The Coronavirus has brought not only our country but most other countries in the world to a screeching halt. With people staying at home and businesses closing their doors this has become our new “norm”, and this new “norm” does seem to be the right thing to do in this situation, to help stop the spread of this virus. Even though it has become the right thing to do, it nevertheless has become a tremendous hardship on some, especially the people and businesses who were already in hard times. However, I wish to specifically talk about one area of the economy and a sector business that has been a part of my heart and mind for as long as I can remember. These vital establishments are the birthplace of entertainment, a comforting retreat, and a war ground to fight for what you know is right. Your local comic store ladies and gentleman, these places are being hurt and there might not be a way out.
On Monday, March 23, Diamond Comic Distributors (they hold an unofficial monopoly on distributing comics in the world) announced that they will be closing their hubs and main offices to better help stop the spread of the Coronavirus pandemic that our nation and the world has been facing. This on the surface is a good thing, it shows that everyone, even comic distributors are doing their part. Now, looking closer, we can see the ripple of this announcement that will grow into a tsunami of epic proportions. Let me also note that yes, comics in the big picture are not something to go to war over if lost, however they are important to many MANY people in this world and worth talking about… So here we go.
Local Comic Stores have slowly been closing their doors to the public for about a week prior to this announcement by Diamond. Being a current employee of a Local Comic Book Store (LCS) I was also talking about how “crazy all this was,” until it happened to the store I work at. With no more new comics, or ANYTHING new for that matter, being delivered to the store we had no choice but to shut our doors. The closing of the store was not only for the lack of merchandise, but also the recommendation of the Governor. We too were doing our part to stop the flow of this virus and help save lives. (This might read in a sarcastic tone but I promise it is not meant to be.)
With stores closing however, my thoughts turn to what will happen when this pandemic is finally over and we as a society try to return to our comic reading ways! As a store owner, there is no real way to know if all the customers will come back to the print media, especially with the idea of digital comics having been floating around. The idea of releasing the comics digitally first for the foreseeable future is to keep people interested and up to date with the stores and characters they love. This seems fine and dandy right? Well, my concern is then what is the point of reading the physical copy once readers grow used to getting their comics from a digital market. Also, what is the point of having a brick and mortar store if you can get the stories straight to your phone or tablet? I know personally I have not found the digital format to my liking, I still enjoy holding the comic in my hands and also I am a collector so being able to have them physically feels better to me. Be that as it may, if this pandemic goes on for much longer, then there might not be enough people willing to come back to physical print for brick and mortar stores to continue to exist.
The publishing companies have been trying to help, with Marvel offering deeper discounts to retailers for books coming out and Boom and Dynamite offering retainability for books that go unsold at stores. DC Comics (which I hate saying because it is redundant… Detective Comics Comics) has been silent for way too long. The other biggest comic company behind Marvel, has not mentioned any discounts or retainability or any plans to support the retailers when this pandemic ends. This causes even more fear within the retail community and with fear comes unstability. However the steps from the other publishers are a great start to help stores get back on their feet but is it enough? I don’t think so because of the simple fact that people also will be coming back with less money to spend. The balance has been thrown off and the vast majority of people will be playing catch up with bills and rent and getting their lives back in order. I fear that this catchup game will take too long and comic stores will go under before they can start seeing a profit again.
So where do comic stores go from here? Are they even relevant anymore? And to that I say they are, the comic book store is the place where people of the “nerd community” go to talk and expand. I think not being afraid of digital will help stores gain a new market. This will be something that the publishers will need to work out with the stores themselves but I feel is something worth trying. Cutting down on the amount of comics available wouldn’t be a bad idea either, currently Marvel alone for the month of April had over 100 titles coming out. Who could possibly read them all and if they are not all being read what is the point in having them. Having fewer titles will give the publishers the ability to focus on good stories and art. They will be able to hire the best writers and artists to go on these books for longer periods of time, which will drive longer in-depth stories. With that being said, I do love the variety of comics out there, I truly believe there is a comic for everyone but the publishers work for bigger corporations and they force the publishers to make better and better profits each year. This just forces publishers, like Marvel, to push quantity over quality.
Although comic stores are not only a place of profit but also a place of growth. These places are where individuals who love these characters and just a good story come to escape reality for even just a few minutes. These characters and stories give people something to aspire to, someone to look up to if they don’t have anyone already. Some of the most creative and progressive ideas came from comics, (yes some of the most racist and sexist ideas too but they are trying to fix that I hope) and these ideas pave the way for kids and adults to learn together what the right things to do are and what justice really looks like. So here I am hoping that this turns around quickly and we can get back to reading and enjoying our imaginations.
Stay safe and support your local comic store.