A Comic Book Shop Can Transform You From Geek to Superhero

May 11, 2017 • 6 min read
Byron Beck

Byron Beck

PDX Correspondent

Want to open a comic book shop?

Before your start thinking of names for your comic book shop and digging out Vintage DC Comics from under your bed, you should consider a few things. Starting your own comic book shop means you need a mix of the following: a great understanding of comic books, knowledge of what it is you want to sell in your shop, and the desire to be in contact with a network of like-minded entrepreneurs.

And you must seriously love comic books.

Andy Johnson loves comics. When Johnson and his business partner, Adam Healy, started a comic book shop, Cosmic Monkey Comics, in Portland, Oregon in 1995, his aim was simple. He wanted to be able to buy more comics. Johnson is 45 years old now, but his favorite comic book growing up was Amazing Spiderman.

Before he owned Cosmic Monkey Comics, Johnson was a cabinet maker. Now he’s the president of his own company. “I’m there every day helping people and ordering more comics,” said Johnson.

comic book shop

Cosmic Monkey’s staff keeps their doors open daily from 11 am to 7 pm. If Johnson had his way, he would never leave. He considers his business a labor of love. It can be a very risky business to jump into if you don’t know what you are doing, and he’s seen comic book shops fail.

“Take some business courses and read as many comics as you can,” says Johnson. If you end up opening your own comic book shop, make sure you have great customer service, a depth of knowledge, products that people are looking for, and cleanliness, organization, warmth and good lighting.

Small Business Chronicle advises that anyone thinking of taking on a venture like opening a shop should immerse themselves in the comic book culture. They suggest attending trade shows and conventions to learn new trends in the field. Watch the buying habits of your potential clients and the price range they prefer. They encourage entrepreneurial types to seek out and speak to other comic book shop owners about difficulties they have encountered in the business.

What a business it is!

comic book shop

Townsquared spoke to David Walker, a longtime comic book lover who writes some of the top titles in the comic book universe right now. Marvel published his book, Luke Cage; Boom published his Planet of the Apes comic book. “Both are childhood dreams come true,” said Walker. He is co-writing a series called Superb for the publisher Lion Forge and some other undisclosed projects.

He can talk about his love for comics.

His first encounter with a comic was Batman #247, which was published in the early 1970s. “It was a gift from my mother,” said Walker, “The Batman TV series was on in syndication when I was a little kid, and I loved the show. My mom bought me that comic book, and I barely knew how to read at the time. It was the comic book that got me interested in reading.”

Although he was hooked from the beginning, Walker didn’t start off thinking of himself as a collector. “I just loved comic books. And back then they were twenty cents, and then a quarter. My mom would probably buy me one or two comics a week.”

Walker knew from a very young age that her wanted to make movies or comic books. It took him years before he realized he wanted to be a storyteller. Today, he is a successful member of the comic book writing universe.

There’s still a part of him that just loves to read comic books, but Walker is torn about the business side of the comic book industry. “You can’t enter into any business, and not start to see it in a different way,” he said. “I go back and forth between cynical and enthusiastic. The business side of things makes me sick, but reading a great comic book is still one of the better things in life.”

Other aspects of the comic book industry trouble him too: “Most people don’t understand how comic books are distributed and sold,” said Walker. “The retailer has an incredible amount of power, because they only stock what they think will sell, or what their customers order a minimum of three months before it comes out. Because of this, many retailers are very conservative in what they sell, or they may only carry product based on their own personal tastes.”

comic book shop

Johnson and Healy are sticklers for service. “Don’t get me started on basic customer service,” said Walker. “I’ve been in comic book shops where the person working doesn’t even acknowledge me. I can’t tell you how many comic retailers I’ve walked into throughout the United States, and walked out of because of bad customer service. “

While comic books feed a large, money-making industry of film and television, comics themselves don’t make the same kind of money.

“Some creators can make a living, but very few are getting rich,” said Walker. “As for retailers – most are small business owners, and that is a struggle for anyone. I’ve never met a retailer who was rich – who owns a better car than me, and I don’t own a particularly nice car. It gets good mileage, but it ain’t anything special.”

What is special to Walker is the interaction with fellow comic book lovers, especially at conventions like Comic-Con. “Conventions are good for meeting fans, and connecting with other friends in the industry,” said Walker. “The influence of comic books has entered into the mainstream, largely through film and television. We’re seeing more and more people coming to conventions, paying a lot of money to get in, and then dropping $150 to have their picture taken with an actor from television show they love. It is a twisted bitter irony, to see people at a ‘comic’ convention who don’t buy or read comics.”

For anyone who wants to get into the comic book business, Walker says it is a leap of faith that requires a tremendous amount of patience. “You do it because of a passion for the medium, not for the paycheck,” said Walker. “If you want to get into the retail side of things, it isn’t enough to love comics, you have to have a good business sense.”

Walker encourages wannabe comic book shop owners to visit Portland, Oregon. “I have never been to a city with so many great comic book retailers,” said Walker. “If you’re from someplace else, come to Portland and check out a minimum of eight to ten local retailers, and you’ll get a sense of what a good comic retailer looks like. Then, find a region that doesn’t have a good retailer, and open up your shop.”

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