Or How I was passing time in New England
Or Ditching out on In-Laws
Traveling is always an adventure. Most of the time I’m racking up frequent flyer miles jaunting off to a comic book convention, but this is a rare exception which only occurs during a blue moon. For more than the last week, I’ve been in Rhode Island visiting in-laws and family friends; and other than both being populated by colorful characters, there is little in common when comparing Providence and a Comic Con. Additionally, the trip has been extended a bit longer due to cancelled flights from Tropical Storm Irene. This is tough as I would have be back home right now, prepping for the big week of retail sales- the DC 52 starts on Wednesday, and I’m sure there will be a frenzy over all things Jim Lee, Geoff Johns, Justice League, Flashpoint, and more.
The good thing is that I get a chance to catch up on blogging about the comic book industry; and these entries give me a little more breathing room than just ranting 140 characters at a time on twitter’s #comicmarket discussions on Tuesdays. Instead of recapping the FAN EXPO that took place in Toronto Canada, and delving into the fireworks of the panels that took place at that comic con, I thought I would talk about the comic stores I visited in New England, and the personalities that run them: Larry’s Comics, Chris’ Comics, and Jetpack Comics.
New England has been an innovative place, controversial in nature, yet not always politically correct. Anyone remember the Boston Tea Party when crazy merchants rebelled from paying government taxes by pinning vandalism on Native Americans? Well the comic book scene in 2012 isn’t too far off…
The equivalent contrarian in the comic book industry might be Larry Dougherty of Larry’s’ Comics of Lowell, MA. I’ve been corresponding with Larry for the last couple of years, from the CBIA retail boards to Twitter talks. Heck, he was one of the small pack that started up the #Comicmarket hash-tag to best facilitate dialogue between forward thinking publishers, fellow retailers, big picture creators, and informed fans. Larry also formed retail organization NECRA, and promotes a local comic con, Wonderful Woburn Warehouse Show. I’ve always respected his ideas, although some smack talking tweeting a month back regarding Ultimate Spider-Man makes me cringe. Over the years I had a mental picture of THE FIGHTER mixed with the roughneck genius of GOODWILL HUNTING, and this impression wasn’t too far off.
Rough around the edges, and certainly determined to do it his way, Larry greeted me with a broad smile as I walked through door. He was greeting each and every customer on a first name basis and a handshake, much like a Vegas Pit Boss glad handing high rollers. Interestingly enough, everyone shopping there was considered big time from the half dozen kids going through all ages titles like Sonic and Batman Adventures near the floor, or the businessperson taking a mid afternoon lunch break to pick up their weekly subscriptions, or the folks signing up for the weekly Drink & Draw. If you were a regular at Larry’s, there’s no doubt that there’s a camaraderie in the place, where every one had each other’s back.
Larry lowered my expectations for the store with his signature slogan, 5th largest/11th nicest store in New England. The place was packed with collectibles: recent collections of vintage action figures, wide selection of specially priced graphic novels, a section of skate decks, wide selection of art supplies, and of course new comics. The place was a virtual comic book convention, with nearly anything and everything there if you took the time to look.
While one afternoon wasn’t enough to take in the entire Larry Dougherty experience, I drove back the next day, and hung out with him and some of New Hampshire’s finest retail minds. w was the first stop, with his signature store located near the Mass boarder. I met Chris several years back at the Wizard World Chicago Comic Con, where we had a genuinely friendly discussion regarding Lakers vs Celtics. Just as Chris knew his stuff regarding the NBA, he is a brilliant retail mind. His store is also loaded to the gills with Magic CCG, back issues, a dense library of graphic novels, and more. I raided his bins to fill in gaps, before running off for the best Lobster Roll I ever had. All the high brow comic foodies, the Eatakus, would have been jealous over this lunch time feast.
Over the impressive seafood feast, both retailers talked about what was moving in their stores. I was surprised how they backed various indys and hand sold them to their customer core. While Larry’s mix was eclectic ranging from Dynamite books to Th3rd World’s Stuff of Legends mini series. Chris’ Comics was largely invested in Joe Hill, from Lock & Key to the Cape. Except for recent pilot hype on Lock & Key, each of these are not largely on the radar of the JayCompanyComics.com customer request lists. It’s refreshing to see various titles thrive in regional markets. Mix one part passion, with one part customer knowledge, then add an aggressive competitors edge to stay ahead of the market curve; and all this amounts to highly motivated sales force. Apart from these regional differences, we commented how these trends often pop nationally. Examples include Chew, Skullkickers, Morning Glories, and Nonplayer.
Time was tight so we trekked all the way to Dover to check out Ralph’s JETPACK COMICS. I can understand Larry’s sky high praises for Jetpack, and why there was Eisner Spirit of Retail Award hype campaign last spring. Quite simply this place is one of the nicest stores I’ve been to in years. Well stocked with collectible key issues, hardcovers, boutique areas specializing in Indys/Videogames/Media Tie Ins, a separate gaming room for CCG tournaments, a basement dedicated to brisk mail order. IMPRESSIVE. Ralph likes to play the ponies, and that week’s TMNT #1 had Jetpack and NECRA Exclusive covers; it was a nice compliment given the fact that Ralph was one of original investors to the first Turtle issues which sparked the Black & White boom of the 1980s. Jetpack was branded like no other store, complete with fancy T-shirts, and branded comic supplies and stenciled long boxes. I’m bummed that (as of this date), Jetpack is not going to the upcoming New York Comic Con- I’m anxious to shop with them again. I’m not sure of the extent of the politics of retail organization, COMICSPro, but I view Ralph as a leading personality that hope to correspond with more soon. I applaud Jetpack for pitching in and providing #comicmarket buttons to motivate San Diego Comic Con attendees, and spark greater interaction in the comic community
The Common Element to these 3 very different retailers is clear-they each bring unique ideas to the comic market, and share generously. While active in the current workings of the comic market, they embrace collectibility of the hobby while emphasizing reading good stories. With talks of the New DC 52 and the mild success of Fear Itself Marvel Crossover, the Big Two are important here. But just as importantly, each store champions the independent underdogs. Each has their own flavor of customer, and cater to their retail families. I’m thankful for my time with them, and could only wish there was more hang time. I’m curious to see the New England Comics Retail Alliance grow, and see if they can transform and implement their ideas with shifting tide ahead. In the mean time I will try to apply some of the lessons learned to the comic convention retail booths of JayCompanyComics.com, and our promotions with the 2012 AMAZING COMIC CONs.
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