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How One San Diego Comic Book Store Is Thriving

December 15, 2015 12:49 a.m.

Brick-and-mortar bookstores face a lot of challenges starting with Amazon’s low priced online offerings to the instant gratification of digital downloads and e-books. KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando says that while megastores like Borders have closed, one San Diego comic book store is expanding.

Related Story: Comickaze Opens New Store In Liberty Station

Transcript:

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

ANCHOR INTRO: Brick-and-mortar bookstores face a lot of challenges starting with Amazon’s low priced online offerings to the instant gratification of digital downloads and e-books. KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando says that while megastores like Borders have closed, one San Diego comic book store is expanding.

Comic books were once the Rodney Dangerfield of the literary world. But not only did they fail to get any respect they also came under attack. There were comic book burnings in the late 40s and in 1954 a senate committee was formed to consider if there was a link between comics and juvenile delinquency, and if the government needed to step in and regulate the industry. Comics survived that wave of moral panic to face new challenges and stereotypes.

ROBERT SCOTT: For longest time people only thought of comics as juvenile fare and nothing that you’d want to read once you were past 13 or 14 and recently we have seen that to not be the case.

Robert Scott has been running Comickaze: Comics, Books, And More on Clairemont Mesa boulevard for 24 years. In that time he’s seen comics and graphic novels make bestsellers lists and become wildly popular TV shows and movie franchises. This past October he decided to open a second store in Liberty Station, right across the courtyard from IDW Publishing’s Comic Art Gallery. T.J. Shevlin manages the Comic-Art Gallery. He says his new neighbors prove one thing.

T.J. SHEVLIN: Brick and mortar comic shops are never going to go away. Comic book stores are special, they don’t sell anything that you need, they sell something you want. And it caters to that desire.

Hitting that niche market is part of what drives the success of a comic book store says Scott.

ROBERT SCOTT: We have a specialized product that has a fan base that is highly motivated to seek it out so that helps. It also comes out on a regular basis we have new issues every week whereas if you are a book reader and you have three or four favorite authors you might see a book a year.

The new location at Liberty Station is designed to appeal to a bookstore clientele in terms of the layout and design but with a slightly different sense of customer service.

ROBERT SCOTT: I’ve been looking at business for the last few years and a lot of the book industry is looking to be bigger and mightier and superstore-centric and mall-centric, and I came to the conclusion that we need to go where the customer is. We need to go back out into the neighborhoods on a smaller scale instead of trying to get everyone to come to us.

Providing a very personalized experience that can’t be found with online competitors says IDW’s Shevlin.

T.J. SHEVLIN: Any comic shop employee who is good will ask you right questions and will find that book that will work based on your taste and there is literally something for everybody….Again purchasing a book on a website you are not going to get that tailor made recommendation.
Scott adds that he listens to his customers and tries to stock what they are interested in. But he’s also looking to expand his customer base at the new location, which gets very different foot traffic than his Clairemont store.

ROBERT SCOTT: We’re getting a lot of tourists, and a lot of other events that happen here like the Japanese culture fair where we got people coming in and looking at what we’re doing.

Scott says he still faces the challenges of Amazon’s low pricing and an ever-growing library of digital content. But he’s responding by reaching out to the community more through events such as book signings and planned monthly film screenings. Shevlin, who used to work in a comic book store in New York, says people like Scott and stores like Comickaze help to build a loyal community of comic book fans.

T.J. SHEVLIN: Comic book stores are the backbone of the comic book industry and do more for comics than movies and TV shows video game do, it’s a really special relationship at your comic book store so find the one that suits you.

Comickaze’s only been open in Liberty Station for a a few months and while not yet up to the sales of its Clairemont store it’s definitely trending that way. Scott’s also hoping that this holiday season some shoppers will consider comic book stores as an alternative to crowded malls and online outlets that need to ship your purchases. And once in his store he hopes they’ll discover comics aren’t just for kids any more.

Beth Accomando, KPBS News.