with Modern Myths
Name: Jim Crocker, General Manager
Shop: Modern Myths, Inc
City: Northampton, MA & Mamaroneck, NY
Year Established: 2002 & 2012, respectively
Website: www.modern-myths.com, facebook.com/modernmythscomics, facebook.com/modernmythsnewyork
QRD – What the one comic book that would be the crown jewel in your collection... the comic equivalent of the holy grail for you?
Jim – I don’t really have one; I don’t much care about the “antiquing” aspect of older back issues, we’re a bookstore.
QRD – What is currently your favorite comic on the market & why?
Jim – Saga. It’s a perfect gem of Shakespeare & SF with BKV’s deft hand at giving you just enough every month, while also crafting a coherent overall narrative. It’s just brilliant.
QRD – How long has your comic book shop been in business?
Jim – The Northampton location since 2002, our expansion to NY opened in 2012.
QRD – Have there been any particular trends in the comic book market that you’ve found especially exciting &/or troubling since opening your shop?
Jim – Exciting: The inevitable opening of the market to a more diverse audience, even as the traditional comic companies engage in the troubling practice of doubling down on variants, stunts, & desperately trying to shove more artificially-scarce junk down the pipeline. It’s so weird how those trends are in direct opposition to each other.
QRD – Have you always focused on comics exclusively or do you find it a necessity to stock toys, games, etc. as well?
Jim – Nearly every comic book store needs to stock something besides comics. (Keeping in mind that vintage stuff is not the same market/business model as current comics). We’ve chosen tabletop games as our path to inventory & customer diversity, mostly because I’m an avid gamer myself & so have a passion for the actual product.
QRD – Would you be interested in diversifying your inventory or do you think your store has successfully developed a personality that needs preserving?
Jim – I’m pretty comfortable with our identity, & it’d take a pretty compelling reason to add a completely different line. Our experiments in dabbling have all been pretty mixed.
QRD – How much of a factor do you think the personality or atmosphere of a shop plays in establishing a customer base?
Jim – Somewhere between a lot & “entirely”.
QRD – How active of a role does your shop take in social events like release parties, movie outings, etc.?
Jim – We don’t push it much in that direction because gaming provides a natural social outlet already.
QRD – Do you do in store events with local comic creators or ones doing a book promotion tour? What do you feel has to be done for those events to be worth it to you?
Jim – When we can get them. We’re off the beaten track of normal big metro-area events. That said, we’ve had Harvey Pekar, Evan Dorkin, JM Dematteis & plenty of small press folks in our store. We have found that our audience prefers an atmosphere that’s a bit more academically focused, with Q&A/interview-type events working better than just lining up to sign and/or sketch.
QRD – Do you believe these types of events create new readers?
Jim – Nope. They’re a reward to already-engaged fans to keep them coming back & create a sense of community for what is normally a medium taken in privately.
QRD – Have the comic book summer movie blockbusters & Free Comic Book Day been a boon to your store?
Jim – Yes.
QRD – What advice do you have for publishers, writers, artists, & distributors that you think would create more sales?
Jim – “Make better books & publish enough of them for us to reorder for 6 months without fail”. The second half of that sentence may be even more important than the first.
QRD – Do you do things to try to cultivate local comic talent?
Jim – Not as such; I’m not an artist or art teacher. We do carry local books & mini-comics on consignment, & host a monthly meeting of cartoonists, but I’m not sure what part we can play beyond that.
QRD – When a new customer comes into the store with little experience in comics or having left comics for a decade, what do you to cultivate their interest in comics in general & your store in particular?
Jim – We just try to point them at stuff they might like, usually trades at first, without overwhelming them with input. This is standard customer service & really our bread & butter.
QRD – When people walk away from buying comics, what do you usually here as their complaint for leaving the hobby?
Jim – I don’t have a sense that it’s any one thing. In my experience it’s usually more of a “Life gets in the way” thing than any particular dissatisfaction with one specific aspect of the hobby or industry. We’re going to hear “Wow, the new baby means I just don’t have time” way more than “DC raised prices to $3.99, I quit.”
QRD – What are your thoughts (as a business & as a fan) on digital comics?
Jim – Like death, taxes, & Amazon, they’re not going away any time soon, so we adapt & deal. In general, I think they result in a new growth of the industry while ALSO requiring that shops adapt to their presence & the effect they have on monthly comics sales.
QRD – Can you tell us your opinion on Diamond Comics Distributors in regards to their exclusive deals with some of the bigger publishers... is it a monopoly?
Jim – I think it’s MUCH more instructive to think of Diamond NOT as a monopoly, but as a big corporation that has a lot independent franchisees. It’s much closer to a McDonald’s or Subway model with a super-loose & easy list of requirements for franchisees. It’s always necessary to remember that we don’t actually buy from Diamond on the brokered publishers; Marvel, DC, Image, Dark Horse, etc, all set their own terms, & Diamond handles their product for them.
At the end of the day, it’s of course not an ideal system; but given what happened in the 90s, we’re lucky to have an industry at all.
QRD – Do you feel like the quality of service Diamond provides would keep you from trying a legitimate competitor if one were to spring up?
Jim – Depends on what you mean; there are already book trade distributors we DO use.
QRD – With the rise in Kickstarter comic projects, do you look for comics for the store on Kickstarter?
Jim – Nope.
QRD – When customers say they can get something for a better deal on Amazon, how do you react?
Jim – Shrug, smile, agree. If they care to have conversation about it, I can explain the economics. But by this point, everyone gets it: you pay more for popcorn in the movie theater. It’s cheaper to buy a case of paper towels at Costco. Different markets & business models have different pricing models. Either we add sufficient value to overcome the higher sticker price, or we don’t.
QRD – What do you think about CGC & the other professional grading companies? Are they a benefit or detriment to the hobby?
Jim – They give rise to some very serious issues regarding collusion, ethics, & corruption. Whenever you have a situation where a regulator, whether public or private, benefits financially from favorable ratings, you have a recipe for corruption. I think they’re doing a masterful job of profiting by inflating the bubble of vintage comics speculation, but I won’t be surprised or disappointed if they collapse spectacularly.
QRD – Do you think the drastic overhauls like DC’s New 52 are fundamental for the big two to stay relevant?
Jim – Nope. Good stories are required, independent of “overhauls”.
QRD – How well do small press & local comics sell at your store?
Jim – Well in Northampton, very slowly in NY.
QRD – What do you think of the “wait for the trade” mentality?
Jim – It’s not a mentality. It’s a type of customer & I am THRILLED to welcome them when other shops who haven’t learned to be bookstores drive them away.
QRD – In the coming years do you see monthly comics or the trade paperback/graphic novel format being the dominant form of comics?
Jim – They’re inseparable, so I don’t think it’s a useful question.
QRD – What “extra” content do readers look for in “deluxe” edition collections that actually makes them buy a book for the second time?
Jim – I have no idea & don’t care. I am happy to not spend time thinking of ways to sell people the same material a second time.
QRD – Do you buy high-end stock (e.g. hardcover deluxe editions & statues) on speculation for your store or only by special order?
Jim – Generally only by special order. We don’t stock statues at all.
QRD – Does your store exhibit at comic book conventions? Do you think having a presence there is a crucial part of bringing in new customers?
Jim – No, to both.
QRD – If fifty years from now all comics are digital, do you think there will still be shops where people go to buy the physical relics that we all read today?
Jim – Only in the sense that that there are still record stores; they’ll be cultural curiosities only sustainable in affluent & arts-friendly metropolitan markets.
QRD – If you weren’t operating a comic book shop what would you be doing instead?
Jim – I LIKE to think I’d be working at a relevant & useful non-profit, but I suspect that I’d be doing some other kind of retail (not that those two are entirely incompatible, as museum/historical retail shops can attest).
QRD – Do you have bargain bins & what are the prices of things in them if so & where do the books in them come from?
Jim – We have periodic bargain sales of overstock & comics acquired from collections we sell for a buck apiece. We stock used trades & GNs we purchase from customers & other liquidation sources.
QRD – What makes your store special to your community that another store transplanted from another city wouldn’t have going for it?
Jim – Accumulated local goodwill & experience. Perhaps my book trade background. But nothing else a well-run & professional competitor couldn’t accumulate themselves given time.
QRD – What do you think is your store’s all time bestseller?
Jim – Watchmen.
QRD – How has owning a store effected your own fandom?
Jim – It’s made me largely indifferent to the PERSONAL thrill of owning any particular specific artifact. I’m around comics all day, so I don’t feel a huge need to be surrounded by them at home any more.
QRD – Would you ever sell the store?
Jim – How much are you offering?
QRD – What caused you to open the second shop & how far away are they from each other?
Jim – The second store happened because my wife got offered a job in White Plains, NY, so we had to move. It’s about 2.5 hours form the other store, far enough away to be totally separate markets, but close enough to deal with coordination & visit regularly.
QRD – Anything else?
Jim – I love owning a bookstore. One of the best (& worst!) things about this market is that we’re small enough & diffused enough that there’s pretty much no two businesses that are exactly alike. There’s a LOT of people who do it wrong (which is to say, not how I do it), but there’s always something to learn because it’s all a big ongoing experiment.