So you want to work in Comics Retail?
I’ve been asked about this a few times over the years, so thought I’d share my experience with you. Hope this is useful to someone in someway.
First off, if you’re under 18 and looking at your comic shop with an eye to doing work experience, I’m afraid you’re probably out of luck. Most of the comic shops I know don’t do it. For the simple reason that there’s just a lot to be done that requires people knowing what they’re doing, and it takes more than two weeks to get all the concepts and like drilled into your head so you can do more than bag comics.
Saying that, What you’re probably going to want to do is get work experience in a place that deals with weekly new material and archiving older stuff. Libraries and Book/Record shops are a great place for this. You can also begin one of the first tenements of Nevs’s Rules of being Good Comic Staff:
1) Read. Read EVERYTHING to do with comics.
If you’re on Facebook, Twitter or Myspace, start adding creators, news services updates while you’re reading this- Newsarama, Bleedingcool.com, Comic Book Resources The Beat and probably dozens of other websites I’m forgetting. Get down to the back issues bins and start picking up old Comics Journals, Wizards, Comics Forums, Amazing Heroes, Escapes, Comics Internationals, Tripwires, Comics Foundrys. Yes, it is all old news. But literally, the more you know, the better. You’ll be surprised how all this stuff comes in useful.
Get a job while you’re waiting to for the comic shop job. Stay active. Make yourself look like you have a life, Learn as much about the area surrounding your local comic shop as you can. Some questions you’ll be asked will be about Watchmen, when the new issue of Kick-Ass is out and the like. Some are simple directions to the nearest tube station. Remember, you’re serving the public. Telling them where the good pub in the area is today could mean they come back and buy a bunch of stuff next week. And speaking of the pub,,,,
All good comic shops have character. That character is generally defined by the people behind the counter. If you’re good behind the counter, you have to be good at talking (and equally, knowing when not to talk.) telling people what’s in, what happened in last week’s comic because they can’t remember if they bought it or not, you have to able to recommend stuff to people who aren’t entirely sure what they want. Sometimes you’ll be asked at Christmas: ‘My boyfriend likes comics. What does he want?’.
Each bloody Christmas some one asks me that! Do these people walk into Blackwell’s and say ‘My fella likes reading. What do you suggest?’
What I’m getting at is that it can be a bit full on, especially come new comics day. You’re going to have to get the experience of dealing with lots of questions from different people while trying to serve two others at once. And the best way of getting at that is to go work in a pub. Preferably a busy one on a Friday rather than an afternoon shift on a Tuesday. Either you’ll crack and utterly retreat into yourself, or you’ll come out of your shell and be able to deal with this kind of work. And frankly, once you can do that, a comic shop on a Thursday’s a doddle.
2) There will always be crazy people around comic shops. Always.
As with any male-centric collecting medium, comics have a habit of attracting people who are full on crazy. Not ‘keeer–azzzy-oh -look-at-me-I’m-dressed-as
3) You are not going to get rich working in a comic shop.
I believe the wage for people who work in comic shops in the UK runs somewhere between £200-£300 a week, depending on where they are. Obviously there are exceptions at either end of the scale. The chances are that you might graduate from the connections into other more profitable avenues, but that’s what you’re looking at when you’re at the shop. Whatever happens, don’t let the boss convince you to be paid in comics. Landlords don’t want Grimm Fairy Tales variants. You can’t eat them either.
4) Try not to have sex/have business dealings with your Standing Order customers.
For the uninitiated, The Standing Order customers are the backbone of a good comic shop. Most comic shops offer a service where they pull and hold comics every week for people so they don’t miss an issue. This is guaranteed income for the shop. Whatever else happens, whatever other trades, small press comics, toys, etc happen to sell during a given month, you know for sure that the SO’s will come in and spend their money and you can count on that money. If you do something to complicate that arrangement, you’re risking the shop money. Sometimes, rarely, you meet the customer who becomes the love of your life and you get married. Yadda yadda. More often, you end up annoyed at each other and they set up their standing order somewhere else.
Equally, borrowing money off them is even worse. Trust me.
4) The Shop isn’t your clubhouse. Read Everything!
Because I’m sad, whenever I travel to a place I don’t know well, I try and find the comic shop. I know where I am with a comic shop. But I’m intrigued by the identity of these places because we’re all roughly the same shop, only the people running it make it different. I’ve been to lots of shops that were openly hostile to new people wandering around as their presence distracted from the game of Heroclix the staff were playing. Then those customers had the gall to ask for something that WASN’T to do with WarHammer or The Legion Of Super-Heroes.
And most of those shops are gone now.
Honestly, I can’t say this enough, read EVERYTHING. Try and at least skim-read every comic that comes in every week when you get a chance. It’s entirely possible that Sophie Howard will want to come in and discuss the nuances of the early issues of John Byrne’s run on Superman with you, One day. For the rest of the day, you’re dealing with questions about a medium that’s over a hundred years old that’s pumping out roughly a thousand new items every week. And people will have questions about all of it. About why they can’t seem to find Milo Manara’s work in English to what happened to Big Numbers to when is the new League of Extraordinary Gentlemen coming out to what happened in Amazing Spider-Man last week to Are the EC paperbacks still in print to I’ve seen this thing called Freakangels on the Internet do you have it to Do you want to buy my run of 2000AD’s off me to….
Well, you get the idea. And the absolute worst things you can say are the following:
And definitely not in a voice that suggests that no, you don’t want to eat your greens and it’s not fair that you have to go to bed at 8:30, either.
Now, you have those at the core of your answer, but you’ve got to have some information around them that leads them on from there. For example, the EC paperbacks:
Wrong way: ‘No.’
Right way: ‘Not in that format, but they have been reprinted by Dark Horse in hardback format, if you don’t want those, you can probably find them on Amazon 2nd hand or at the next comic mart which is at Location X on the Xth of the X month.’
See the difference? Potentially, you’ve sold some hardback EC books, or at least lead them to a way where the punter gets what they’re after. People remember how they’re treated. I had a chat with a girl a few weeks ago who came in to buy some
thing she was after that everywhere else had sold out of. After a while she revealed that she was hesitant to come in because another member of staff had been rude to her when she’d been in last.
Two years ago.
4) Don’t lie about how good the comics are or aren’t. Saying that, try to not turn your counter into Speaker’s Corner.
So, at this point, you’ve gone through the trial of fire in the pub, you’ve been keeping up with the news, you’re reading anything. You haven’t slept with any of your customers. You show up on about 20 mins before the shop to set up stuff. You’re showered and wearing different clothes than you did the day before. You’re BRIGHT and seemingly like you’re HAPPY to be there.
And someone comes up with a copy of, say, New Avengers 47* and asks you what you think of it, and you try and switch the question, saying ‘It’s the latest part of Secret Reign bladdah bladdah, It’s written by Bendis and drawn by..a man. If you liked Daredevil or Alias or The Pulse, you’ll probably like it.’ and give a little smile. That’ll sort it.
‘No, I was wondering what YOU thought of it.’
So what do you when you’re asked about comics you don’t like?
Some might say that your opinion is utterly irrelevant, that you are trying to make as much money for the company you work for, so you just shill whatever you can.
Personally, I think that theory is not only corporate dogshit to be avoided at all costs, but actually detrimental to the idea of making money anyway. It’ll work for a little while, sure. But then once everyone’s realised that you’re just lying through your arse for the sake of an extra fiver, they won’t ask you again. And then you’re fucked, really. You might as well be a vending machine who needs to take a shit every once in a while for all the good you’re going to be for the shop now. Really, when some twat says ‘You! Start pushing this Witchblade trade now! ‘ Tell em to piss off if you don’t like it.
So that’s what you SHOULDN’T do, what should you do?
Be straight without being rude, is the best advice I can suggest. The best thing I’ve ever read about criticism is ‘Don’t confuse your taste in pop culture with your intellect.’ That nails it. Right there. Most well-adjusted people can deal with the fact that other people don’t necessarily have the same aesthetic as them. It’s easy enough to go off on one about Liefeld’s art or Bendis’s stretching out a two issue plot into a eight issue crossover but seriously,don’t. ‘There’s something in the layouts of Alex Ross’s art that put me off liking his work’ will do.
By coming across as articulate and intelligent, they may be inclined to ask what you do like. This is perfect. As long as you DO ACTUALLY LIKE OTHER THINGS! This helps no end. Being some kind of Mark E Smith anti-everything is funny for a bit, but get Mark talking and he’ll tell you about his love of Johnny Cash and country music or British Music Hall comedy and why it’s far more entertaining for him than, say, The Kaiser Monkeys. You can pop from ‘I don’t like Bendis’ crime writing.’ to ‘Because Will Eisner did much better work on The Spirit and his other graphic novels. Here, have you seen A Contract With God.’
Quite easily if you know what you’re doing.
Just remember. YOUR OPINION IS NOT A FACT. There are people out there who really like High School Musical and Girls Aloud. You are not superior to them. ‘I think Amazing Spider-Man is shit and so therefore it is!’ isn’t a valid argument.
So, to recap:
Read. Read Read READ!
Remember: you WILL have to deal with mental people.
The shop isn’t your club. Read everything.
Don’t fuck about with the till. or your customers
Don’t lie about a comic’s quality. But don’t be a raving nutter either.
Read. read read….
Oh, and Kaiser Monkeys is the work of one Rob Deb.
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