I asked for others to send in articles about their very own comics shop, and someone actually did! Whoo-hoo! Let’s head to Perth in Western Australia, a city I’ve never been to but would very much like to visit. Frequent commenter Kris Bather would like to tell us all about Comic Zone!
For a pretty small town, Perth has an impressive number of comics fans. The capital city of Western Australia is tiny and very laid back compared to the more glitzy cities of the world, and is even referred to as “Dullsville” by its less than impressed neighbors. However, that’s exactly what I like about it. It’s the kind of city that people visit and then never leave. Our fair city also has a higher than average number of comics pros. Shane McCarthy, Ashley Wood, Ben Templesmith and the guys behind Gestalt Publishing all sprung from our sunny shores, with more on the way. Last year was the first time the Supanova Pop Culture Exhibition visited Perth and the record crowds exceeded everyone’s expectations, thanks mostly to the presence of Joe Jusko and Howard Chaykin to be sure, but never underestimate the power of the geek. Their reach is far and wide.
Smack bang in this vortex is Hay Street in Perth. It’s perhaps the busiest and most diverse shopping focused stretch of road, and the theatre, Gucci outlet, bakeries and funky clothing stores means that it has something for everyone. It also has a mass of nerd friendly retail spaces, including Comic Zone, located at 572 Hay Street.
Comic Zone opened on Saturday the 2nd of June in 2007. An offshoot of sorts from the older Quality Comics just a short stretch down the road, Comic Zone has made the most of its location. Many first time visitors have remarked that it was about time Perth got a comic shop, little realizing that Quality Comics has existed for almost 2 decades. However, whereas Quality suffers somewhat from its just visible downstairs entrance, Comic Zone has large frontage, filled with colorful posters and statues.
Comic Zone, or CZ, is run by manager Owen Roberts, who worked at Quality Comics for 13 years, before looking for new opportunities and being approached by that shop’s former owners. Assisted by Michael, AKA Mikey, and Tiffany (yes a girl working at an LCS!), Comic Zone has slowly but surely carved out a growing customer base for itself. According to Roberts, the customers comprise of about 60% male and 40% female and their location next to a busy intersection, pedestrian mall, and a McDonald’s as well as being surrounded by a variety of offices means that they receive a multitude of daily lunch-time visitors. Some drop by simply out of curiosity, with one elderly lady unable to grasp what exactly it was that they were selling, convinced that what she was seeing on the shelves were DVDs. Some drop by for a friendly chat, and of course many drop by to get their weekly fix of sequential art.
Buffy is their highest seller by far, with many readers moving from the Dark Horse title onto other Whedon works, such as Runaways and Astonishing X-Men. Dark and New Avengers are the second and third highest sellers respectively, with Wolverine close behind, followed by X-Force and Deadpool and various DC titles. Recently Final Crisis and its multitude of spin-offs were the forerunners from the Distinguished Competition.
They also sell almost two dozen t-shirts a week, and a good amount of high-end statues and busts in their 155m2 retail space. Comic Zone does face some competition, with a Borders bookstore, complete with overpriced comics section nearby, as well as the aforementioned Quality Comics and a manga/anime store to boot. There’s also a few other bookstores, newsagents and even a library nearby, all with comics on their shelves. However Roberts isn’t too concerned with this. “I just concentrate on doing the best I can,” he states, “and really my mission statement is just to make the kind of shop that I’d like to go to.” With its wide aisles and open spaces there’s certainly freedom to browse with ease and Roberts always makes sure to dedicate shelves to local products and advertise events on the counter. Roberts assures me that the self-published comics, often by customers, “sell really well,” and he sees this as, “part of our responsibility.” Every time I visit there is always some new music I’ve never heard of before (so it must be cool) pumping through the speakers, from metal to old school rock and the welcoming vibe means that I often strike up conversations with strangers at the counter next to me.
Comic Zone has had signings with both Ben Templesmith (30 Days of Night) and Shane McCarthy (All Hail Megatron writer), with lengthy queues forming on both occasions. This has also afforded them the opportunity of being mentioned in local newspaper and TV news shows. This, plus films like Iron Man and Wolverine have brought in many new customers. Their MySpace page is also a funnel through which people find them, though many of these on-line discoverers often want tips on how to break into the industry. Comic Zone sells almost as many trades as they do comics, with a visible rise in the number of trade waiters. However, Roberts is all too aware of the price issue and concedes that he is somewhat ruled by the exchange rate between the US and AUS dollar and tries to keep the price on trades as low as he can.
He has also donated many comics and posters to kids at the local hospital and CanTeen for teenage cancer patients, and is always happy to do so. Perhaps the most unusual thing about Comic Zone is what lies beneath its checkered floors though. Originally a two storey McDonald’s, with ample seating in the basement, when Roberts and crew took over they were offered both floors, but though the prospect of an underground basement storage area was intriguing, the high rent was not. The space was then quickly snapped up by a local millionaire who now uses the space for his own storage purposes. Not for comics, but for motorbikes. 12 Ducatis to be exact, including one which Casey Stoner rode to a recent championship. If you go to Comic Zone on a Saturday you can occasionally hear the owner’s mechanic working on the bikes and then zipping out on them for a quick spin around the block.
Being that Perth isn’t in America, new comics day is usually either Thursday or Friday. However, Roberts often drives to the airport to get the goods himself, ready for anxious customers as soon as possible. It’s touches like that, plus the relaxed atmosphere and charming staff that make it a happy place to get my weekly dose. It’s a great place and worth a visit if you’re ever in Perth. Drop by 572 Hay Street and try to avoid the McDonald’s burgers on the way. Really, us fanboys and girls in Perth are spoilt for choice. We may be far removed from the hub of comics fandom, but we’ve done pretty well so far.
Thanks a lot, Kris! Be sure to check out Kris’s site at Comic Book Jesus. I encourage you to send in your own stories about your comics-selling establishment. My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Yeah, I have an e-mail address with the name of a 6th-century Merovingian king in it. You wanna make something of it?????