mike sterling's progressive ruin

Saturday, March 10, 2007


...even though I told myself "online arguments" was something I wanted to leave to my long-ago days on BBSes, somehow I found myself trying to beat some sense into people in this Blog@Newsarama comments thread. Apparently we were supposed to raise our orders* of the comic-that-shall-not-be-named based on info in internet rumor columns and because Marvel told us to. Yeah, okay.

My ongoing struggle against people who aren't in the business of comics retail trying to tell me how to sell comics (because, you know, I've only been doing this for TWENTY FRIGGING YEARS) has tired me. Real content will resume tomorrow, maybe.

EDIT: *"To accommodate the last-second mass media-driven consumer frenzy that we obviously should have been able to predict," I should add.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Okay, so I do have something else to say about Captain America #25. 

I've seen a few comments here and there admonishing retailers for not listening to Marvel Comics when they told us that we'd better order lots of copies of Captain America #25.

Well, sorry, but no.

1. If we jumped every time Marvel said "JUMP," and bought into their hype, I'd be adding an new wing to the back room for all the extra unsold overstock.

2. We'd already ordered what we thought were plenty of copies. First, it was a Civil War tie-in, and for all of Civil War's many storytelling and scheduling problems, "not selling well" was not one of them. Second, it had two different covers, so we bumped orders up a little bit more to accommodate that percentage of customers who like buying one of each variant.

3. ...And the one thing we did not do was order under the assumption that there'd be last-second real-world media coverage would drive the general non-funnybook-reading public to our store seeking out copies. That media coverage is the only reason this book sold above and beyond our (or anyone's) expectations, and when we placed our orders two months ago, and when we had the opportunity to adjust our orders just a few weeks back, there was no way we could predict or depend on media-driven sales. Even if we'd been told that Marvel sent out press releases to every outlet in the world plugging this event, even that's no guarantee of coverage. A silly puff-piece on funnybooks is very easily bumped for celebrity news, or arrested politicians, or, oh, I don't know, a war in Iraq or something.

You know what you get when you order a comic based on the assumption of real-world media coverage? You get a back room filled with Adventures of Superman #500, that's what.

The "Death of Superman" issue, Superman #75, was another example of retailers ordering what they thought would be plenty for their customers, only to be ambushed by last-minute media coverage that drove the masses to their shops.

So when it came time to order Adventures of Superman #500, the beginning of what was assumed to be the "return of Superman" storyline, retailers thought about what they ordered on Superman #75, thought about what they could have sold if only they knew that the news had some time/column inches to fill and gave them free advertising...and ordered accordingly.

Of course, by the time AoS #500 came out, the "Death of Superman" was old news, there was no media coverage...and while #500 sold relatively well to comic book fans, there was no panicked rush by the non-fans like the one #75 inspired. And, to this day, you can easily find copies of #500 in bargain bins across the nation.

On a related note, apparently common perception was that the first issue of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8 comic was due this week, given the number of people I had asking for it. (Perhaps it did ship somewhere, but maybe Diamond's L.A. accounts got the shaft again...I haven't checked yet.)

Now, when we placed our initial orders for this comic, we placed what we thought were very generous numbers...easily five times what we were selling on Dark Horse's previous Buffy series, and probably ten times more what IDW's Angel series are selling. This was based on the fact that creator Joss Whedon was going to have a more direct hand in the series, and on how Whedon's work on Astonishing X-Men has sold...

...And on the fact that, before we even placed the order, I started to have lots of customers ask me about it, and those with comic savers started adding it to their lists. That can (but not always) be a positive indicator of good sales.

Plus, a couple weeks back, there was a large article on the series in the L.A. Times, which bumped up interest even more. Granted, that kind of coverage is most effective when it's actually during the week the book is released, but I've had a number of customers (some of them new) still talking about that article and how excited they are for this new Buffy series.

So judging from the extra interest in the series I've been seeing from our customers over the last few weeks, and judging from the number of people who came in Wednesday expecting the first issue to be out...I just doubled our orders on the comic with Diamond. It's a risk, perhaps, but my direct observation of our clientele tells me that demand is high.

Compare with Captain America #25, which nobody asked me about until they saw it in the papers. I had a few customers comment on the rumors about Cap's impending "death" ahead of time, usually in the context of "yeah, right, whatever," which didn't exactly fill me with confidence that the comic in which he did die was going to be the Best Selling Comic Book Ever. So, yeah, I saw nothing in the weeks leading up to this book's release that pushed me to bump up orders even more than we already had.

Also, I find this interesting: the second issue of Stephen King's Dark Tower is mostly just kind of sitting there. It's selling, but not crazy-selling like the first issue did. Is it just overshadowed by the Cap hype? Did the non-comic-reading King fans already abandon the series, deciding just the first issue was enough to represent this particular endeavor in their collections? Do they just not know it's out yet? Am I panicking about the loss of sales on this comic too early? (Probably.) It's worth keeping a closer eye on, at any rate.

A little bit more about Cap, and then...something beautiful. 

So, following links to my post yesterday that I found in my referral log, I found a few people who, while being aware of current events involving Captain America, apparently thought "the 'death' of Batman" (even though I never said Batman was dead, only "defeated") was real.

My favorite comment that I came across:

"I think the reason people aren't realizing that this is a spoof is because spoofs are usually funny."

Oh, damn.

A couple more things about the alleged death of Cap, before I let it go:
  • I may have presented it in the form of a rant, but I'm really not kidding when I said in yesterday's post that I've encountered folks surprised that Superman was still around after his highly-publicized "death." I know the exact same thing is going to happen to Cap, since most of the requests I've been receiving for the comic are asking for "the last issue of Captain America."

  • That auction on the eBay I linked to the other day? The one for a set of both covers for #25 that was, at the time, bid up to 75 bucks?

    It ended for $200. Assuming that's a real bid, and not just someone screwing with the seller.

  • We received word yesterday that Diamond Comics Distribution will be receiving a massive influx of copies of Captain America #25, which will be used to fill retailer backorders placed before early Thursday. So look for an equally-massive number of new listings for this issue on the eBay over the next week or two...along with a huge price-drop.

We received a giveaway comic this week, advertising the CourtTV program Til Death Do Us Part, each episode of which, according to the official site (warning: auto-playing video w/sound), features "a husband and wife whose marriage, despite its happy beginnings, inevitably leads to spousal murder."

Here's the cover:

...and you read the comic online.

The only reason I'm bringing it up is because the host of the show is John Waters as the "Groom Reaper." That, my friends, is absolutely fantastic.

Okay, it's not the greatest comic in the world, but it informed me that there's a TV show featuring John Waters in a Rod Serling-esque role, and therefore succeeded in its function admirably. I may end up only watching the first five minutes and the last five minutes of each show, just for Waters, but that's ten minutes more than I would have normally devoted to this show.

EDIT: Pal Dorian mentioned this TV show/comic a week ago, and I totally forgot. It's been a long week, is all I can say.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Batman Defeated by Joker - Seven Decades of Superheroing Come to End 

NEW YORK - Batman appears to have finally met his match - at least for now - at the hands of his longtime nemesis, the Joker.

The caped crusader is unconscious, knocked out by one of the Joker's nefarious traps, in the new issue of his namesake comic, which hit stands this Wednesday. At the end of the issue, the Joker stands triumphant over his fallen foe, leaving Batman with no chance of surviving whatever evil fate is in store for him.

It appears to be the end of a long run for Batman, created in 1939. Best known for the 1960s television adaptation, the character has also sold millions of comics and countless pieces of merchandise, making a great deal of money for the character's publisher, DC Comics, and the parent company, Warner Brothers.

However, in the world of comics, a last-second triumph against overwhelming odds is not entirely unknown, and DC Comics president and publisher Paul Levitz said Batman grabbing victory from the clutches of defeat wasn't out of the question.

Even so, the character's shocking loss came as a blow to creator Bob Kane, or it can be assumed it would have, if Kane himself hadn't died in 1998.

Across the country, fans have been clamoring for copies of "the last Batman comic," catching retailers off guard due to the increased demand. "Honestly, I don't see what the big deal is," says Mike Sterling, 37, manager of the Ventura Fun Time Comic Book/Magic Card Store and Video Deli. "Villains always appear to beat the superheroes, just before getting their rears handed to them. It's typical of the genre!"

Sterling continues, "Why in God's name would DC put out a press release for this? It's nothing special! It'd be like putting out a press release for every cliffhanger, every apparent character death, and every other usual plot trope that appears in superhero comics! It's creating artificial expectations for a product that won't be met!"

"Remember the 'Death of Superman' all those years ago? And all the hype around it? To this day, I encounter people who see the Superman comics on the rack and ask me, 'Superman comics are still around? I thought he was dead.' I just don't see the advantage to convincing a public that's barely aware of comics in the first place that your most recognizable, marketable characters are no longer being published, all for the sake of a storyline that'll be resolved in, at most, a few months! What's wrong with you people? Why are you buying into this?" At this point, Sterling was guided into the back room of the store for some quiet time.

In the comic book universe, defeat is not always final. But even if the Joker has finally defeated Batman once and for all, it's not the end of the Dark Knight: the character will still live on in merchandise and movies and television shows, where the real money is.

Some portions of the text liberally borrowed from here.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

File under "History, Repeating of." 

Current auctions on the eBay for Captain America #25.

Seventy-five bucks (as of this writing) for a set of both covers? Really? It's the panic-buying of Superman #75 ("The Death of Superman") all over again.

Check the prices again in a few months, once this storyline is over.

Things we think about at the store as we're breaking down the new comics order. 

How to improve Civil War, in regards to events in Spider-Man: Reign:

"My name is Peter Parker, and I've been Spider-Man since I was fifteen years old."




Why is there no Mr. Mind plushie doll? DC ended their line of stuffed toys too soon, too soon.

Also also:

Halloween costume idea: old time radio hung on a chain around your neck, some green and black body paint, some deelyboppers...instant Mr. Mind costume, not to mention the respect and fear of your peers.

Not news. 

I just wanted to note that I found it amusing that this was the photo Yahoo used on the front page to illustrate their Captain America story:

The article itself has "spoilers" for the new issue of Captain America (which shouldn't be spoilers at all if you've been paying attention), in which it ballyhoos a big change for the character that'll be undone in short order. At least the article leads off with a statement that's basically saying, "Yeah, we don't buy it, either."

You might want to skip the second part of #12. It's kinda gross. 

Just wanted to follow up with some brief commentary about Monday's post:

1. There's one thing I really, really, really, really hate about comic book stores (well, any store in general, I guess), and that's when they don't open at their posted times. I don't mean a minute or three late. I mean, like the example I used, a half-hour late or more. I mean, c'mon. I understand that, once in a while, something happens and it can't be helped (especially in small stores run by, at most, one or two people), but if it happens on a regular basis, maybe it's time to change the hours to a time y'all can make.

We're fairly fascist about making sure our shop is open during its posted hours, which is why we laugh at people like this who claim we weren't open when we were supposed to be. That's trying the wrong tactic on us, pal.

2. I don't get it when stores just put the porn books right out there on the shelves with the superhero books. Apparently on purpose. I can't even fathom that. I've got enough problems with parents getting antsy over the apparently-sexual content of Teen Titans Go...having them come across a copy of Blowjob on the rack next to Batman would probably kill them.

Granted, I don't imagine this is a common problem, but I remember visiting a store or two in the past that would do this, and wondering how they got away with it.

3. This isn't really intended to be a criticism of certain stores, since I realize and understand that some shops put less emphasis on back issues than we do. I'm just amused when people come in and ask for our "Silver Age box," since that's what they're apparently used to at their usual haunts, and I have to tell them that they need to narrow it down a little. "Would you like to see one of our half-dozen Superman Silver Age boxes?"

4. Yes, I knew of someone who would actually say that books weren't priced as marked, as the new price guide was out and he was in the midst of repricing all the books.

One, that's crazy talk...it's a good way to tell your customers to shop elsewhere. Two, if a comic hadn't sold at $5, repricing it at the new guide value of $6 isn't going to help.

I do know some repricing has to be done sometimes, but it's not repricing I'm objecting to. It's the whole "I'm going to charge you more than our price tag says" thing. For example, more than once we've sold something out of the bargain bins that had since gone up in price and demand since we dumped it in there. It's our fault for not digging them out of those boxes, not the customer's for finding it. We snoozed, we losed, as they say, and I'm not going to jerk our customer around on the comic's cost. That's just plain rude.

5. I haven't personally encountered the "too busy playing Magic to help you" thing, but I've heard about it enough. I have encountered the "too busy playing this arcade game in our store to help you" thing, where, astoundingly, there was a line at the counter at this one shop I was at, and the one employee had to finish his game before he'd help any of us. (I only stuck around in line because the item I wanted to buy had been particularly hard to find...but I never went back to that shop.)

6. We have lots and lots of female customers, probably because we treat them like customers and not "look, it's a g-g-g-g-g-g-girl!" And if there was any flirting or come-ons going on, it was our female customers hitting on the gay guy. Man, that Dorian gets all the chicks.

7. We carry lots of indie books...always have. Every once in a while I'll have someone ask for an indie comic like this: "There's this one comic I'm looking for, it's pretty obscure, you probably don't have it, it's very small press...it's called Lenore, and it's from Slave Labor. If you don't have it, that's okay...." And then I point her to the rack where we have every issue in stock.

'Course, carrying lots of indies means there are a lot of titles on the shelves, and I can't always remember every comic off the top of my head. I'm usually pretty good about it, but Dorian had a better head for that sort of thing than I do, and now that he's run off to the Foreign Legion, I'm doing my best to keep up on top of things.

Luckily, if I don't recall a book someone asks about right away, a quick Googling usually brings up the info I need. I don't get totally stumped very often, unless it's something that only exists in the customer's head: "I'm looking for the comic where the Aliens...you know, from the Sigourney Weaver movies...where the Aliens fight the Borg." "Yeah, I'm pretty sure that never happened." "I KNOW IT CAME OUT. You're not much of a comic shop if you don't have it."

8. I'm usually the victim of the "new comic spoiler at the store." Look, I know I work in a comic shop, but that doesn't mean I get to read the new comics right away. I won't get to read them until after work...which means DON'T SHOW ME THE LAST PAGE OF EVERY NEW COMIC YOU'RE LOOKING AT.

I will admit that I once accidentally spoiled the end of a comic for a customer, but at least I had the good grace to feel really crappy about it and grovel for his forgiveness.

9. Okay, once in a blue moon, we'll run out of pennies (like at the end of a really busy day or on a Sunday afternoon), and I'll round up change in the customer's favor. Thankfully, that's rare, and usually only a temporary situation.

From the comments section:

10. I can't even picture leaving the front of the store unattended. Might as well put a big sign in the window saying "FREE STUFF - Come in and cart it away!"

11. I do ask for a one-time deposit for our pull-list subscribers, if only because we have the occasional abandoned pull-box and I'd like to have something to show for it. But that deposit gets returned if the person had to end the pulls for whatever reason, and is nice enough to let us know ahead of time rather than just disappearing.

12. I've only ever yelled at anyone in the store once...well, technically, they weren't in the store, they were two kids banging on the door and shouting at me through the mail slot before we'd opened for the day, and I gave them a hearty "KNOCK IT THE HELL OFF!" Not even Gandhi would have blamed me.

On a slightly unrelated note, just this past weekend I banned a customer from using our store bathroom, since this is the second time I've had to (sadly, literally) clean up his shit after he used it. Yeah, I know, he should have been banned the first time, but he was gone before I discovered what he did, and I didn't know he'd been let back into the bathroom the second time until it was too late.

So I banned him. Didn't yell at him, though. Should have.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Yes, I know I posted one of these just a few days ago, but I've been busy and it's all I've got. 

from I Love You #112 (May '75)

Monday, March 05, 2007

Mike's Comic Shop...OF EEEEEEEEVIL. 

Oh, hi! Welcome to our store! Sorry, I know we're opening a bit late today. We try to shoot for our posted hours, but sometimes, well, you're gonna be a half-hour or so late. What can you do? I hope you didn't mind waiting.

Say, that's a bit of a nasty cough, there. Hmmm? Oh, I don't think it's that dusty in here. I assure you, I dust and vacuum at least once a month, whether it needs it or not. Maybe you tracked something in with you.

Is there anything you're looking f...whoa, hold on, that's my cell phone. I gotta take it, gimme a sec.

Okay, sorry about that. Is there anything you're looking for?

The new issue of that Stephen King comic? Sure, we got it here in the case...it's $7.99.

What's that? Oh, it's been out for a week. Yeah, I know the cover price is $3.99, but it's red hot right now...lots and lots of people are looking for it, and I have to take advantage of that, right? Yeah, you know what I'm talking about. I'm gonna make a ton of money on this book, especially once the reorder comes in.

Sure, we've got comics for kids. How old is your kid? Six? Well, here's the new issue of Wolverine. Kids love Wolverine.

Not quite what you want, eh? Krypto? You want that for your kid? Well, it's your money, I guess. There it is, on the new comic rack...yeah, right there, between Tarot Witch of the Black Rose and Pee Soup.

Hey, you're right, it does kind of stand out, there.

Well, yeah, the rack isn't terribly organized, I admit. We tried racking by publisher, and then just straight alphabetically. But we'd go through the trouble of organizing the rack on new comics day, and when the next new comics day rolled around and we checked the rack again, everything was a mess, so we stopped putting it back in order. Hey, if our customers can't be bothered to care, why should we?

Interested in back issues? Yeah, we've got some, here. Silver Age comics? I've got a box of 'em around here, somewhere. Hang on, let me look for it.

Ah, here you go. Keep in mind, though, that the new price guide just came out, so we're in the process of repricing our back issue stock. We should be done in the next week or so. In the meantime, the prices on the back issues may not necessarily be what we're selling them at. I'll reprice them at the register when you're ready to ring up.

Hmmm, didn't spend too long on the back issues, I see. Well, I'll let you shop. Lemme know if you need anything.

Oh, got a question? Sure, let me finish this hand of Magic: The Gathering and I'll be right with you.

So, what'cha need? Manga? Really? Um, okay, I got a couple manga volumes here. I've got Dragonball volume 13 and, um, another copy of Dragonball volume 13. Yeah, we've had these two for a while. I guess manga isn't very popular around here.

Say, look what just walked in. Why, hello, miss, how can I service y...er, be of service to you today?

Why, sure we have comics for women. Supergirl...Wonder Woman...Witchblade. They all star chicks. Take your pick!

Huh? Yeah, I know your eyes are up there, why're you telling me that?

Boy, she sure left quick. Girls, who can figure 'em, am I right, buddy?

Independent comics? Yeah, we got those. Image or Dark Horse?

Neither, huh? Okay, what are you looking for, then?

Love & Rickets? Oh, Rockets, sorry. That a sci-fi comic? Yeah, I don't think I've heard of it. Is it new?

No, I'm pretty sure I don't have any trade paperbacks of that love rocket book, either. You might want to check our sci-fi/mystery/superhero shelf, there, and see if you spot it.

Yes, our bookshelves are in order. I said it was the "sci-fi/mystery/superhero shelf," didn't I? Hey, they're in better order than the new comics rack, so don't complain.

Okay, if you're ready to ring up, just take your stuff to the counter, there. Here, let me move my cheeseburger...watch out, don't drop your comics on the mustard, there...gotta protect that investment, right?

Lessee...you sure about this Krypto comic? Okay, whatever...oh, hey, you're buying the new Stormdrain-Runoff Man? I love this issue...I was totally surprised at the end when the hero's girlfriend turned out to secretly be his archnemesis this whole time.

Huh? You changed your mind? You don't want it? Boy, fickle, aren't you?

All right, here's your total, then. No, that total's right. Well, yeah, I know the cover price on that Krypto is $2.25, but it's last month's issue, which technically makes it a back issue, so I added a buck. Hey, we got a lot of comics in here, I can't put price tags on everything.

So here's your change. Sorry, we're out of pennies and nickels, so I rounded your total up. Hope you don't mind.

Thanks for shopping! Here, take a business card...tell your frien....

That's funny, he didn't want a business card.

Wonder why?

Sunday, March 04, 2007

I've been doing a lot of these miscellaneous-topic posts lately, for which I apologize. 

  • To follow up on my statement the other day regarding customers unfamiliar with the concept of multiple covers, I bring you this from Saturday:

    "Hey, this comic has two different covers. That's weird...I've never seen that before!"

    And I assure you, that wasn't sarcasm. And he's been buying comics from us for a while.

    It's a little reassuring, actually, that there are still comic fans who don't worry overly much about the publishers' marketing gimmicks. Sometimes I forget, since I have to look at and deal with these things pretty much every day, that not everyone is totally plugged into every single aspect of the industry.

  • I don't buy DVDs much anymore, since setting up a Netflix mail-rental account (though of late, it seems like my local post office sits on my movies for about a week before finally getting around to delivering them to me...but that's another story). However, after talking about Superman Returns with a customer of mine on Saturday (hi, Glenn!), I realized that, regardless of whatever storytelling problems and quirks the movie had, the sheer beauty of the film, along with some stunning set pieces (like the plane rescue) made this a film I'd like to own.

    So, yeah, I bought it...the two-DVD set that came with the little metallic-silver covered booklet detailing the character's history (including the "post-Crisis" status of the character that's becoming less and less valid as time goes on).

    As for the movie itself, I reviewed it, kinda sorta, here, here, and here if you're curious. Though I'd like to amend my statement about Luthor looking a bit like Smallville's Lionel Luthor during the museum heist...I now think he looks more like Snape from Harry Potter.

  • Speaking of movies: after wondering whether or not Galactus was going to be in the Fantastic Four sequel, this article appears with the director apparently confirming that Galactus will indeed make an appearance. Curiously, the director says this:

    "We haven’t finished the design of him/it so be careful about what you read and believe."

    Admittedly, I don't know a whole lot about filmmaking, but with the movie opening in June, isn't this cutting things a tad close? Though I seem to remember that Star Trek: The Motion Picture, I believe, was still putting final touches on the film's effects almost until the absolute last minute, so this sort of thing probably isn't uncommon. I'm sure one of you folks out there can set me straight.

    When I was talking with pal Dorian about this at the shop on Saturday, it occurred to me that maybe some kind of William Castle-esque gimmick can be employed. Reed Richards, at some point in the film, can point offscreen and shout "Look out! It's Galactus!" And then someone in a Galactus costume can run down one of the theatre aisles, shout "I HUNGER!" or something similar, and run back out again.

    This is what goes through my head at work when I wait too long to take my lunch break.

  • Pal Dorian pointed me in the direction of this Newsarama article detailing a DC panel at Wondercon. The only bit of information of note, at least to me:

    "Will Swamp Thing go back to the original DCU? Didio: We ask every day. We really do."


  • Clue #1 that we have too much stuff at our store: selling a few thousand dollars' worth of graphic novels to a library on Friday, and having the shelves look like hardly a dent was made in them. Well, except for the suddenly depleted Little Lulu section.

    Clue #2 - Would you like to buy a full run of Dazzler? 'Cause we got it. Multiple full runs of Dazzler, actually.

  • One thing we're not overstocked on is Amazing Spider-Man #252, the first appearance of the black costume. We acquired what can only be accurately described as "a royal buttload" of them a couple years back, but we've run through about 2/3rds of them in the last few weeks as folks snap them up in anticipation of the black costume's appearance in the third Spider-Man movie. At least, I'm assuming that's the reason.

  • Been noticing this over the last few weeks: Wildstorm's licensed horror titles (Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th, etc.) are just withering on the vine at our shop. Our orders are dropping so low on them, it's almost not worth bothering. I wonder what's more to blame: Avatar Press devaluing the properties when they had their mitts on them, or just general disinterest in these aging franchises? (Or maybe they're just not very good, but I haven't read them, so I hesitate to judge.) I do get people asking to poke through the back issues for these series, but invariably it's just to look, not buy.

  • I'm sorry, did I just see the Hulk with an dinosaur head coming out of his...


    Photo totally stolen from Chris Karath, who has lots more large pics of this toy and the Apocalypse "Shape Shifter."

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