Shop Interview with Jetpack Comics
August 10, 2017
Name: Ralph A DiBernardo, Jr
Shop: Jetpack Comics LLC
Year Established: 2006
QRD – What is the first comic you ever bought?
Ralph – My dad brought me comic books home all the time, when I was young. I loved Richie Rich & my brother loved Dennis the Menace, but the first super-hero comic I remember is Avengers #122.
QRD – What the one comic book that would be the crown jewel in your collection... the comic equivalent of the holy grail for you?
Ralph – There isn’t one. In the 40 + years of retailing comic books I have owned every comic book that I ever wanted to own.
QRD – What is currently your favorite comic on the market & why?
Ralph – There isn’t one. I live my life by Wednesdays. Every Wednesday I select 2 - 3 dozen books & start reading. I like some more than others, but there isn’t a single one that is more important to me than any other.
QRD – When did you first start working at a comic shop?
Ralph – In middle school I started retailing comic books at a local antique store & began writing for a collectibles magazine. By my freshman year in high school I had a weekly set up at a local flea market. By Junior year I had 12 tables at the flea market along with a Diamond & Capitol account. At the age of 19 I ran my first comic convention (premiering the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 of which I once owned 500 copies) & opened my first comic shop.
QRD – How did you come to own your own shop & what do you wish you’d known beforehand?
Ralph – See above. I wish I had known that the government would be shutting down the Airbase & Navel base located in my city. That was 70+ % of my customer base.
QRD – Have there been any particular trends in the comic book market that you’ve found especially exciting &/or troubling since opening your shop?
Ralph – The acceptance of comic books as real entertainment is spectacular. One day, a few months after I opened my first comic shop, the police stopped by & asked me about the gambling den & hookers we had in the basement & apartments above our store. They could not fathom that we could actually make a living selling comic books. A brief tour showed them that we had neither of those.
QRD – Have you always focused on comics exclusively or do you find it a necessity to stock toys, games, etc. as well?
Ralph – DIVERSITY is key. From my first store to my current store I have always believed in carrying EVERYTHING pop-culture I could put my hands on. Being passionate about a specific area is great. I love vintage comic books, but I can’t support my family & 12 employees just on that. Every item we carry allows us to make life better for everyone of our staff & it increases our footprint in the community. Converting someone from one pop-culture genre to another is easy. Especially when they see it every time they enter your shop.
QRD – Would you be interested in diversifying your inventory or do you think your store has successfully developed a personality that needs preserving?
Ralph – We could not be more diversified.
QRD – How much of a factor do you think the personality or atmosphere of a shop plays in establishing a customer base?
Ralph – HUGE - The biggest. Our friends love us because our store is well lit, merchandised well with a staff that wants to engage everyone. From kids to senior citizens we want to hear about what you like & share what we like. We also LOVE to tease, taunt & insult. The customers love it more.
QRD – How active of a role does your shop take in social events like release parties, movie outings, etc.?
Ralph – We are more community oriented. We host events that bring people to town that are fringe pop-culture events. We bring in bands. Host beer tastings. Our best event, other than Free Comic Book Day (average of 5000 people with a biggest of 7500) is our 1980s Prom. Over 350 people showed up dressed in 80s prom garb.
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?
Ralph – In store events are always hit or miss. We are extremely rural, so getting 100 people to show up at our store for anything is near impossible. We love hosting things, but always warn EVERYONE that attendance could be minimal. But we will do ANYTHING.
QRD – Do you believe these types of events create new readers?
Ralph – I do.
QRD – Have the comic book summer movie blockbusters & Free Comic Book Day been a boon to your store?
Ralph – Hit or miss. We sold HUNDREDS of copies of Watchmen because of the movie. Spider-Man has not ever brought us a new customer. Deadpool, while already being huge, brought in new customers. There is not a rhyme or reason to it.
QRD – What advice do you have for publishers, writers, artists, & distributors that you think would create more sales?
Ralph – Ha-ha. Come on. That’s a huge question. Honestly, that’s not my job. I could armchair quarterback the industry, but that doesn’t help anyone. I will say that if you put a quality product in my hand, by my standards, I will sell it to everyone. But when Marvel gives me a bunch of free copies of something that doesn’t do anything for me…. Sure, 30 free comics is like a free $120 if I can sell them, but I can’t sell something I don’t need. If I needed 30 of something I ordered 30. If you give me 30 more I still don’t have someone to sell them to. My only advice is that quality always sells, but everyone has to remember that quality is defined by the end user not the producer.
QRD – Do you do things to try to cultivate local comic talent?
Ralph – I’ve spent thousands of dollars publishing comics. WE always encourage local talent & do what we can to promote them.
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?
Ralph – We start by asking them what they currently like for entertainment. Movies, music, TV, video games, books. If you tell us the things you like we can find a comic book for you.
QRD – When people walk away from buying comics, what do you usually hear as their complaint for leaving the hobby?
Ralph – Marvel has caused more people to stop collecting comics in the last 3 years than I can count. Constant renumbering, no continuity, forcing their agenda, too many covers & poor art & story telling. Yes, they may be number one, but not based on comic sales in our store. DC has put their best foot forward & are being rewarded with superior sales.
QRD – What are your thoughts (as a business & as a fan) on digital comics?
Ralph – I use to worry about it, but Amazon is a much bigger threat than digital comics.
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?
Ralph – I could not care less. Diamond does a great job for us. Yes, they have problems & make mistakes, but things are way better now than when there were multiple distributors. Discounts are better. Web interaction is superior. In the old days I would spend 45 minutes on hold trying to report shortages & damages. I would not go back to those days for anything. Diamond came up with a solution that worked for publishers & they embraced it. If someone comes up with a better idea Diamond will adapt or have competition. The major publishers chose Diamond for a reason.
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?
Ralph – Not at all. I would be happy to try a new distributor & I am a guy that is a Diamond cheerleader. In the 1980s I had accounts with 4 distributors. Diversifying where I spend my money is as important as diversifying my inventory.
QRD – With the rise in Kickstarter comic projects, do you look for comics for the store on Kickstarter?
Ralph – NEVER! Fuck Kickstarter. I will not support or promote them in any form or manner anymore. I got screwed over by a few & talked my customers into trying some that they got screwed on. Jetpack Comics does not promote or endorse any Kickstarters for any creator. I’d be happy to explain my points to anyone that cared, but my bottom line is that if you’ve got a project worth publishing save your money & do it or get a publisher to produce it. If it’s good enough someone will & if you do & it’s good, you will win.
QRD – When customers say they can get something for a better deal on Amazon, how do you react?
Ralph – We simply tell them that you can get EVERYTHING cheaper on Amazon. I buy my rice on Amazon. That’s it. End of story.
QRD – What do you think about CGC & the other professional grading companies? Are they a benefit or detriment to the hobby?
Ralph – Neither. They are just another part of the industry. It fills the market for those that want to own the best. Now this comic in plastic proves it. We tell people that there is no need to CGC a comic unless they are going to sell it.
QRD – Do you think the drastic overhauls like DC’s New 52 are fundamental for the big two to stay relevant?
Ralph – Not at all. Good art & story telling is all you need.
QRD – How well do small press & local comics sell at your store?
Ralph – Great. We promote the best & we sell everything.
QRD – What do you think of the “wait for the trade” mentality?
Ralph – Nothing wrong with it. Whatever works for the consumer is best.
QRD – In the coming years do you see monthly comics or the trade paperback/graphic novel format being the dominant form of comics?
Ralph – Monthlies will never go away. Publishers need the monthlies to support the trades.
QRD – What “extra” content do readers look for in “deluxe” edition collections that actually makes them buy a book for the second time?
Ralph – Ha-ha-ha - it’s a suckers game. Anyone that owns the same story in more than one format is just wasting money.
QRD – Do you buy high-end stock (e.g. hardcover deluxe editions & statues) on speculation for your store or only by special order?
Ralph – Neither. We just buy what we think we can sell.
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?
Ralph – We use to, but not anymore. Disrupting our store to set up at shows proved more of a detriment to our customers. Less than 10% of our customers will attend a local comic con. So when we use to go we’d wreck the store for 90% of our customers.
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?
Ralph – Sure. There are junk shops everywhere that specialize in retro (used) merch.
QRD – If you weren’t operating a comic book shop what would you be doing instead?
Ralph – I already do it. Brew beer & cook while selling crap on eBay & Amazon.
QRD – Do you have bargain bins & what are the prices of things in them if so & where do the books in them come from?
Ralph – We have a sale room where all the comics are $1 as well as having discounted toys, etc. We have over 1000 long boxes of trade in comics.
QRD – What makes your store special to your community that another store transplanted from another city wouldn’t have going for it?
Ralph – We’re devoted to our city. The people of the city know how much we support our community.
QRD – What do you think is your store’s all time bestseller & why?
Ralph – Watchmen trade! DC knocked it out of the park with this.
QRD – How has owning a store effected your own fandom?
Ralph – It makes my hypercritical of Marvel. I grew up Marvel & I want Marvel to be great again.
QRD – Would you ever sell the store?
Ralph – Maybe, but I’d just open another one. I love doing this.