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In our lifetime, there has only been one event that has had true global impact like we're seeing with the COVID-19 virus — the September 11th attacks. Here in the U.S., we're experiencing a shutdown of our daily lives greater than anything we've ever seen. Everyone is taking a hit in some way, shape or form. Small businesses in particular are going to be in dire straits very quickly due to the sudden loss of revenue. And few small businesses are in as precarious a position as comic book shops.
Comics retailing is a brutal, low-margin way to earn a living under the best of circumstances. Now, with the spread of a potentially deadly virus that could keep most of the country's citizens locked inside their house for weeks, potentially months, it could be a death knell for the direct market. Yes, there are more pressing concerns (like public health), but eventually we will regain a bit of normalcy. I'm sure I'm not the only person who will want to turn to the familiar comfort of my LCS once we get past the current insanity.
So what can you, me, ALL of us, do to help?
First off, if you have a subscription at a store, PLEASE PAY FOR YOUR BOOKS! Pull lists are the lifeblood for comics shops. Many store owners need that regular cash flow to keep the doors open. "But what if I'm self-quarantining and don't feel comfortable heading out and potentially exposing myself to coronavirus," you ask? That is completely understandable. Wednesday is, as it is every week, New Comic Book Day. May I suggest calling your store and seeing what options they have?
I've seen several shops on social media offering curbside pickup for customers wary of potentially exposing themselves to coronavirus. Comics writer Leah Williams (X-Factor, Gwenpool Strikes Back, among others) has been especially productive in trying to get this information out there. She's been compiling data on her Twitter feed of comics shops nationwide that are offering curbside pickup or shipping options to create one single hub where that information can be found. Give her a follow to stay up to date.
Here in Miami, several shops I reached out to are staying open so customers can get their books on New Comic Book Day. I haven't visited my local comics shop, A&M Comics (one of the longest-running comic shops in America) in nearly two weeks, but store owner Jorge Perez, told me the store is open for business and ready to serve its customers.
At Korka Comics, which operates three stores in South Florida, subscribers can have their books shipped to them for $5. They're also offering free bags and boards. But the stores have had to cancel their Monday Magic: The Gathering events until further notice, and the casual walk-in customer traffic has all but disappeared. "For the immediate future, we're cutting back on [new comic] orders a bit for the walls and focusing on just making sure the subscribers get their pull lists fulfilled," says Juan Farach, manager of Korka Comics.
The Goblin's Heist, a comics store in Hialeah, is also staying open and offering shipping options for customers, but the virus has already impacted business. "We are incredibly concerned," says owner/manager Juan Navarro. "These last couple of days have been really light. Seeing how last week went, we feel this could be a huge detriment to us. We are already altering future orders, pulling back a bit and readying ourselves for when cons and events come back."
The Goblin's Heist is also taking part in an online con this Sunday, March 22 on Instagram with the events account Mi So Retro. "An indie-nerd QVC," according to Navarro. This is the kind of remote event more comics retailers should be doing right now. With so many people in self-quarantine, and the possibility of more stringent rules regarding stores staying open being considered by U.S. cities, having the online ability to connect with your customers is hugely important.
Something else to consider: Buying a gift card from your local comics shop, or placing an order and having them ship it. Any business at all is helpful at the moment. We're starting to see some movement in the right direction here. On Tuesday, Image Comics became the first major publisher to announce some assistance for retailers. Image declared that all of the company's books on FOC (Final Order Cut Off) for Monday, March 16 and the rest of the following FOCs through the end of March will be fully returnable. The company also added it will look at extending that policy into April if the pandemic worsens.
That's a huge move. Image was the first but shouldn't be the last publisher to take steps like this. A comics publisher's best friend is the Direct Market. They need each other. I'm hoping DC and Marvel follow suit with similar moves. Paul Levitz, former DC Publisher and a guy who has forgotten more about the comics business than any of us will ever know, suggested a 60-90 day return window for stores in an op-ed column, a great idea that would offer retailers much-needed financial wiggle room.
I know we can buy most anything online right now, especially comics. So what? I don't go to a comics shop because I have to, I go because I want to. Buying the comics is only part of the reason I like making the weekly pilgrimage. I enjoy talking with the owner about the new books, whatever pieces of comic art I have my eye on … and giving him and the other customers the heads-up on whatever interview I have coming up. It's the sense of community anyone who's a comics fan understands. I don't care that I can save 15% by ordering my comics online. I'm lucky enough to be able to pay a bit extra for that interaction that makes being a comics geek special.
We can't lose that. And we can't lose our comics shops. If you love comics, please do what you can to prevent it from happening.
And don't forget that Behind the Panel is a multi-platform series that can help keep you entertained during these strange and stressful times we're in. Our video series is chock-full of my in-depth interviews with amazing comic book creators. The Behind the Panel podcast is an audio documentary series that provides unique insight into your favorite creators and stories. Check 'em out, we think you'll enjoy them.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBCUniversal.