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Talk the Talk, Walk the Walk--There’s No Crying in Retailing!

Column by Kendall Swafford

Published: 09/13/2010, Last Updated: 09/15/2010 01:33am
Talk the Talk, Walk the Walk is a weekly column by Kendall Swafford of Up Up Away! in Cincinnati, Ohio.  This week, Kendall recounts some recent retailing challenges.

I didn’t come here this week to whine, but it’s been that kind of a week.  Whenever I would go on a job interview (I think the last one was in 1980-something) I would always ask what a typical day was like in that position.  So I guess this week’s column is kinda like that.  If you’re an aspiring comic book retailer, here’s some of the adversity you may face.

I suffered through another birthday this week.  No one is willing to believe I’m 29 anymore, and my best friend forgot (again).  Yeah, I know.  You’re all thinking "Geez, grow up already.  You’re not twelve."  But hey, I make a living selling comic books, growing up is pretty far down on my list of things to do.  And we give bonus loyalty card points on customers' birthdays, so we enjoy celebrating them.

It’s a holiday week, which means Thursday arrival of new comics.  Never a good week when that happens.  Thankfully, those delays are coming to an end soon with day-early delivery.  We make the best of it with a Labor Day sale, but the disruption in delivery doesn’t guarantee people will (or can) disrupt their weekly routines to match.  Somehow, at least a portion of that income never finds its way back.  I would LOVE for the publishers to wake up and adjust their shipping plans accordingly.  But... that’s all a moot point come January.

The single biggest reason I hate Labor Day week is the Harvest Home Parade.  My store is located in Cincinnati, specifically a one-square-mile town within the city called Cheviot.  Never annexed by the city of Cincinnati, Cheviot is one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods, that just happens to be a city unto itself.  A "Twilight Zone" kinda place, forever thinking (or wishing) it was 1950.  The parade pre-dates the Civil War, and marches right down Harrison Avenue, the main thoroughfare.  It’s a loooong parade, taking about 2-1/2 hours to complete once it starts, which means the street is closed on new comics day for about half the day, including my after-work rush!  It’s a huge revenue stream for the city, and historically, the city has never put the local merchant’s needs ahead of its own.  So, comics are a day late, and Cheviot celebrates by blocking access to my store.  I’m all for civic pride and a sense of community, except when it restricts my ability to do business.  But, it’s a 151-year-old parade, I’m not gonna get ‘em to change anytime soon.

The parade leads me to the biggest challenge we faced this week.  I swear, I thought we were done with this topic.  In conjunction with the upcoming Cincinnati Comic Expo, we participated in this year’s parade.  The folks at the Expo had hired a local man with a 1966 Batmobile to drive in the parade to advertise the upcoming comic convention.  We hired a Superman actor to advertise the Man of Steel’s upcoming appearance in Cincinnati in Superman #703.  So this should have been a very serendipitous ten days; the parade on Thursday promoting Superman’s appearance the following Wednesday, culminating in the city’s first comic convention in years the following Saturday.  Sounds great, right?  Actors are hired, banners are printed, press releases are released, and a proclamation has been issued by the mayor, declaring September 15th "Superman Day" in the city of Cheviot.  I’m literally on the phone with a reporter from The Cincinnati Enquirer when I get a text from my Bob Sanders, my PR guy, informing me that DC Entertainment has delayed the book!!  Imagine Avatar is coming to DVD.  Ad time has been bought, Best Buy circulars designed and printed, and then James Cameron decides the movie needs to be tweaked.  Never happen.  There’s money on the line, and lots of it.

Now, this is Wednesday.  We immediately send out corrected press releases, try and reschedule my Superman actor, call the mayor’s office and, fifty dollars later, have a corrected banner, just in time for tomorrow’s parade.  Thanks DC!  I need this like I need an aneurism.  Now, in DC’s defense, they really couldn’t care less about any of this.  It’s not like they broke promises to me to help promote the book in my town.  They ignored me completely, so I guess they can delay the book with impunity.  I would talk to my DC sales rep about it, but he stopped calling me. (Some of you probably think I deserve that one, right?  Wrong.)

As a comic book fan, I’m a DC guy, through and through.  When we were kids, my older brother was Superman, and I was Batman.  After school, five days a week, reruns of The Adventures of Superman were followed by Batman on Channel 19.  Adam West WAS Batman (Hey, I was five or six at the time!).  It was the 70’s, before cable, so local reruns of old TV shows were all we had.  Years later, when I was 12, my brother beat me up for bringing home a Marvel Comic!  And it wasn’t even a GOOD Marvel comic, it was a really crappy one: The Human Fly #13.  I can’t remember the first comic I ever read, but I can remember the first comic I ever got beat up for.  True story.  My brother is no longer with us, and the store was named Up Up & Away! in a quiet, private little nod to him.  Everyone assumes I’m a huge Superman fan, but it was named for my brother.  Anyway, I didn’t go back to Marvel Comics until years later, and it was all John Byrne’s fault.

But I’m still a DC guy.  So I hate being so critical of the publisher I love so much, I really do.  As a business owner, none of that sentimentality matters.  What my customers want matters, my bottom line matters.  And DC has so completely and thoroughly dropped the ball on this one.  Naming names got me a lot of hate mail last time, but... I know for a fact that as of August 18th, the day DC’s The Source blog announced that Cincinnati was Superman’s next destination, there was no script.  28 days to go, and J. Michael Straczynski had not turned the script in.  Gotta be penciled, inked, lettered, colored, printed and shipped in 28 days.  This is the same J. Michael Straczynski that has very publicly proclaimed his love for Superman, who can’t/won’t/didn’t turn the script in on time.  Famously late on Thor, never finished The Twelve, loves Superman more than any other comic character, and he isn’t living up to his end of the deal.  Straczynski made me a Thor fan, and I didn’t think that was possible.  So I was genuinely excited to see him move to DC and take on the Man of Steel.  But if you can’t stand the pressures of delivering twenty-two pages every thirty days, write someplace else.

Ultimately, I think it’s about taking responsibility.  DC can’t get the script in on time?  Fire the guy.  He’s one writer.  A very good writer, perhaps, but just one writer.  This was/is not just another comic book.  Clearly, DC hoped to make the 'Grounded' storyline something special.  The Source announced a contest to bring Superman to any town within 50 miles of the nine cities originally listed as stops on Superman’s route.  A contest to get readers to participate!  Someone somewhere at DC realized this was something unique; an editorial event that would help connect readers of Superman to the book, and hopefully the character, like never before.  We could open the pages of Superman and he would actually BE in Cincinnati!  Or Des Moines or Chicago or someplace real.  YOUR town.  MY town.  OUR towns.  And that’s cool.  DC also bears more responsibility than just printing comic books.  If you want the guys on the front lines to be excited about your products, then you have to be equally excited.  And that translates into making the effort to produce on time, and help us market YOUR products.  Take responsibility.

Maybe (probably) it’s not 100% Straczynski’s fault.  Who cares at this point?  Clearly DC has lost interest in making this something special.  The local media has begun to lose interest.  The local population who never buys comic books but think it would be cool to own issue #703 has started to lose interest.  By the time the damn thing arrives, everyone will be distracted by something else shiny.  So, we’ll pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and start all over again.  Maybe this time it won’t all be for naught.  Either way, we’ll keep plugging away.

I think getting this industry to grow up is the real never-ending battle.

The opinions expressed in this column are solely  those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of ICv2.com.
 
 
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