Saturday, April 10, 2010

ComicsPRO 2010 pt. 1

What is ComicsPRO? ComicsPRO is a comic store retailer exclusive organization that strives to create a unified voice amongst the comic retailer community to improve our stores (including mentoring new stores). ComicsPRO also exists to improve the dialogue between comic book publishers and comic book stores. Basically ComicsPRO's members work towards finding solutions that will make things run smoother for everyone who works in this industry, be they retailers, creators, publishers, distributors, or suppliers. The ultimate goal of ComicsPRO is to make the comic buying experience everything that the wonderful patrons of comic book stores deserve that experience to be.

The lovely couple in this first photo above from this year's ComicsPRO meeting (which was held in Memphis again this year) are Jamye Foster and Brian Herring, who will be opening up their brand new comic store, Southern Fried Comics, in Hattiesburg, MS. this August. I got to talk to them during the first breakfast before the meetings commenced and I couldn't think of a better way for ComicsPRO 2010 to have started for me - Jayme and Brian are the new face of comics retailing and if more people like them are going to be opening comic book stores, well the future of this industry looks very bright from my perspective! Jayme and Brian, in anticipation of opening their new store, joined the ComicsPRO mentoring program and that coupled with their enthusiasm and attending this years meeting, in my not so humble opinion, gives them an excellent foundation for the success of Southern Fried Comics upon their grand opening in August and going forward. For any retailers or aspiring comic retailers who would like to know more about ComicsPRO visit this link: www.comicspro.org
ComicsPro has an online forum where members can discuss concerns with their businesses and share ideas, but actually attending one of the annual meetings is valuable on so many levels. One of the valuable attending the meeting benefits is being able to talk one on one with creators and publishers, as I got to do during one of the breakfast gatherings with Robert Kirkman (writer of the excellent Walking Dead, Invincible, and Astounding Wolfman comics from Image as well as being one of the new Image full partners) and Joe Keatinge, Public Relations and Marketing Coordinator of Image Comics (on the left in this photo). Image Comics has been very forward thinking for some years now in the different kinds of creator owned books they do and they have been excellent in communicating with retailers. Robert Kirkman gave the keynote address that launched the meetings proper and let me tell you that not only is Robert Kirkman a great writer, he's also great at delivering an entertaining, inspiring speech in front of an audience. Especially humorous was when he shared how when he was a young lad, his father bought Iron Man comics because he liked The Metal Men (DC characters who have no similarities to Marvel's Iron Man)!
Filip Sablik, Publisher of Top Cow (an imprint of Image Comics), and since he came on board with Top Cow, he's done a lot of interesting promotions for Top Cow titles to get more of their books in the hands of our customers. I know that I'm not alone after talking to Filip and hearing his presentations about upcoming Top Cow titles, to state that I will be recommitting myself to introducing their titles to my customers, especially the new ongoing Magdalena series and the Artifacts series they have upcoming which debuts with the Top Cow Free Comic Book Day offering on Saturday, May 1st.

DC Comics has been the biggest sponsor of previous ComicsPRO meetings and this year was no different. Additionally DC has been the biggest supporter of the comic store direct market since its inception and their support of ComicsPRO and their own semi- annual DC Retail Representative (RRP) meetings are further proof of this fact. At the ComicsPRO meetings DC and the other publishers that attend, discuss aspects of the business that is not intended for general public disclosure, so I'm of course not going to get into specifics about what DC or any other companies dialogue with us about. I will say that every retailer in attendance was appreciative of DC's candor in addressing concerns within the industry as they affect them, comic retailers, and people who buy comic books. DC also brings several people from their team, both on the publishing and editorial sides, such as Jim Lee (in his new role as Co-Publisher of DC), Bob Wayne VP of Direct Sales), and Karen Berger (Executive Editor of Vertigo), who make themselves available during the course of the meeting to talk to retailers one on one.

I, personally, would also like to especially thank Mel Caylo, Marketing Manager of Archaia Press (Days Missing, Mouseguard, The Killer, Secret History of the World, and the forthcoming Fraggle Rock comic, amongst others), for really opening up to retailers about Archaia Press titles, and I'd like to thank Archaia on behalf of everyone who is a member of ComicsPRO for their first time sponsorship of a ComicsPRO meeting. Dark Horse, IDW, Radical, and Boom were returning sponsors of the ComicsPRO meeting and these four companies produce a diverse line of titles that any forward thinking comic store should stock as well as re-evaluate how these companies' titles are displayed around their stores. And a huge tip of the hat for Boom's creative use of a RV they rented at Memphis and parked it in the hotel parking lot for after hours meet and greets (and a little bit of alcohol - grin)!
At the Memphis meeting, ComicsPRO also awarded Paul Levitz to be the recipient of the ComicsPRO Industry Appreciation Award. Paul Levitz, had been the President of DC Comics from 2002-2009, but has also wore a writer hat and an editor hat, in addition to the many other hats he's worn at DC during his 35 years plus and counting. Paul Levitz has also been very instrumental in developing the direct market comic specialty store into what it is today (especially in its formative years) so while the other nominees also contributed greatly to the comic industry, Paul Levitz' achievements are without parallel and thus he was the perfect recipient of the first annual ComicsPRO Industry Appreciation Award.

Bob Wayne, VP of Direct Market Sales, has also been with DC Comics in many different capacities for over 30 years and is THE go-to person at DC Comics for comic specialty store retailer marketing and it is a certainty to me and many others, that he will be the recipient of this award next year.
In addition to the award Paul Levitz received, he accepted the ComicsPRO Industry Appreciation Award in the posthumous category that was awarded to Carol Kalish, who died in 1991, at the waaaaay too young age of 36. Carol Kalish worked the last ten years of her life as the direct sales manager of Marvel Comics and was the other instrumental voice in the development of comic stores during the formative years of the direct market (the 1980's).

The topic that was discussed most at this year's ComicsPRO meeting was what I call the looming digital cloud, meaning what will be the impact on comic stores and the printed comic book form with more digital (online) outlets for comic books (such as the iPad)? All of the publishers present tried to explain where they saw this industry going, their own digital plans, and the difficulty in predicting how things will ultimately play out in a technological world in which the only constant is change. The publishers and Diamond Comics Distribution are just as concerned as comic store retailers about this and they are also having to adapt to how this will impact them. From these discussions, the biggest thing I took back from this year's ComicsPRO meetings was that, while the access of reading comics digitally WILL change the way that comic stores do business, that future isn't as ominous or as close to radically changing as I thought prior to attending ComicsPRO meeting 2010. Comic book stores are not going to go the way of music or DVD stores any time in the near future and with so many new comic stores (stores that have "only" been around five years or less) and up and coming stores, such as Jayme and Brian's Southern Fried Comics, present at this year's ComicsPro meeting, the future of this industry looks very promising.

Thanks also to the ComicsPRO board members, Amanda Emmert (Muse Comics in Montana), Joe Field (Flying Color Comics in Concord, California), Brian Hibbs (Comix Experience in San Francisco), Gary Dills (Laughing Ogre in Ohio and Northern Virginia), Carr D'Angelo (Earth-2 Comics in LA, California), Rick Lowell (Casablanca Comics in Maine), Eric Kirsammer (Chicago Comics), Calum Johnston (Strange Advenures in Eastern Canada), and Phil Boyle (Coliseum of Comics in Florida, Phil recently left his board position with ComicsPRO, but he's still there in spirit and still a member) for all of the behind the scenes work they do to make the annual meeting run so smoothly. Seriously, if you know any of these fine people to any degree and or have been in their stores, that should tell you right there that ComicsPRO is going to be around for the long haul. I'd also like to give a huge thanks to the staff of the Memphis Hilton for all they did to make our stay with them so enjoyable and relaxing in the midst of our meetings (and the vegan food choices they made this year were EXCELLENT).

In closing, I'd like to make another appeal to any present comic store retailers and or people looking to open a comic book store reading this who aren't already a member of ComicsPRO to seriously consider becoming a member. All of our stores and the industry will only be strengthened with increased membership, as the old adage "there's strength in numbers" couldn't be truer. I'm certain that there are many comics stores who aren't yet a member of ComicsPRO who could introduce some of what they do really well to the larger comic store community and in turn they would also get ideas from present members that they could take back to strengthen their own stores. For those of you reading this who go to a store other than mine, ask your favorite local comic store owner if they've heard of ComicsPRO and give them this website address for more info: www.comicspro.org, I'm sure they'll thank you.

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