Comic Store in Your Future: Leave Collectors Wanting More

Rod Lamberti of Rodman Comics writes weekly for Bleeding Cool. Find previous columns here.

col·lect (kəˈlekt)


gerund or present participle: collecting

1. bring or gather together (things, typically when scattered or widespread).

Collecting comics. It has changed a lot over the years. As I often say, I strive to get people to come back in at least once a month to get comics. Collecting is a habit. When I collected, for over a decade I’d go to every new comic Wednesday I could. I know I did not make every Wednesday. Sometimes I would be out of town or something would keep me away. For most of my collecting, I did not have a pull box. Sadly, after I did start a pull box, I lost my job and had to cancel it. Though I did make sure to buy everything that was on hold. For a while, I got out of my Wednesday habit to save money.

Habits are something I try to encourage. Comic stores make money off of their weekly repeat customers. The quicker customers pick up their comics, the better cash flow for a store is.

Over the years, though, a lot has been done to get people out of the habit of collecting comics. Marvel reboots wore down collectors. 1st issues became so plentiful by Marvel that people lost interest. The last Avengers 1st issue sold less for us than the previous issue. It was a jumping off point for some people. The jumping ahead with numbering also confused a lot of people. Where is #149 of Cable? Of Venom? There was none. Marvel just jumped ahead to the anniversary number.

As a kid, I had no problem picking up a comic book, even if it was issue two hundred or four hundred and something. Amazing Spider-Man, Avengers, Batman, Fantastic Four, Incredible Hulk, Justice League of America, the first Marvel Two-in-One, Superman, Uncanny X-Men, and more didn’t need to be a first issue to get me interested or others at the time interested in their titles. The writing and art over time hooked me.

That said, did I immediately go back for the next issue after enjoying what I was reading as a young kid? No. What do you say? I was only able at the time to read comics at wherever they might have been that my parents were going to. At the local grocery store, I would sit at the magazine rack and read what they had on hand. Rarely for whatever reason did I ever find or get to read the next month’s issue. Comic stores as a young kid I had no idea about. Many issues that I read as a kid that were part of a two-part story I wouldn’t get the second part ’til decades later.

One day, my dad happened to drive by a comic store and told me about it. At first, I was surprised. It wasn’t in town so I only was able to go to it a handful of times. My dad stepped out while I was there, leaving me with another kid that I didn’t know at the comic store. The person working there threatened to break the other kid’s hands while I was there. Not exactly a pleasant experience. I should have told my dad about it.

When I finally was old enough to drive and have a car, I did start going to another comic store. I was enjoying the heck out of all the material the publishers were putting out. Mainstream cool superhero titles from Uncanny X-Men to DC’s off-the-wall Haywire that a friend of mine at the time was enjoying were available. Collecting comics grew more and more for me. From having Silver Surfer #1 through 49 of the Ron Marz and Ron Lim run — which I thought was so cool — to getting Avengers, Captain America, and more I was reading the comics and more than happy to collect them.

Anniversary issues happened and helped to get me off my Marvel kick. Silver Surfer #50 at the time sold out the day it came out before I could even get to the comic store. I picked up the issues after, but was lost at what was going on. I wasn’t getting the Marvel crossover at the time that tied into #50, either. Gone were the days were a few issues were connected to now crossovers were taking part in a lot of comics. I dropped my beloved Silver Surfer. Captain America hit #350 and Avengers also had their anniversary issues, and they had more pages and were more expensive, so I had to skip them. Captain America #350 had a lot happen in it. And once again I was disappointed after having to skip the issue. It was indeed an important issue. The Avengers anniversary issue I skipped, but also left because story arcs that had the Eternal the Forgotten One, along with focusing so much on the Fantastic Four members, caused me to lose interest. I like the Fantastic Four characters, but I was buying a title called Avengers for the Avengers, not the Fantastic Four. Inferno was a crossover that pushed me away. A vacuum cleaner almost killed Daredevil in his Inferno crossover over issue. The Inferno crossover helped push me away from Marvel at the time.

My uncle was collecting Green Arrow, which was by Mike Grell. It was “suggested for mature readers.” I was a teenager, and after having read mostly Marvel for years, I was ready for a change. Green Arrow by Mike Grell rocked. Justice League International was indeed funny to read. Animal Man by Grant Morrison was way different than anything I had read before. New Titans with the Titans Hunt storyline shocked the heck out of me. I went from mostly Marvel to DC.

Why the story about my collecting? Because it is based on my experience on collecting comics. Doesn’t mean it is the same for everyone.

Getting people into collecting means not rocking their collecting experience too much.

For people to collect comics, they need to feel there’s value in it. Value to a collector could be the entertainment value it gives a collector. The enjoyment factor. If a collector enjoyed the comic enough, they will want to come back for more. The “Holy… that was cool as heck!” to “Oh, man that was funny,” or “I really like this character.” “So and so is writing or drawing this? I have to have it!”

Value to a collector may also be monetary value. Will it be worth more than what was paid for it in the future? An investment. Maybe this comic will put my kid through college. Not saying it will, just there are people hoping that it will happen.

Some collectors are a bit of both. I used to be. I would flip a comic so I could buy more comics. It helped feed my comic-collecting habit.

Why do I feel Doomsday Clock is doing so well? Before Watchmen sold well, but wasn’t a hit with the readership.

Doomsday Clock feels more like what the original Watchmen were in their original limited series. Gary Frank‘s art on Doomsday Clock has a similar feel to Dave Gibbons‘s original Watchmen art. The Before Watchmen limited series had big name creators on the books, but their writing and art styles were a lot different than Alan Moore‘s writing and Dave Gibbons’s art. It pulled people out of feeling like they were truly reading something that took place in the Watchmen’s world. Heck, even the paper in Doomsday Clock feels like paper from the original Watchmen limited series. Collector’s mentality. If someone enjoyed and collected and read the original Watchmen, they could easily collect and enjoy Doomsday Clock.

How to get people out of collecting a series. Marvel and DC are both guilty of this.

Start out a new series with a big name on it. The big name creator though only stays for the first story arc or the first few issues. Just make it a limited series, then.

Marvel’s new Two-in-One series has artist Jim Cheung on it. He indeed can move the sales needle in a positive fashion. He is only doing the first few issues, then is done. Many people will then drop the title.

DC’s new titles Damage and Silencer have artists on them that move the sales needle. But only for a few issues do they stay on the titles. Again, just make it a limited series.

“In order to make a man or boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain.”
― Mark Twain

Yes, someone was playing Civilization on their computer ’til 1 in the morning and remembered the quote from the game.

This is another reason I am not a big fan of pull boxes. It makes it too easy for people to get their comics. So easy at times people don’t feel like getting them at all.

Variants years ago were more in demand because there were less of them. After so many years of having them, they are for the most part not that difficult to get.

The internet changed collecting and made finding collectables a lot easier.

To get people into collecting, we need more long-term goals. Instead of one popular artist that can move the sales needle starting a series and being replaced by a less popular artist, why not have another popular artist take over followed by another?

Part of collecting at times is group mentality. The everyone is buying it. It’s popular! I need to check out what the fuss is about! I would rather sell one comic title at a 100 copies an issue than have ten comics selling at ten copies each. People tend to get into what is popular. The Secret Wars limited series event started off well and was popular for a while — it pulled more people into getting it.

Currently, Doomsday Clock and DC’s Metal are doing very well and pulling more and more people into reading them.

To get people into collecting, the publishers need to keep it simple. No more renumbering. No more jumping ahead and skipping actual numbers just to make an anniversary issue number. Yes, I am talking about Marvel. Though DC, sadly, is having another Superman first issue this year. I have had some people already asking, why? Bendis writing Superman isn’t enough to get people interested? I also have people talking about jumping off the Superman collecting train before the latest first issue comes out.

As a comic book store owner, I really dislike relaunches. No one ever comes in wanting the previous volumes of a series if it isn’t from the very first series or the current series. Same story about trade collections. People are only interested in the first original run of Spider-Man or the current one. None of the series in between. New 52? After Rebirth, no one cared about the New 52 issues. Marvel Now or Now again, since they did it twice? No one cares. They are collecting dust in the dollar bin. Collectors that bought them are often left wondering why they did, since they no longer “matter” in the current storytelling universe.

DC, though, also needs to plan ahead better. Action Comics #1000 was announced as a hardcover at $29.99. Now the hardcover is not Action Comics #1000, and there will be an Action Comics #1000 for $7.99. I had people already put the hardcover Action Comics on their pulls. I have customers asking me what is going on with the issue, and they are confused, which is not the state you want collectors to be in. With the change, I need to see who will still get it and who won’t, as well as who will now want it. I do hype product, but wasting hype is bad marketing and bad planning. Confused people do not turn into collectors.

To attract new readers or collectors, a back-to-basics approach would be great. A cover that captures people’s attention. A story that gets people excited and talking. Good writing. Good art. I know comics don’t have product testing, so to speak, but maybe it is time to start? Have test audiences. Finding out what types of storylines that non-collectors would like and which artists and styles would be popular would be good steps toward getting people into collecting.

Get collectors excited about collecting. Often collectors will get others into collecting. Doomsday Clock is amazing me sales-wise. I keep having to reorder more copies of the previous issues. People are telling others about it and getting them into collecting the comic.

More well-planned comics being published would be great. Less just putting whatever they can throw together out there and hoping it lasts more than six issues before getting cancelled. Long-term plans are plans I can support. Cancelling or renumbering every twelve issues or less does not build up a collector’s confidence, nor does it build up a habit of collecting. It helps break collectors’ habits.

Back in the day, Uncanny X-Men became a huge hit in large part thanks to Chris Claremont writing it for so many years. Editors need to help guide writers and artists so that even if there is a change of a writer or artist, it doesn’t jar a collector out of collecting the book. Writers and artists change along with a book’s direction so quickly that it helps snap a collector out of buying. Creative freedom is great for characters that were actually created and controlled by the writer or artist for themselves, but when an artist or writer is working on an established character owned by a publisher and that character is world famous, that is why the writer or artist is working on the character. To give themselves a greater outreach of people to get to know their work. Egos need to be left behind. Editors should be the guiding force on a comic. Editors can help writers. When Geoff Johns wanted to use the original Professor Zoom but was disappointed that the character was dead at the time, the editor suggested Geoff create his own Zoom. Hunter Zolomon would don the yellow and red Professor Zoom look and become Zoom.

Keep things simple for collectors. When talking about the X-Men, people should not have to ask, “Are you talking about the young Beast or the old Beast?” There are plenty of X-Men characters already without trying to have doubles of already established characters. Two Icemen, two Jean Greys, two Beasts, two Wolverines or more, and so on just makes things confusing when talking about the X-Men.

Leave collectors wanting more. See, I love casseroles. They’re my favorite food. I can eat the leftovers for each of my following meals ’til it’s all gone. However, if I were to eat it for each meal for a week straight, I would get sick of my favorite food. Only a few characters are popular enough to have multiple titles featuring them. Overexposure of a character can very well kill a collector’s interest in the character. Less can be more. Amazing Spider-Man sales took a hit after the current Peter Parker Spectacular was launched. What many found out was when Spectacular first started, it had very little to do with Amazing. People here started picking Amazing or Spectacular. Not both. People dropped Amazing to get Spectacular. I don’t have a single customer currently getting both titles, even though they both feature Spider-Man. Weird, right?

With Black Panther, Marvel still failed to learn from what happened when Black Panther had three titles for two seconds due to two of them getting cancelled. Right now, Black Panther has his main title and two limited series spinoffs at the same time. Yes, I know in a few weeks the Black Panther movie is due out. After all these years of comic movies, though, people are still not going to come rushing into comic stores after seeing Black Panther. I wish it wasn’t so, but why would it change? Millions went and saw Wonder Woman the movie. How small of a fraction of a percent of people picked up the Wonder Woman comic after seeing the movie? People that are currently collecting Black Panther, their interest in Black Panther is being milked in the hope they will pick up two more Black Panther titles. The Black Panther collectors are having too much Black Panther material thrown at them, and it will hurt sales — not increase them.

One title coming out more often than just monthly, such as bi-weekly or weekly, is better than multiple monthly titles that try to cash in on the same title, but are by totally different creative teams. Take Avengers. Making it weekly so far has been great sales wise. We are selling far more of the currently weekly Avengers title then we did when Avengers along with Uncanny Avengers and US Avengers were published. Not only selling more, but selling out. Plus, in this day and age I hear from people who say they have a hard time remember month to month what was going on in a title. That surprises me, since I never have had that problem. However, nowadays people are used to instant gratification — being able to get what they want quickly. A monthly format for the next generation may very well be way too slow. The British have been having 2000AD come out weekly for decades. It’s just as American comic collectors we are more used to a monthly format.

Making collecting fun for a collector should be the goal when publishing comics. Throw too much material that feels too different from what they are expecting at collectors, and they very well may feel overwhelmed. Keep them wanting to come back for more.

Marvel Two-in-One #1 cover by Jim Cheung and Justin Ponsor

About Rich Johnston

Chief writer and founder of Bleeding Cool. Father of two. Comic book clairvoyant. Political cartoonist.

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