Please Let Warren Ellis Be Wrong

It isn’t often that I root against Warren Ellis.  His books are on an auto-pull at my LCS, and I have the Global Frequency logo tattooed on my shoulder. I read his site regularly, and already have my spot reserved for the documentary screening Friday night at Floating World. It isn’t that I think the man can do no wrong (hated the end of No Hero), but I do respect his storytelling chops and his perspective on society and media.

But, when I read his post this morning, I found myself hoping against hope he was wrong:

More of this: Oni, Viz, Avatar, Boom, Archaia, Fantagraphics and a few actual publishing houses having less share in the direct market than Eaglemoss, a company that packages partwork magazines with little Marvel and DC character figurines.  A less perfect illustration of what comics stores are actually interested in selling, I cannot find today.

Denying that this currently is true is tantamount to me burying my head in the sand.  But, just because it is true now does not mean that it HAS to be true in the future.

I am always amazed/saddened when I look at the sales charts each month and I see quality publishers such as Oni and First Second lagging so far below other publishers.  I used to give myself a sense of hope with the knowledge that there was “always the bookstore market” where I was convinced the independent OGN would do better and sell in some respectable numbers.  But with the implosion of Borders last year and the low bookscan numbers, my faith in that strategy has been shaken.

So I return to the LCS.  I am blessed to live in Portland, where there is a concentration of quality retailers.  Floating World, Excalibur, Future Dreams, Bridge City Comics and Cosmic Monkey (all within an afternoon’s bike ride of each other) offer an amazing selection of independent comics and graphic novels.  Not to mention Powell’s (America’s largest independent book seller) has an extensive comic and graphic novel selection.

I realize that this is not the norm across the country.  Things From Another World (or TFAW to the rest of the planet) is a chain of stores closely related to Dark Horse.  A recent visit to TFAW painted a very different picture than what I was used to. Outside of the top 5 publishers, there are next to no independent titles represented.  One would think they would push the indies (being owned by Mike Richardson and all), but they don’t.  Approximately 3/4 of the space in the store is dedicated to gaming and comics paraphernalia (t-shirts, hats, mugs, statues, action figures, and yes the Eaglemoss magazine/figures) .  Seems a bit upside down to me, but it works for them, and they are the only comic shop in Oregon that can legitimately be called a chain.  Across the nation I am willing to bet that there are more TFAWs than there are Floating Worlds (where 95% of the store is comics and zines and the other 5% is paraphernalia).

If we cannot rely on the bookstore market, and we cannot rely on the LCS to stock the Onis, the First Seconds, or the Top Shelfs, who do we turn to?  I think it is time for some bootstrapping.  We, the consumers, need to ask our retailers for titles from these publishers BY NAME.  When we read and enjoy an independent book, we need to tell our retailers what we liked and ask them what else they have by the same author, publisher, or genre.  By asking these questions and by giving the retailers this feedback it will challenge them to look, learn, and act.  No retailer wants to pass up a sale.  They may not have the book or author or publisher you want on the shelf at that exact moment, but they SHOULD be willing to order it for you.

Retailers are only going to order something if there is a demand for it.  Right now there is a demand for partwork magazines with little Marvel and DC character figurines.  We have to show them there is a demand for something else. We have to tell them that there is a sale waiting to be had!

So ladies and gentlemen, let’s prove Warren Ellis wrong.  Let’s make 2012 a year where the comic book READER takes back the shop from the comic book COLLECTOR.  Where the action figures and paraphernalia have to make way for the comics they “support”.  Where the friendly retailer suggests a book by the content of its characters, not by the color of its tights.  (Ok, now I am stretching it a bit.)

Who’s with me?

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