Shop Interview with Illusive Comics & Games
August 5 2017
Name: Anna Warren Cebrian & Mark Anthony Masterson
Shop: Illusive Comics & Games
City: Santa Clara
Year Established: 2007
QRD – What is the first comic you ever bought?
Mark – Bought? Like with money? Not just read, borrowed, or discovered under a dry log in the woods? Probably a Star Wars comic in the 70s. Or maybe Groo in the 80s? I can’t remember when I had my own money. Wait, does MAD Magazine count?
Any of these “first” questions will usually be answered by Mark, as he is far, far older than Anna.
QRD – What the one comic book that would be the crown jewel in your collection... the comic equivalent of the holy grail for you?
Anna – As we grow older (Mark first, naturally), collecting seems less appealing. Happiness isn’t gained in things, but in the sharing of experience.
That said, there are some British Doctor Who TV Comics from the 60s I wouldn’t kick out of bed.
QRD – What is currently your favorite comic on the market & why?
Mark – The Wicked + The Divine, because it’s about pop culture & mortality & has goth puns. & also because MAGE: The Hero Denied hasn’t started yet.
Anna – What’s selling the most?
QRD – When did you first start working at a comic shop?
Anna – We were both in comics as publishers & creators before Anna bought the store in 2007. Mark joined the retail side in 2015.
Mark – Define “work”.
QRD – How did you come to own your own shop & what do you wish you’d known beforehand?
Mark – A local shop owner needed someone to bail him out. The store had been there for more than two decades & was in danger of going under. Anna crunched the numbers & figured she could turn it around. She renamed it “Illusive Comics & Games” because every business needs a really confusing & easily misspelled name.
Anna – I wish I’d known the lottery numbers & where Donald Trump keeps his tax returns.
QRD – Have there been any particular trends in the comic book market that you’ve found especially exciting &/or troubling since opening your shop?
Anna – It’s been exciting to see the creativity & diversity flourishing in the past decade. The breadth of stories & storytelling styles is amazing. We’re almost at the point that there are truly comics for everyone. Amazing opportunities for growth!
Mark – What’s troubling? Companies ignoring this & trying to squeeze more money out of the same few customers. The dinosaurs are still big enough to sink the rest of the ship if they go down. Or maybe they’re the iceberg. I’m not sure about this metaphor.
QRD –Have you always focused on comics exclusively or do you find it a necessity to stock toys, games, etc. as well?
Anna – We’ve always catered to a wide range of geek culture interests. There’s no reason to hold back if customers are willing to pay.
Mark – BUT NO CELL PHONES. They know why.
QRD –Would you be interested in diversifying your inventory or do you think your store has successfully developed a personality that needs preserving?
Anna – We’re always interested in new revenue streams because we’re not completely foolish. That said, there are certain categories that have never taken off with our customer base. Trying something new won’t kill us, but we won’t bet the farm. Especially not on a killer horse. Can you imagine the scandal?
QRD –How much of a factor do you think the personality or atmosphere of a shop plays in establishing a customer base?
Mark – Content is King, but Personality is Queen. Possibly jester as well. A good comics store is like a literary bar - lots of stock, lots of talk, & everyone welcome.
QRD –How active of a role does your shop take in social events like release parties, movie outings, etc.?
Anna – We are always open to a party.
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?
Anna – Absolutely. We host local creators & far away creators who are willing to fly Southwest. For us, the event has to make fans happy, give the artist exposure, & let us get more art on our walls.
QRD –Do you believe these types of events create new readers?
Anna – In very limited quantities. We get people discovering comics for the first time when we host an event for a cartoon-based property, or a celebrity signing, but in general the attendees are already readers.
QRD – Have the comic book summer movie blockbusters & Free Comic Book Day been a boon to your store?
Anna – FCBD is our biggest sales day of the year. The movies barely move the needle.
QRD –What advice do you have for publishers, writers, artists, & distributors that you think would create more sales?
Mark – Give us a drink & a book contract.
QRD –Do you do things to try to cultivate local comic talent?
Anna – We host drawing events & encourage everyone who wants to use our podcast room to reach out to the social mediums.
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?
Anna – Just talking. This is the where the bartender skills come in. “What do you like? What have you had before? What color was that?”
Mark – Our store takes a non-fan approach to categorizing & shelving. Comics are alphabetical. You don’t have to know which company published them before you can find that character you’ve heard about. Our clerks are visible & approachable. Our store is full of light & open spaces. We sing the praises of the books we love. We have elves in the ceiling dropping knowledge. The squirrels outside dance. Wait, I need to turn off this Disney film.
QRD –When people walk away from buying comics, what do you usually hear as their complaint for leaving the hobby?
Anna – “It’s too expensive &/or it’s too confusing.”
Mark – & we say, “How do you make that slash noise with your mouth? That’s amazing.”
QRD – What are your thoughts (as a business & as a fan) on digital comics?
Anna – Digital sales haven’t hurt us at all. They’re fine for the people that like that sort of thing. They also keep my house from filling up with more Doctor Who Magazines.
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?
Anna – It’s a monopoly in that they are the de facto only buyer for publishers. It’s that power which gives them the leverage to dictate the practices of the entire rest of the industry.
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?
Anna – Nøpe.
QRD – With the rise in Kickstarter comic projects, do you look for comics for the store on Kickstarter?
Anna – Not comics, but games, certainly.
QRD – When customers say they can get something for a better deal on Amazon, how do you react?
Mark – https://youtu.be/9alSvvIDi_A
QRD –What do you think about CGC & the other professional grading companies? Are they a benefit or detriment to the hobby?
Anna – They help us & our customers make more money from their collectibles. Is it artificial? Does it commodify what was once a story experience? Yes & yes, but nobody sends mail with a stamp collection, either.
QRD – Do you think the drastic overhauls like DC’s New 52 are fundamental for the big two to stay relevant?
Anna – No. No. No. “Continuity” is a false god. Educating people as to how fiction works is key.
QRD – How well do small press & local comics sell at your store?
Anna – Fairly well. We have a wide breadth of material, so people know they can find almost anything here.
QRD – What do you think of the “wait for the trade” mentality?
Anna – It’s a thing. It betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of economics & reality, but what are you gonna do?
QRD – In the coming years do you see monthly comics or the trade paperback/graphic novel format being the dominant form of comics?
Mark – Hey, hey, hey. Nobody needs to dominate here. There’s lots of room for growth. Twin horses pulling the chariot of Graphic Literature!
QRD – What “extra” content do readers look for in “deluxe” edition collections that actually makes them buy a book for the second time?
Anna – Scripts, better color, “oooh” factor.
QRD – Do you buy high-end stock (e.g. hardcover deluxe editions & statues) on speculation for your store or only by special order?
Anna – We get a couple books on spec if they seem decent, but the big outlay is rarely worth it. Statues almost never.
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?
Anna – We do cons both near & far. Nearby cons we use to market the store & it’s really, really, really good for outreach. Faraway cons we do as a publishing entity for sales & mainly network with creators for future signings & partnerships. Really.
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?
Anna – If all comics are digital, then all people will be as well.
QRD – If you weren’t operating a comic book shop what would you be doing instead?
Mark – Robbing comic book shops.
Anna – Operating a geek sex toy shop called “To Boldly Come”
QRD – Do you have bargain bins & what are the prices of things in them if so & where do the books in them come from?
Anna – We have dollar bins with comics that cost a dollar. They come from bad judgment.
QRD – What makes your store special to your community that another store transplanted from another city wouldn’t have going for it?
Mark – We don’t suck.
QRD – What do you think is your store’s all time bestseller & why?
Mark – Well, time isn’t over yet, so how can we say?
Anna – Bestseller to date - that Amazing Spider-Man with Obama.
QRD – How has owning a store effected your own fandom?
Mark – Ha ha HA HA HA HA HA HA hh hh hh HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA HA HA
QRD – Would you ever sell the store?
Anna – To buy a bigger store with an art gallery, sure.
QRD – Anything else?
Anna – A drink & book contract, friend.