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Comic shops face challenge (joss whedon mention)

Jim Manner

Tuesday 18 July 2006, by Webmaster

The heroes are still the same, but it’s the comic-book stores that have changed with the industry.

HAMPTON - Competing in the comic-book business is an ongoing battle - for the stores, not just superheroes.

Today’s storeowners must have Spider-Man’s amazing spider-sense to know the best titles to pre-order for their inventory, as well as the flexibility of an Elastic Man to adapt to the changing industry.

Richard Trinkle, owner of Heroes & Villains in Hampton, says ordering his comics two months in advance is one of the biggest challenges he faces. The stakes are high, because the cover price of a single comic has grown considerably since his youth, when he purchased them four for a buck.

Most of today’s comics sell for $2.99 each. This creates a considerable investment for a comic-book store when its weekly orders can tally more than a thousand issues. And let’s be realistic, reading a comic book isn’t a necessity of life.

"I appreciate every dollar that’s spent in this store," Trinkle says. "This isn’t food, or gas or your monthly rent - people don’t have to read comics."

Today’s comic books compete against other forms of entertainment in a GameBoy generation. Cigarettes cost more, Starbucks isn’t exactly giving away coffee and the commute to work has become a nagging expense every time you stop at the fuel pumps. And, yet, the comic business has grown.

Diamond Comic Distributors’ North America sales in 2005 were $352.33 million, a 7.3 percent increase from 2004. It was the fifth consecutive annual increase after declining sales from 1994 to 2000, according to Diamond Comics.

"The price is certainly higher now, but I’d say the quality has also increased and the writing is better, too," Trinkle said. "These aren’t simple stories for kids anymore."

Comic-book companies compete to sign top artists. They also contract writers who are cross-media successes, such as best-selling novelist Brad Meltzer and TV and movie writer-director Joss Whedon.

The effort to appeal to older readers - and those with more spending power - isn’t coincidental. Comic-book fans have grown older with the years. The average reader is now about 31, according to Ann Hinshaw, a spokeswoman for comic-book publisher Marvel Entertainment Inc. in New York City.

Trinkle also has seen this change in the industry.

"Realistically, my customers range from 6 or 7 to 60," Trinkle said. "That’s one of the misconceptions from people who don’t know this industry. Comics aren’t just for kids."

The age disparity forces Trinkle to better know his customers so his inventory is tailored to their interests. He enjoys building these relationships, and it’s one of the reasons that opening the door to his shop is a daily pleasure.

Jeff Hughes, 25, of Newport News, has been buying comics at Heroes & Villains since he was about 13. He says he keeps coming back because of Trinkle’s enthusiasm and friendliness.

"When I first moved here, I went around to the different comic shops and checked them out," Hughes said. "He was the nicest owner I met. ... He keeps people coming back because he’s just like your friend. He’s not some guy who just wants you to buy something at his store."