A couple weeks ago an older gentleman came into my comic book store here in San Francisco, California. He lingered over each original art piece hanging on the shop's walls, holding his hands behind his back ponderously like an art student in the Louvre. He paged through graphic novel after graphic novel, pouring over copies of anything from Black Hole to Identity Crisis to Preacher as studiously as a college freshman at Harvard while he sat on the leather sofas. After some time, he approached me and asked, "What is it that you do here? What do you call what you sell?"
I grinned, "Comic books!" I answered enthusiastically.
The man pondered my answer. "Ahh," he said. "Well, I've been trying to describe this place to my friends for a while now... but 'comics' just didn't seem to cover it."
Now I don't think anyone would be able to tell me, James Sime, The Comic Pimp, the man with the gonzo approach to comic marketing, that he was selling the comic industry and the comic medium short. But I couldn't deny the truth in his statement. Maybe it was time to try to see it all over again with fresh eyes. Having just relaunched my store in a new location last summer and fast approaching my five year of comic retailing anniversary, I'm probably predisposed to sit back and do a little soaking in of the big picture anyway... so why not? Things have changed in the past five years in my industry and maybe he was right. "Comics" just doesn't seem to cover it anymore, does it?
When I opened the Isotope (and if you've read this column in the past you've no doubt heard me say it once or twice before) I envisioned something that transcended the existing model of a comic store, something out of the ordinary, something a little unpredictable, an "isotope" if you will.
In all my years of keeping tabs on the comic industry and shopping at comic stores all over the country, I hadn't heard of anyone doing what I was looking for in a comic book shop, and I know for damn sure that I hadn't seen it, but I thought it was what the industry needed, or at least what I needed as a comic reader. So I made it myself.
Now here we are almost five years later and we've entered an era of what Jeff "The Interman" Parker calls "the dawn of the rock and roll retailer." And there are awesome stores with innovative new styles of comic retailing cropping up all over the country and the world. Stores that go way beyond the map of the predictable comic store without even the familiar old Simpson's comic store guy to make us feel like we understand the language and the culture. We're traveling uncharted and unprecedented new worlds of comic emporiums and in 2006 I've decided that I'd like to be your guide to this wonderful world of comic retailing.
I might not be the best guide one could hope for, but I think you'll find I'll do a pretty serviceable job at it. After all, I've been working my way off the charts for a long while now. See, my shop isn't even part of the typical goods and services industry... it's in the industry of experiences. Creating them, crafting them, and sharing them with those who walk in my front door, that's what I do for a living. Sure, your hard-earned $2.99 will get you the same "All-Star Superman" comic at my store as it will anyone else's... except at my store I bring in Grant Morrison and give you the opportunity to hang out with him and talk comics. And yeah, that two bucks and ninety-five cents will get you the same copy of "Ex Machina" at any comic shop... but at mine you get to participate in the Ex Machina Voter Registration Drive with Brian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris, and score yourself an exclusive behind-the-scenes making-of CD jam packed with Mister Harris' art and Mister Vaughan's scripts that you can't get anywhere else. Or maybe you're armwrestling Ed Brubaker, or getting zombified with Steve Niles, or going to the rifle range with Bri Wood, or getting dressed up with Joe Casey, or drinking scotch with Warren Ellis, or watching Jim Lee and Lee Bermejo square off to see who can draw you a better sketch... like I say, that's not goods and services, I deal in experience.
My shop isn't like anything you've seen before in comics, and when you see it you'll know what I mean. Check out the website for the latest info, point your eyeballs towards the ever-growing Comic Rockstars Toilet Seat Museum that proudly hangs on the Isotope's walls, or if you need even more action and adventure you're welcome to check out a couple different videos my pal Chris Odell put together from a couple of my in-store events.
But really, that's just background information from here on out. Because I won't be devoting this column to showing off what's happening under my roof. No sir! Quite the opposite in fact...
I'm going to show and introduce you to a whole new generation of super hot hungry new comic retailers out there who are putting their own stamp on the world of comic retail. All these retailers are fresh faces to the game, five years and under. Some of these retailers you might have heard of before, but I'm pretty sure that still others are ones you just haven't heard about yet. Some of them are doing things with comics retail that you've always wished someone would do, and some of them are doing things you've never even thought of before. Some of them are taking over densely packed cities known for being the first in arts and entertainment and others are bringing the pimping of comics to places you never thought possible. Trust me, these retailers are going to drop your collective jaws.
And no doubt you're going to want to know about those shops and the people behind them. As a comic reader you've gotta be excited to find out about the people who are redefining what can and can't be done with the comic book stores of tomorrow. If you're a comic creator you're going to be pumped up to find a whole host of hungry and enthusiastic new retailers out there who are going to be ordering your books. And if you, like me, are a comic retailer yourself, you're going to want to know about the new guys and gals out there who are pushing the edge of the retailing envelope and innovating in your field.
It's time for the Comic Pimp to pull the curtain back on the new world of comic retailing. It's time to point the spotlight on the honest-to-God future of this industry. It's time for the next wave of comic retail innovators to be recognized. I think in future weeks you'll quickly agree with me that these fellas and ladies deserve a massive round of applause. And we're going to spend the next months making sure they get it.
And, because the column is called "The Comic Pimp," of course I'll be pimping the comic books. I'll be showing previews of some of the books I'm excited to read and interviewing the creators I want to know more about.
HOW ABOUT SOME FREE READS?
I love those downloadable PDF previews of upcoming books and have recently been putting some together with the help of the publishers and creators to share with visitors to my shop's website. But why should CBR readers be left out? I'll be hooking up readers to the column with lots of exclusive first looks, so expect some serious legal downloading in your future! You know what to do, click the link and enjoy yourselves some free comic previews courtesy of The Comic Pimp.
102 Black & White Pages for $14.95
From Blurred Books in May
As part of our on-going quest to get you and ourselves sneak peeks at upcoming books before they're available in stores, we bring you the new anthology Blurred Vision. This book caught our eye immediately with a gorgeous D. Dominick Lombardi cover (part of the "Post Apocalyptic Tattoo Series"), and a list of cutting edge contributors whose work impresses. This is definitely a new publisher we're going to be keeping our eye on. Featuring strange and beautiful new work by cartoonists K. Thor Jensen, Eve Englezos, Matt Madden, Hans Rickheit, Michael Teague and more.
THE RED DIARIES
by Gary Reed, Chris Jones & Larry Shuput
168 Black & White Pages for $16.95
From Image Comics in May
Marilyn Monroe, John F. Kennedy, Fidel Castro, J. Edgar Hoover, Lee Harvey Oswald, Jack Ruby, and Chicago mobster Sam Giancana... names that raise more questions than answers for an American public for over 40 years. The answers to which can be found in the lost diaries kept by Marilyn Monroe, or can they? Comic author Gary Reed goes far beyond the Warren Commission and pulls back the blood-soaked covers to explore the shadowy world of power, espionage, dope, organized crime, sex, murder and international treachery during the height of the cold war.
SKYSCRAPERS OF THE MIDWEST #3
by Joshua W. Cotter
56 Black & White Pages for $5.00
From AdHouse Books in June
Another stunning installment from Josh Cotter!
Acclaimed by critics and fans alike throughout the industry, Josh Cotter brings something special to the comics industry table. Wrapping his carefully crafted stories of heart-wrenching adolescence, grief, and midwestern family life in the trappings of anthropomorphic fantasy and really neat-o robots, Cotter makes mixing humor and tragedy look easy. If you're not reading this book yet, you're doing your comic reading a true disservice.