With Further Ado #287: ComicsPRO – A Comic Convention with the Fans

I just spent several days with a couple hundred entrepreneurial retailers and industry professionals fighting the good fight in the comics biz. This was at ComicsPRO, the industry trade association’s annual tradeshow/convention designed to help retailers develop best practices, better understand the year’s new releases, and generally recharge everyone’s batteries for an engaging year.

Maybe you haven’t heard of ComicsPRO? There’s no shame in that. It is not really a consumer- facing organization. Here’s some background from their site:

WHAT IS COMICSPRO?

ComicsPRO is a trade association for comic book retailers. We are a volunteer non-profit organization dedicated to improving the comic book specialty market. The power and strength of ComicsPRO comes from its members.

The goals of ComicsPRO spell CAPE:

COMMUNICATE: (Forums, Feeds, ComicsPROgress.com, Digital Newsletters)
ADVOCATE: (Lobby Industry Partners)
PROMOTE: (Industry Days, Industry Awards)
EDUCATE: (Annual Meeting, Online Education, Seminars at Conventions)

WHO CAN JOIN COMICSPRO?

If you are a retailer and own at least one physical storefront, and you are actively involved in the retail sale of comic books, your company can join ComicsPRO. Your company chooses one representative who can cast votes on its behalf and who will receive mailers and updates from the organization. The voting representative from your company can be an owner or manager.

This multi-day event was professionally run by folks like Marco Davin, President Jenn Haines (Guelph’s The Dragon Comics), and the new, incoming president, Joe Murray (Captain Blue Hen Comics) along with their tireless volunteers. This year it was held in the Hilton in downtown Pittsburgh. The agenda largely consisted of opportunities for retailers to meet with or listen to comic publishers (and some manufacturers) explain their plans for the year. The real magic happened as publishers engaged with and listen to these ComicPRO retailers.

It’s never easy to be an entrepreneur. These folks all a have a tenacity and passion that drives them to do this for a living. Running an independent shop can be lonely at times, and this annual get together is also a time to reinvigorate by being with people who know what they’ve been going through for the past year.

I used to attend this conference frequently, but it was my first time back in a number of years. I was again struck by the “Band of Brothers” vibe that ComicsPRO radiates. Some of the retailers had been attending for years and “knew everyone”. There were many first timers and even one couple who were just about to open their store.

In years past, no press was allowed at the show. This year that changed, and it was nice to see folks like Heidi MacDonald (The Beat), Milton Griepp (ICV2) and Brigid Alverson (Publisher’s Weekly) there.

The big news was less about the next big event coming from publishers. Oh sure, they were excited about Marvel’s upcoming vampire crossover, the new Space Ghost comic from Dynamite, or the Toxic Avenger comic announcement from AHOY. However, much of the focus was on the business side of things – store owners were concerned about FOC, in store promotional materials, and DC’s shift back to new comics on Wednesdays.

Store Visits

At the conclusion of every ComicsPRO meeting, everyone hops on a bus and visits the local comic shops. It’s an opportunity for the retailers to show off their shops to their brethren. I only was able to make it to the first two shops – and they were both excellent and impressive: Colin McMahon‘s Pittsburgh Comics and Dan Degnan’s South Side Comics.

Holy Infinite Comics!

Retailer Todd McDevitt runs New Dimensions Comics in several locations in Pittsburgh. He was also very gracious and contributed graciously to the hospitality suite at ComicsPRO all during the show.

On Sunday, he invited us all to his sprawling (what’s a word that means “more sprawling than ever expected”?) comics warehouse. WOW – we were surrounded by over half a million comic books- and he let us treasure hunt through the whole place.

And let me tell you, digging through long boxes with learned retailers, who are at the top of their games, is an experience in and of itself too. This visit was quite the cherry on top of a comics industry ice cream sundae, I must say. The stuff dreams are made of.

Thoughts?