Superheroes are everywhere from our TV screens to our movie theatres, but fans forget about their checkered origin: the comic shop.
Even though cinematic superhero movies are bringing in large amounts of revenue, that doesn’t mean interest in physical comic books has suddenly skyrocketed. In fact, sales have been in a weird financial spot for the last couple years. Comichron, a website that calculates yearly comic sales, reported a large drop in sales from the record high in 2016 to 2017. The site also stated that between the two years, sales fell from $1.9 billion to $1.2 billion.
The decline in comic book sales has led some Canadian stores to find creative ways to get consumers to keep buying every week.
Carlos Camara, the owner of Mississauga based Gotham Central, said his sales have improved with every year.
“We’ve seen growth every year since we’ve opened. We haven’t had a down year. Every year we’ve improved and increased our sales,” Camara said.
He opened his second brick and mortar store back in 2012. Camara originally started with his first place, Risen from the Ashes, which opened to ride the Death of Superman 90’s wave. However, it closed after the comic book crash happened a few years later.
Over the seven years they’ve been in business, Gotham Central has grown and expanded to include more comics, as well as a wide and varied candy section, several types of trading card games, countless pop culture statues, and various figurines.
When it comes to his store’s success, he puts it down to being able to stay active on social media and to host events like comic book signings, and artist meet and greets.
“We’re known for our signings and events. So it’s when we do advertise and post our events, it brings people from far away that usually only come down once a month and they always have a reason to come by the store on a monthly basis … so they make an event out of it. So I see faces that we only see four, five times a year,” he said.
On the more local side, Page & Panel has called Yonge Street its home since it officially opened in late 2014. The cozy shop is run by Miles Baker, who also acts as the managing director of the Toronto Comic Arts Festival. The gift store sits in the corner of the Toronto Reference Library and because of its unusual location, a lot of what it has to offer revolves around a mix of geek merchandise and comics, as well as stuff library patrons would want to buy.
Baker said that one of the main ways the store stands out compared to others is by placing a larger focus on promoting the bookish side of comics.
“I think comics are a literary medium and more people are realizing that,” he said.
On top of that, Baker tries to push for more Canadian and Toronto-based creators by hosting various events at the store.
“We are such an important comic city. So many comics creators live here or have lived here for a time and we feature so prominently in the comics,” he said. “We have several sections of the shop that are dedicated to local artists or local publishers, Canadian creators and highlighting those is definitely really important to us.”
Gotham Central and Page & Panel aren’t the only stores doing well for themselves. Heroes Comics, one of the largest comic retailers in London, Ontario, also has remained successful in the superhero selling community.
It’s owned by Brahm Wiseman and he’s run the business since he took over from its previous owner almost 20 years ago. For his comic store, he said the sheer number of things to see and buy is what brings people back for more.
“When you come in there’s tons to see here, there’s tons to look at. You can walk the bookshelves and pull and leaf through comics of all different varieties and discover,” Wiseman said.
“It’s hard, you know, things get lost in the shuffle and digital platforms and digital algorithms to just tell you, ‘If you like this you might also like this.’ But it’s only going to push the same things on you,” he said.
While his business is doing well, Wiseman said the comic book industry as a whole is on the downswing.
“For us it’s better. But as an industry, it’s down slightly. I came in 2000, which was not a great time – late 90s was not a great time for comics. It was in a freefall. It had plummeted since the early to mid-90s, but then it actually rebuilt itself a little in the early to mid-2000s.
Print runs were staying pretty healthy until the last four years or so. So things actually were on a decent healthy little up rise or at least maintaining and then they’ve sort of been falling again for the last four years. Luckily, our numbers have remained steady,” he said.
Wiseman also said this steady fall in readership has caused larger comic stores in the London area to shut down.
“We used to have three or four decent- sized comic stores in town, there’s one big one now, which is us and that’s it. And that’s not because we put them out of business. It’s because readership is smaller and consolidated all to our store basically,” he said.
Consumers just aren’t buying as much as they used to.
“You know, a comic book reader from the 80s who was a steady comic book reader – it’s like consuming – like you need to get it like fuel or food. Right? You need to come and get
your comics every week. Newer generations haven’t really experienced that, they’re not consuming comics on that kind of regular basis,” he said.
At Gotham Central, Camara said the reason other comic stores may be failing could be because they aren’t active in their community enough.
“People fall in love with the idea of opening a comic store, but think it’s all ‘I’m going to open a store and people are going to come’ and ‘I’m going to have my comics.’ It doesn’t work like that. You’ve got to work,” he said.
“There’s the ugly side to the comics which is the constant work, constant restocking shelves, promoting and social media and … a lot of stores don’t do enough of that and they just sit there and don’t rotate their products, don’t bring in new stuff,” Camara said.
Wiseman agrees it’s up to store owners to promote comics and build their own community.
“The purpose through all of it in my eye is: one, to continue to promote the medium of comics and get people reading comics and, two, to be able to have an environment that celebrates the medium,” he said.
“As long as there’s still a community, comic stores will still exist. If people all stay at home and just buy and read digitally then it won’t (stay open), but luckily community is still here,” Wiseman said.
Comic stores aren’t going to be saved by the spandex wearing superheroes they sell but rather by the communities they can create.