Alan David Doane recently sat down (er, exchanged e-mail) with Dirk Deppey of Journalista! fame, and the results were predictably edifying. I would quote something pertinant, but in all honesty there's not really a damn thing I actually disagree with in there. I think both Deppey and Doane have about as much insight into this whole ball of wax as you are likely to find, and its heartening to know that there are still people out there who know and care and think about comics in an intelligent manner.
My one quibble with Deppey - and we've actually discussed this before - is his attitude towards the direct market.
Now, in theory, I don't really disagree with him - I would love to see comic shops across the nation thriving for decades to come. But, unfortunately, as it stands now that's just not going to happen. I think that the stores that do survive the impending comic retailer implosion (which is going to make the mid-90's look like a picnic) are going to be those stores that recognize the wisdom of diversifying their product and costumer bases. Right now, the percentage of the direct market that has the wherewithal to even consider such a thing is minute.
Those that see the wisdom of such a course are already doing so - transforming those dank & dingy oubliettes into bright and shiny pop-culture superstores. I think if Deppey errs on anything its the fact that there are just too many comic shops that continue to conform to the "old" model and will never reform. In ten years I think the surviving comic book stores will be an entirely different breed of animal - and I believe we might even have to stop calling them comic book stores. They're going to sell comics, of course, in whatever form they may come - and that means manga, superheroes, Fantagraphics and Humanoids. They might sell music CD's or DVD's as well, and even - gasp - RPG's or CCG's - but they're going to have to sell it all in a knowledgeable and friendly manner, in a way that doesn't make potential customers afraid that their gonna get either A) shanked by the rabid fanboys or B) lice from the rabid fanboys. I don't know if this futuristic model even qualifies as a comic book store anymore.
I saw something pretty damn amazing today. I drove up to Nashua and my wife and I spent an hour or so at the Borders therein, and I have to tell you they have a simply amazing selection of comics. The biggest comics shelf I've ever seen in a chain store - full to the brim of not just manga, but a good representation from all the mainstream publishers as well as a more than representative showing from publishers like Fantagraphics, D&Q and Pantheon. They even had a near-complete selection of Cerebus phonebooks up through "Mothers & Daughters" (missing only "Reads", oddly enough). It was all kind of mixed up and a number of the volumes looked like they had been pawed through a number of times. It was a beautiful sight for these tired eyes. If every Borders had a selection like this, the woes of our industry would be solved. Unfortunately, what I saw was undoubtedly the brainchild of an enthusiastic manager at one individual store - but its enough to give you a modicum of hope.
However, it's depressing to realize that the flip-side of that coin is that this one Borders had a better selection than 95% of the stores I've ever been in. I'm sorry, but any way you slice it that particular forecast doesn't look good.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: the comic book store has to give us a reason to shop there or we won't. Its that simple. There are many good retailers, true - but there are so many bad ones out there that I just don't have much faith in the long-term stability of the direct-market. What vestiges of the direct market that do manage to survive will probably, as I say, become almost totally unrecognizable - and thats a good thing.