Man of the Moment

Sean William Scott

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Friday, August 27, 2004

How To Sell Comics To Parents 

Let's face it folks, the problem isn't that there aren't any comics for kids, or that kids aren't interested in comics. The problem is the parents. They control the purse-strings, they're the ones who have veto power over purchases. They're the ones you need to convince to buy the comic, not the kid. And by now we've all heard the usual advice on how to get the parents into the store, i.e. keep it clean, well-lit, organized and for God's sake take the Witchblade and Lady Death and Betty and Veronica posters off the walls. But that's not enough. So I present my probably-won't-usually-fail-sometimes tips and tactics for convincing parents to buy comics.

1)The Trade Paperback is Your Friend
It's all about perceived value. Parents will frequently balk at paying $3 for a flimsy paper artifact that's going to fall apart as soon as the kid starts reading it, so steer them towards the big thick books with spines and real binding. People will pay more if they think they're getting good value for their money. There are two things I must caution you about, however. Don't call them "graphic novels" because no one seems to know that the word "graphic" is just a fancy way of saying "picture." They always seem to think it means "nasty sex and violence." Also, don't call them "collected editions" because nobody seems to be aware that the words "collected" and "collectable" mean two different things.

2)Don't Argue With Them About the Price of Comics
This is related to the first point. You're going to hear a lot of statements along the line of "Comics sure are more expensive than why I was a kid" or "They're charging $2.25 for this! They used to be a quarter!" None of these people are economists and they have never heard of inflation. In the world they live in, nothing has gone up in cost over the last 30 years except for comic books. Gas still costs less than a dollar a gallon and for $10,000 you can buy a house in Southern California and still have enough money left over for a new car.

3)Be Prepared to Answer a Lot of Dumb Questions
Specifically, the kinds of questions anyone with the slightest amount of commen sense would be able to answer for themselves if they thought for more than two seconds before opening their mouths. Questions like "Why is this book in black-and-white, is there something wrong with it?" or "Why are all the Japanese comic books printed backwards, did they misprint it?" or "Why are Superman and Batman gay in this comic?" Just smile pleasently and give a short answer that explains that the book in question is supposed to be that way. This ties in to points four and five:

4)They Think They Know More About Comics Than You
"Ah yes, this is what they call a 'cyber-punk' comic. That means it has a lot of violence in it" was indeed once said to me by a parent looking at the cover of a recent Superman comic. I did not correct him, because as far as most parents are concerned, they are the experts. Not the person who actually works in the comic book store. I've a theory that some hormonal change occurs in people once they have kids that makes them believe themselves to be the fonts of all human knowledge, but I haven't cut up enough brains to test it yet. The best solution to deal with it is, again, to smile pleasently and perhaps right down some of the more entertaining bon mots to post later on you web-site.

5)They Think They're Better Than You
Partly, this is because you're on the other end of the consumer-retailer continuum, and Americans have been wrongly conditioned to believe that as consumers they can do no wrong and are always in the right. Partly, it's because you work in a comic book store and are therefore pathetic and despicable and probably a sick pervert child molester to boot who gets off on cutting up Barbie dolls (which I was actually accused of doing by one customer when I told her we didn't buy Beanie Babies). Never mind that they're the ones giving you money for a trashy little comic book their kid is just going to tear up. Never mind that you actually have a college degree and only took this job to save money while you decided which grad school you wanted to apply to, while they got their girlfriend pregnant two months before graduation and had to give up that community college football scholarship and take the assistant manager job at their dad's Jiffy-Lube in order to support the new wife and kid.

6)Avoid the Back Issues
This incorates elements of all the earlier points. Unless they were given a list of actual back issues their kid needs, don't let them buy back issues. First of all, they won't be able to figure out where any of the back issues are or how they're organized. It won't occur to them to look for Aquaman where all the title beginning with "A" are located and which you put a big sign up in front of that says "A" on it. Secondly, they won't know why the book that only has a slight corner crease on it is more expensive than the book with a spine-roll, subscription crease, extensive chipping a quarter of the back cover torn off. And if you try to explain that to them you will only get a blank stare in return and perhaps a comment along the lines of "But they're the same comic." Similarly, do not attempt to explain that age, condition and demand will determine a book's value, not the price printed on the cover. They will not understand that just because the book originally sold for 60 cents, that doesn't mean they can buy it for just 60 cents now.
Again, Trade Paperbacks Are Your Friend.

7)You're Going to Be Mistaken For A Baby-Sitter
A bit of a tough-love approach is sometimes called for here. You need to be firm and remind parents that, yes, you're a comic-book store, but the key word there is store. If they wouldn't change their kids diapers on the jewelry counter at Macy's, why would they think it's appropriate to do so at the counter at the comic book store? If they wouldn't drop their kids off for two hours in the home of a total stranger, why would they drop their kids off at a comic-book store and tell the annoyed looking man behind the counter "I'll be back to pick them up in a couple of hours, they're not allowed to buy anything, can you send them out to meet me at 4?"

8)No Matter What It Is, Someone's Going To Be Offended By It
Parents either think that either all comics are intended for children, or no comics are intended for children. It's something peculiar to comics that doesn't seem to translate to other mediums. Sure, some of the hysterical, reactionary parents out there might like to live in a world in which the only music, movies, books, games and television shows produced were suitable for children, with all the depth and moral and emotional complexity of an episode of Blue's Clues, but most people rightly ignore folks like that. But even the folks who sneer at the people who want to censor music or movies will be shocked, positively shocked and appaled at the fact that some comic books are...slightly more serious in tone or content than an issue of Archie. So, always be prepared to provide an alternate selection. If Ditko/Lee Spider-Man reprints are too boldy sexual for a parent, try Marvel Age Spider-Man. If Superman is too violent and political, try Superman Adventures. If Bone isn't sufficiently wholesome and innocent for their precious little angel, try post-issue 200 Cerebus.

9)No, Seriously, You're Going To Be Asked a LOT of Dumb Questions
You're just going to have to learn that people don't know any better. They don't know that Previews doesn't actually contain comics. Why they insist on buying it after you show them that it doesn't actually contain comics and is just a rather silly catalog for fetishists is a mystery for the ages, especially when they come back the next day and want to return it because "there aren't any comics inside and you told me there were."


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