Welcome to Store Tour, ROBOT 6’s weekly exploration of comics shops, and the people who run them; think of it as the retailer version of Shelf Porn. Each Sunday we feature a different store, and also get to know the person behind the register.
This week’s store is Area 52 Comics and Games, 3640 Mundy Mill Road, Suite 140 in Gainesville, Georgia; it's located in the College Square Shopping Center near the University of Northern Georgia. We spoke with manager (and cartoonist) Dean Trippe.
ROBOT 6: Tell me about the layout of your store. How did you work that out?
Dean Trippe: I always favor a big wall of full-cover comics, so that was the first component to work out. We decided on three rows of books at an easy-to-reach level, because as a comics artist myself, I always prefer to see the covers that folks worked hard on. So we picked the left side wall and set three rows for the monthlies at an easy-to-reach level, and we built cubbies underneath for the recent back issues, which makes it simple Tuesday nights or Wednesday mornings when we swap out the new books, and easy for the customers to check if we have a recent issue in stock. So it’s an intermediary step before books make it over to the monolith of back issues.
Then we built the back issue bins and made space for the counter and gaming tables and stocked the right side of the store with our CCG, role-playing books and board games. The layout reflects the focus and sales levels of our item categories, and I like it kept neat and straight, so everything’s easy to find.
What is your store's secret origin? How did it come to be? How did you decide on its name and its location?
About 15 years ago, I came across a little comics-and-cards shop at the largest indoor flea market in Georgia, the Pendergrass Flea Market, so I asked the guy running it if he was hiring. Fred said no that day, but a few months later, he told me he did need help, so I started opening for him on Saturdays. Fred Clayton and I have been working together off and on since then, at a few different store locations depending on our lives and finances. If I’m within driving distance, and Fred’s running a shop, he hires me on to manage the comics.
At the new store, Area 52 Comics and Games, which has been open since Thanksgiving, Fred teamed up with Denton Theriot, who’s another big comics and tabletop gamer who'd wanted to get into the retailing side of things, too. Between the three of us and our new hires Sam and Tyler, we’ve really got our bases covered in nerd knowledge. We’re right next to the University of North Georgia in Oakwood, so we get a lot of locals who are used to driving half an hour to find comics or games, exactly the customer base we were hoping we’d find here. Denton had the idea for the name, which is obviously a play on Area 51, references DC’s the New 52, and, as a little nod to the fandom that Fred and I first bonded over, is the codename for Stargate Command at Cheyenne Mountain on Stargate SG-1. Plus it’s fun to answer the phone with just, “Area 52."
Why did you decide to get into comics retailing? What in your background do you think made you particularly suited for the retail side of comics?
I’ve been reading comics for almost a quarter century, working as a freelance comics creator for over ten years, and due to conventions and my site, Project: Rooftop, I know most of the folks making comics today, either personally or through their work, which helps a lot when ordering the books and hoping to find the best titles for your customers. The margins are small in this business, so ordering right is one of the vital components to making it work. Having a friendly, knowledgeable staff and a welcoming store appearance, I think, are the others. I also just love talking to people, and I think I make the connections well between stuff someone already likes to things they’d also like. I had a high-schooler who liked Spawn back in the day, because he was an anti-hero who used magic. I let him read the first part of an Azzarello/Frusin issue of Hellblazer. Pretty soon he was tracking those two creators across all their books, finding other creators he liked, and had twelve titles on his regular pull box.
Do you have a philosophy or strategy to retailing? I imagine being an artist and comic creator must have a significant influence on you. Has it evolved from when you first started? If so, what caused that change?
I do. I think a lot of us have been in less-than-stellar comic shops, even a few manned by Comic Shop Guy clones. I’ve seen retailers make fun of customers’ purchases, creep on female customers, ignore bestsellers for geek ideological reasoning, and treat kids in their shops like petty criminals. I’ve seen dirty, disorganized stores and apathetic managers. I’ve also been in GREAT shops, and am friends with a lot of exceptional retailers, like Shelton Drum, Jim Demonakos, Aaron Haaland and others. These guys run shops that serve their community. Shops that stand the test of time, organizing events, welcoming readers of all backgrounds, and providing everyone with stories they can’t find anywhere else.
I feel like comics are often ahead of the rest of pop culture in terms of subject matter. Batman v. Superman seems like a big deal to non-comics readers. But for a lot of us living in the multiverse, it’s like three decades behind. As the characters and concepts evolve in the comics, the secondary adaptations lag behind. Though, Marvel movies don’t by much! Winter Soldier, Iron Man 3, Civil War? Recent history, if not current events. And, of course, it sometimes feels like we’re dragging behind, with the slowness or outright regression from diversity and representation, but the fans are making themselves heard, and I feel like this year is the one we think back on as the tide shifting there.
Anyone who’s read my “secret origin” in Something Terrible knows how much this stuff means to me. The pretend superheroes saved my real life, and I’ll preach this gospel until I die. Upon this four-color rock I shall build my church.