I came across this article by Comix Central: Comic Shops Open Up About How to Get Your Comics on Their Shelves. And it bugged me.
These were comic shop owners and managers giving an honest account on why Indies don’t succeed in their shops.
But something under the surface just kept nagging me until I came to this conclusion: Comic shops aren’t for Indie Comic Book Publishers.
And this article by Comix Central and others like it actually explains why.
The questions Comix Central asks are pretty benign. It’s the responses that range from scathing to bipolar that caused me so much ire.
I’ll walk you through it.
QUESTION 1: Any Insight into why certain titles seem to take off compared to other titles? What seems to misfire?
So here they are supposedly helping Indies by explaining to them why they fail in comic shops when in reality it seems they are just explaining why they HATE indies so much. Describing them as, “3rd rate DC/Marvel/Image/Dark Horse wannabe books…Overall, crappy art, lame writing, uninspired storytelling. In many cases, you can judge a bad book by its cover.”
One guy says, “It’s like Batman except his butler is a girl! Whoa.”
So all that’s really established here is that Indies don’t sell in comic shops because most retailers believe Indies suck.
News Flash! They are supposed to suck!
Most Indies are first time publishers who typically don’t have the technical knowledge or the resources to create a top notch book. So grading a title based on a set of standards they may not achieve in the short term seems counter productive from the start.
Note to first-timers. No one nails it their first time out in anything. Most creatives suck for years before hitting their stride.
But more importantly, If you are using your access to comic shops as a gauge of how good you are you’ll never succeed because they typically are biased from the start because you are self published.
Which brings me to the next question.
QUESTION 2: How does the person responsible for ordering make their specific choice of titles and the quantity they order?
This is very telling here. Pay close attention.
Want to know why there is no room in comic book shops for your “sucky” Indie book? It’s because they are over run with sucky comic books that happen to be prettier and published by bigger names.
When a retailer says, “we order based on what is pre-ordered mostly, and…based on mainstream exposure and hype,” that means all that talk about “quality” is just a lame excuse not to support an Indie creator.
By their own admission, retailers don’t have an accurate guage as to what really sells because they just don’t know. They are trusting that publishers and websites like Bleeding Cool and Newsarama will tell them what will sell. And they regergitate that hype to their customers hoping it sticks.
So DC/MARVEL tells the shop which book/series is hot and they believe them. [Insert Secret War/Secret Empire joke here.]
That being said, I can appreciate Benn Ray’s honesty when he lays out all the stuff he refuses to buy. Notice, it covers 90% of the Indie publishing eco-system:
“If the book looks like a wannabe DC/Marvel superhero book, I’m not ordering it. If it’s a hokey-looking genre book, sci-fi/ fantasy, I’m not inclined to order it. If I’ve never heard of the publisher, the writer, or the artist, it’s unlikely I’m going to take a chance on that book. If the art looks poorly computer colored, computer-generated or the story concept seems hackneyed, I’m probably not going to order it. If the art looks “manga-inspired” I’m probably going to skip the book.”
QUESTION 3. In terms of sales does anything stand out to you as remarkable from the past few years, as far as indie publishing?
If I haven’t proved that comic shops are no place for Indies wait until you hear this.
None of the retailers in this article could name an Indie title that stood out to them as “remarkable” in terms of sales. Or just plain “remarkable”.
And to add insult to injury, Dave Micheals says, “I don’t know if this counts but I would say the resurgence of Archie and the whole relaunch of the Archie line of comics shocks me.”
I’m not knocking Archie’s hustle but they’ve been around since 1939! Indie they ain’t.
And maybe we are getting into some semantics here as to what exactly is “Indie”. That’s an arguement for another day.
What stands out to me is their inability to point to any Indie project within their own shop.
Mentioning Image and Valiant is cool I guess but there was an opportunity to share their favorite small press project in their store and they totally missed it.
QUESTION 4: Any advice or suggestions as to how someone with a self-published book would best go about getting it on comic book store shelves?
So after explaining to Indies why they won’t make it in comic shops Dave Michaels offers this piece of brilliant advice: “go to local comic shops and ask them to put your stuff on the shelf. There are not many stores that won’t support local content. Make friends and fans and get out there!”
Unless, of course, the shop owner is Benn Ray. (Refer to his tirade above).
The only real solid advice comes from Jim Drucker who advises Indies to:
A. Have a ground breaking idea
B. Have a strong social media presence
C. Have the necessary capital
Translation: Don’t walk your sorry ass up in this shop until you’re ready!
Which is actually a valid point.
Indie creators should take the time to perfect their craft and figure out what works; build a fan base that will support their work; and secure the necessary funds to make their dreams a reality.
Unfortunately, I don’t think comic shops are the place to accomplish that.