The 2014 Joe Shuster Awards took place Saturday September 20th in Toronto Ontario. Anthony Falcone and myself chair the Retailer Award Committee and were pleased to announce this year’s winner of The Harry Kremer Award for Outstanding Canadian Comic Book Retailer: Vancouver’s The Comicshop.
During the selection process we ask retailers to provide information about their store, community outreach and the future of comic retailing. Here is the submission from The Comicshop’s Tim Everett.
Thank you very much for considering Vancouver’s Comicshop for the 2014 Harry Kremer Award. It came as a bit of a surprise to us and we are delighted. The timing is actually perfect this year as we have just celebrated our 40th Birthday. We were the first comic-book specialty store in Vancouver, BC. Over the past four decades we have been happily and diligently serving our customers and this diverse and wonderful industry.
Back on June 1st 1974, on a groovy corner in Kitsilano, Ron Norton opened the doors to what would become an enduring destination for anyone seeking comic books and pop-culture items. From the Freak Brothers to Maus, or the Death of Superman to the Walking Dead, the Comicshop has been here through it all. For forty years the Comicshop has made sure that fans, families, geeks and grandmas have been able to get their favourite comics, books, t-shirts, posters, and toys.
What began as a tiny storefront at 4th and Alma has grown over the decades. The comic book industry has changed immensely over the past 40 years and the Comicshop has kept in stride with those changes. As distribution and technologies changed, so did audiences, and so did the Comicshop. We have had the deep pleasure of watching kids come into the store, grow up, and then bring their own children into the store. In this era of the big box-store and online shopping, the Comicshop remains a true family-oriented mom and pop shop.
Please take a peek at the “History” section of our website with the link below. It has a detailed narrative from the owner, Ron Norton, and lots of fun photos. http://www.thecomicshop.ca/history/
The Store and its Philosophy:
The Comicshop enjoys a large number of regular customers that support us week after week through our subscription service. Pull boxes are the financial backbone of every successful comic book retailer and we are no exception. It all begins with our regular customers, who feel like family to us.
We serve the collectors market with honesty and integrity. The Comicshop does not hold back hot items when they ship. We sell them through at regular retail price. We allocate variant covers on a first come-first serve basis to our subscription box customers. Any remaining go on the new release shelves. We happily fill special orders to the best of our ability, before and after shipping dates.
Beyond that, we try to be the Comicshop that anyone would feel comfortable in.
The shop is bright, colourful, open and tidy. We prominently display comics-related art books, how to draw books, old newspaper strip compilations. There are up-to-date selections of fan-favourite super-hero graphic novels along with well-reviewed and acclaimed “literary” works. Best-sellers and hot books like Saga and Afterlife with Archie are easy to find.
The Comicshop is for everyone. Hardcore trader/swappers come in scouring the back issues for treasures. Teenage girls come in for the new Lumberjanes comic. Groovy Grandpa comes in looking for that Crumb compilation. Vancouver is a city of diversity. We try to make any and all ages, genders, and orientations feel welcome here. Our stock on the shelves reflects this.
We have plentiful back issues, but we do not, as a rule, purchase old collections. Instead we allow people to sell their better old books on consignment through our shop. This allows us to focus our resources on new inventory while helping the collector (hopefully) realize a good, fair price for their comics. We also do professional appraisals for folks who want to know what their collections are worth. Over the past couple years we have also used our decades of experience and integrity to prepare massive collections for auction, as well.
We have given over a large portion of our front lobby to kid’s books and all-ages stuff. Families feel comfortable parking the stroller to browse the old Archies or the newest offering of Castle Waiting, with all stops in between. We have a spinner-rack for local indie comics, shelves of manga, high end and older consignment comics, piles of swag and toys and shirts and posters. Smaller press, alternative and black and white comics are here to be found. There really is something for everyone at the Comicshop.
In our local community The Comicshop supports schools by offering donations to fund-raising events. To promote literacy and the art-form we have a special policy for educators and school libraries where we offer deep discounts and tailored service. We have also taken part in hire-a-student programs, bringing in teens to help them get much-needed work experience.
Any self-respecting comic store is a community unto itself, with its regular customers being the backbone. Friends and fans have been with us since the beginning. That family is at the core of everything we do here. The Comicshop produced and printed its own monthly newsletter for years (called, intuitively, The Comicshopper). It ran over 300 issues and enjoyed great support from our customers. We included fan reviews and art contributions beside our own mix of editorials and articles. To our knowledge it was the longest running in-store monthly newsletter when we finally had to let it go. Now we focus our attention on our website and facebook presence, which seems to be the modern equivalent.
We have been lucky, over the decades, to have a long list of well-respected creators visit our store for signings. We have hosted Matt Wagner and Dave Sim, Jason Lutes, John Romita, and others. Local creators like John Delaney, Steve Rolston, Troy Nixey and Kaare Wilson have been guests as well.
We always make room on the shelf for locally-produced comics. Recently we had a signing for USNA by Longworth, Kalensky, Stanleigh and Casey. We have also hosted Vancouver’s fledgling company, Zombie Robot Comics. In the past we have supported a long list of local edgy and innovative creators, including Robin Bougie and David Boswell.
The Comicshop really is a beloved institution in Vancouver. Over the years we have done countless appearances on TV news spots. Whenever a key character dies, or Archie gets married, or something similar, we end up explaining these important topics on the TV news. We are often found on the “what to do lists” in tourist guides and websites. We were voted “Best Comic Book Store” in the Georgia Straight’s Best in Vancouver Readers’ Poll two years running (2008 and 2009), which were the only years they included that category.
From the perspective of being in business for 40 years, it is interesting to wonder about the future of comics retail. The first thing we see is just how massive the changes have been since we opened. The Comicshop sprouted up because, back in 1974, Ron Norton noticed how hard it was to find copies of specific comic books. The drug store search was always hit and miss. He took steps to overcome that challenge for other collectors. He also wanted a retail store in which to share old valuable collector’s items and cool comic book culture. Even at the very
beginning, the Comicshop was always about anticipating and serving the customer’s needs. That is the key to the comic book retail business.
Distribution and delivery methods have changed drastically, and will continue to do so. Searching through the new 25-cent issues at the local corner store is a thing of the past. That all happens today with (we hope) laser precision at a specialty store in the direct market. Conversely, now people can get their stories online in digital format if they prefer. Some may find this threatening to comics retail, but we don’t. Although we now see a generation raised on computers, ipads and other devices, we believe comics will always feel best when read in their physical form. People want to own physical copies of their favourite stories. They want associated merchandise as well. They enjoy browsing and shopping for gifts. Formats may change and delivery methods may change, but these things remain true.
The retailer has to know the stock and make it easy for the customer to get it. It may be a monthly issue of the new DC event with a variant cover, or a Tim Sale art book, or a Tardis shopping bag… or any of the countless items now available to fans. People still want to be able to come down, look at items, get advice based on our expertise, and walk out the door with a book (or toy, or shirt, or poster, or trading card) in their hands. With the enormous diversity of available stock these days, it can be hard to have everything for everybody on hand at all times. Sometimes a shop will get caught without the item a customer is asking about. That’s inevitable, and why we vigorously offer special orders. What we can’t put in their hands in the shop, we will get for them. Customers love to feel like they are being served by someone who knows their stuff. We do that here. We always have and always will.
Comic book culture has exploded and become mainstream in a way few could ever have anticipated. Walking Dead and Avengers are stories that have massive mainstream appeal even though many fans have never read the comic books. We have many “plugged-in” school and university-age customers. They are devoted consumers of graphic novels. The sale of graphic novels has become central to comics retail. This is the format for the casual consumer, and the casual consumer is a very large group. We believe the future of comics retail relies on continuing to serve our regular weekly customers superbly, while broadly maintaining stock and service for the immense group of casual, mainstream shoppers who like comics, but don’t necessarily collect issues. This is how we remain viable in a world of online shopping.
The final step is to treat the customers with the respect they deserve. They are part of our family and community. They reward us with their patronage, after all. Starting forty years ago, and looking onto the future, the success of the Comicshop begins and ends with customer service. That’s the key to comic retail in Canada in the future.
Unfortunately owner Ron Norton was not able to attend the ceremony so I accepted the award on their behalf from Anthony. Photo courtesy of Jamie Coville.