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February 20, 2011

A Few Thoughts On The 2011 ComicsPRO Annual Meeting

Last weekend was the annual meeting for the retailer organization ComicsPRO. I'd love to have the resources to one day attend and cover the show in person. Until that day, I'm happy to play catch with various reports coming out of the event.

Ted Adams of IDW provided this year's Keynote Address, the text of which Adams was nice enough to have me publish in post that will roll out above this one. ComicsPRO has a blog. The posts are tagged, but there are several about the meeting if you poke around, including this summary post and this post about their Appreciation Award winners, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. There were a smattering of reports on comics news sites, like this summary of Adams' speech at the industrious Rich Johnston's Bleeding Cool. Finally, Brian Hibbs, a voice with which many of you are familiar, posted four short essays on the weekend: CP's Bus Ride Of Doom, Speed Dating, Bonfire and Hibbs' Last Year.

imageI remain pro direct market and pro ComicsPRO. The direct market of hobby stores and comics stores drives me nuts sometimes. I think, for example, its members participated far too fully in the market's unfortunate and unnecessary homogenization over the last several years. I also get frustrated by their inability to be self-critical in almost every circumstance. But I think the value of devoted comics retail is obvious if you imagine their withdrawal from the market as currently constituted or even dream up a scenario by which they never existed until six months and what we might think were we forced to wrestle with this brand-new thing. A series of locally owned specialty stores that sell bunches of comics is an amazing thing by almost any outside standard. As far as ComicsPRO, I believe in that organization for the number of superlative retailers it counts among its membership and for the general idea -- explained by Ted Adams in his keynote speech -- that some sort of way to deal with retailers effectively and as a group is vital and necessary for that segment's continued growth. Comics retail will likely in the next few years struggle all sorts of ramifications from ground-shifting changes in the way we buy things and why artists make comics; this conflict will also see that group fight with their better nature. ComicsPRO tends to fall on that better-nature side of issues, embracing goals of long-term growth and diversity and better practices, and when you see people stand in opposition to what they do those objections seems to almost always come out of short-term, competitive, advantage-pressing, self-righteous positions. ComicsPRO has to be the only arts organization I've heard of where how much they do for people not their members becomes a key issue.

What was out there that I liked? It's probably no surprise that as a group I find Hibbs' essays the most interesting of the bunch of stuff I've read on the meeting. I particularly enjoyed their collegial, rah-rah tone. This essay about a tour to four varied comics shops intrigues me because Brian takes the position that comics should serve their customers and ignore outside considerations of what their store should be. It's slightly alarming to me that the advocacy-store position still holds any sway that Brian sees fit to debunk it. Moreover, I think that if comics retail culture is still processing critiques involving broad assumptions as to what kind of material they carry, that suggests there's been a lot of time lost in terms of building a value system for stores that focus on matters other than the bullet points from some mean essay a guy wrote on a messageboard in 2003 about a comic book store carrying role-playing games. I also think the underlying notion in Hibbs' material overall that ComicsPRO is at a point where it will be judged less by folks' impression of it driven by well-known retailers like Hibbs and more on the way it executes various programs through the work of folks like Amanda Emmert is a convincing one.

Adams' speech strikes me as worth processing primarily for its knot-splitting characteristic, its ability to see the forest and the trees. For instance, of course a national retailers' organization is vital for companies that want to do national sales campaigns, and companies should want to do national sales campaigns. Of course with interest from other media in a wide variety of projects that germinated in comics shops the comics shops might consider policies and practices that encourage that range of projects. Adams also makes a case for the broader, less quantifiable advantages that a national organization and national action might entail, a stance that serves as a refreshing tonic to the tendency to process every ostensibly worthwhile action in comics solely in terms of how it advances very focused, very individual agendas. I want to visit the system of comics shops that Adams asserts could exist in his keynote address, and if I met someone as upbeat as Brian Hibbs while I was there, all the better.
posted 8:25 am PST | Permalink

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