Saturday, February 25, 2012

Tales from the Long Box: Dear Fans and Retailers...

The camera opens on this loud, obnoxious guy who looks like he's only been out of bed for about  twenty minutes and hasn't bothered to shower in, oh, say a week. He's talking in this high-pitched, nasally whine at a ridiculous volume. Occasionally he'll point his stubby finger at a random issue of a random comic thrown on the musty shelves of the store he's standing in. Then with a pleased smile he picks up an issue of Warlord of Mars featuring a woman wearing essentially nothing and makes a comment about how more women like this need to stop by his shop. I hit the stop button, sit back in my computer chair and try not to think about the fact that this guy is representative of quite a few comics fans out there.

 I found this "review" on youtube. An attempt by the proprietor of a local shop to step into the digital age. He doesn't seem to realize that common retail practices could probably help him gain customers more than any video he ever posts on youtube.

 See, the thing is, the reasons that the industry loses more and more readers each year can't be narrowed down to just a few or a handful or even a dozen causes. There are multiple reasons. Online piracy, digital avenues opening up, "people just don't read any more"... etc. Then there's one very specific problem that relates to why comics fandom is always shown in such a negative light. The local retail store. As someone who heartily endorses and loves independent businesses I find it hard to constantly be forced to leave my local shops in search of new ones. After all we're in tight economical times. Not to mention I was raised by parents who both owned their own businesses; my mother even owned a book store. I love small business and local shops and I do my best to support the little guys.

But there's this creepy, understated vibe I get from many comic shops. It's hard to want to revisit a place week after week where the radio is always tuned to a crappy rock station that blasts from the speakers at an undeniably painful volume. It's hard to want to go back to a store week after week where the guy running the register treats you like you're some sort of subhuman just because you aren't aware that there was a new issue of Powers on the stands. It's difficult to muster the energy to wander back into this same store where you're met with only two types of employees; those who just needed a job and therefore can't answer a single question you ask them or those so irritatingly elitist that they almost seem like they're doing a parody of Jack Black's character from High Fidelity.

 I'm sorry if this comes across mostly as an aimless rant, but stick with me, there is in fact a goal I'm getting to. A point worth making. You see, I love my local comic shops. I do. I've never had a problem with a single comic shop OWNER in the town where I live in my life. That's not to say there aren't serious pressing problems with one or two but the guys who run the places I shop at are blessedly wonderful people for the most part. Unfortunately I'm not a fan of many of the folks (all men) employed at these places and feel like they perpetuate a negative stereotype about comics fans on a daily basis. The old grumpy guy who snarls at you for asking for an indie title the shop doesn't carry, the elitist snob with his nose too high in the air to take two seconds to track down a copy of Daredevil #2 for you... and that creepy dude that hits on every girl that comes into the shop. They're real people, not just characters on a crappy sitcom. Too oblivious to their need to actually try and behave like a retail store employee to quit snarking up the place.

 And then there's the way women are treated. Okay, I'm not a PC mouthpiece and I'm the least liberal guy on the planet but, come on, quit gawking. Quit talking down to every girl that comes into the shops, Quit following anything around that happens to have breasts... and not just because in a comic shop half those breasts are going to belong to overweight men. You work in a store. The job of a retail store employee is to fulfill the needs of the people shopping in said store and to make them feel welcome. Making weird remarks about how you're surprised a girl is looking for copies of Avenging Spider-Man is not winning your store any repeat visits from that girl.

 So, I said I had a point to make and it's this. We could all do better to help a dying fanbase. We could all do more to limit the amount of weird looks we're giving girls in our local shops. Maybe we could smile at each other when we pass in the local shop instead of looking down on each other because instead of the latest issue of Unwritten you've picked up a superhero title. We can all take little steps to help this feel like a welcoming community instead of a closed one that wants nothing to do with "newbs".

 But our local shops and their employees? Come on guys. Turn down the crappy music, try talking like normal human beings to your customers. Maybe smile occasionally and treat women like you would any other paying customer instead of like a weird bug that just landed on your counter. The customer is still always right. Sure we know that isn't always true but that's the golden rule of retail and like it or not you're here to serve your customers. If you don't do it right I can promise you they'll move on to other things. We can do our part to resuscitate fandom just by being friendly.

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