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Matt Fraction on “The Great Comic Book Store”

by  in Comic News Comment

Matt Fraction currently writes Casanova for Image Comics and Punisher War Journal for Marvel Comics. His latest ongoing title, The Immortal Iron Fist (co-written by Ed Brubaker) comes out this week. His website can be found here.

I’m doing a signing at Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find in one of my old hometowns, Charlotte, NC, on Saturday, December 2nd. I’ll be there from noon on, give or take, right in the middle of Heroes’ annual Big Holiday Sale. On top of that, last week, two books I wrote came out: CASANOVA #6, with Gabriel Bá and PUNISHER WAR JOURNAL with Ariel Olivetti, and this week, a book I co-write with Ed Brubaker called THE IMMORTAL IRON FIST comes out. David Aja draws that. And, the day before, I turn 31. So it’s a good time to sign stuff, to show up and promote my work and, hopefully, bring some folks into the store. Which, really, is what I want to write about– the comic book store.

Or rather– the great comic book store. I mean Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find and all stores of its caliber. Heroes is, for my money, one of the best stores in the country and a model for others to follow. It’s gorgeously laid out, wonderfully lit and well-stocked; it manages to be full-service and family-friendly in the same breath and, best of all, it’s run by a guy that lives for his job, Shelton Drum.

It is that most rare thing in the direct market, a comic book specialty store that doesn’t demand or deserve apologies.

And about ten years back, I worked there. And I honestly think a big part of what I know about making comics I learned from selling comics, from Shelton, and from the Heroes regulars.

You learn a lot about comics on that side of the counter, and I don’t mean like in what issue Hulk hit that one guy with an entire train (although you do pick up on that stuff here and there). You learn about the readers, you learn about the distribution, and most of all, you learn about how much hard work it is to actually run a good store. Like, the mystery of why so many comic shops look and smell like dungeons owned by scat fetishists reveals itself to you after your first Wednesday at, like, two in the afternoon.

Comics retailing ain’t easy; it’s a calling. The ones who do it well are a rarity for a reason and I respect the hell out of them. It demands a drive and dedication and talent that come in short supply. But when the stars align there’s nothing that makes me happier than a great comic book store. Wherever they are and whomever they’re run by, a great store is the difference between a browser and a reader, between a tourist and a lifer.

A store is a store, and its customers are transitory; a great store fosters readers for life. Last summer, I was a guest at HeroesCon, the annual convention Shelton puts on. It was my first time at that show since I left town a decade ago, and my first time there as a working professional. And I saw a dozen folks I remembered from back in the day, still reading books week in and week out, still regulars hooked on a weekly habit. There was something– I don’t want to say profound, because words like that should be saved for actual profundity– but meaningful to me, seeing that phenomenon in person. A great store by virtue of being great protects and fosters its customers.

Comics are a business built on the seven-day sales cycle. Some stores flush product off their shelves like expired milk every seven days; others, the great ones, use that as a core to build on. It’s not easy, and it’s not cheap, and every time I go in a shop that’s clearly in it to win it, I’m compelled to spend money. Any time I go into a place that clearly is fighting the uphill battle against the ANDROID’S DUNGEON punchlines and the places that are dark, dank, and probably have some blood-spatter on a back wall somewhere, I want to support them.

Because we need more. Especially now, as so much great work is out there, aching to be found, both in the superhero mainstream the DM was built around, and the world of comics lit that’s exploded these last few years. Comics have arguably never been better. And as such, great comics retailers have never been more needed. This isn’t a profound thought, nor is it a call to action. It is, in fact, stating the completely and totally obvious. So I’ll wrap this up by saying something that doesn’t get said all that often, and certainly not in a big public forum.

To all the great retailers out there: thanks.

(And to anyone reading this, in the comments, hype the great store YOU shop at. Let people know!)