DM altogether? And if not, why not?

    Feh. Too many questions.

    Parallel to the real discussion, and for readers of the blog who may be thinking that we're in danger of disappearing up our own asses with hypotheticals, I have to say this, Sean: You lucky bastard for having your first comic be a Peter David one.

    I'm known, I hate to admit, as a grumpy old meanie who hates every comic in existance. And, well, there's some truth to that. But I have to admit, Peter David's Hulk? I love it with a horrific passion. From the Todd McFarlane issues all the way through Gary Frank's run, I was entirely hooked, almost entirely because he was one of the few writers (in my mind, at least) how to balance thrills, spills and comedy. David was probably the first writer that I intentionally followed from title to title, which meant that I read his entirely forgotten Blasters one-shot that DC put out in, what, 1989 or something? It's a comic I mention purely because it has one of my favorite stupid pun background jokes ever: One of the main characters is reading a comic at one point, and the comic has this cliched action hero with square jaw, and behind him, this giant angry bear with mouth open in anger. The name of the comic? Ben Steel With His Bear Hans.

    The best jokes are the shittest ones.

    Wasn't PAD, actually. Came right after his first issue, yes, but his first issue was a one-shot. His full run came about 4 months later. Mine was written by a fella named Milgrom, I think.

    Sorry to rain on the parade.

    Motherfucker. You started with an Al Milgrom one? Surprised you're still reading comics...

    This is, for some reason, the comic I always think was the first American comic I read:

    That has to be a false memory, though, because I know that I definitely read this as a kid:

    I love that DC TV Comic logo. I'm such a retro design nerd.

    Friday, July 15, 2005

    So look at those photos on the right there. Why am I the only one who looks like an idiot (No immediately obvious jokes, please. Of course, there's a story about that particular pose, but, really, you kind of had to be there)? Otherwise, I have to report that there's nothing like taking over someone's store to really get to know their terrible secrets... like, apparently, James Sime's lack of the correct amount of quarters for Sean Maher's liking. Who knew? By Sunday we may have uncovered that Nora isn't a fan of the way that James sorts his iTunes music and that I'm jealous of his hair. Except that the world already knows that last one. Damn my receding hairline.

    Meanwhile, am I the only one who feels that the news that's come out of SDCC so far this year - Darwyn Cooke's Spirit and some of the new Vertigo books aside - has been fairly lacklustre? Here was I, hoping that there would be some kind of news that would break the internet in half for us to pontificate about, in between talking retail theory and my moaning about the Direct Market - that'll come tomorrow, don't you worry - and other embarrassing photos that'll make their way on here, but sadly, it's not to be. Maybe SDCC has falling afoul of the current holding pattern that the big publishers seem to be finding themselves in; maybe this shows up the need for new blood in the industry... Not just creators who want to tell different stories with different characters, but also readers who want to read them and push publishers in that direction with their hard-earned dollars.

    But more on that tomorrow, probably.

    If James, Kirsten or any of the Isotope regulars are reading: The store still hasn't been burned down yet. But it's still only Friday.

    - Graeme

    First of all, both Nora and I would like to start off by thanking Dave McOwen, practitioner of Non-Violent Web Design ( for this fan-freaking-tastic new website.  Cash donations and monkeys can be sent to the store c/o Nora and she'll forward them on to him.


    Nora joined me this afternoon, shortly after a really entertaining dog fight spontaneously occurred right outside the door. Really, it was the damndest thing. Nobody was hurt and some cool barking and jumping around went down.

    So, Nora shows up and we got into the groove, stylin' at James' new custom-made, hand-built sales counter. As such - I did my David Letterman impression, to a thunderous hail of laughter:

    Then Nora vamped it up to a deafening shower of hoots, hollers and whistles:

    Then something really funny happened off panel.

    Then it was time to get down to work. One of the things James has explored on his website, but hasn't incorporated into the shop itself, is the ever-helpful Staff Picks. I really like this feature when I find it in video stores; I look around and try to find someone who likes, say, three movies I already like. Then, inevitably, they suggest I rent something I was THINKING about, but I needed that extra little nudge. There's a lot of ways to do this; weekly rotations for new releases, "old" product cycles... one idea I had was to "Pick" one or two items from a number of different price ranges. For example, here are Sean's Picks for this week:

    We've got The Pact #3 in there for folks with only a fiver in their pocket; The Goon, Weapon X and Hench for folks looking for something under twenty books; the second, excellent Lucifer trade for anybody looking to drop a Jackson; and the Sandman: Endless Nights and Age Of Bronze vol 2: Sacrifice hardcovers for high rollers looking to drop some serious coin on quality comics.

    Nora lent her own impeccable taste to the adjoining shelves:

    Nora went with the first issue of Ultra for an affordable, enjoyable comics read, a host of great books in the $15-or-so range (1000 Steps to World Domination, Transmetropolitan, Electric Girl, Fables, Invincible), Hellboy and Tin Tin collections for about twenty bucks (man, Tin Tin is cheap! That's a hardcover!), and a fancy-pants hardcover of Wanted.

    Then Graeme made his picks. Along with the intelligent, layered volume of Eddie Campbell's How To be An Artist, Graeme selected books such as Captain Dingleberry and Aquaman: The Water Bearer.

    One thing I've noticed about setting titles aside, on display, on shelves: folks tend to assume they're off limits somehow. They pick up the volumes tentatively, looking at me as if to ask permission.

    The whole point being, of course, to get the books into the hands of the customers. But hand-selling is a topic for tomorrow. Food for thought.

    So, after we got our Staff Picks displays up and running, we got a call from the inimitable Neil Kleid, wishing to carry on the long-celebrated tradition of Isotope phone shots.

    So after a quick raid of James' liquor cabinet...

    We raised our Isotope Warren Ellis Scotch Glasses in honor of our favorite dummy stuck on the East coast. (Look forward to a little more Neil Kleid goodness tomorrow, when we take off the kid gloves, grab a pick-ax in our hands and really get down to work. Jared's gonna KILL us.)

    Here's to a successful day and the awesome time we're gonna have tomorrow, putting together our own Isotope event.

    Signing off.

    Sean Maher here again.

    So, imagine my state of mind. The Isotope is mine. You might think I'm feeling something a little like this:

    Well, you'd be right. I'm on top of the world. I've also been busting tail to get some fun stuff to happen. First up? What's the first thing you do when you get the keys while Mom n' Pop are away?

    You throw a party, of course.

    So tomorrow night, Saturday, July 16th, we'll be bringing in a DJ (we're working on getting the guy from Insane Clown Posse, actually) and having all our friends over for a good time. For a lot of folks it'll be their first time checking out the new place. For a lot more, it'll be the first time they've ever been to the Isotope. And for me, it'll be one hell of a great night.

    Come on down. We're at 326 Fell at the corner of Gough. We're planning on getting things bumpin' around 9:00pm, and we'd love to see ya!

    This is James Sime, sending out an S.O.S. - please, if you're receiving this, send assistance immediately! I've made a terrible ms*&&^ ++++++++++ ++++++++++++++++ +++++++++++ ++++++++++++ +++++++ +TRANSMISSION RESUMED.


    Ladies and gentlemen.

    My name is Sean Maher.

    Together with Graeme McMillan and Nora Lally-Graves, I am now in control of Isotope - the comic book lounge.

    The mightiest comic book culture weapon known to man is in my hands. I promise to use it wisely. Do not attempt to intervene.

    Blood, sweat and tears have been shed by the buckets to make this happen. We are confident in our plan and plunge forward, inexperienced and determined, in the name of the gospel of comics. We will provide continuous feed as our plan unfolds, keeping you all updated with the latest developments.

    We begin the experiment at 1100 hours. T-minus 30 minutes and counting.

    Thursday, July 14, 2005

    What Happens to Comic Retail When
    The Inmates Run the Asylum?

    One of the major problems with retail is keeping things fresh and keeping your finger on the pulse of what kind of experience you would like to present to your guests. Once you cross that invisible barrier that exists between a customer and a retailer it's a difficult proposition to keep your vision from being colored by the context of the realities of running a business. It's simplicity itself to fall into patterns and to continue down the ever spiraling pathway of "if it works don't fix it." But in order to provide the best possible customer service and to take care of the often unspoken whims and wishes of your patrons it is crucial to periodically find new ways to remove those context-colored glasses and see your business from the ever fresh standpoint of the consumer.

    Which brings us to today, and The Great Retail Experiment.

    For over four years the Isotope has devoted itself to providing the best possible customer experiences, and has kept finding fresh new ways of reinventing comics retailing. Now, right on the heels of the Isotope’s single biggest innovation to date, its successful move to the stylish new location in the heart of San Francisco, which combines art gallery, mix-media space, swank lounge and comic store into one, I am going to be stepping back from the helm and giving the people on the other side of the counter a chance to put their ideas to work.

    And what better time than when my staff and I are away to let the inmates loose in the asylum? So, on July 15, 2005, as I am leaving for San Diego, rather than closing up shop as I traditionally do, I will be turning over the keys of the brand new Isotope to three hand-picked individuals, ones I have chosen not because of any retail or customer service background, but because they are all opinionated people who are utterly passionate about the comic art form.

    Like most comic fans these three have plenty of theories about what makes a good comic store, but I'll be interested in seeing whether they will be able to put these theories into practice. That's when things get interesting. So it's put up or shut up time and these three will have to either sink or swim based on the value of their collective efforts and ideas. At the very least it'll make for some entertaining blogging, and who knows? Maybe I'll even learn a thing or two.

    Let's be honest here. If we did this half-way, the experiment is meaningless, it would just be some Isotope staff substitutes running the register. So in order to make this experiment useful we're going to be going all the way. I've given over the keys to the shop and even my '65 Mustang and told them to do whatever they want with them. If they want to re-merchandise my shop, replace all my original art with pictures of Lady Death, have an in-door camping trip at the comic store with all their pals, raid the liquor cabinet and do doughnuts in the street, or give away one thousand free comics, they can. It's their show and as long as they don't burn down the shop, whatever retailing ideas that they want to put into action, they get to.

    So who are the people who make up this hand-picked trio? Chances are, they're people you already know.

    Graeme McMillan, the man behind the notorious Fanboy Rampage and the lord of internet comics snark. McMillan comes to us from a background of running one of the Internet's most infamous blogs. Few persons of industry importance have been spared his jibes.

    Sean Maher, the chaotic and sometimes belligerent online personality. Maher brings with him a keen critical mind, insatiable enthusiasm, and no retail or customer service experience whatsoever.

    Nora Lally-Graves, the mini-comic creator and graphic novel author, with her synapses permanently set for rapid-fire idea creation. She was brought on board to bring some balance and practical rationality to this group, but frankly, in retrospect, I can't see that happening.

    Of their plans, Maher said, "When we saw those sparkling keys, we first planned to change the locks while James was gone. But that's only a stepping-stone to the REAL stuff we're planning. Everybody should keep their eyes glued to the Isotope Communique over the weekend to see us taking some risks and living the dream while we're playing with the coolest toy ever: a great comics shop of our own."

    While that sounds good, when I heard the rumor that on Saturday night they were planning on hosting the DJ from Insane Clown Posse, I took a moment and pondered whether this was such a good idea after all. With one weekend to do what they want, will they reinvent comics retailing all over again or will they single-handedly bring down the entire direct market? Here's looking forward to what the weekend will bring!

    -James Sime

    New Line Cinema
    Puts the Great Machine in Motion

    If getting nominated for every single Eisner Award under the sun and getting not one but two awesome Isotope launch events wasn't reward enough to Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris, and Tom Feister for making Ex Machina one of the best comics on the market, today The Hollywood Reporter reports that New Line Cinema has picked up the big screen rights to this excellent Wildstorm Comics series.

    Congrats out to Misters Vaughan, Harris, and Feister, we'll be cheering for you this weekend when Ex Machina brings home every Eisner Award imaginable!

    And for those who haven't read this book yet, it's not too late to check it out:

    Ex Machina: The First Hundred Days
    by Brian K. Vaughan, Tony Harris & Tom Feister
    $9.95 for 136 Full-Color Pages
    From DC/Wildstorm

    Tuesday, July 12, 2005

    An All-Star Opening
    w/ Jim Lee, Lee Bermejo, Matteo Casali, Michele Petrucci, and Grazia Labaccaro

    (San Francisco) James Sime, proprietor of San Francisco's award winning Isotope - the comic book lounge, announced today the much-anticipated all-star grand opening celebration of his newly relocated store. The gala celebration, heralding a new era for this world-class mecca of comics culture, will be held on Wednesday, July 20, and will feature some of the industry's finest creators from around the world including Jim Lee hot on the heels of 2005's biggest launch, All Star Batman & Robin, The Boy Wonder.

    The Isotope, which relocated to the Hayes Valley in the heart of San Francisco at the beginning of July, pushes the boundaries of comics retailing with an ultra modern industrial design. The curvaceous red walls and 14 foot ceilings of this new location bring together the best aspects of an original comic art gallery, a swank lounge, and a comic book store. "The Isotope was always intended to be on the bleeding edge," said Sime, "and with our recent re-imagining, there can be no doubt that we are redefining what comic retailing is all about. So to celebrate I wanted to do something really special. What could be more special than Jim Lee, Lee Bermejo, Matteo Casali, Michele Petrucci, and Grazia Labaccaro?"

    The celebration's line-up of international all-star creators will be featuring their most recent works, including:

    Jim Lee's All Star Batman & Robin, The Boy Wonder (DC Comics)
    Lee Bermejo's Lex Luthor Man of Steel (DC Comics)
    Matteo Casali's Bonerest (Image Comics) and Silent Dance (Slave Labor Graphics)
    Michele Petrucci's Due (Slave Labor Graphics)
    Grazia Lobaccaro's Silent Dance (Slave Labor Graphics).

    "This is sure to be an event to remember," said Sime, "And unlike the typical assembly-line convention signing, we've got some great surprises up our sleeves and my staff and I will be going out of our way to ensure that everybody gets a chance to have a red carpet moment with their favorite comic superstars. Definitely not to be missed!"

    All-Star Opening with Jim Lee, Lee Bermejo, Matteo Casali, Michele Petrucci, and Grazia Labaccaro
    Wednesday, July 20, 2005
    7:00 pm - Midnight

    Isotope - the comic book lounge
    326 Fell St. (@ Gough)
    San Franciso, CA 94102

    For more information about Isotope - the comic book lounge, visit:

    For a sneak peek at the Isotope's new location, visit:
    Fractal Video's Isotope Mini-Doc

    To Metroblogging SF
    San Francisco's Culture Blog

    With so many exciting things going down on a daily basis in the city of San Francisco it's always important to have a friend who is "in the know" to keep you abreast of all the latest happenings, but with so much going on one hip friend is never enough. Art openings, live music, street fairs, cool businesses, local politics, street performers, new restaurants, and odd gatherings of supreme strangeness... to keep your finger on the pulse of the greatest city on Earth you're going to need your own personal team of culture archeologists.

    You're going to need Metroblogging San Francisco.

    Regular visits to the site have pointed the Isotope staff in the right direction for experience expanding people, places, events, and things on many occasions which makes Metroblogging SF an invaluable resource for anyone who loves to be creating or participating in making things happen. And they have nice things to say about the Isotope as well.

    "Isotope Comics debuts new comic book lounge

    By far the premiere comic book store in the city, and dare I say the country, Isotope Comics has relocated to a new spot on Fell Street. Its official opening was yesterday, and you can now take a virtual tour of the new digs.

    What makes Isotope Comics so bad ass? Let me count the ways:

    They have a freaking LOUNGE: Sure it's a comic store, but they also have an art gallery, a workshop for creative folks, and a sweet leather sofa. And if you're at the store during certain special events, you can kick back with alcoholic beverages. In acknowledgment of the burgeoning artist hipster trend of mini-comics, Isotope offers an annual Excellence in Mini Comics award for those who have outdone themselves in the mini comics biz. They have a Comic Rockstars Toilet Seat Museum, featuring work by comic greats like Warren Ellis, Peter Gross, and Tom Beland. Need I say more? They host Mexican wrestling! And they have Seamonkeys!

    So head on over there if you want to experience a comic book store like no other."

    Check out more at MetroBlogging SF

    Monday, July 11, 2005

    Image Comics Ambassador of Cool
    Talks the Isotope

    As Executive Director of Image Comics, Eric Stephenson may not get the glory like the other guys, but his good taste and refinement has guided Image Comics through the super hero explosion of the 90s to the stylish, diverse, and hip entity we know it to be today.

    Without a doubt, in the comic industry, Stephenson is the man who knows comics, commerce and culture. So it was quite an honor to stumble upon some very kind words about the Isotope during one of our semi-regular visits to Stephenson's blog.

    "In other news, the inimitable James Sime has moved his one-of-a-kind Isotope comics lounge to San Francisco's Hayes Valley, which puts it just within walking distance of my apartment. In addition to the new address, the Isotope has had something of a makeover, and is even cooler than it was before. If you can imagine such a thing. There are plenty of great comic book shops out there, but almost none of them achieve what James' store does, which is make comics seem like one of the hipper and more vibrant pieces of the big ol' puzzle we call pop culture. If there were more comic book shops like the Isotope, I seriously believe there would be more people reading comics. So, if you live in the San Francisco area, you should stop by. And if you're visiting, add it to your list of places to visit. You won't be disappointed."

    Check out more of Mister Stephenson's blog at

    Throw Rag
    Sailor Rock & F'n Roll

    When Flipside Magazine calls a band "The Rolling Stones of my generation" you'd better sit up and pay attention... and Throw Rag is that band.

    Not for those who prefer their music pre-fab and pretty, the boys from the Salton Sea are the kind of band that Guns and Roses always wished it could be: wild, sleazy, chaotic, and oozing with the true filthiness of a touring rock and roll juggernaut. Throw Rag stalkes the stage armed with great songs, wild-eyed maniacism, blistering punk rawk riffs, low-rent style, and an electrified washboard cranked up beyond eleven.

    Touring in support of their just released "13 Ft & Rising" album, which features guest appearances by legends like Jello Biafra (Dead Kennedys), Keith Morris (Circle Jerks) and Motorhead's godlike frontman, Lemmy, Throw Rag are bringing their brilliantly decadent rock and roll antics to San Francisco this Thursday. Not to be missed!

    Throw Rag w/ Street Dogs & Black Furies
    Bottom of the Hill 1233 17th Street @ Missouri)
    Thursday July 14th. 9pm. All ages welcome.

    Wednesday, July 06, 2005

    The Isotope's New Location
    Video & Pictures Available

    This last Friday the Isotope officially swung the doors of our glorious new shop location wide open and invited the world to stop in and see where we're taking the future of the comic industry. With a supercharged mix of vibrant culture, diverse product, love for the comic medium, stylish surroundings, and a healthy portion of raw sex appeal, our new home takes everything that made the store internationally known and cranks it up to eleven.

    Thanks to Mister Chris Odell and our friends at Fractal Video you can now take a virtual Quicktime tour of the shop and see what we've got in store for the SF Bay Area.

    (click here to play)

    And to see more of the shop be sure to check out this photo set from Saturday, July 2nd. For those who are interested in comparing the relative beauty of the Isotope see more Deborah Harry reference photos here.

    Jack Kirby Museum and Research Center
    Devoted to Archiving The King of Comics

    There can be no denying that Jack Kirby was one of the comic industry's brightest and most talented stars of all. Kirby channeled oversized action, immense ideas, enormous imagination, and colossal characters through his trademark larger than life visuals and changed the comic industry forever. Instrumental in the creation of comic industry giants like the X-Men, Captain America, the Fantastic Four, and DC's Fourth World titles, Kirby's body of illustrative work is just as vast as anything he ever drew or wrote.

    And now the king of comics has his own museum.

    The Kirby estate, along with TwoMorrows Publisher John Morrow and cartoonist Randolph Hoppe, announced the creation of the Jack Kirby Museum and Research Center which aims to build an exhaustive, collaborative, and cross-referential online resource devoted to Jack "King" Kirby, partner with museums, conferences and conventions around the world on Kirby-related exhibits, and catalogue the man's massive body of work. We here at the Isotope couldn't be happier to hear the news and look forward to the opportunity to make a contribution to this much-deserved celebration of the comic industry's one true king.

    Click here for more information on the Jack Kirby Museum and Research Center