What You Do When Your Comic Store Is 23 Years Old

Posted by March 7, 2017 Comment

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Rick Shea of Famous Faces & Funnies in West Melbourne, Florida is celebrating the store’s 23rd birthday. Yes, that is a thing. He writes.

Thanks to all of you who have helped us get to this point as FFF celebrated our 23rd Anniversary yesterday with a giant sale that went WAY better than we expected. It was one of our most successful days ever! 2016 was our most successful year yet, and 2017 is off to an amazing start with all of your support. I can’t believe it’s been that long since we first opened this store and we are incredibly appreciative that some of you have been around since the very beginning. There are so many of you that have become family to us, and we’re so happy to have been lucky enough to build up a relationship with most of you through our mutual love of comics. Those of you new to our store, we look forward to getting to know you better and we love to just talk comics, and comic culture and if you’re reading this, we’re pretty sure you do too. We hope you’ll stop in soon so we can find just the right comics for you.

Comics have come a long way from when I was in high school getting picked on by a few kids for wearing my Death Of Superman armband the day Superman died in 1992. Papa Shea was kind enough to meet me at school, to bring me a copy of the iconic issue as soon as it shipped from Space Coast Comics on US1, the first store I ever worked at, before FFF.  My parents were always encouraging my love of reading and they knew this was a big deal in comics, maybe the biggest deal in comics.  Besides two fools giving me static about it, the rest of my class was genuinely fascinated. “Superman died today? Do you have the issue? Can I see it?  That’s awesome!”

A few classmates who never talked to me about comics, although it was a well known fact that I worked in a comic book store, were suddenly asking a million questions about Superman, Doomsday, what happens next, and if they could get a copy.  It felt weird then to be the insider, and to have all the info everyone else suddenly wanted, or even seemingly needed in a few cases. However, I was ecstatic to talk about comics with new people, so it was a pretty eye opening experience for a lot of people and got a few new people into comics, and yes, we even sold them the Death of Superman first print at cover price. I might have convinced the owner Bruce to double his order, so we had more than most other stores in the area that sold out quickly.

In 2017, it’s a whole new ballgame. While Walking Dead, Guardians Of The Galaxy, Flash and Luke Cage are now household names, everyone is at least aware of these characters and many people are very familiar after consuming as much of our favorite characters as they can watch. We’re no longer the outcasts for wanting to read serialized entertainment about these incredible characters and their phenomenal stories. And luckily, most comic shops are very welcoming to new people, so it’s easy for new people to come in during the off season of Walking Dead and catch up on 165 issues of Walking Dead through graphic novels or Omnibuses. While I love the show, I do feel like the comic is even better, although I have to admit that I’m a little biased, as a person that sells comics for a living.

At this point, it’s comic readers who are the insiders, and those that aren’t yet enjoying the Walking Dead comics are the ones that are behind and out of the loop. The whole world raced to the theater to see Logan this weekend, and it’s not unusual to see more than half of the top grossing films of the year be based off comic characters or similar fantasy or sci-fi favorites of ours. It’s you and I that are the new taste makers and the young geek demographic is the most sought after market right now, because if we love it, we will tell everyone we know on every possible platform we have access to.  BUT… if we dislike it, we will also tell everyone, so they better put together their best possible product and not phone it in. It’s the rest of the world that suddenly realizes that we were the first ones reading and enjoying Walking Dead or Jessica Jones, playing Munchkin, Catan or Cards Against Humanity five years before the general public discovered them. What are we playing or reading now that they don’t want to wait five years to discover?  (Oh no, are we unintentional hipsters?)

I was lucky enough to go to San Diego Comic Con for about a dozen years starting in 1999. Back then, it was only about 42,000 people who understood how much fun it would be and that it was worth all the time, money and planning that goes into the trip. At this point, trying to get a SDCC ticket is a real uphill battle and there’s about 4 times as many people there. Back then, it wasn’t uncommon to have a quick conversation with Kevin Smith or Joss Whedon as they walked down the street right next to you. Now the rest of the world is begging to get in to SDCC, to meet their favorite movie and TV stars, but it’s sad that there’s not many comics left in comic con. Just like everything else, you have to change and adapt or get left behind.

With that in mind, our comic and toy store has adapted as needed.  In the mid 1990’s, when most comics were pretty bad, we were surviving off selling Pokemon cards, Beanie Babies, Magic: The Gathering and a few other oddball items, but adapt or die is what this whole industry is about.  I just saw a shop close after almost 40 years in business. That sucks. But it’s an ever changing market.  Items that I used to be able to predict the sales patterns on like clockwork, have certainly gotten a little bit harder to keep up with, so you just have to stick to your gut instincts sometimes and hope you got it right. We all want to find the next Walking Dead, but 99% of comics aren’t the next Walking Dead, they’re the next Astounding Wolf-Man. We recently took a big risk on God Country and Curse Worlds and they’re off to a strong start. eBay most certainly agrees with that.

We are very grateful to have grown from a tiny 10 by 10 foot booth in the Indoor Flea Mall in 1993 to where we are today, as an 11,000 square foot Pop Culture Superstore!  We moved from that flea mall spot (where eBay Enterprise is now) to a tiny 800 sf store on Aurora Road, then bought out Stargate Comics’ (the giant comic store in our area) customer list with less than a week’s notice, so that Stargate customers started shopping at our tiny store, and they were kind of confused but the owner there saw the rocky next few years of the comic industry right around the corner, so he got out while he could. We quickly moved to a bigger store on Wickham, where we had Marilyn Manson and 311 visit our store at one point to buy a few toys in the mid-nineties, since they were at a small club two doors down, called the Zoo and the Asylum at different points.

Later on, we bought out a small distributor called Twin Distribution, bought out several stores or at least their comic sections or folder service info (Eric’s, Anime Pavillion, Wizard’s Wall), moved from 1731 Wickham to 3146 Lake Washington in 2001 and finally over to 3000 W New Haven in late 2007 to give us 2700 sf, after Rick bought out FFF from the previous owner Kevin on March 1, 2006. At that point, Rick was working at FFF for the entire 12 years since it started, after a few years at Space Coast Comics and then Comics Plus for a short time. Then we moved into a larger spot in the same plaza, doubling in size, up to 5400 sf! We moved into 3030 with our new “roommates” Get Your Fun On, a game store that covered a third of the rent and bills for about a third of our store’s space, and this has probably been the thing that has helped our business the most in these last few years. Adding Marc, Wanda, Alexis, Kira and Josh to our family has really made all the difference and has been the perfect formula for success. We didn’t know them all that well before the merger, so it might have gone the other way, but it worked out well. And Marc is practically a technomancer and can fix or improve anything from tools to webpages, so we’re lucky to have him on our team. I can’t promise every merger between a comic and game store could run this smoothly, but it’s worked so well for us and I would be surprised to not see more stores doing this in the near future.

Things worked out so well that we moved one final time in the same plaza in July 2015, where we’re here for the long haul with a ten year lease at 3020, which puts us 11,000 sf and an evenly split mix of the space, bills and rent. Our rent is down, our sales are up, and we’re doing great, and GYFO is also seeing record sales months all the time. Yesterday was a pretty spectacular day for our anniversary sale, doing over 250% of our normal Saturday sales, so I really can’t believe how many new people and regulars found their way over here today, Thanks to all of you.

Going back to the beginning, I want to give a whole lot of thanks for just some of the people who helped our store get to where it is today. I wrote a giant list of people to thank, but I’ll still feel like a jerk when I inevitably miss someone really important to us.  Former owner Kevin Browning started Famous Faces & Funnies because he enjoyed comics, and writing celebrities for autographs or dealing in autograph sales. Within a year, comics overpowered the autographs, but we kept our odd name, as the FFF abbreviation was easy to remember and we didn’t want to be just another store with a super generic name.

Some of the many people who worked here, or at least volunteered for a Free Comic Book Day or whatever are original owner Kevin, Fred, Pat, Paul, George, Charley, AJ (“Ugnaughts!”), Tyler, Bryan, Daniel aka Beavis, Trish, Monkeythumbs Dave, Steve, Jimmy, Charlie, DJ, Jeff, Andy, Dave M, Nathalie, Jason, Tara, Sandy, Greg K, Stephanie, Greg A, Mark H, Dillon, Joe S, Robert C, Tina, Robert W, Sean, Batman Ben, Billy, Nik & Nicole, Devin, Mark S, Ashley, Chris Y, Stephen, Ken, James S, Enrique, Chris P, Steven, Rob L, Robert H, Scott, Austin & the Heroclix crew past and present to our current amazing staff of Shaun, Jared, Leah, James, Mike, Samantha, Paul and honorary employee Karl Moline, who has come to our store literally over 30 times over the last 15 years to draw hundreds of sketches for our lucky fans.

Thanks so much to Broken Barrel Tavern where we host a different geek trivia every Sunday night, covering anything from Harry Potter or Star Wars to Game Of Thrones, where we have seen as many as 225 people, or even some giant surprise hits like Gilmore Girls where we had over 70 people or Friends trivia that brought out 137 people. It’s a great cross promotion and works out well for us and the restaurant. We do a lot of work with Midnight Madness Brevard scavenger hunt, Brevard’s All Night Scavenger Hunt, Molly Roger Roller Girls, FIT Radio, Cici’s Pizza, Domino’s, Mustard’s Last Stand, Brand-U digital advertising, and one of our biggest supporters is Cinemaworld movie theater where we get to promote our events before the movie starts and give out free comics before every big comic and nerd movie, to promote Free Comic Book Day and other events. We have also teamed up with a ton of area libraries, schools, and basically anyone that we can cross promote with. You never know what will pop or what won’t, or successfully get new people into your store.

We are lucky enough to have some incredible promotional partners like Riley & Kimmy, Hangin’ With Web Show, Destination Brevard, Nerds United In Brevard, Brevard Zombie Walks & Events, Just Us Nerds, Florida Today, Robert Fox, Tim T, Jose aka Slider, Dante, Brandon, Randy, Craig, David G, Robert, Ryan, Kaori, Nicole, Melissa, Paul L, Tim S, Jennifer S (Nerdgirl), Luann, Lamaur, Brittany & Andrew, Kate, Illana, David J, Mike T, Jay Eff, Chris Emm, Jamez, James, Matt, Richie, Shaun C, Rob Frey, Justin A, Mike & Amanda, Paul L, Kailyn, Kiera, Tom, Adam, Tyra, Frank, Randy, Brandon, Arlo, Brian, Julio, Margo, Rick F, Tonya, Brandon, Ben H, Lan, Jessica, Rachel B, Brad, Amanda, Ron and everyone who has ever gone above and beyond to promote our store to their friends. We wouldn’t still be here without all your exceptional efforts.

Thanks to our cosplay pals who have gone above and beyond for us: John, Kate, Rebekah, Jeff B, Haas & Sydney, the incredibly selfless 501st Legion who do so much for charity, Angel, Ashley & Peter R, Cecil & Tara, Katelynn, Jezzie, Kaylyn, Kristina, Caitlyn, Julia, and more longtime store pals David G, Priscilla, David H, Joseph, Andrew, Shanon, Danny, Nicole, Alex, Ken, Will, Shane & Lacey, Alex C, Leif, Hunter, Christian & Jen, Karen M, Amber, Tabatha, Adam, Kristin, Justin, Matt & Kim, Paul W, Melissa, Dave Mac, Kevin B, Mike, Chase, Tanner, Jacq, Mark Q, Alexis & Jeff, Heather, Mckinsey, Bradley, Travis, Megan, Albert, Joe, Nyreesha, Zakk, Lizzy, Javier, Matt, Josh, Gravy, Nathan, Kevin M, Sean & Joe P, Alison, Vicki, Tim, Sarah, Austin, Ralph, AK, Sam, Zeus, Nicole, Melissa, Seth & Ashley, James, Phil, Clayton, Tanya, Dan & Melissa, Chris & Amanda, Ryan, Tina, Christoper & Jessica, Ken P, Alberto, David G, Keith & Angi, Amy and many more.

We have been proud and honored to host signings with our MVP KARL MOLINE, Derec Donovan, JAY LEISTEN (who met FFF employee Trish here and married her), Billy Tucci (20 years ago as our first signing and again last year), Clay Mann, Tony Bedard, Paul Pelletier, Dave Meikis, Laura Martin, Justin Ponsor, Morry Hollowell, Rob Guillory, Chad Thomas, Tony Daniel, ROBERT KIRKMAN (2006), Mike Horan, Tim Yates, Jim Fern, Jeff Christiansen, Rebekah Isaacs, Nelson Ortega, Sebastian Piccione, Tony Faella, Marcus Grant, Joe Kuzma, Dirk Grobb, Kevin Little, Gray Hollow, Israel Otero, Gambit, Nick Valente, Neil Jorge, Chelsey Austin, Gavin Weir, Ven Martin, Todd Davis & Caitlyn Guettler, Tim Nguyen, Chris LoBianco, Clayton M, Liana & Jackie, John Beatty, and even a few Skype events with our hero BRIAN K VAUGHAN, Bill Willingham and we’ve struck up some pretty great friendships with a few people we couldn’t quite drag here yet, like Geoff Johns, Brad Meltzer, Christos Gage, Ed Brubaker and others.  Maybe someday?

Thanks for the double decade customers who’ve been with us for over 20 years or just about: Jerry, Dan & Greg, our shop parents Ken & Faye, Sebastian, Kirk, David, Neil, Pierre, Marc, Watson, Rob K, Harry, Dennis, Jason & Briana, Josh, Mike, Keith, Monte, Chris L, the patron saint of FFF Dusty, Rob O, Chris D, Bob J, Frank P, Stacy, Daniel, Joseph & Megan, Maarc, Eddie P, Lee, Adam, Joe W, Zimmer, Joe C, Willie F, Bob C, Dale, Scott K, Jeff & Wendy, the whole Pospisil family, James H, Susan, John, Brandon, Johnny 5, Rob A Bank John & Kim, Ron H, Jason, Mark-Ann, Stephani, Trent, Erik H, Christey, Rachel, Tirzah, and everyone that was ever part of the old school game night group.

We even have a few of the above who are generational customers. They’ve had children that now have their own folders here with us, which is one of the most rewarding parts of our job. Some couples have met in our store and countless friendships have been born here, whether it’s because of our monthly Comic Talk Roundtable events, our annual White Elephant Gift Exchange, our ever growing Christmas picture (over 80 people this year), our annual Easter Picnic and sports day (the only exercise some of us get all year), our Nerf Library battles, or some other crazy event. Sometimes, it’s just talking comics in front of the register or at the new release wall that builds up a new friendship and you might meet your comic soulmate.

We are so thankful for our partnerships with other stores that have helped better our own including Mike’s Comics, A Comic Shop (Free Comic Book MAY is the best idea ever, 10 Free Comics every Saturday in May!), Twisted Heroes, Tate’s Comics, Phil at Coliseum, Buddy at A Comic Shop, Captain Joel at Big Dog Comics to newer friends like Marcus, Jake, David, Matt M, Rick S, Matt P, Tyson, Al, Tom, Ed, Christian and Mark Who 42, Garrett, Sage, Deanna, Cosplay Michael, Christine, Cassi, Aron, Sarah, Rafael, Kathy, Eddie, Pat, Carlos, Dave F and John P. Whew!

Giant thanks to Mike P, Aaron H, all the Mikes at Blue Juice Comics, Tom M, Tom & Shannon C, Jo W, Tad, Austin, Paul L, Tim S, Jennifer S (Nerdgirl),  Brian B, Marlena & Brian, Allie & Joseph, Becky & Kevin, Aaron G, Rob H, Sara, Dirk, Jon, Kevin, Sean, Erica, Nate, James and the countless people who have helped design our store flyers, artwork, logos and more throughout all these years. I have the best silent helpers in the world in Stuart S, Eric H, Mary B, Matt Brady, Frederik Hautain, and Rich Johnston, as I’ve done a little writing for Broken Frontier, then Newsarama, and more recently Bleeding Cool in my rare free time.

Having such a fun job for so long leads to a million silly in jokes, like Illuminati card wars, pig in a ditch, belt fights, and just tons of laughing with friends when we’re not working crazy hours around the clock. It’s not uncommon for me to put in a 20 to 28 hour workday, or an 80 hour workweek, making sure every little thing is perfect and everyone has every variant they want and everything else. We don’t screw up often, but when we do, we do EVERYTHING we can to make it right. We fill in want lists pretty well by hunting for back issues at other stores and we place weekly direct reorders every Monday night to get things back in stock every Thursday. We aim to restock every sold graphic novel, Pop, Gundam model and more that we’re low on to a second or third copy back in stock (or a sixth copy of each Saga or Walking Dead TPB as we shoot through so many of those every week). We put almost every dollar we can back into the business because my aim has been to build the store I wished I could have shopped at. This week’s reorder list was for just shy of $4000 retail, a little bigger than usual, but it’s all stuff worth restocking.

I absolutely love my job and certainly wouldn’t spend up to 80 hours a week here if I didn’t.  I love almost all the people I deal with and with a rare exception here and there, I love almost every part of my job from the customer interaction, to the actual sorting, organizing and ordering of comics. I often joke that I wish I could pay someone else to be the owner of the store so I can get back to more directly interacting with people and comics more than I do now, but I usually have a checklist of twelve things I’m trying to sort through, like deal with Diamond damage returns, design our next flyer or business card, design our next special event coupon, set up our Facebook events and crosspost elsewhere, get ready for our next convention, schedule that school field trip to our game room, help the libraries promote their events, respond to Facebook messages and emails from customers, prep for movie theater promotion tomorrow, catch up on Previews Plus orders and orders from other distributors, send out checks or online payments, and even a few things that deal with my store more directly, like fixing that out of place Harley Quinn issue 1 that’s put in front of 15 by a customer that changed their mind at the last second. Now it’s time to make sure the rest of the stack is still in proper order.

Some say it takes a village. Well, I’ve learned it takes a planet. I still feel like I’m forgetting some major pieces of the puzzle that got us to where we are today, and I want to thank anyone else that’s ever supported us. Thanks especially to my incredible parents for fostering my love of reading and just letting me read hundreds of comics per week all summer long that I spent all my allowance on before I started working at a comic store. Thanks for Mom driving me all the way to Tropic Comics in Vero Beach when we visited Grandma back in the day. I’m thankful to Mona for putting up with my schedule and how much I work, but at least I’m doing what I love, which is more than many people can say. I’m thankful for all the outstanding retailers who have been happy to share their best advice on what works for them and for encouraging other retailers instead of tearing them down. There’s plenty of room for everyone in this industry and I don’t understand why some people choose to tear things down rather than build them up. I try to help every retailer I can and I’m always happy to offer advice if anyone has any questions.

Thanks to Bruce Lund at Space Coast Comics on US1 who let a really excited 14 year old help him sort out his store, where I first learned the value of hard work, and maybe even threw in a few good tips myself. Bruce doubled his order on Death Of Superman at my suggestion when he only ordered as high as he did on Venom 1 in 1992. I knew Superman 75 would be bigger than Venom and asked him to reorder me 20 copies in advance for myself and told him he should bump up his own order.  So Bruce did, bumped up to 300 copies which we had in stock when all the other stores in the area had already run out. Other stores started buying them back at double or triple cover price and then were selling them at four or five times cover price within the first day or two of release. Bruce taught me a great business lesson by telling all his regular folder service customers that he put one each aside for them for only cover price, but they had to buy it when they cleaned out their entire folder, which I thought was well beyond fair, when the stores selling them down the street had them at $12 or $15 already. If you want this hot, highly sought after Superman 75, you also have to buy the last six issues of Uncanny X-Men in your folder that you haven’t picked up yet. Very clever.

I’m thankful for board game nights at the shop that go until the sun comes up (when I’m not slammed with work to catch up on, like Previews), and I’m thankful for Love Bugs Bakery which has donuts and bagels ready for us before we go home.  Thanks to everyone that chipped in to help us after a car crashed into our store on May 27, 2016, so that we could clean up and reopen the next day. Most importantly, no one was seriously injured. Thanks to Shaun Cobble for having a healing factor worthy of Wolverine. Thanks to MegaCon, HeroesCon, Tampa Bay Comic Con, Orlando Toy & Comic Con, Florida Comics Experience, Melbourne Toy and Comic Con, Jacon, Florida Anime Experience, Nerdfest, Anime Festival Orlando and all the other conventions that have created some wild memories, strong sales and fun times over the years.

I hope no one is silly enough to try to sell comics & toys for a living because they think they will get rich. If you’re trying to turn this into a get rich quick scheme, you are a fool. I have been making a living out of this and for my outstanding co-workers for many years and I couldn’t be happier coming to work every day (or often night) and putting in a crazy amount of work each week because I love every second of every day that I’m in the store, and even dealing with store stuff like reorders, email, Facebook content, messages or whatever outside the store for even more hours. Sometimes, it can be draining, but the people I’ve met through this store and friendships I’ve built up make it all worthwhile.

One last humongous thank you goes out to my old school neighbor Jason Pape from Meroke Court in Huntington Station, New York. I appreciate him fostering my love of comic books, guiding me in the right direction and his patience with me as a new reader.  Jason lead me to become the giant comic book fan (and now comic store owner) that I am today.  He got my brother Joe and I into comics and once we bought that GI Yearbook # 2 in 1986, it started down a long path that leads us to this. It’s almost as long as this post.

If you somehow made it through all that, please congratulate us on our 24th anniversary as I’m sure it took at least a year to read all this sentimental nonsense. But seriously, I am beyond thankful for every single one of you that’s ever bought anything from our shop, or even just helped promote us and our events. We are so lucky to sell our favorite form of entertainment for a living and we don’t take that responsibility lightly. If someone’s first comic isn’t good, they’re not coming back for more, so it’s up to my incredible staff to find just the right comic for every customer. We thank you sincerely for trusting us to guide you to the best comics or graphic novels you can read, and we offer a rarely used money back guarantee on any books we recommend!

We look forward to many more years of giving you the best selection and customer service possible. Much love and thanks to all of you for an incredible 23 years so far! If you’re new here, welcome! Remember that us nerds run the world and we’re glad you finally joined us. I wish all of you nothing but the best, and I hope you’re as successful in achieving your dreams as I have been. Thank you so very sincerely for being a part of my dream and for becoming a part of our FFF family.

Now if you’ll forgive me, I’m going to take a 29 hour nap. Long week. I hope to see you at Big Monster Trivia tonight at Broken Barrel or sometime soon.

(Last Updated March 7, 2017 11:11 am )