Welcome to Store Tour, ROBOT 6’s weekly exploration of comics shops, and the people who run them. Each Sunday we feature a different store, and also get to know the person behind the register.
This week’s store is Ground Zero Comics, located at 2744 East Fifth St. in the Loop East Shopping Center in Tyler, Texas. We spoke with owner David Seigler.
ROBOT 6: What's the secret origin of your store?
David Seigler: I’ve always felt that most any self-respecting therapist would talk someone out of starting their own comic shop, but not mine. My therapist actually suggested it! Many years ago I worked at an electronics store in California. One day the store was held hostage for eight hours by four gunmen who demanded guns, safe passage to Thailand, and ginger tea. It ended pretty badly, and the company required those of us involved to take advantage of some insurance-funded therapy. My therapist seemed to think I was too involved with my job and suggested I turn my passion for comics into a business. So Ground Zero is probably not the only comic shop born out of therapy, but it may be the only one that will admit it.
From the beginning, however, we knew we would focus on more than just comics, such as science fiction and games. For this reason, we decided to forego the more “comic-centric” names like “Captain Comics” and choose Ground Zero because it fit multiple genres, particularly comics, science fiction and gaming. This was, of course, many years before the tragedy of 9/11.
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 needed a low-paying job with really long hours? I’m sure this is the No. 1 stock answer, but really it was a love of the medium. I feel pretty strongly about comics as a vital American art form, and I love being able to share that with people and hopefully do my part in creating new fans.
Do you have a philosophy or strategy to retailing?
My strategy is sort of a “non-selling” philosophy. We’re not here to talk anyone into buying anything, we are simply here as guides to help people discover some amazing pop culture. I often say that I am envious of the people who come in having never read a comic or graphic novel. They get to discover so many classic works that us longtime fans take for granted, such as Watchmen, Dark Knight Returns, Kingdom Come, Bone, Locke and Key ... The most fun part of my job is helping steer someone in the right direction. People walk through my door looking to regain their sense of wonder, whether they know it or not. It is extremely satisfying to be able to help them do just that.
Tell me about the layout of your store.
Over the past two decades our store has changed locations twice, each time moving into a bigger space. The most recent move took us to a space that is over 6,000 square feet. Needless to say, that is a decent amount of space to work with, so we set about our own tour of larger shops to see how they utilized a bigger space.
The store is essentially divided in half, with the front half of the store being devoted to comics and comic-related merchandise, with the back half serving as a game store. The width of the store necessitated placing the checkout counter in center of the front section, with new comics running down the east wall. Just past the center counter is our large selection of back issues, followed by graphic novels, which occupy both a series of bookshelves along the wall and two rows of free-standing shelves perpendicular to the wall. We feature pop culture-related merchandise on the opposite side of the store, such as action figures, statues, banks, T-shirts and other assorted goodies.
The back half of the store is dominated by a number of gaming tables, ringed by various displays games, ranging from collectible card games to Warhammer 40,000. The idea is that you could be standing in the front part of the store and feel you are in a shop that is exclusively comics, or stand in the back half and feel you are in a dedicated game store. It also means that on days when we are running large game tournaments, shoppers can browse the comics section of the store without interfering with the ongoing games.
What are your current bestsellers? What are your favorites that deserve to sell better at your store?
Many years ago I remember my Marvel rep saying that Spider-Man was so consistent for Marvel that they judged their other comics by how they sold compared to it (in sales meetings they would describe a book at currently selling at 65 percent of Spider-Man, etc.). Here at Ground Zero, Batman has occupied that spot for the last 20 years or so. Other titles rise and fall, but year in and year out, Batman continues to hold on to everyone’s imagination. Fan does not live by Batman alone, and of course there are a number of other titles that rise up and grab people’s interest, be it Saga, The Wicked + The Divine or Harley Quinn. We’re big fans of the entire Valiant line of comics here, and while they sell pretty well, we still feel they should and will sell better as more people discover them. Also, I really won’t be completely satisfied until every single person owns a copy of Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics.
What is your customer base like? How has it changed over time?
It’s growing younger all the time. The heat generated by many of the creator-owned Image titles has brought a new generation of fans and a level of excitement that continues to build. One of the more noticeable changes is in the percentage of female customers. Twenty years ago our clientele was overwhelmingly male, even though we prided ourselves on being as "female-friendly" as possible. The dramatic change really became noticeable when DC’s "New 52" line began. Our female comic savers exploded, and they were reading everything from Swamp Thing to Justice League.
How do you reach out to new customers? How do you advertise?
Our advertising budget isn’t very large, and most of what we do is built around awareness, simply reminding people we are here: a banner at the Little League Baseball Field, cable TV spots and the like. We do have a loyalty and discount program, which, like everything else in the store, is constantly evolving.
How do you feel your online presence supports or supplements your store?
We use our website GroundZeroComics.com primarily as a fan tool, listing store happenings, news and occasionally opinion. Like a lot of shops, a lot of our online activity has shifted to social media (Facebook, Twitter), which we find to be an even better tool for promoting upcoming events.
Do you have events or programming, such as signings? How is it coordinating those?
We host several events a week, mostly gaming related. We host a Graphic Novel Discussion group, a sketch club, weekly Pokemon and Magic games, a Board Game night and various other activities such the Star Wars LCG Regionals, the Warhammer LCG Regionals, and we co-hosted an event for Banned Book Week with the local library. Recently we hosted Blake Ovard, creator of the Tugg: A Hero Among Us comic. Blake is an animal activist, and his events always bring out a large and varied crowd.
What do you see as the biggest challenge in the comics industry today that particularly impacts your store?
Comic-related movies have been both a blessing and a curse. There is little question they have raised awareness of comic book properties and made the genre "cool". At the same time we run the danger of having a generation discover Batman, the Avengers and other superheroes through film and TV, while completely eschewing the comics themselves. I think the challenge going forward is to translate the current popularity of these characters into a love of the medium of comics. It is certainly doable, but it involves educating your customers on the entertainment value of the comics themselves as opposed to just seeing the latest Hollywood blockbuster. They have to see a comic book as an entertaining piece of art rather than a movie tie-in.
And what is the industry's biggest asset that is helping you be successful?
These characters, Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, etc, are essentially America’s mythology. They are important to our culture and their popularity and recognition has never been higher. Comics are "cool", even to people who aren’t actually reading them and that is the first step towards introducing them to the art form we love so much.
With all of the people that come through your store, I imagine you must have some great stories. What is the funniest or most memorable moment you've seen in your store?
We host a Halloween costume each year which usually draws the regular assortment of Batmans, Zombies and other nerd-related characters. One year, however, one of my customers came as me: He grew a goatee, shaved his head and managed to pull it off surprisingly well, despite being a couple of decades younger than me. It was certainly weird and a little bit touching and ... did I mention weird?
Anything coming up at Ground Zero Comics that is a good excuse for someone to stop by?
We host a variety of different events throughout the week. On the first and third Wednesday evenings we sponsor a Ground Zero Sketch Night with a local artist and webcomic creator. On the second and forth Wednesday evenings we host the Graphic Fiction Appreciation Society (yes, of course, I’m responsible for the pretentious name). They dive into a different graphic novel at each meeting as well as discuss all things genre related. Weekends are generally devoted to gaming tournaments.
If you’d like to see your store featured here on Robot 6, email us.