As the tendrils of coronavirus snake throughout the world and throughout society at large, certain of those tendrils reach into the comics world. The constant news and updates can feel like white noise, and in that noise, there are highlights you may have missed. Here are a few interesting dispatches from the front lines:
Ah, the 800-poundest of 800-pound gorillas. Final order cutoff for April 15 in-store product is today, with May dates right around the corner. Estimates from within Diamond Comic Distributors project that orders from April to May will decrease by a seven-figure sum (that’s a million dollars or more). The main culprits seem to be a general fear and uncertainty in consumer spending, coupled with a disruption in traditional buying patterns. Combine that with the fact that that as many as 35% of comic stores are in “shelter in place” states, and many are predicting a rocky few months.
Some stores plan on cutting to the bone as a safety/default position. Comics Conspiracy of Sunnyvale, CA plans on ordering for subscriptions and special orders only.
Pretty much every store with capability (particularly those with state-mandated lockdowns) is moving to or adding a curbside or car-hop pickup service.
Writer Leah Williams (X-Factor) is polling comic stores and has compiled a list of over 300 stores with the notion of creating a resource that will allow buyers to find stores that do curbside pickup, mail order, and more.
ComicHub has become a very popular point-of-sale system in comic stores, and in the wake of disrupted buying patterns, has offered stores discounts and free software installation as a way to help generate orders.
Publishers such as Oni Press and Image Comics are offering retailers returnability, while Marvel is offering deeper discounts. Publishers such as BOOM! Studios are contemplating reducing new titles to limit the amount of product in the marketplace in what is predicted to be a difficult time.
Retail is skittish, and there are no easy answers. Carr D’Angelo, owner of the two Earth-2 comic stores in Los Angeles (where the city, county, and state have mandated that non-essential business go to a pause), suggests a pause for the entire comic business, even if it’s brief.
“We’re being sent product for which we will be billed, but we cannot sell it,” D’Angelo said. “I know I’m closed for a month. I can’t pivot overnight to mail order, and even if I could it might be only 20 or 30 percent of what I typically sell. We are stores that order heavily for the shelf. We encourage walk-in and browsing shopping. It’s a huge part of our business that will now be gone. I’m happy to try to figure out what my business will be in the next few months, but I know right how that if I usually sell 50 copies of Thor a month, I won’t do that this month. Let’s take a week off. Let’s figure this all out.”
Joe Field of Flying Colors Comics in Concord, CA reminds us that any retail business is larger than just the product it sells.
“What happens in the comics business is 180 degrees of what I need,” Field said. “The other half of the circle is my lease, my employees, all those other matters. In the comic business, I need major suppliers like Diamond, and with them DC and Marvel to really step up and make sure they do things that don’t just give our business to large mail order suppliers and digital. I need them to be thinking hard about what it means to have this network of stores on the front lines every day.”
Field also wants his message to reach the upper echelons.
“I know that we [direct market comic stores] are essentially the flea on the elephant’s butt when it comes to the overall business of Disney or AT&T,” he said. “But I also know how important this market is for driving those billion-dollar sales in other media.”
Both D’Angelo and Field—and many other retailers—have noted that many customers are stepping up and doing what they can right now, often buying gift cards from stores for cash flow today so they can get books at a later date.
In the litany of publishers making statements and offering relief, DC Comics has been notably absent. But certainly internal discussions have been taking place and plans are being formulated at DC. With that final order cutoff for April 15 product happening today, a new data point will be available to DC—and all FOC publishers. If there are additional plans coming from Diamond, DC, or any other major publishers, they are expected Tuesday at earliest.
March is shot, and April is teetering on the brink. MegaCon Orlando has just moved its April 16-19 dates today, to new dates of June 4-7. Comic Con Revolution has moved farther out, moving its Ontario, CA event from May 16-17 to August 8-9.
Lest we forget the international scope of the existing situation, Comic Con Chile in Santiago is also moving from May dates, theirs into October.
One convention, the Meadowlands, NJ’s East Coast Comic Con, has had to pull their plug on 2020 entirely. Owner/operator Cliff Galbraith started with May 15-17 dates, and tried to move to July 4 weekend. But there were too many hurdles to overcome, and Galbraith is now looking to reset for 2021.
“I weighed everything. We went over all the options, one of which was just going bankrupt and telling people, ‘Sorry, we can’t refund your money,’” Galbraith said.
But instead, all ticketholders and vendors are getting full refunds. The rapidity of approaching deadlines was a major factor in Galbraith’s decision.
“I have to order plane tickets two months in advance, so that’s pulling the lever in early April, $40,000 in flights and $40,000 in hotel rooms,” he said. “And that’s just ridiculous as of today. It doesn’t look like the situation’s going to get better anytime soon. I’m going to lose some money on this—venue costs, and I’ll never get those ad dollars back—but why prolong it? Let’s not make the agony any worse. This way, I’ll be able to get some sleep.”
Left Field Media, the company behind the Washington DC Awesome Con and Portland Rose City Comic Con, is looking to roll out “Jr. at Home” cons, in which exhibitors and talent can roll out workshops, storytelling, and more in an online format. The “Jr.” cons are focused more on an educational bent, targeting families with kids at home.
Wizard World has a fortuitous hole in its schedule, with no events planned until June 5-7 in St. Louis. In the interim, Wizard is planting a flag early on the notion of an online-only con with its “Virtual Experience” with the cast of Supernatural on March 31.
Huge segments of the work force have been moved to “work from home,” which a status almost all comic writers and artists are already familiar with. At least one, alas, has had to make that a status +1.
Artist Darick Robertson (The Boys) was in Mexico just before coronavirus really blew up, and since returning home, has been under self-quarantine from his family.
“I'm grateful that I'm not sick or showing symptoms yet, but it's a 14-day incubation period, so I am self-distancing,” he said.
Things aren’t nearly as bad for Nocturnals creator Dan Brereton, who is still in his home studio and working with his family nearby. Still, an ominous note is struck on the horizon.
“Today a publisher I work for asked for us to suspend all work in progress,” Brereton said. “I feel the digital platform may be the answer for a while, as shops may close for the duration. Hopefully publishers will realize they must keep publishing, because that’s the only way things can continue.”
Brereton’s concerns are echoed by Family Tree colorist Ryan Cody.
“The publishers can only keep making comics if people are buying them and if this drags out for several months, that economic hit is going to trickle up from the comic shops to the publishers,” Cody said. “That's why it is very important that people take advantage of the efforts of their local shops to get their books each week. Support those stores, pick up your comics, buy more comics. If the retailers can make it through, the publishers will as well.”
Cody says he’s supporting retail by continuing to buy comics, and signal-boosting via social media. He also reminds everyone that even a major publisher’s bottom line still diffuses right down to individual people.
“For every comic you buy from Marvel or DC, you're supporting 3-4 small businesses, from the penciller, to the inker, colorist and letterer,” he said. “Support that work.”
AND EVERYTHING ELSE
Good way to spend some shut-in time: The Kubert School is having a sale on its correspondence course books. Buy one, get the second one free.
Heritage Auctions, auctioneer for high-end comics an art, has temporarily closed its Beverly Hills office owing to California’s strident policies on “non-essential” businesses. As 99% of Heritage bidders bid online already, the company expects little effect.
Comic writer and novelist Joe Hill reports that some book browsing (and comic browsing?) may still be possible with stores in certain locales allowing customers to sign up for private buying appointments to minimize contact.
Employees at Marvel Comics, DC Comics and more are working from home, but finding ways to interact with co-workers including virtual lunches (that sometimes include masks and pets).