BOOM! Studios CEO/co-founder Ross Richie gave the keynote address at last weekend's ComicsPRO annual membership meeting, and in it he argued for the sanctity of brick and mortar comic book stores and gave the origin of himself and his company.
Here is Richie's full speech, reprinted with his permission:
School isn’t fun for this kid. His big, rowdy curly blonde hair makes him a target. He gets picked on a lot. A lot. He’s an introvert. Afraid to speak up. Very sensitive. He spends a lot of time crying at home. Dreading to go to school. He’s got an older brother — 7 years older — who’s got a lot of problems of his own. An older brother who takes out those problems on his baby brother. A mother who doesn’t give him much comfort. She tells this kid to just tuck his feelings inside. “Don’t let it bother you.”
He’s looking for a place to hide. A refuge. And he’s found it in comic books. A place where characters are bold and exciting. Inspiring. So he goes to live there.
And in 2005 this kid starts a comic book company.
For those of you who have only ever known me as an adult, it might surprise you. That kid was me. Somewhere along the way I decided that I was so different I would never fit in, so I stopped trying. I got a little bigger, a lot bolder, and became the guy you see today who’s unafraid to say what he’s thinking.
And one of the things that I was thinking at the end of last year was that 2017’s going to be tough. It was that thought that prompted me to post a video encouraging fans to go boost their LCS. What I was trying to do something in my own small way to help. In any way I could. But even I was surprised by how many retailers confirmed what I was thinking.
I know what it’s like to struggle. In 2010, we had built the most successful comic book publishing that the Disney brand had seen in decades. Then Disney sent their publishing to Marvel. It cut our output in half. And on top of that in February of 2011 we saw a 20% cut across the board, no matter what the title, that was utterly devastating. I had to lay some really good people off. And the press wanted to report on it, a horrible situation that was embarrassing to these folks because it wasn’t their fault.
Everyone’s natural instinct including mine is to hide. You get down on the business and on yourself and you don’t know what to do. But what you have to do during time periods like this is not lose your faith. You need to take chances because you can find the next big thing.
For us at that time, it was Adventure Time. And when it became a phenomenon, we were right there at the forefront.
This is my story and it’s personal to me. But I think my story’s similar to yours. At some point we both fell in love with comics. And decided to blow off a regular 9 to 5 job and build our own pirate ship on our own terms to sail across this wild sea of comic book imagination. We needed something to call our own.
What you did was create a place for people to discover the amazing. It doesn’t happen on eBay. It doesn’t happen on Amazon. When I posted my little video onFacebook where I tried to get fans to go out to their local comic book store and provide a boost to their LCS, some people criticized me.
“What are you doing, Ross? Retail is dead. All this stuff is going away. Why isn’t it all digital yet?”
I’ll tell you why. The comic book store needs to be protected because you put books into the hands of fans.
You make the magic happen.
You’re how they discover incredible stories of wonder. The kind of stories that make you grab a book, run over to a customer, and say, “You’ve got to read this!” You can’t do that on Amazon.com. The kind of stories that make people come into your store and thank you for changing their daily lives. You can’t do that on eBay. For adding something to their world. For putting more light into it. For making them laugh when their day might have made them want to cry. When things get tough it’s easy and even understandable to focus on how powerless you feel.
But let me tell you something that I know to be true: comic book stores are gateways to where culture goes globally. You’re tastemakers. You’re kings with your own fiefdoms who knight the next franchise. Comic book retail is the birthplace of a special kind of creativity that springs out of the Direct Market and conquers the world.
You handed people Rick Grimes and told them his story was important. And it became important.
When you saw Ryan Reynolds’ Oscar campaign for Deadpool, you laughed and grinned and shared it on Facebook because that was something you nurtured in your store. You knew 25 years ago The Merc With a Mouth was a big deal. Now everyone in the world has caught up to you.
You plant little seeds of ideas every day that grow and spread across the globe. Comic shops are laboratories of excitement. What comes out of these labs takes the world by storm.
Lumberjanes started here at ComicsPro. I remember thinking, “Maybe we’ll sell 8,000 copies of the first issue!” I came to this meeting and because of the excitement, the enthusiasm I knew we had something. We’ve sold 800,000 copies of Lumberjanes. And that’s exciting. And YOU started that.
But there will probably be a moment this year when you get discouraged. You’ll look at a lot of new ideas and new series and say, “Pull list only. No rack copies.” And you’ll be right.
But if you walk away from this Keynote Address with one thing, I want it to be this: The next Walking Dead is out there somewhere. The next Deadpool. The next Lumberjanes. And you’re going to discover it. It’s the most exciting aspect of your job. When things are hard it’s the most important time to get excited. That time is now. I want to encourage you to rededicate yourself to your goals. To what makes you special.
Let’s go show the world what we’ve got. Who we are. Now is the time to Discover new worlds Take a chance. Roll the dice. Score big. Your adventuresome spirit is going to change the world.
80 years ago Siegel and Schuster put an alien in a circus strongman’s costume and changed everything forever.
Where is the next great idea going to come from that’s going to change the world? I have no idea, but I know you’re going to be the ones that know it first.
Let’s go discover our future together.