Books

How to Shop for Comic Books

(And Where to Get Them Free on May 2)

How to Shop for Comic Books

Jackie Canchola

KEAVER BRONSON, CO-OWNER OF ARCANE COMICS In the new store.

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To hear just about anybody in the book business tell it, you'd have to be nuts to open a bookstore in this recession. But two weeks ago, Ballard's Arcane Comics opened a second store in West Seattle. The new branch, located at 3219 California Avenue, a few blocks south of the Junction, is light and airy—a pleasant change for a comic-book store, which are traditionally cramped and free of natural light. It's a big storefront, too, although the second half of the space and the basement, which will be reserved for role-playing games, are still under construction. Employee Scott Taylor says early business in the new store was slow, but has increased every day it's been open.

Scott Stafford, co-owner of both Arcane locations, has been planning the new store for about a year and a half. He's not overly worried about current economic problems: "We continue to grow at a small but steady clip," he says over the phone. "The nice thing about this business in general is it's recession-proof. People are always looking for new ways of affordable escapism." Stafford admits that some of his customers, facing unemployment and foreclosures, have to temporarily stop buying comics, but says, "Every time we lose a customer because of the economy, we seem to gain another two to replace them."

Arcane Comics, and virtually every other comic-book shop in Seattle, is gearing up for Free Comic Book Day on Saturday, May 2. FCBD is exactly what it sounds like: Comics publishers provide promotional comics to retailers at cost ("Fifteen or twenty cents a copy," says Stafford), and those comics are given away free to anyone who visits their shop—no purchase necessary. Stafford says FCBD is a "great idea," but he wishes the publishers would do more to promote the event. It'd be nice, he says, if Time Warner, the conglomerate that owns DC Comics, made "a Superman TV commercial to get people interested in the product. When we're not promoting outside the industry, we're not gaining new clients."

I've written in the past that comic-book stores can be off-putting for outsiders and neophytes. That's still true for just about every comics store in town: Even a shop as book-heavy as the West Seattle Arcane Comics still displays some statues and lunch boxes with superheroes on them. But good comic-book shops counter the scads of embarrassing action figures and various merchandising gewgaws by providing excellent personal recommendations.

In an hour at Arcane Comics, Taylor has already sold me on a new series called Jersey Gods (a weird retro cross between Jack Kirby and The Sopranos) and a book called Bad Dog (a surprisingly affecting, bittersweet comic about an alcoholic werewolf bounty hunter). Seattle has a handful of these phenomenal comics-store employees who try as hard as they can to get the right book into the right reader's hands. Aaron Tarbuck, owner of U-District comics shop the Dreaming, has to be considered a serious contender for the title of Best Bookseller in Seattle, and Erin Butler at the downtown Zanadu Comics practically bubbles with joy when she talks about books she loves. And they're honest, too: In my time at Arcane, Taylor actually talks a customer out of buying a book. The customer, awed by Taylor's honesty, buys two others that he does recommend.

On Free Comic Book Day, as newcomers brave their way past the posters of hypersexualized, spandex-clad women and wander into the dark corners of Seattle's comics shops, they should relearn the lost art of shopping for books. Internet retailers, with their endless suggestions, have diminished the role of customer-bookseller interactions, and this FCBD is a great opportunity for people to remember the weird, joyous trust exercise of walking into a store and asking a complete stranger: "What do I want to read today?" recommended

 

Comments (20) RSS

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1
Between Zanadu, Arcane and the sadly defunct Coffee & Comics, Seattle has provided me with the best comic shopping experiences of my life. Notably at the U District Zanadu, which is packed with employees who are excited to recommend and pan equally.
I, too, have had the experience of being outright told by an employee that the glossy, expensive book I'm about to pay for isn't as good as a smaller, cheaper book. If that isn't an honest commitment to your customers, I don't know what is.

I'm currently tighter on cash than I have been in the past, but comics are still a guilty pleasure that I'm happy to indulge in on occasion. Thanks for the excellent article!
Posted by ink on April 30, 2009 at 2:18 PM · Report this
2
arcane employees tell me not to buy things all the time, they are usually right, i should listen to them more... they could have saved me some serious cash. their ballard location is great, im gonna have to check out that west seattle store...
Posted by jjjjjjjjjj on April 30, 2009 at 10:38 PM · Report this
3
Now if only Capitol Hill could get a comics shop. I cannot believe a place as funky as the Hill doesn't have one.
Posted by Bug Dozer on May 1, 2009 at 9:05 AM · Report this
4
I agree with Bug Dozer. Capitol Hill needs/deserves its own comic shop.
Posted by Tyler on May 1, 2009 at 11:01 AM · Report this
5
Hey bug and tyler,

Typical Cap Hill sense of entitlement...

Cap Hill used to have a shop, but didn't support it. That's right, there was a great off-the-wall comic shop that split space with the Wall of Sound. Sales were lousy and the owner couldn't afford his rent. How much does Cap Hill "deserve" a comic shop if they couldn't support the one they already had?

If you're really jonesin', Bailey and Coy carries a small but quality selection of comics. When I lived on Cap Hill, they were always glad to order anything I asked for.
Posted by kirbyvsbear on May 1, 2009 at 11:45 AM · Report this
6
Very nice piece. I hope it drives some comics novices into any of the GREAT comic shops we have in this town.
Posted by phismi on May 1, 2009 at 3:29 PM · Report this
7
The best comic shop in Capitol Hill is that huge Half Price books. Theres a good amount of cheap comics and graphic novels there.
Posted by Matt on May 1, 2009 at 11:41 PM · Report this
8
There was also once a small comic shop about a block off of Broadway, in the mid 1990s -- either on Denny or John, I can't remember which. At the time, local comic shops were plentiful, especially on the Eastside, where there must have been a good 15 of them, to today's zero (I think the musty one next to Houghton Market is closing).
Posted by Peter F on May 2, 2009 at 11:19 AM · Report this
9
"Now if only Capitol Hill could get a comics shop. I cannot believe a place as funky as the Hill doesn't have one."

Yeah, Fallout? Was there for 100 years. Now stop saying "funky."
Posted by Tippy Katz on May 2, 2009 at 3:03 PM · Report this
10
as for what kirbyvsbea said, didn't fallout carry comics too? i miss confounded. they had lotsa great zines too.
Posted by Jedd! on May 2, 2009 at 3:05 PM · Report this
11
haha, weird that we both posted that at the same time?
Posted by Jedd! on May 2, 2009 at 3:06 PM · Report this
12
I don't understand what's wrong with statues and lunchboxes... Personally, even though I'm not terribly interested in them, I feel like they give comix stores their pop-culture flavor. Since I couldn't find a single mention of Greenwood's Dreamstrands in any of this, I have to give them a shout-out. Super low-key, and really welcoming of non-typical comic lovers. They are always really nice to my eight-year old daughter, and they stock good all-ages comics too, in their own section. Also, to everyone who really just wants to read graphic novels, and not collect them: the Seattle Public Library has a rapidly expanding collection - full of some really good indy and mainstream stuff. They also take buying suggestions. Yay SPL! How I love you!
Posted by Squirrelgirl on May 2, 2009 at 3:43 PM · Report this
13
what, zanadu too far? Zanadu is great. I was lucky...I had the fantastic Bailey's Comics around the corner from my house where I grew up. Good times.
Posted by Rotten666 on May 2, 2009 at 4:27 PM · Report this
14
I don't particularly mind driving up to the U-District to visit Comics Dungeon, because the people there are quite friendly and helpful. All I'm saying is that there has never been a comic store on Capitol Hill since I've lived here, and if there were one, it would make me happy.
Posted by Tyler on May 2, 2009 at 7:02 PM · Report this
15
Arcane had a terrible selection of 'free' comics. From what I saw only Marvel and DC crap. No D&Q or Fantagraphics. I walked out majorly disappointed without buying anything even though I had intended to pick up new some new stuff.
Posted by Lloyd Cooney on May 3, 2009 at 4:35 AM · Report this
16
Lloyd - One thing I remember from working in a comic store (and this may have changed in the last few years) is that the bigger name free comics (that is, Marvel and DC) cost the stores less. The pricing as I recall is set by the publisher, which means that Marvel and DC can afford to charge less for their books than smaller companies.

The books are divided into Gold and Silver depending on how heavily the participating company is sponsoring FCBD, and retailers are required to order a certain number of Gold books before they're able to order Silver books at all.

So the selection a store carries doesn't necessarily reflect any particular endorsement of superhero comics over indie or anything like that - especially at Arcane, which I think is a great store with tons of product packed into a really small space, and a very helpful staff. It's more likely to be indicative of their budget and what the people who showed up before you decided to pick up.
Posted by skycrashesdown on May 3, 2009 at 11:43 PM · Report this
Jefferson 17
Competent and broad article on the scene/culture/retail experience. Nice one! Sorry those who posted comments to the effect, but any adult who's too lazy or 'inconvenienced' to take a 20 minute bus ride from the Hill to Downtown or the U-Dist - well damn, it must not be that important to you to begin with. That, and/or laziness is how your cultural values/interests are really prioritized.

This past week on "Comic Book Day" the U-dist with Zanadu, The Dreaming and Comics Dungeon (with their amazing backissue selection and a 30-60% off sale!) really delivered on the quality reads, helpful and informative service and pricing that didn't reflect the 'collector' mentality. Most everything I found was coverprice or less!
Posted by Jefferson http:// on May 4, 2009 at 5:30 PM · Report this
Jefferson 18
Competent and broad article on the scene/culture/retail experience. Nice one! Sorry those who posted comments to the effect, but any adult who's too lazy or 'inconvenienced' to take a 20 minute bus ride from the Hill to Downtown or the U-Dist - well damn, it must not be that important to you to begin with. That, and/or laziness is how your cultural values/interests are really prioritized.

This past week on "Comic Book Day" the U-dist with Zanadu, The Dreaming and Comics Dungeon (with their amazing backissue selection and a 30-60% off sale!) really delivered on the quality reads, helpful and informative service and pricing that didn't reflect the 'collector' mentality. Most everything I found was coverprice or less!
Posted by Jefferson http:// on May 4, 2009 at 5:32 PM · Report this
19
The Owners of this shop are amazing. They worked very hard to bring such a great shop to the Seattle area. Recession or not, you cant pass up on good customer service and truely good hearted people.
Posted by Jen83 on August 29, 2009 at 4:37 PM · Report this
Stus 20
I haven't been to Arcane's locations, but can definitely endorse those of Zanadu's branches. Knowledgeable, friendly and occasionally goofy staff working for Perry -- the U district branch is my local comic store (lcs) and it's a pleasure to shop and smooze with manager John, Sean and Ed there.
Posted by Stus on April 28, 2010 at 4:08 PM · Report this

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