Shop Assistance: How to Work With Your Local Comic Shop

Free Comic Book Day at Ash Avenue Comics
in Tempe, AZ

The local comic shop – not only is it a good place to pick up the latest titles, get the news on the current trends, or just talk comics, but it can also be one of the greatest resources and allies for a school or library and their graphic novel-related needs. Whether it's help with ordering, recommending good titles, offering programming assistance, or just having a place to hang out and talk comics, comic shops have a lot to offer. For schools and libraries looking to partner with a local comic store, BookShelf offers tips on how to find and work with one of these shops.

Why partner with a comic store?

Much like dedicated librarians and teachers, the vast majority of comic shop owners and employees work at the stores because they are great fans of the field. Between their personal love for the industry and need to be up on the latest titles for their customers, comic shop retailers offer a knowledge base that can be a huge benefit when trying to find appropriate graphic novels. An advantage of using a local comic shop is that person is most likely to be from the community, and able to offer advice on how a book would fit in to regional standards – a benefit when determining possible challenges.

Comic shops can also be a great help when ordering comics. For the libraries which purchase monthly comics, the local store can not only aid in ordering but will have all the information on upcoming releases from the Previews catalog. Those looking for titles not available through their wholesalers, or just looking to fill out a collection with a small number of books, the shop can provide a quick and easy solution.

Another area where comic shops can be helpful is programming. Along with the annual Free Comic Book Day, many stores have regular party and signing events, and can offer necessary expertise for the library or school looking to put on their own comic-themed event. When looking to find local creators to contact, the comic shop is a good place to start, given that much like the shop employees, most creators are comic fans as well and most likely to frequent their local store.

Many libraries and schools already partner with comic shops for Free Comic Book Day every year. These events offer a chance to work together as well as cross-promotional opportunities. For their FCBD event, the Bay County Public Library in Panama City, Florida, had the shops who were attending the event post fliers in their stores.

There's an incentive for the comic shop to partner as well: a comic shop is a business, and like any good business, is always looking for new customers. Working with schools and libraries can benefit shops on a financial as well as personal level.

How to find a shop

As with most things, there are many ways to find a local comic store. A quick search of the Internet or phone book should give the listings of local shops.

An authoritative source is the Comic Shop Locator Service web site. Created and maintained by Diamond Comic Distributors, the site offers users a location-based search engine which lists the comic stores within the area, along with information and maps. One key feature of the site is the School and Library Partners badge, located in the shop listings. Shops whose listing features this badge have indicated to Diamond that they are willing to work with schools and libraries, and are the best shops to contact when looking for a retail partner.

A number of shops have built solid relationships with their local libraries, and some have even created resources for libraries and schools interested in comics.

Flying Colors Comics in Concord, California, offers a page on their web site aimed expressly at teachers and librarians, making the case for comics and offering resources and recommendations. The page can be seen here.

Joe Murray, owner of Captain Blue Hen Comics in Newark, Delaware, had already planned to work with libraries and was assembling materials when the shop was approached by a local librarian looking for programming help. He has subsequently given presentations at libraries about comics, and has created graphic novel guides for schools and libraries.

How to approach the shop

Free Comic Book Day at Bosco's in
Anchorage, AK

As previously stated, most comic shops are filled with people who love comics, and are genuinely excited by the chance to utilize their expertise. Starting with the shops who feature the School and Library Partners badge is an easy way to go, but even those shops without that feature aren't necessarily going to be unhelpful.

Because most comic shops are small businesses with minimal numbers of employees, dealing with the owner is best, at least initially. Some librarians have found this to be a very easy process.

In the Free Comic Book Day at the Library panel at the 2013 ALA Annual Conference, librarian Mike Pawuk, of the Cuyahoga County Public Library, explained how he began the library's partnership with his local store: "I've always gone to my local comic book shop to get my comics for myself. It was maybe about 2004 that I said, 'hey, can we work together on Free Comic Book Day?' (They) just gave me a small sample of the titles, and it was a big hit… It's been a really great relationship I have."

Sometimes, the requests for help can go the other way as well. At the same panel, librarian Kat Kan, of the Bay County Public Library, relayed how she got involved with her local store. On a visit to her local shop, just after an employee was let go and with Free Comic Book Day coming soon, "my local comic retailer said, 'Oh, you know comics! You're a librarian! You come help me!'"

Of course, not every shop will be willing or helpful, but a great deal of them are. As with most businesses, if one shop doesn't want your business, there are plenty more out there who do.

Working with a local comic shop can provide great benefits for teachers and librarians, whether in programming, ordering, building community relationships, or just having someone to talk with about comics.