The Hot Seat

Mon, January 28th, 2002 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
The Hot Seat, Columnist

We took a week off from THE HOT SEAT last week (we spent too much time messing around with the new CBR Forums!), but we're back with another edition. This week we've contacted a comics retailer you may have heard about while readin Larry Young's LOOSE CANNON column here at CBR. James Sime is the owner of San Francisco's Comics & Da-Kind which he took over in June, 2001. A former scotch/cigar bar bartender, James says he "appreciates fine suits and great shoes, prefers his steak rare and will always make time to play in a rock and roll band." James was kind enough to bring a retailers perspective to THE HOT SEAT and we're awful glad he did. Here's James.

Do you have to be crazy to sell comics for a living these days?

My co-workers told me I was crazy when I quit a lucrative job shaking martinis for a living to work in a comic store for minimum wage. My family told me I was crazy when I blew my bank account and quickly fell into debt in order to take over that very same business when the previous owner felt that it was no longer financially viable. And it seemed like everyone thought I was crazy when I flew in the face of popular comic retail opinion and remade my storefront into an ultra-hip lounge.

"You spent all that money remodeling this store and then you bought a leather sofa and barstools? For a comic store? That's crazy! People are just going to read all your comics and you won't make a dime! Not that anyone is going to care anyway, it's just comics!"

Just comics!?!

Comic books are a cutting-edge, fertile ground for ideas and those who care enough to express them. The degrees of separation between an artist and his finished work are unparalleled in the entertainment industry. Stories, pictures and concepts start within our industry to spread throughout popular culture like a cancer. Movies, books, t-shirts, cartoons, video games, music, television and even tattoos... you don't have to look hard to see the fingerprint of comics everywhere.

Just comics!?!

I don't think so.

As a retailer I have a massive responsibility to each and every one of you. My job is more than just putting the books on the shelves every Wednesday. I am your representative. I represent the readers, the creators, and the publishers to the world at large. I am the forum that brings the great works contained in the pages of comic books to every potential customer that passes by my front door, and that's something I take very seriously. If I don't shave or brush my teeth before I go to work and I show up dressed like I don't give a damn, that represents each and every one of you. If I treat children and wives and old ladies like something that doesn't belong in my store, that is a representation of all of you. If I'm rude to people who call on the phone simply because they interrupted my issue of "American Century," that is how I represent you. If my store is one of those filthy, foul smelling hellholes that feels like a back-alley porn shop, that is how I represent each of you.

So is it crazy to put in a leather sofa so that my customers can lounge in luxury with a graphic novel in hand? Is it crazy to waste valuable retail space by displaying graphic novels on tiny easels like pieces of fine art? Is it crazy to go through the trouble to invite creators into the store and then to take the appropriate steps to ensure that people who've never even heard of the creator before come in to meet them? Is it crazy to line my showcases with barstools and encourage my customers to relax and enjoy the environment I've worked so hard to create? Is it crazy to proudly display beautiful pages of original art and animation cells in frames on my store's walls? Is it crazy to wear a suit when it isn't even new comic day?

Some people seem to think so. Maybe they're right, and then again maybe they're not.

Perhaps it was also crazy when Barnes and Nobles changed the blueprint for a bookstore into a place that you could relax in an easy chair and spend an hour or two just reading. Perhaps it was crazy when Starbucks transformed coffee from something for which you pay twenty-five cents for an endless cup into two dollar lattes and mochacinos. Maybe it was crazy to the people who were already going to those businesses, already going in the door to buy books or drink coffee, but that wasn't their target audience.

Like scores of comic publishers today I am interested in expanding our market, bringing new readers in the door and getting them to return again for more. And despite common comic retail wisdom, every crazy thing that I do with my store is doing just that. As well as the customers who have been shopping at this particular store for two decades, and the comic readers who come in to see what the latest event is at the store, my customers are women who came in with their boyfriends and started reading "Goodbye Chunky Rice" while they relaxed on the sofa. My customers are hipsters who came in to check out a DJ I brought in for a Brian Wood signing and walked out with a copy of "Channel Zero" in their hands. My customers are kids and teachers from a nearby school coming in to thank me for a donation and leaving with an armload of "Scooby-Doo" comics in tow. My customers are people who came to the store's Halloween party just to get a ride around town in the limousine I rented and ended up buying "Sky Ape" on a whim, and my customers are everyone in between.

Every month I get new faces in the door and these new people keep coming back for more. With some of the great comics that the industry is producing these days, I can understand why. The number of good comics seems to be increasing exponentially and thanks to some really progressive independent publishers, as well as some smart decisions by both DC and Marvel, the non-comic reader has more choices than they've had in decades. Unlike the boom of the 1990's, where a hundred different titles would all read like the exact same comic book, today we have some genuine variety on the shelves. Combine this with the remarkable number of original graphic novels, trade paperbacks and beautiful hard covers publishers are providing the market with, you have a perfect formula to lure new readers in the door and down that long, winding road to comic book addiction.

With the publishers providing such good stuff, it's easy for a dealer like me to put a book in each consumer's hands. And once they're addicted, it will be that much easier to get their friends addictedÅ and then their famlies..and then..the world.

So do you have to be crazy to sell comics these days?

Probably not, but it sure helps.

-- James Sime

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