RIP Nerd Mall// Discussion about Comic Shops
2021 has been the year I returned to comics. I have written about this in a number of past articles. It was spurned on by buying a collection of Astonishing X-Men last Summer along with checking out HoX/PoX on Marvel Unlimited. That said the biggest factor to me getting back into comics was a new comic shop. Nerd Mall was a comic shop that opened in January of this past year. It was a cool little shop that was still getting its footing with comics. That meant they bought a lot of comics that my old shop would not stock and I got to try out a bunch of new comics. Additionally, the shop opened only a few miles from the school where I teach.
It was convenient, it had a great selection, but also it was ran by an employee, named Gary, that was in similar position to me—A lapsed comic reader just getting back into the comics. I got to talk about all the new books with him and it was a lot of fun. It was the stuff I missed about comic shops in general.
Sadly, Nerd Mall didn’t make it. They told me they were closing over the past Memorial Day holiday. This was my third comic shop closing sale in the past few years. The owners of the shop weren’t patient enough to build an audience and willing to figure out their clientele. It doesn’t help the shop opened in middle of the territory for long running comic shops. It was tough sledding. Unfortunately, that is business. I hate it.
I have been very fortunate to have multiple comic shops in my area. I live in a small rural area, but at one time I had 3-4 comic shops opened at once. That’s not even counting the chain bookstores in the area. That said I watched most of those comic shops close down for one reason or another until one remained.
The remaining shop is a great shop. Dewayne’s World offers diverse array of products besides just comics (a key in this industry) and has a loyal fanbase. They are welcoming and the store is really nice. They will work with you on getting comics you want in a quick manner. Heck when Nerd Mall closed, I was able to go in that same week and create a pull box for X-men books and I didn’t have to wait the 3 months or so for the first issue to arrive. It was very pleasant. It just isn’t as convenient as Nerd Mall. Though the main reasons I fell out of comics are largely resolved with the big one being time. I have a bit more time now and I can stop by the shop once a week. Dewayne’s has been my main COMIC shop for years. It is a good shop.
A good comic shop is hard to come by. Comic shops are not only your way to order physical comics (outside of the variety of digital and online shipping service), but they are also often the nexus of the community. One of the stalwarts of my town was called Evermore Comics. It was ran by the nicest man named Wayne. It was a modest comic shop in its later days, but they had back issue bins and overall fun environment.
The big draw was just going to the shop and sitting and talking with Wayne for a while about comic history, music, and whatever. It was a cultural aspect as much as a shop. I don’t get that as much with Dewayne’s but it was something Nerd Mall provided. Though twitter kind of changes that since it is ultimately a comic shop on there (Not exactly a compliment). To me, comic shops are these places where you would have discussions over quality of comics, the directions of the major companies, and ultimately, for better and for worse, they are gatekeepers to the industry.
That in lies my issues with the comic shop and the direct market as a whole. The system for ordering comics is a bit broken. For the uninitiated, a comic shop must order copies of a particular issue of a comic book 3 months in advance. They do this by taking count of their loyal customers that open a pullbox or create a subscription service through the shop. The shop then may order as many issues as possible for the rack aka the area that people will browse to buy. Most shops will play it conservative because comics are expensive, and the margins are tight.
This is where the shop is the gatekeeper. Say you hear about a new comic that you are interested in. Let’s say Brian Bendis’ first issue on Justice League has caught your eye. If you know about it three months in advance you can order it from your comic shop and guarantee it. That is easier said than done because you either must follow comic news and solicits or read the preview books the comic shops have. If you did not know about it that early (because let’s be real here), you will then have to hope your shop orders enough rack copies and that you can get there in time to get one. Tough stuff, you know. You are dependent on the shop owner ordering enough or to know to make a subscription box for you, etc.
It isn’t impossible. The direct market system has run that way for decades. What it does create though is a choke point. The comic shop is critical to comic industry, but you have to have 1) a local shop, 2) a shop that will work with customers, and 3) a shop that is actually nice to be in.
It is the stereotype that comic shops can be seedy places with rather unsavory characters. Sexism and bigotry can be found in many shops. I know because I have seen it myself. If the only shop in town is uninviting it makes things hard on someone new to comics. As the market gets more constricted as the late stages of capitalism bites into everything, it is getting harder to find shops.
I went from 4 shops in my small town to 1. The newest shop in town didn’t even make it 6 months. They couldn’t get past a typical story arc in a comic. It is a shame. I am fortunate to have a good comic shop in town. I have found some great ones in my travels. I have also found some ehhhhh…yeah not great comic shops. I do miss the community aspect of the shop.
RIP Nerd Mall, you were a good one.
PS Screw the capitalistic system that strangles these shops.