Monday, January 10, 2011

How on Krypton did I get here? Part Five: Where No Sane Man Had Gone Before (Or If One Did, Was Sane No More!)

By The Comic Pusher

Selling my first comic book as a legitimate comic book pusher in 1989 through my newly created mail-order company, The Comics Club, wasn't as easy as I thought it would be. At that time, most people still did not have computers, and many of those that did still did not have internet access. Even the ones with internet access could only communicate at the slowest speeds. In those dark ancient days, and for a while after, advertising and sales of back-issue comic books on a national or global level was still being done via print media advertising and mail order.
   Putting together the catalog of back issues from my collection, which by then had grown to more than 3,000 comics and become my new company's inventory, was great fun. Publication layout and design was something I already had some experience with, and I put that knowledge to use. Writing the classified advertisement on the other hand, with its limited space for words, was somewhat more of a challenge, but I finally came up with something I thought would catch the reader's eye.
   "TODAY'S HOTTEST COMICS AT BELOW GUIDE PRICES!", read the opening line to the tiny advert in The Comic Buyer's Guide.
   Within just a few days of the ad breaking the requests for the catalog started trickling into my mail box. Yes, trickling. The response was modest to say the least. Do you remember as a kid when, in the days leading up to your birthday you would get all excited about turning a year older, then the day came and went and nothing really happened? You didn't feel any different. It was just kind of a let down. Yeah, that feeling.
   However, I was not deterred. I sent out the catalogs and within a week or so got my first check in the mail. An actual check made out to me (alias The Comics Club). A feeling of entrepreneurial triumph coursed through my veins. I thrilled to the thought that I had just made my first sale as a legitimate comic book pusher. Soon more checks would be pouring into my mailbox and I would be reaping the capitalistic rewards of mainstream comic book pushing.
  Then it sank in. To complete the sale I was going to have to part with one of my precious comics. Sending off that first comic from my collection-become-inventory was emotionally tougher than I had imagined. The truth is, I had not given any real thought to the idea that I would have to give up a comic that actually meant something to me personally. Then there was the further realization that, as more sales rolled in, I was going to have to part with quite a lot of my precious comics. Maybe most of them, if not eventually all of them.
   "My precious comics, gollum! Do you really want to sell them, gollum?" The collector within me struggled with my newly found entrepreneurial spirit. I wobbled in my resolve to become a legitimate comic book pusher. It felt like I was selling a child, and in a way I was. But I knew that those "children" of mine had a greater purpose in my life. There were fans out their who needed the services of a pusher like me to be their hero and deliver the comic book "fix" they needed. I could be that hero.
   We all have our own ways of dealing with our inner child. If I was going to push comics for a living, I had to get past that personal attachment and become the Merchant Prince of Comic Books that my capitalistic drive was turning me into. I had to reach deep inside to stifle that starry-eyed Superman wannabe in my head crying "But they're my comics!",  and wrestle my fears from the vice-like grip of his little hands so that my stone-cold entrepreneurial spirit could rise up and take charge. I came to the realization that letting this comic go was the beginning of a new chapter in my life. I resolved to take the money and acquire more comics to add to The Comics Club's inventory. I would slowly grow the business a little more with each additional sale. I was going to become that comic book pushing hero.
   I packaged up the comic and dropped it in the mail. With that it became official. I was now a legitimate comic book pusher, and loving every minute, excited to be the owner of my own, albeit tiny, business.
   Of course, there was not a lot of money to be made pushing comics through the mail. My corporate world career of magazine journalist was on track to make me very wealthy in the coming years. My very realistic plan at the time was to retire at the ripe old age of 54 with about $2 million in mostly liquid assets. But there was a problem. While I loved being a journalist, I absolutely hated the corporate world.
   Then one day in 1992, while sitting at my desk and contemplating the early demise of at least several utterly contemptible and thoroughly despicable coworkers, I realized that I did not belong in the insane office life I was living. I had risen through the ranks from staff writer to Editor-In-Chief, was making great money, but I was no longer happy. My higher-level position in the magazine meant that I was now more of a people manager than a writer. My enthusiasm for journalism waned considerably amid that nine-to-five yuppie grind.
   Indeed, my disposition at the time required a wholly different kind of insanity. I realized that I needed to be my own boss. Not just part-time; all the time. So, just like that, I walked away from wealth and security to the strange, uncertain, but intriguing world of the entrepreneur. I would become an Entertainment Retailer and turn The Comics Club into a full-time profession.
   I had been pushing comics via mail-order for a few years now. It was fun, but up to then had really been just a hobby. It made money, but not much. To turn The Comics Club into a business that would pay the bills, I would have to take the next steps toward establishing a storefront from which to push comic books. That would take some time and research, and a deeper journey down the rabbit hole of comic book pushing.
    Just as my education at the University of Florida prepared me for my career in journalism, I would need some way to educate myself about the retail world where pushing comic books required selling them to the public face-to-face. Freeing myself from the cubical confines of the corporate world, I found the perfect setting to get that education -- comic book and collectibles shows.
   It was 1993 and nearly every weekend for the next eighteen months I would be a regular dealer at the local comic book and collectibles shows. It was my own version of a college education for the purpose of learning just what the customer wanted. I would rub elbows with personalities from across the entire comic book pushing industry. It was within those hallowed shopping mall halls that I would learn the lingo of the collecting world, how selling on the lower rungs of the comic book industry ladder really worked and, more important, what the customers liked and disliked about the retail stores they frequented.
   A typical conversion with a fan who approached my table or booth at a show would go something like this:
   "Hi!" I would greet them with enthusiasm. I loved greeting customers then, and I still do today. "Are you looking for anything special today?" Then, as I helped them find what they were hunting down, I would slip a few questions into the conversation, asking them where they go to buy their comic books and what they liked about the store. The most typical response was: "I'll tell you what I don't like about them."
   That was music to my ears. I got dozens upon dozens of testimonials from fans candidly offering up what they most liked and most hated about the retail comic book and sports card stores they frequented. It was a goldmine of information. The shows not only delivered the information I needed, they also supplied me with many new contacts; people who had already been involved in pushing comics for many years.
   There were many types of purveyors peddling their goods, drawn like me to the Circus of the Insane that is the world of the collectibles shows. Sports card pushers, non-sports card pushers, action figure pushers, and others, all hawking their "collectibles" to fans who came seeking some rare and elusive addition to their own precious collections. There were weekend warriors who did not have actual businesses, pushing all types of collectibles, including comic books, to make a few extra bucks. There were people who had established themselves as legitimate businesses, but who had not yet made the leap into retail, although some of them, like me, were on the verge of doing just that. Then there were the local retailers at the shows advertising their brick-and-mortar stores, while trying to make enough money to offset the financial loss their stores experienced from the very shows they themselves were attending. It was this later group, the ones with actual stores, the "professional" comic book pushers more politely known as "Entertainment Retailers", that I was most interested in getting to know.
   One of those retailers approached me about selling comic books and other merchandise to his store wholesale. By then I had established an account with Capital City Distribution and was buying comics and other merchandise wholesale to sell at the shows. I agreed to supply him and at that point I added distribution to my mix of show and mail-order sales. Soon I would add several more comic book and sports card stores to my list of clients, selling them comics and other merchandise outright, as well as putting comic books in some stores on a consignment basis. The inside look at their retail operations was invaluable. That, combined with more than a year of doing collectibles shows and taking copious notes from conversations with customers, gave me the education I needed to make the move to adding retail to my little comic book empire.

Next time in "Confessions": 
How On Krypton Did I Get Here? Part Six: "This Place Rocks!" -- The "Cheers" of Comic Book Stores

Remember to visit these fine websites:
The Comics Club's Online Store  A Hero’s Last Resort for comics, games, toys and more!
The Comics Club @ Cafepress Wonderful, whimsical words and images on everything from t-shirts to coffee mugs to pillows and more!
Princessitude! It's a princess thing! Every girl's a princess. The ones who know it have Princessitude! 
Princessitude @ Cafepress  – Find something for the girl with Princessitude!
FunnyVet.com The World's Funniest Doctor of Veterinarian Medicine!
The Adventures of Mr. Happy A FREE web comic widely known to temporarily curb the debilitating effects of boredom!

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