It’s established fact by now that comics were among the hardest hit businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. A lot had to do Diamond Distributors deciding to shut down during the pandemic, halting product distribution across the board. This meant that comic shops had to get creative to stay alive, stepping way outside their comfort zones to fight against closing down for good.
The SDCC@Home panel “Comic Shops: Persevering Through Crisis” took a deep look at all of this, at how certain shops managed to keep their heads above water and how they plan to continue operations while still in a state of crisis.
The panel was moderated by Ed Catto in conversation with Joe Field (Flying Colors Comics & Other Cool Stuff, Concord, CA), Marc Hammond (Aw Yeah Comics, Harrison, NY), Jeff Beck (East Side Mags Montclair, NJ), and Dr. Christina Blanche (Aw Yeah Comics, Muncie, IN). These are all comics shop owners and administrators that have adapted to the reality of the pandemic to continue selling comics.
So as not to spoil the panel discussion (which I highly recommend watching in its entirety), I will offer a few highlights and explain why I believe it deserves a watch.
“Persevering Through Crisis” takes its title to heart by diving straight into strategies and initiatives that proved successful to the comics shops represented during the shutdown. One thing seemed to be a common occurrence across the panelists’ experiences: customers stepped up to help keep their favorite stores open in a big way. Many of the stories shared on the panel emphasized the role dedicated customers played in keeping shops afloat by buying gift cards and back-issues.
Sales on the back-issues front gave some of these stores the idea of setting up live shows to sell books that were previously warehoused or stuck in the shelves. In the absence of traditional comic conventions, this allowed shops to make a profit otherwise made in these events by selling older product.
Other shops stuck to curbside pick-up in order to safeguard some of the community-building they had already done by turning their spaces into a meeting ground for a whole group of people sharing common interests. This was crucial for East Side Mags and Flying Colors Comics and they went lengths to get the point across throughout the panel.
There’s also an interesting discussion on the effects the DC/Diamond split had on the road to reopening. It was a controversial subject and it had no choice in being otherwise, but the panel discussed it professionally and put forward some good points. This segment was enticing enough to justify its own panel and the guests really opened the doors for further debate. I was glad no one succumbed to cryptic responses and lazy arguments.
The possibility of a second shutdown was also broached and the mood was one of caution but readiness. These shop owners truly came off as survivors with valuable information other stores would be wise to consider.
This is required viewing for comic shop owners. There was a lot said about the nuts and bolts of survival during a crisis. But the panel also provides a kind of behind the scenes look at comics retail that shows just how hard the men and women involved work to get us our comics. You’ll appreciate brick and mortar stores even more after watching this panel.
Click here to view the complete panel.