The Ups & Downs of Comic Book Retailers, As Documented by a Podcaster

My Comic Shop History
Credit: Steph Desiato (Flat Squirrel Productions)

There are hundreds of podcasts about comic books, and some of them have been around for more than a decade. But one podcaster is approaching comic books from a different perspective - from behind the counter, exploring the world of comic book retailing.

The host of My Comic Shop History is Anthony Desiato, has been traveling the country and interviewing the owners and managers of comic book stores - from large retailing chains to tiny, local shops - and getting their insight about the comic book industry, the community at their store and how they're surviving the influx of other media and competitors.

Desiato first became interested in comic book retailing when he created the documentary My Comic Shop DocumentARy about the camaraderie at his local comic book store, Alternate Realities.

After the store began the process of closing its doors, Desiato began recording a podcast to commemorate the store, but the podcast evolved into an exploration of how other stores are succeeding. Eventually, Desiato hopes to create another documentary, this time focusing on stores from across the country.

Newsarama talked to Desiato about the podcast, the challenges owners face in the current marketplace, and why fans are so interested in getting behind the scenes in comic book retailing.

Credit: Flat Squirrel Productions

Newsarama: Anthony, when we talked a few years ago about your documentary, My Comic Shop DocumentARy, the whole purpose was to put a spotlight on the community that developed at your local comic book store. How did comic book retailing becoming a focus for you?

Anthony Desiato: Exploring this territory has definitely been a passion of mine - my first documentary and my first season of the podcast were both focused on my comic shop, where I worked for many years. I really enjoyed shining a light on that community.

I realized, especially once my store was gone, just how much I loved that comic shop atmosphere in general. And so the idea was to sort of do what I did with Alternate Realities, kind of do that on a larger scale and explore other stores, capturing the comics retail community on a larger scale.

So that's really what it was born out of, just my passion for my store and wanting to explore other shops.

Nrama: Who have you talked to so far?

Desiato: I've been recording up a storm. I've been all over, at a bunch of different places.

The first episode featured Aw Yeah! Comics. I went to the Harrison, New York, location, which is right in my back yard. They also have stores in Muncie, Indiana, and Skokie, Illinois. That was a really cool store to start with, because they do have this presence in various parts of the country.

And then the second episode featured Packrat Comics in Ohio. The third episode is Midtown Comics. And I've been to places all over the country that will be released as the podcast continues, and I have a bunch more that I still haven't recorded yet.

Credit: Steph Desiato (Flat Squirrel Productions)

Nrama: How did you choose the stores?

Desiato: It was important to me to have variety. So, we have stores in different parts of the country. We have stores that are new; they've just been open a year. Other stores have been open decades. Some are older stores but with new owners. So it's a mix in that sense.

There are stores that are owned by men, stores that are owned by women, husband and wife teams - I've come across three so far, which is interesting to me - and they've been a lot of fun to talk to. That's a very fun dynamic.

And then there's a mix of stores that have an old-school style and stores that are more modern and more social media savvy.

The idea is to present a cross section of stores.

Alternate Realities comic shop
Alternate Realities comic shop
Credit: Flat Squirrel Productions

Nrama: Are you addressing different challenges that retailers face?

Desiato: That's definitely a theme. In many cases, the challenges are what you would expect, so delinquent customers - that has come up a lot. Dealing with the Marvel variant cover scheme.

One other theme that's been coming to light is, I've noticed a lot of stores, especially the newer ones, are much more proactive, it seems, about community building.

I think back to my experience at Alternate Realities, and a community definitely formed there, but it just kind of happened. But these stores are very proactive about utilizing social media and organizing events to bring people in and build a community. That's been something that's been interesting to see.

Credit: Steph Desiato (Flat Squirrel Productions)

Nrama: If someone was interested in opening a shop or learning how they're run, would there be valuable information in the podcast?

Desiato: Yeah, absolutely. The community aspect is something I'm very passionate about, but the business side has been fascinating to explore. When we were talking about the closing of Alternate Realities in the first season of the podcast, in feedback that I got, people seem to want to know what goes into the running of a store.

It's a side they don't always get to see or hear about. Most fans have their local comic shops, a place that they go, and they're experiencing it from one side of the counter. The goal is to go around to the other side of the counter and give them that perspective.

So in the first episode, for example, I spoke to Mark Hammond, one of the co-owners of Aw Yeah! and he runs the Harrison location. And he went into great detail about how the Marvel variant cover business works and how he approaches it, and how he explains it to his customers and things like that.

And on the subject I mentioned earlier - delinquent customers who don't pick up their books - that was a big piece of the episode with Packrat Comics. They went viral earlier this year with that photo of a stack of books their customers had left them with. One thing that came out in comments and in our discussion in the episode was that a lot of customers aren't aware that stores order far in advance and are paying for those books outright and they can't return them.

So I think getting the retailer perspective and giving the retailer a voice - those are important to me, and I'm glad I've been able to do that.

Nrama: Is all this traveling just for fun for you? Or are you putting together another big project like ……?

Desiato: I do have an end game with this. Currently I've been visiting stores and recording episodes of my podcast, but the goal is for this to be the foundation for my next documentary project, which will be called My Comic Shop Country. The idea is to do a filmed version of this, where I'm going and filming my experiences with these different comic shops around the country.

I do plan to do a Kickstarter in September or October to raise money to fund that documentary project, so that's ultimately where this is going.

But it is fun. And my listeners seem to enjoy the topics and the content. I really love doing it.

Nrama: What's the best way for fans to find your podcast?

Desiato: It's available on iTunes. It's called My Comic Shop History. I've also been hosting a companion show called Flat Squirrel Tales: Beyond My Comic Shop. That's tackling a wide range of topics within the comic book world. So we did a movie club episode about the new Power Rangers movie. The next episode is going to be about conventions. Things like that - just wider topics

So those are the two podcasts, available on iTunes. The My Comic Shop History Facebook page is where most of the action is, as far as comments and posts and stuff. That would also be a good place to follow along.

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