• Interviews 

    Talking The Hard Facts of Making and Selling Comics with Retailers

    By | June 17th, 2014
    Posted in Interviews | 5 Comments

    As a companion to the piece we ran earlier about creator-owned comics and the reality behind making them work, we wanted to run the interviews in full that we had with varying creators and retailers on the subject. These writers and retailers can provide a lot of valuable insight into how the comic book machine really works, and with that perspective in mind, hopefully help everyone realize how important our role is as readers.

    Take a look below, as retailers like Third Eye Comics, Challengers Comics + Conversation, Jetpack Comics and more get a chance to talk shop and reveal details of the retail world that you may not have known before.

    Zapp Comics

    Corry Brown (Zapp Comics)

    For your shop, how important to your ordering is what your customers have on their pull list or have pre-ordered in some way?

    CB: Pull lists are not as important for ordering as they used to be. The market is so strong now, even the smaller companies main books are ordered in higher volumes. Back in the day, there were a good amount of lower tier titles that we needed to know exactly how many were needed in advance. This is a good thing!

    How do users update pulls for your shop? Do you have some sort of online database?

    CB: We use the normal/standard pull boxes. We have a “main” database with everything anyone gets pulled. For example, “Black Science” #7 comes in and we know to pull 43 copies for the reservists. Then, we disperse them to each individual pull that needs a copy. We have 3 times the amount of pull lists now than we had just 2 years ago. The market is very strong right now. We can only hope it stays like this.

    Are you basically just ordering off of what success you’ve seen from similar titles, or previous issues of the same title or a comparable one? How do you base orders, say, for a new Image series, or for an even smaller one like the new Cullen Bunn horror series The Empty Man?

    CB: We basically order most of the titles based off the previous ones. With exceptions to major creative changes as well as crossovers.

    New Image Series are ordered almost solely on the creators of the book. You can usually tell which ones will be winners or not. Trees, Saga, Black Science, Sex Criminals, East of West, etc. were no brainers. Smaller Image #1 issues are not a big risk. Most books are already buzzing before they hit.

    Challengers Comics + Conversation

    Patrick Brower (Challengers Comics + Conversation)

    For your shop, how important to your ordering is what your customers have on their pull list or have pre-ordered in some way?

    PB: Customer pull list orders used to be the backbone of our ordering, but no longer. It seems the majority of our subscribers add books the day before they come out, so it really doesn’t help us in our 2-month out ordering. Even when all the major publishers have switched over to Final Order Cutoffs, allowing us to adjust our orders 3 weeks before a book ships, subscribers have adjusted their ordering procedures, waiting until the last minute, or until the book is already out. Gone are the days of subscribers filling out Previews order forms every month. We used to make up our own monthly “Things To Add” list, highlighting the best new titles/products in each Previews, print them up and put them in every subscriber’s spot each month, but the return was so minimal it didn’t even justify the printing costs, much less the effort in making it. So it feels like we are ordering blind now more than ever.

    How do users update pulls for your shop? Do you have some sort of online database?

    PB: We have an account with comiXology for subscribers. Before they got into digital distribution, comiXology got into the comics game as a subscription management services. For a monthly fee stores can set up an account and their subscribers can connect to them, for free, and have 24 hour access to their pulls list. And while comiXology doesn’t concentrate on that as much anymore, it still exists and we use it. We have about 110 subscribers on comiXology out of about 400 total subscribers. Aside from that the majority of our subscribers update their lists while they’re physically in-store, getting their books. But we also allow emails and phone calls, too. And people also use Facebook and Twitter, but that is less reliable in my eyes. Looking to the future, we are excited that Diamond has just announced their plans to host subscription management, integrated to your Diamond account, so adding and subtracting titles will be easier. Now all we need is for people to add them sooner.

    Continued below

    Are you basically ordering off a combination of feel/last month’s orders/what you have left in the shop then?

    PB: Yeah, my ordering is mainly based off of the most recent issue’s sales number I have, but that’s usually 2 to 3 issues back. So when people all drop the same title at once, we may get stuck with a LOT of copies of the issues in between their dropping and my adjustments catching up. But the FOC program is certainly a help in that regard. I’ve been doing this almost 24 years and I still never feel like I get it right, you know?

    When it comes to ordering, would you say that you always drop orders on a book when it comes to #2 compared to #1? Or is it entirely dependent on the book?

    PB: Ordering issue #2’s is usually harder than issue #1’s. It’s a sad fact that usually #2’s sell less than #1’s, so for the most part I would say yes, we usually cut the orders of a #2. Especially with today’s comic buying public, people buy a #1 often times just to see if they want to buy it in trade, and then they wait for that. And, believe it or not, there are still those that buy multiples of #1’s for speculation. That plus people just may not like the #1 and choose to not continue. So yes, the orders are usually stacked against the poor second issues.

    Jetpack Comics

    Ralph DiBernardo (Jetpack Comics)

    For your shop, how important to your ordering is what your customers have on their pull list or have pre-ordered in some way? If you could, share a general look at how you order your titles, especially newer Image books that don’t necessarily have superstar creators.

    RD: This is a very broad question.

    Let’s start with the preorder aspect. For any consistently selling titles, our orders are based on the actual sales, not the preorder amount. We order an additional 20% of every title, beyond the actual sales average, of their first month of sales, of the previous 3 months. In a some cases we order 50% over actual sales and in a few cases 75% over (Saga, Batman, Walking Dead sales continue to soar so we know over time these will sell).

    With a new Image title, from an unknown team, we will checkout the content and the art quality to determine how many we’ll order. This will range from 6 – 15 copies. If we have at least 2 preorders for a new title we’ll go towards the higher quantity. No preorders will mean the lower quantity. We want to give every indie title a chance to make it. No one can ever accuse us under-stocking a title.

    Known creative teams will be based on their previous works sales averages, with about an additional 30 – 50% ordered over that to account for all the people that will also give a known creative team a try.

    In the end it takes about 3 months to nail down the sales pattern but F.O.C. allows us to adjust numbers quicker.

    Because every publisher’s books perform differently our criteria varies greatly by publisher, title, creative team, content. Along with that we give every indie floppy a shot, until we determine that it does not work for our customer base. In some cases there are indie publishers that we do not buy a single title from because none of their titles have sold for us at all.

    That being said, if we sell just one copy of a title we will continue to purchase two copies of that title so that we always have one on the shelf.

    Every indie book gets a fair shot at Jetpack Comics.

    How do users update pulls for your shop? Do you have some sort of online database?

    RD: We’re currently using an online service for this but the cost of the service is not working out with the number of mistakes they are plagued with. We’ve met with several software developers in hopes of devising a more intuitive system for this but we’ve not moved forward with it yet. Our hope is that Diamond Comics will develop an app for this, as they have the easiest access to the data. In the end we may just move back to our old school style of maintaining an in-store database.

    Continued below

    Obviously certain titles are going to have higher visibility than others, but as a shop, if you believe in one in particular, do you do anything to raise awareness in it amongst your customers? If so, could you share some examples of that?

    RD: I honestly believe we are one of the shops that are most interactive with their customers in regards to promoting titles and creators.

    It starts with the staff picks of the week, in store. We all have a pick up on the wall by the new comic rack. If we liked your book, it makes one of our picks.

    If one of our staff enjoys your book they will social media the hell out of it. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram…whatever we can do. With nearly 5,000 followers on Facebook and Twitter we let the world know if we liked a property. We’ll attempt to interact with the creator and get them in on the discussion as well.
    If we think the book is a quality title it will get a better placement on new comic day and if we really like it we’ll leave it on the new rack for multiple weeks, as well as slotting it alphabetically in the indie section.

    Of course, we’ll all suggest it to readers that are getting a similar title.

    Again, every indie title has a fair shot with us, but in the end, it has to hold its own. We’ll attempt to sway readers but that only lasts so long.

    One thing I think is particularly cool about your shop is how you offer variants for titles that are exclusive to your customers, like that unbelievably fantastic The Wicked + The Divine variant you’re offering. How do things like that come together for your shop?

    RD: It depends on the title and the creators. We’ve been doing exclusives for so long that we’ve made a name for ourselves in this area.

    In some cases creators reach out to us and ask us if we want to do an exclusive. Especially creators that we’ve developed a good relationship with. Just this week we nailed down two exclusives on two different books, from Michael Moreci, for the Phantom Variant program (founded by Larry Dougherty of Larry’s Comics). The Phantom Variant program allows us to work with other shops, providing exclusives in limited quantity to over 4 dozen shops in the U.S., Canada, and U.K. Not to say that a creator will always actually ask us to do an exclusive. Sometimes they say “Hey, look at this new thing I’m doing”. We then reply, “Give us a thousand with an Ale Garz cover”.

    In other cases we’ll reach out to a publisher we have a good relationship with and pitch them an idea, on a title that we can see a good angle on or have a solid track record with. We’ve always been big fans of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, so when we saw Dynamite was publishing another original series (not a book adaptation) we jumped on board.

    The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are ALWAYS on my radar as I have a history with the creators that pre-dates the original series and I can reach out to Kevin Eastman anytime to see what he might have for cover options for us.

    Sometimes a publisher will reach out to us, looking to get a bump on a title. Especially if sales aren’t looking as strong as they hoped and more often if they’ve got some extra art lying around.

    When we read the first issue of Locke and Key and realized that Joe Hill was located in NH we begged to be a part of it. The same with Joe Hill & Jason Ciaramella’s CAPE series. Supporting local creators is something we are always doing – not that Locke & Key needed our help but customers love being a part of something local to them. Getting Gabe Rodriguez to draw us a Jetpack Key for the last issue was one of the greatest things to happen to us!

    In the case of The Wicked + The Divine, Forbidden Planet U.K. had set up the exclusive and asked if we wanted to share it with them. Forbidden Planet has a great eye for quality titles and we’ve a great working relationship with them. We’re kind of honored to be included in anything they do.

    Continued below

    Every month I scour Previews to see what pops out to me as a solid title that I want to throw additional support behind and hopefully have the shop reap the benefits from. It’s a long time to recoup on producing an exclusive but the added publicity for the shop always makes it worthwhile.

    Third Eye Comics

    Steve Anderson (Third Eye Comics)

    For your shop, how important to your ordering is what your customers have on their pull list or have pre-ordered in some way? If you could, share a general look at how you order your titles, especially newer Image books that don’t necessarily have superstar creators.

    SA: It has no impact. While we offer a fantastic subscription service, most of our sales are off-the-rack sales. We offer the pull-list as a way for folks to keep track of what they’re getting, and help when they ask themselves the question: did I already get this? We do not use pull-lists to gauge the actual quantity of what we order, as we prefer folks are able to come in and purchase what they want. We have a very diverse customer base, and many of them are unaware of a series until a week or two before release — we would be under-serving them if we did NOT have it available for them to pick it up off the shelf.

    I honestly think that the concept of “If it’s not on your pull list, you might not get it!” is awful, and needs to go away. Comic book stores should be vibrant, magical places full of things that you may not know you’re looking for until you see and hold them in your hands.

    As far as ordering newer titles with unknown / unproven creators, it’s a matter of quality and if the book has an audience. If the premise is exciting, the artwork is strong, and the overall presentation is there — then we will go all in. Any good retailer should be able to look at a comic book and know the potential for an audience within 30 seconds. If the potential is not there, then orders reflect that.

    This is how we’ve been ahead of the curve on many recent hits like Manifest Destiny, Stuff of Legend, Zero, Rat Queens, etc.

    How do users update pulls for your shop? Do you have some sort of online database?

    SA: We offer several options to give the customer’s the most flexibility and convenience when updating their lists. There are forms where they can make changes via our website, they can email us directly, they can phone us, and the most popular method: they can do it right at the counter with one of our staff.

    Obviously certain titles are going to have higher visibility than others, but as a shop, if you believe in one in particular (namely smaller titles), do you do anything to raise awareness in it amongst your customers? If so, could you share some examples of that?

    SA: We treat every book as an equal. It will find an audience and excite folks, or it will not. Whether it’s a self-published, self-distributed title such as COPRA, or a mega-hit like SANDMAN OVERTURE. Everything gets equal treatment, equal promotion, and equal chance to perform.

    Our typical process is multi-layered in terms of outreach, events, in-store promotions , but the two most important things you can do: preach good comics that you’re passionate about, and surround yourself with passionate, knowledgable staff who have good retail skills. We are comic book evangelists, and it’s our job to build the audiences for these wonderful books that are coming on the market.

    It’s important to make sure that you have a team who can support that same vision, because no matter how big or small the store, nothing will grow readership more than having a strong rapport with your customers and knowing their tastes.

    It seems to me that it’s important that you get an early look on books to determine whether or not they are the types of books that have the potential to sell in your audience. How do you go about doing that? Is it a matter of keeping an eye out on the internet for previews, or publishers and creators reaching out to you to share their books? How do you go about separating the signal from the noise?

    Continued below

    This is very important. Personally, I make sure that my entire staff, from the managers to the sales associates, all stay up to date with comic blogs, etc. We get a lot of the same information at the same time as news outlets do, so the quickest, and easiest way to find it out is by getting a notification in our RSS readers, or inboxes.

    Creators reaching out is also very important. I can’t say that every book I’ve been personally mailed about has grabbed me, BUT, I do look at 100% of what I receive, especially if the creator makes it clear they’re reaching out on a personal level and not just a blanket mass e-mail.

    There’s one thing that I would say helps grab attention, and that’s finished cover art when the book comes up on FOC or Previews order time.

    The cover of a book is very important — the way the text is placed, the visibility of the price, the entire trade dress — and a gorgeous, striking cover with big, clear, and bold logo / text always helps a new unknown title stand out amongst the crowd.

    Roughly speaking, what percentage of your store traffic would you say are regulars and what percentage are newer customers?

    SA: I’d say it’s about 60% repeat customers, with 40% new & walk-in. We also have a tremendous amount of what I call “destination” customers. These are customers who are regular enough that we know them, but may only visit once every 4-6 weeks, due to distance.

    We have a huge percentage of customers who drive over an hour plus to shop at our store, and that is such an incredible and gratifying feeling.

    Would you say that universally, you drop orders on a book from #1 to #2, as per the nature of the industry mostly? Or does it entirely depend on the book?

    SA: Honestly, there is a drop between issue 1 & 2 — however, some books are so special that drop is nonexistent.

    The big thing is Final Order Cut-Off, Image really nails how they schedule their books, and scheduling makes all the difference.

    Even if we only have 3-4 days of data on a #1, if it’s on FOC the following week for #2, it’s way easier for us to make a smart decision than ordering blind.

    Some books you can feel out their shelf-life, and you just know: #2 is going to be in demand. In cases like BLACK SCIENCE, TREES, etc. — these are all books that you know the sales ceiling won’t be reached until the series is several issues in, and the potential to grow the book hinges on having all of those early issues in stock.

    Besides convincing readers to add the book to their pulls (as that doesn’t make a huge difference) or simply making a great book that you think people would like to read, is there anything you find that writers/artists can do to help make their book more attractive for ordering?

    SA: Define the audience when you pitch the book to retailers. If you notice, a lot of the creator-owned books that come out of the gate strong, are the ones where you can look at it and see the potential for an audience.

    There’s some very talented folks out there now who are able to do this very well — if you want my advice of two creators to look at who really “get it” when promoting their projects to retailers and defining an audience: Jim Zub, Ales Kot and Justin Jordan.

    The most recent example of this was Image’s for the upcoming series COPPERHEAD — I can just look at the book and know it’s going to hit with fans of things like Whedon’s FIREFLY, fans of the Mass Effect video games, and then readers of comics like SAGA or Black Science.

    And how’d it get me? Just one striking teaser image that summed up the feel of the book perfectly.

    When you’re bombarded with new releases, and new projects, the most important thing is being able to have something stop you in your tracks and demand your attention — without taking up too much of your time.

    David Harper

    David Harper mainly focuses on original content, interviews, co-hosting our 4 Color News and Brews video podcast, and being half of the Mignolaversity and Valiant (Re)visions team. He runs Multiversity's Twitter and Facebook pages, and personally tweets (rarely) @slicedfriedgold. By day, he works in an ad agency in Anchorage, Alaska, and he loves his wife, traveling and biscuits & gravy (ordered most to least, which is still a lot).