2011 may prove difficult for comic sales and comic retailers, but with the first heavily-promoted Direct Market release of the year, Marvel Comics seems to have found a product that is selling well for comic shop owners.
With its cast member-killing plot point revealed in the national media, its "Death Bag" sales presentation and an early Tuesday release to capitalize on the news, "Fantastic Four" #587 by Jonathan Hickman and Steve Epting was widely reported by its publisher as a sales success. To get the full scope of how the issue did for retailer and what its sales mean, if anything, for their stores, CBR News worked the phones Tuesday to bring the results as they came in from coast to coast.
Read on below to see what shop owners and managers had to say about who was coming in to their store, what the response to the death was like and how any of the attention surrounding the issue will affect their business.
[NOTE: The story below carries potential Spoilers for "Fantastic Four" #587.]
Midtown Comics of New York, NY
"There's tons of excitement surrounding FF #587, and lots of people came in today to buy it because they heard about it in the media, or through our announcements, or Marvel's. We're growing a large following on Facebook and Twitter, and comic fans learn of such events almost instantaneously via our announcements on those platforms. Associated Press covered the event at Midtown Comics in Times Square, NYC, and we've got the video here.
"Some customers have reacted with dismay, because they hate to see a beloved member of the FF killed off, and many were shocked at such a drastic turn of events. All customers reacted with some sort of excitement, and Fantastic Four #587 is selling like hotcakes, and we're thoroughly enjoying the hoopla!
"We thank Marvel for the day-early release date, it did a lot to raise awareness and excitement, and gave retailers two 'Wednesdays' this week."
Dr. No's Comics of Marietta, GA
"We've had some people coming in. I won't say we've had heavy traffic for it, but one of the things that may have an impact there is that it is a very rainy day here. It has reduced overall traffic flow through the store by about 20% of what an average Tuesday would be. Nevertheless, we've had probably 15 people who I'd gather are not normal comic book customers who came out because they'd heard about the story. So we have seen some.
"And we've had a couple of regulars in, but most of them we told not to worry about [getting the book today] because we ordered about 15 times our normal 'Fantastic Four' order knowing this would be a pretty big deal. So we told them not to worry about it selling out. Most people probably figured, 'I'll save my gas and get it tomorrow' - particularly when the media has already told us who dies. [Laughs]
"But as one customer said, it doesn't really bother me that I know who dies. I knew who was dying in 'The Death of Superman,' and I bought it. I knew who was dying in 'The Death of Captain America,' and I bought it. It's not like the story isn't important to me just because I know who it is. It's how they get there that interests a lot of readers."
A Comic Shop of Winter Park, FL
"Many regulars complained about how the death was ruined for them because of Yahoo or other online sources they check just signing on to email. Ruining endings for stories in the headlines of articles seems reserved only for comic books.
"We have had a lot of first timers in here today and some people we haven't seen since Death of Captain America. The overwhelming majority of these people don't want the earlier issues of the storyline, they just want multiple copies of this issue. I imagine this is really eating into a lot of these peoples' lottery money this week!"
Challenger's Comics of Chicago, IL
"We have had a couple dozen people come looking for it. They are 90% strangers. We've had two or three club members, but everybody else is people coming in because they heard about it. We probably ordered five times what we normally get.
"And this has happened so many times, whether it be the Obama Spider-Man issue or even back to 'Death of Superman' where all these people are coming in...could you hold on one second? [Hold music] Sorry, that was somebody calling about the Fantastic Four death issue. [Laughter] But like I was saying, these people are getting the last part of a multi-part story, so it's not going to make any sense. But it doesn't matter because they're not going to read it. They just buy it because it's the thing the paper told them to get. I guarantee you that 70% of the people aren't even going to open the bag. They don't care what's in it. They just want the thing that they were told was collectible.
"[We're happy with the sales bump] so long as we are notified ahead of time, and I'll be honest that this early on sale date was a good idea because we could at least be prepared for it to a certain extent. But [my partner] Dal is shaking his head at me and saying that it wasn't super helpful because we have Tuesday pickup, and when we opened today, he had to turn a few people away because we didn't have copies of the book yet.
"I think the day is today for this. Nobody's going to rerun the story tomorrow. Tomorrow the regulars will come in to buy it, and people who are regulars who didn't order it will pick it up. But as far as the people who aren't comic fans who want it, they're getting it because they were told it was out today."
Lone Star Comics of Arlington, TX & MyComicShop.com
"We had a surprisingly good turnout in the stores, where we opened at 11:00 AM with the book on the rack. The stores have been taking names from our regular customers, who will likely be in tomorrow, so most of today's traffic was new or infrequent faces. We started seeing Facebook and telephone traffic before opening, and it was steady most of the day. One customer called our Central Arlington store and was really excited to have opened the polybag to find Jonathan Hickman's signature on the front of his book. I think that was a great unannounced treat from Marvel and Mr. Hickman, and the customer couldn't have been happier. A lot of copies will go out to our mail order customers tomorrow, so I imagine I'll be hearing from more delighted fans.
"Because of the ordering incentives and advance interest in the storyline, we were pretty aggressive in our order. It looks like it will pay off, as we should be able to meet most of the demand with first printing books. What I hope happens, though, is that a lot of these buyers take the time to read the book and come back for the other parts of the story. I've found Mr. Hickman's take on the FF to be the most engaging since the Silver Age, complete with fun, interactive letters pages to cap off each issue's great story!"
Atomic Comics of Mesa, AZ
"CBR? Are you calling me today to ask me about what we're doing for Geoff Johns' birthday in the store? [Laughter] No, but the response to 'Fantastic Four?' It's been good, but it's not crazy. We had people outside the doors this morning before we opened. I Tweeted that at about 8:47 I was in the back office when I hear one of the guys say, 'Oh, that book's not out yet,' because it was one of my officer personnel who didn't know about the book. So I came down, and this lady had seen this on the news and came immediately to look for a copy.
"So there were people that came in throughout the day, but it was nothing like 'Death of Superman' or some other big sellers that have come over the years. But with supply and demand, I don't think anybody ordered a ton nationally. I talked to Gahl at Midtown Comics, Jerry at Phoenix Toys and a lot of other dealers today because I was trying to secure more copies. And most people played it safe. A couple of guys went big because of the deep discount Marvel offers these days for going big. But everybody said there wasn't a lot of pre-orders on their online stores. They expected it to be big today and particularly tomorrow.
"Tomorrow will be the regulars wanting to check it out, and already three of my four stores are sold out. They're mostly going to my subscribers. We ordered about 50% above our last order, and we really push the Hickman books here. They do really well. So the numbers were decent, but we didn't go crazy at all. I sort of regret that. I may be able to get more copies, but it may take another week. At that point, they may be going at a premium price. So we're going to take orders for the second prints now and try to get some more first prints for next week, but I didn't go crazy. It's not the '90s anymore...I just can't afford that! [Laughter]
"So far, the customers I've talked to have been non-comic book fans, but tomorrow is when we're going to hear about [the reaction to the story.] The one thing I've had people say to me is that it's another death that's not clear-cut. He's there at the end in the Negative Zone against Annihilus and his bugs, and it looks like Johnny Storm's last stand, but how do we know he didn't dive underneath or get saved by someone? The way Hickman writes, because he's such a great writer, it's still a very good story, and you can get the feel of it. But some fans were looking for a rip 'em apart, clear cut death. Though you know they're going to bring him back when they leave it as a mystery of 'Is he really dead?'"
Night Flight Comics of Salt Lake City, UT
"People are interested in it. I kind of see if as a gimmicky thing, so the people who are interested in it aren't interested in reading it...or anything else. That's the sad thing. [Customers have] been endless since they announced it, but it's been disappointing because I don't think this helps us build our industry or business at any level at all.
"I think it was more helpful, say, when DC did its 'Superman walks across America' story. We had so many people respond to that and sold over 100 copies in four or five hours. And the majority of those people are still reading the books. They still want to read. And I'm not saying the people buying 'Fantastic Four' won't be reading them, but we've tried to tell people, 'The story starts over here and leads up to...' but nobody cares.
"We can't continue to have this industry if we're only having one-offs. People aren't going to keep coming in if there's just going to be the one thing. These people aren't coming to your website to learn about this stuff. They're just coming in to buy the latest fad. So my disappointment is that I wish not just Marvel but anybody who does this kind of thing would do something exciting enough that people would want to read it. This is in a black plastic bag. No one's going to want to open it. It's going to break down and turn to mush. I look at all that and it's disappointing because the people that buy it do so because they think it's going to be really valuable. Who knows? Maybe it will like the Obama thing was for five minutes. And Marvel said they weren't going to reprint this, and now they've gone back on their word and they're reprinting it. None of that really speaks to credibility for us as a whole.
"I'm excited that people are buying it, but whether we retain any readers, I have no hope for because I've been trying to do that all day. My biggest desire is for people to read it and love it and want to get the next one, but I don't think that's going to happen."
Isotope Comics Lounge of San Francisco, CA
"There's definitely been some response, and it's been fun to get to sell that issue today. I've had an open copy at the store so that if people come in and decide they don't have the heart to open the plastic bag or want to do it later, they can read my copy right here. Almost everybody has read my copy. It's been hilarious. [Laughter] A lot of people have said they're opening it later or, 'My girlfriend is reading this with me, so I'm going to let her open it up.' So that was really cool. I sent a message out to everybody on my mailing list and said. 'Stay off the internet! This book is out today, and you can come get it. Look at the internet later.' Because the news was everywhere.
"I had a lot of the regular crowd, but some new people stopped in and checked it out. My store is really geared towards first time readers or people who are just coming in and learning about comics. So I definitely had lots of those folks. It did good. We're not sold out yet, but we won't last until the end of the day tomorrow.
"We did order up on it, but we had no idea Marvel was going to get real-world press out of it. So by the time we learned they were going to do a Tuesday allow you to sell it stunt and get a lot of press, there was no chance to get more orders on it. The nice thing, though, that I've got to commend them about because they've botched this before is that they have a variant with a spoilerific cover that's coming out in two weeks. That's great because when I run out, I can take people's names out and go 'Two weeks!' So even though they could have taken better care of us, and all of us could have sold more issues of 'Fantastic Four,' having another one come out that fast is pretty decent."
Golden Apple Comics of Los Angeles, CA
"Busy with speculators and regulars all day from the moment we opened the doors. Lots of phone calls and new readers looking to cash in on the news.
"We had the issue on sale around 1:00 PM. We put a limit of one per customer to give everyone a chance to own a piece of comics history. Tomorrow should be gangbusters!"