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Comic Book Stores: A Niche Within a Niche

ROBERT SCOTT : "We've gone from being a disposable periodical market to basically a literary market."

San Diego has lost most of the comic book stores specializing in expensive back issues that you couldn't open for fear of decreasing their mint value. But shops like Comickaze that featured comics as well as graphic novels and special editions reprints appealed to people who wanted to build libraries rather than collectors who wanted to keep their comics in plastic sleeves. Stores specializing in Japanese comics or manga have also been successful. Take Rising Sun Creations. Co-owner Ed Sherman says he identified manga as something that was going to be big and wanted his shop to be more than a traditional comic book store.

Rising Sun is decorated with art work by local aritis Billy Martinez (Beth Accomando)

ED SHERMAN : "I rather be thought of as a pop culture store or manga store because females do not go to comic book stores very often. But females eat up manga."

Women are a demographic that traditional American comics haven't been able to tap into. Robert Scott started carrying manga and saw a big spike in new customers about three years ago. Knowing these trends gives Scott an edge over big chains. But Scott doesn't consider places like Borders competition because they can't match his knowledge or the diverse offerings at Comickaze.

ROBERT SCOTT : "There's also a specialty involved in understanding writers and artists that most major chains aren't going to have and because of that people may discover work there in the big bookstores but as they want to find more books that are similar in nature to what they have already enjoyed they have to come to us."

Comic book stores are a niche within a niche of independent bookstores. That specialization can create a very loyal customer base. Location also helps. Both Rising Sun Creations and Comickaze sought storefronts in easy to reach strip malls.

ROBERT SCOTT : "It makes it very easy for repeat customers to come to us on the traditional every Wednesday with the new releases. But we also placed ourselves in an area where there's continual traffic."

Paul Friedrich's online comic Onion Head Monster Attacks (Paul Friedrich)

But writer Paul Friedrich is after global traffic. He makes his Onion Head Monster Attacks available online. Although a free online comic seems like competition to the traditional comic book store, Friedrich believes these pop culture meccas will survive for one simple reason.

PAUL FRIEDRICH : "I think it's a sense of community, the people working there actually know their customers and I think people respond to that."

But Ed Sherman would like comic publishers to pay more respect to that community. Sherman says companies like Marvel and DC could use their big summer blockbusters like Iron Man and The Dark Knight to drive people to comic book stores.

ED SHERMAN : "They've got millions of people out there that they could advertise to and they really don't, they don't say go check out the Comic Book Locator service and find a comic book store near you to find even more cool stuff based on this movie."

But Scott says that movies based on less familiar comics like Hellboy and Sin City , do bring in new customers.

ROBERT SCOTT : "People have no idea those were comics because it's not like any comic they had ever seen, so those have definitely brought new readers and people who are finding out that they are not indeed too old to read comics any more."

At the moment, Scott says high gas prices seem the biggest challenge as people cut down on driving and have less disposable income. But high gas prices may be a blessing in disguise says Ed Sherman.

ED SHERMAN : "I think the online retailers are going to be hurt because of the shipping costs. It's going to cut into their profits or they'll have to raise shipping fees."

That makes shopping at a local store more attractive. Yet there's still one more threat -- downloadable comics. Robert Scott doesn't seem too worried.

ROBERT SCOTT : "I'm on the Internet hours everyday but I still can't stand reading comics even on a large monitor so I really can't see people really wanting to read Watchmen on their iPod."

Writer Paul Friedrich disagrees. He offers free downloads of Onion Head Monster Attacks.

PAUL FRIEDRICH : "I think there are some people that feel they have to have a book but I think the direction it's going into is all online. Having it on your iPhone or your Blackberry and just being able to instantly get it. There'll be a generation of people that don't need to have it in front of them as a book."

And that does concern Ed Sherman.

ED SHERMAN : "I am worried about the young people coming up raised on the Internet who don't have books in their house. That's going to be the next threat is young people who don't appreciate books."

But for now, both Rising Sun Creations and Comickaze are enjoying good financial times. But Scott says comics have always been a durable form of popular entertainment.

ROBERT SCOTT : "Fortunately for comics, because it's an inexpensive form of entertainment, it always seems to buck the trends of what's going on in the economy."

Rising Sun Creation will at the Comic-Con, Booth #235 and 237. Paul Freidrich will be in the small press area K-8 aisle 1500. Check out Scott's comics organization, Comic Book Industry Alliance .

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