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VOL. 126 | NO. 73 | Thursday, April 14, 2011

Pow! Duo of Comic Book Stores See Continued Success

MICHAEL WADDELL

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Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four and many other comic book heroes and heroines have commanded the attention of dedicated fans since their debuts in the middle of the last century.

Just last month, a copy of “Amazing Fantasy #15,” a comic featuring the first appearance of Spider-Man back in 1962, sold for $1.1 million to a private collector.

Across the Memphis area comic book collecting and gaming remain big draws for grown-ups and kids who will celebrate their passion May 7 on national Free Comic Book Day.

A pair of local comic shops, Comics and Collectibles in East Memphis and Comic Cellar Cards, Comics & Games in Raleigh, have enjoyed success and weathered ups and downs in the industry over the years, thanks to their extremely loyal customers.

“We have quite a few customers that have been shopping at our store since we first opened 25 years ago,” said Ron Crum, owner of Comics and Collectibles. His store will celebrate its 25th anniversary at the same location near Poplar Avenue and Perkins Road June 1.

Crum originally got into the business thinking it would be a sideline he would work at for just a few years until he finished film school. After a few years, the business was doing well, and he decided he liked being his own boss.

During the past 25 years, several other comic shops have not been fortunate enough to survive, including Memphis Comics on Highland, where Crum first worked in the industry. When asked how Comics and Collectibles survived when others did not, Crum cited a focus on customer service and repeat business.

“We were always more customer-oriented than the other shops in town that are now closed,” said Crum, whose customer base is approximately 80 percent adult males ages 17 to 40. “Unlike those other shops, when we first opened up we really focused on new comics instead of old back issues because new books came in every week. We built up a regular subscription base of customers, which meant we had people coming into the store every week to pick up their comics.”

Adding to the store’s success was that it was well ahead of the curve in selling trade paperbacks (also called graphic novels) that collect old comics into single volumes.

“I can’t count on having a copy on hand every week of “X-Men #94,” which is the first appearance of the new X-Men and a very expensive comic,” Crum said. “But I can count on having a reprint of it on the shelves every week.”

New comics make up 40 percent to 50 percent of the shop’s sales, with graphic novels comprising 20 percent, games roughly 10 percent, and supplies, toys and older comics making up the rest.

The store found value in using Internet sites such as eBay to move older comics many years ago, but that value has dwindled in the past few years.

“We’ve found that we can sell most items for more in the store than we can on eBay,” said manager Donnie Juengling. “In the beginning, several years ago, eBay was great. But now it’s become like the world’s biggest garage sale. We rarely use it these days.”

The store did start using Facebook about two years ago, and it uses the social media site to advertise sales and communicate news.

“The main advantage of Facebook for us is we post up a list every week of books that will be coming out the following week,” said Juengling, who has also written several comics and is working on getting them ready for publication. “We will post amusing comics-related stories or movie trailers, and we recommend certain artists. It’s a great way to keep Comics and Collectibles on our clientele’s minds.”

Jason Prince bought Comic Cellar Cards Comics and Games in Raleigh seven years ago, following nearly 10 years of working for the shop’s previous owner when it had been called Triple Play. Prince purchased the store and immediately changed the name to better reflect the store’s focus. He dropped selling vinyl LP records as well as sports cards, and he shifted that portion of the store to gaming space.

Then three years ago, Prince moved his shop from a space measuring less than 1,000 square feet to a new location just around the corner measuring nearly 3,000 square feet.

“The move helped us to more easily accommodate gamers interested in board games, card games and role-playing games. I have the largest gaming space that is available every day in town right now,” said Prince, who runs his shop with the help of assistant manager Neil Lee. “I finally buckled down and started promoting the gaming end of the business, and I began holding events at the store. And the timing worked out well with one of my competitors closing.”

He now hosts “game nights” several times each week, as well as regular Magic: The Gathering card game tournaments.

His decision to increase his store’s focus on gaming came about because the comic side of his business was simply holding steady for several years.

“Comics have been in a plateau for a while for me,” said Prince. “There’s so much comics-related stuff released in the past few years, and yet I have not seen a commensurate increase in traffic for comic sales.”

The store’s sales can currently be roughly divided into thirds: one for comics, one for games and one for other merchandise such as toys, collectible statues and supplies. The majority of the Comic Cellar’s business also comes from adult males, but they do see a fair amount of women comic readers and gamers.

Prince uses eBay primarily to sell off large collections of old comics that he has split up after buying in bulk, and he also finds the site useful in selling off old stock. He also uses Facebook and Twitter to make announcements about events happening at the shop.

In addition to the comic shops, quite a few successful comic book artists and writers call Memphis home, including Dean Zachery, Jim Hall, Anton Wade, Adam Shaw and Lin Workman. Both local shops feature occasional book signings and meet-and-greets with the artists.

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PROPERTY SALES 66 153 14,870
MORTGAGES 64 144 19,474
FORECLOSURE NOTICES 0 22 3,817
BUILDING PERMITS 217 359 35,689
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