1000 Miles Outside Metropolis

April 12, 2009

The perils of reading indies in a lousy economy.

Filed under: indie,introduction — Tags: , — Meghan @ 1:45 pm

I’ve had a pretty consistent pattern over the last year or so: go to my local shop and get the capes and tights books, and then go to a separate shop in Philadelphia on Thursdays to get all of the books my local wouldn’t carry. Because I tend to read indies (hence this column) and not capes and tights books, I picked up more and more books at the secondary shop. Every week, though, I still went into my local to pick up my pull and chat with the guys about whether Final Crisis or Young Liars made less sense or where we thought Runaways was going or what fresh-and-squicky thing Garth Ennis had written this week.

Until this week.

This week, I parked my car, hopped out and walked up to the door and pushed. Locked. It wasn’t until after I tried to open the door again that I saw the small piece of paper taped to the door with a hastily scribbled note on it that read ‘Due to staffing issues, we will close Monday, April 6.’

I peered inside and everything looked almost exactly as it had when I left last Wednesday: a big display with Watchmen trades and figures up front, a smaller display with last week’s new trades just to the right. They’d been having some trouble with their shipments, so there was a table with a few week’s worth of back issues right there by the cash register.  Their parent company had closed so quickly that they hadn’t had an inventory liquidation sale, hadn’t even had time to call their customers to tell them that they should make alternate arrangements for their subscriptions. Nothing. They shut off the lights Sunday night, taped a note to the door, and left.

Just like that, the employees were out of a job, and all of their customers had to scramble to figure out where we were going to get our books for that week, and the next, and the next. As soon as that key turned in the lock Sunday night, our own little comic book world was gone.  Sadly, this wasn’t the first time a store suddenly closed up shop, and it won’t be the last.

I mention this in my first column in what will ostensibly be the indie-focused portion of this site for a reason. We’re all aware that in a rough economy, belts tighten. For many comic book readers, the first thing to go is the weekly pull. Combine that with January’s decision by Diamond retailers to increase the minimum order to distribute a title from $1500 to $2500, and small publishers are already starting to feel the heat.

That worries me. Sure, Superman and Batman can survive a down market, but what about smaller titles, like Kevin Colden’s brilliant, disturbing and criminally under-read Fishtown? Or Kat Cahill’s quirky and hilarious I Hate Gallant Girl? Even books from established artists, like Bone artist Jeff Smith’s darkly funny caper Rasl or Terry Moore’s incredible Echo stand to suffer from the purchasing downturn. They aren’t as flashy, and no one’s ever going to sell action figures, but they’re damn good books, and they deserve to be read.

The road to publication has always been a hard one for many indie artists and authors, but some of the finest work in the medium can be found outside of the DC and Marvel universe. It would be a shame to lose that while suffering through mediocre work on some of the flashier, big name capes and tights titles.  My goal, going forward, is to present some of these independent titles in an effort to ensure that the world of indie comics remains as exciting and varied as it is now.

This should be fun.

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