This week on Comic Culture we are going to investigate the “many” ways to go about buying physical comics, as well as the best places to do so. Some of this may seem redundant to many readers, but it might be useful to a few of you out there. So, keeping that in mind, it might be worth skimming the surface for just a few minutes on the topic. Bear in mind this is not an all encompassing list, but it should definitely hit on the highlights. Also, it might be nice to switch it up and get off my “digital comics” soapbox for one week. What do you say? Shall we proceed?
Comic Stores: Comic stores are a dying breed, but they are still the BEST place to buy comics. They can’t house as many items as Amazon (for example), but if they don’t have it, they can definitely get it for you. All you have to do is ask. These stores are, more often than not, run by comic aficionados who share the same passion of the medium as all of us. They can give you suggestions of things to read, or simply stand back and let you do your thing. Also, they are the best places to get single issues, as well as set up a pull list if you so wish. And, if you are regular weekly comic reader I would highly suggest setting up a pullist. It is guaranteed business for the comic store, as well as an easy way to make sure you get all the books you want week in and out. On the other hand, one thing to keep in mind with single issues these days is that most stores DO NOT hold a large inventory of back issues. They just don’t sell like they used to and they also take up A LOT of room. This phenomena can probably be partially blamed on the boom in graphic novels and trade paperbacks. So, if back issues is your thing, I would suggest finding those some other way, like on an online retailer or comic book wholesaler.
Book Stores: Stores like Barnes and Noble seem to be cutting back on their presence of single issues, but on the other hand their graphic novel sections seem to be getting bigger by the day. It is my belief that mainstream comic readers read trades, and that these are the people buying these books in these types of stores. There is nothing wrong with that because many long-term comic readers are switching over to reading trades as well. It’s just a different way to go about reading the stories than picking up single issues one shot at a time. Also, most people who only dabble in comics aren’t going to actual comic stores, albeit because of the perception they have of them, or a bad prior experience. Because of this, they need access to comics in a different way and Barnes and Noble is a fine way to fill that need.
Second Hand Stores: The biggest one that comes to mind (in the US at least) is Half Price Books. There are locations all over the states, all with different inventories. The reason for this is because anyone can sell them virtually anything (books, CDs and media) and get either store credit in return or cold hard cash. This is why each individual stores inventory is so unique and different. They don’t have one warehouse that they are pulling their books from; all of these things they purchase from customers go right back into their own store. Going into these stores can be fun because you never know what you’re going to find, and sometimes you will find some real hidden gems at a fraction of the cost. While most of these stores only sell used trades and hardcovers, some of them do sell a decent supply of back issue singles. The one store that I frequent will even package runs and bundles of singles together at a steal. Trust me. These stores are a great way to find comics.
Online Retailers (Amazon, Cheap Graphic Novels, Discount Comic Book Service): Online retailers are great resources for comic fans who read on a budget. Places like Amazon and Cheap Graphic Novels specifically offer pre-orders of forthcoming trade paperbacks, hardcovers, absolutes, omnibuses etc. all at discounted rates. They don’t really deal with too many single issues (unless it’s on their Marketplace), but that shouldn’t be an issue because if you are looking for single issues you should probably be using a different retailer (see above for example). One exception to this rule is Discount Comic Book Service. They do offer online pull lists that you can set up and have your books shipped to you at your convenience. Granted, you are going to pay shipping costs for this type of service and quite possibly a processing fee, but for some it might be worth it in the end. One thing I have however noticed, is that their selection isn’t always all-encompassing.
Online Auctions (Ebay): Basically anything you ever wanted has been, or will be on Ebay at some point in time. By simply searching for “comics” you will probably come up with tens of thousands of items. It is quite easy, if you have a general idea of the cost of certain items, to find a good deal on here. Some “auctions” are true auctions where you have to bid against each other, while others you can simply “Buy It Now.” I prefer to gravitate towards the “Buy It Now” options because then I can just buy the item and be done with it. A lot of sellers will offer free shipping, as well as bundling multiple items into one shipment if you need it. Two words of caution on Ebay though. The site does a pretty good job of screening and looking out for fraudulent items, but things always slip through the cracks. Just be aware of this, because if it looks fishy it probably is. The best way to avoid this and assure that you’re dealing with someone who’s on the up and up is to make sure that the seller has multiple positive reviews. I know it seems like a no-brainer, but trust me it will save you headaches in the long run. Also, ALWAYS use PayPal. It is the easiest and most secure way to buy stuff online without giving out your credit card information directly. And more and more sellers are only taking this form of payment anyway.
Conventions: These are a limited commodity per year, and are often dictated by geography (larger cities), but nevertheless can be a comic lovers paradise. The size of the con can range from a HUGE multi-day blowout (San Diego Comic Con) all the way down to a low-key, small-town affair (Fall-Con, St. Paul, MN). It is my own personal experience that the big ones can become a chore to attend as well as a burden on the wallet for sure. However, on the other hand, you are going to have a greater chance meeting some of your favorite creators at the bigger cons. Either way conventions are LOADED with comic goodies from creators all over, as well as their publishing companies. This is the best place to get your normal goodies like: single issues, trades, hardcovers etc, but also the perfect spot to get sketches, prints, lithographs, memorabilia and even original art and pages. My biggest piece of advice is to do your research and go with a plan. Know where you want to be and when, and finally make sure you make a budget for yourself and STICK to it. Conventions are over in the blink of an eye, so you don’t want to regret missing something you really wanted to see, or blowing your proverbial life savings on a piece of art. Be smart about it.
Online Crowdfunding (Kickstarter): This specific avenue of purchasing comics has really been catching steam lately. Many indie creators, as well as big name creators, are choosing this route as a means to reach out to their fans to have them personally fund some of their projects. In doing so, they are truly having a hand in bringing someone’s vision to reality. These are usually labor of love type projects that aren’t necessarily marketable at the big publishers, and most people are aware of this and also fine with that. I don’t have any personal experience buying anything from this source (yet), but know of many people who have gone this route and had no regrets. Each specific project is different, and you usually pick a tier that you can handle (amount you want to contribute to a project) and your reward is dictated by that. There is often a large gap of time in between when you contribute to a project versus when you actually get your prize because a lot of these books haven’t even been created yet. There are also some occasions where you may fund a project and never see your reward. Kickstarter tries its best to crack down on these cases, but it can only do so much. My advice would be to try to fund projects by creators you recognize who have a good track record and by doing so you should avoid any of these issues.
Wow! That was quite the information dump. I hope those who stuck around to read this post found something interesting in here. And, now that I’ve given you plenty of places to find comics both in the real world and online, go forth and search. I hope you find something good!