Retail Shops in The Age of the Direct Market: Visionary Comics New Kickstarter

by Jazmine Joyner
Co-Owner
Visionary Comics, LLC

Running a small comic shop in the age of the Direct Market is not an easy task. It’s especially challenging as a Black disabled woman in the white-male-dominated world of comics.

My name is Jazmine Joyner, and I am co-owner of Visionary Comics in Downtown Riverside, California.

We set out to open this shop in 2016. Bright-eyed and bushy tailed, filled with hope and purpose. Mine and my partner’s dream is to have a comic shop that is an all inclusive accessible community space. Where people can feel welcome and feel like they are apart of a community and not just in a retail space.

The harsh reality of opening a business hit us quickly. The fact that we are both minorities (my fiance and co-owner Nestor Gomez is Mexican) and in our mid-twenties, made it almost impossible to find realtors willing to take us seriously. Armed with a business plan and good credit we were still unable to have our find someone willing to respect our vision.

The building we are in now took us two months to lock down. With our realtor going back and forth with us coming up with arbitrary forms and proof of income to prove that we could afford the space. Going far enough as to losing all our paperwork making us have to resend everything. We were told the only available space was a 200 sq ft store.  We later found out that there was in fact a 500+sq ft space available that they had never mentioned. Though that slight stung we had our space finally, and we were determined to make it work.

Opening a comic shop is no easy task. In no other business do you have to spend tons of money on inventory weekly to survive? And at times you’re taking a gamble by ordering titles you’re not sure are going to sell. That’s why most shops take out a business loan. We didn’t have this luxury. After finding our live/work space, we went out and tried to find a loan for our business. To no avail, we couldn’t find the backing.

We are in a prime location with no immediate competition, have a strong business plan, and already acquired the retail space. Yet not one bank wanted to invest in our dream. So we did what everybody tells you not too when you start a business. We dove into our own personal capital to fund our business. Every penny we have has gone into to Visionary Comics. We bought books, furniture, all the bells and whistles you need when setting up a comic book shop, we made sure we had it.

The direct market is a fickle beast. With the one defining part of comics retail being that the books are non returnable so every order is at risk of becoming essentially dead stock. One week we can have books flying off the shelves, orders flooding in, and people coming in for all the events. Then the next week we will be lucky to make our quota and be able to afford next weeks books. It’s the nature of the beast, and with the rising prices of Marvel’s single issues and the lackluster storylines coming out of the big two, the waning interest of customers is visible. Particularly with the rise of digital comics.  It’s up to us to fill in those gaps and find stories they not only want to invest in but love enough to read the next issue.

Being a woman in this business is difficult. I have to regularly pass strange quizzes on obscure comic characters, deal with the nuances of mansplaining topics like “Batman and The Jokers symbiotic relationship.” Or my favorite “The who would beat Superman in a fight game” Pro-tip: If you don’t pick Superman every time during this game, you’re a noob. No matter how logical your reasoning is.

I get talked down to, asked to speak with “the manager” (and that’s code for can I talk to the man in charge), or completely ignored. The reverse is I get called “Sweetheart,” “Baby,” “Beautiful,” and had men trying to flex their comics knowledge out like an awkward mating dance. Hoping their expansive knowledge of the Watchmen Universe would woo me off my feet.

But once all the problematic people are weeded out we are left with the fantastic loyal customer base we have now. They have made it possible for us to consider expanding our shop into a larger space.

We have succeeded in making a completely inclusive space where people feel comfortable hanging out, buying and talking about their favorite books. We have movie nights where the all the kids and their parents can come and watch family friendly movies for free. We often hold gaming nights on weekends. Tabletop games, video games, and card games, all games are welcome on our game nights.This close connection with the community and positive impact has been one of the best parts of opening visionary and now we want to expand so we can do even more for our customers and our shop.

To move our store we needed to have some extra funding. We of course once again were denied backing by the banks after having more experience and breaking even our first year. We decided to go to the people we serve, our customers. So we created a Kickstarter in hopes to reach our goal of $6,000 to fund our move to a larger retail space. So we could have the shop we dreamt of when we opened in May of 2016.

We have come up against many obstacles and faced so many challenges, but creating Visionary Comics and making it the inclusive fun community space, it has become is well worth any hardship we had to push through to bring it to fruition. We now hope that we can expand and become an even better shop.