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Arizona’s Atomic Comics chain shuts down [Updated]

by  in Comic News Comment

Atomic Comics, the nationally known Arizona retail chain, abruptly closed all four locations on Sunday, shocking staff, customers and industry figures alike. Although the closing of the stores in Mesa, Phoenix, Chandler and Paradise Valley was initially announced last night by multiple employees and creators, owner Michael Malve confirmed the news this morning in an installment of his weekly newsletter titled “My Final Report.”

“As some of you may have already heard, after 25 years of running a successful business, sadly and much to my dismay, I have shut the doors of Atomic Comics,” Malve wrote. “The villain in this tragedy is the economy. I had hoped to be the superhero and triumph over the recession, but sadly the economic downturn of the past 5 years has proven to be unsustainable.”

In the newsletter, which can be read below, Malve revealed he’s filed for bankruptcy, and that he and his family are losing their home, ” as we had secured it against our leases which we obviously have to break.”

“I know there are many people out there facing very similar situations in these difficult times and now I can definitely empathize with them,” he continued. “I have always been and will forever be an extremely optimistic person and will look at this situation as an adventure. I have very high hopes for the next chapter of my life.”

Well regarded nationally for its in-store signings, innovative marketing and sheer size — it was believed to be among Diamond Comic Distributors’ largest accounts — Atomic gained international exposure last year when its name and logo were featured prominently in Kick-Ass, the film adaptation of the comic by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr. The chain began in 1988, when Malve opened Bubba’s Comic Store in Phoenix. A year later he moved to Mesa, renaming the business Atomic Comics.

Malve, a major supporter of The Hero Initiative, sent a weekly newsletter to colleagues, creators and publishers, breaking down sales at his four stores. Although Malve was forthright in the emails, grumbling about the state of the market, there apparently were few indications that he was on the brink of closing until he commented in his Aug. 17 report that, “I don’t know how I am going to afford September at this point.”

The news triggered immediate reactions from the likes of Jim Lee, Joe Quesada — “The best retailer I’ve ever met closed his doors” — Brian Michael Bendis, Warren Ellis, Kevin Smith and Dan Slott.

However, it also led some to try to pinpoint a cause, and to sound the alarm. Controversial retailer Larry Doherty chimed in, “If Mike Malve has fallen we could ALL be doomed. His genius in retail is the high water mark,” later adding, “Print runs are REALLY low. Publishers that market digital to the SAME customer base just put Atomic Comics out of business.” Retailer and promoter Jimmy Jay replied, “if Atomic has fallen, it didn’t happen overnight. […] Digital didn’t kill Atomic, that is simplification.”

But then Rob Liefeld weighed in, writing, “Atomic Comics is a cautionary tale of hype over commerce. […] Hate that this will turn into a blight on the comics industry when it is isolated to a specific chain, not all encompassing. […] Once again, terrible news about Atomic Comics. Confident the AZ. Comic scene will recover and Malve will rise again.”

Note: The article has been edited to reflect the content of Malve’s newsletter.

Read the full text of Malve’s “Final Report” below:

My Final Report

As some of you may have already heard, after 25 years of running a successful business, sadly and much to my dismay, I have shut the doors of Atomic Comics. The villain in this tragedy is the economy. I had hoped to be the superhero and triumph over the recession, but sadly the economic downturn of the past 5 years has proven to be unsustainable.

For over 20 years I ran a successful and debt free business, provided jobs for up to 60 employees at a time, with some working for me for 16 plus years!  I saw profits of up to 5 million during our best years. My wife recently bought me a copy of the book, “ONWARD” by Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks. I could really identify with some of the problems Starbucks had faced. Some similarities were that during the best of times, Atomic Comics, like Starbucks, expanded into high profile locations, but when the economy went sour, low sales could not support the higher rent at these high visibility locations. The leases at these particular stores which had originally provided the consumers with greater visibility and more foot traffic to our wonderful world of comic books, the higher overhead proved to be too much for Atomic as we faced declining sales.

As Atomic was seeing such success, we opened our headquarters which housed our shipping and receiving department, home base for our web store and worldwide mail order operation. We closed the headquarters down in May of 2010. I think the catalyst for Atomics’ downfall, as some of you may remember, occurred in October of 2006, just as the recession was beginning,  when a 16 year old uninsured driver, drover her car through the window of our Mesa Superstore, our largest and greatest revenue producer. This in turn caused a flood as the water main had been hit. This caused such severe damage and loss that we had to shut down for over 5 months. The damages were so severe we lost close to a million dollars in product. The loss of revenue due to being closed all those months as we headed into retail’s busiest season was astronomical. What really stood out to me was how many of Atomics’ customers were lost as we rebuilt the store. It seemed as if half our customers never returned. The great mystery to me is what exactly happened to all those missing customers. I can only speculate that once you take away the habit of weekly buying-it is hard to jump back into it. Since there was not another comic shop in the immediate area, I can only assume customers found other means to obtain their comics, maybe they started driving great distances to hit up other stores, some possibly went the way of the internet and are now ordering their books online or perhaps even downloading their books illegally, or maybe even some stopped collecting comics altogether.

I have some great memories of my regular customers, seeing these people week in and week out. Some for as many as 25 years of not missing a beat as they picked up their books. Bringing the new readers into comics by doing various promotions and events was something I enjoyed a great deal and will truly miss. Hopefully the customers and fans I cultivated will find new a new place to call home and get their geek on. To all my fellow comic book retailers out there, I truly hope you do not succumb to the same fate, can see this recession thru, and continue to be successful and flourish. I will be here rooting for you!  With DC’s September release of the #1’s, Marvel’s makeover of key books and continual growth, and other publishers working hard with some amazing new and exciting content, there is hope on the horizon for the direct market! I have enjoyed sharing thoughts and ideas with all these other retailers. Much love and appreciation to you all.

I have been blessed since day one to be surrounded by so many incredible people. There is no way that Atomic would have lasted all these years without everyone’s effort and support. To all of my employees past and present, friends in the industry, and business contacts I have made over the years, I plan on staying in touch. If I made a list of all the many people who have helped and supported me over the years the list would be lengthy beyond belief! So I’ll keep it short. At Atomic I would like to thank Bill Mitchell, Dale Worthington, Julian Moraga, and Mike Ueber. I have had hundreds of great employees over the years that went above and beyond as they dedicated themselves to making Atomic Comics a very special place. Someone who has given me an incredible amount of support is Ryan Liebowitz from Golden Apple Comics. He and his family have bent over backwards providing me with ideas and words of encouragement to keep me going. Ironically, Ryan’s father, Bill Liebowitz was my good friend and mentor when I opened my first store 25 years ago. I would like to thank and give credit to Joe Quesada, Mark Waid, and Jim McLaughlin for inspiring me to write this weekly report over a decade ago. It was conceived at Megacon as we hung out talking about the industry. I had already been writing a very informal monthly report just checking in on sales with the guys at Wizard magazine, but I don’t believe anyone was receiving true and accurate sales numbers until this weekly report began. I had wanted to portray a candid-no holds barred account of what was and what wasn’t selling. Lastly, I want to give a shout out and thank everyone in the comic and entertainment industry for their continued support over the years.

Making the decision to file bankruptcy was very difficult and painful. I have had a very wide range of emotions.  My family and I are headed into uncharted waters which is very scary for my wife and I as well as our children. We are losing our home as we had secured it against our leases which we obviously have to break. I know there are many people out there facing very similar situations in these difficult times and now I can definitely empathize with them. I have always been and will forever be an extremely optimistic person and will look at this situation as an adventure. I have very high hopes for the next chapter of my life. I have the support of my wonderful wife, Andrea, my kids, Alexandra & Jack, many loving family members, and lots of great friends. My passion in life, second of course to my family, is the comic book industry, of which I hope to remain a part of in the years to come. I don’t plan on giving any public interviews and would like mine and my family’s privacy respected so we can work on rebuilding our lives.

Sincerely

Mike Malve



Update: Jhonen Vasquez shares his thoughts in our comments section: “Atomic was the first big signing I ever did, and the first I had done outside of California when I was first starting out. From the very moment I met the guy, Mike treated me not like the malformed horror most people see me as, but like a friend and a huge supporter of my work. Loved signing at Atomic then and for years on and I wish Mike and everyone from Atomic well.”