Unlike so much other printed and tangible media, which has been steadily declining, comics do seem to be weathering the storm, its true that sales of paper comics will probably never be that of their heyday, and in the UK one of our oldest and most loved is facing its last issue on 4 December this year, the Dandy has been published since 1937, and it is the third longest running comic in the world, but while we mourn the up-coming passing of cow pie, its worth remembering that paper comics do have a huge and loyal following of avid fans, who ensure that new comics are still published and have an audience.
We had the opportunity to speak to Steve Anderson, the owner of Third Eye Comics, one of the US's most beloved, and most successful comic stores, with two large premises Maryland.
Third Eye Comics is owned and run by husband and wife team, Steve Anderson and Trish Rabbitt. Steve was the driving force behind opening the comic store, having been an avid fan since childhood, heading off to his local comic book store every week as a teenager and then from the age of eighteen spending seven years working there. He says he always had that passionate desire to make the job he loved into a successful career however, when he was 23 he did what so many of us try (and fail at) and spent 6 months attempting a normal job! It was soon after he realised that the route to happiness was going to be opening his own comic store, so he and wife Trish spent the next two years working all hours, selling their own comic collections and raising the capital needed, and in 2008, they opened the first incarnation of Third Eye Comics.
Since that time, they really haven’t looked back, just five years later, Third Eye Comics has upgraded through two locations, quadrupled from its original size, opened a second location and (in Steve's words) “become one of the country’s most beloved comic book stores”.
With that statement in mind, I asked Steve what he felt made a really good comic store? He was understandably reluctant to give away too many of the secret ingredients which make Third Eye Comics so special, but he told me…
“service, selection, and shopping environment- consumers have a lot of options nowadays, and their standards are high. A good comic book store needs to have what they want before they know they want it; but it’s not just selection that matters. Service is king, and being able to connect with your customers on a personal, and human level is a big part of what I expect from my staff.
I can proudly say that even with over 2,000 people coming through our doors each week, I can greet 90% of them by name, and know all of their likes and dislikes.
They're our family!”
Having always secretly hankered myself for a job surrounded everyday with the delights of the Comic World, I asked Steve rather hopefully if the job involved sitting around all day reading the comics and playing games? I was, perhaps unsurprisingly, rather disappointed with the answer, and have quickly revised my ambitions back to tapping away (a job which does mean I can sometimes sneak of and play games and read comics all day). Steve told me with a grin…
“Ha! Video games? I just played God Of War… 1, like a year ago. So, yeah, not a lot of time for those, unfortunately! 🙁 As for comics, I do set aside time to read each week, but it’s definitely considered off-time, and not work time.
Our day-to-day is pretty hectic. I usually get up at 6AM, have breakfast, catch up on my news, and then get to the shop by 8AM. While we don’t open until 11AM, the store is so busy during open hours, that it’s crucial I have that extra time to take care of displays, floor moves, inventory, and more.
From there, it’s either an “office” day, or a “floor” day. If it’s a floor day, I’m working displays, and doing my favourite thing: helping customers. 🙂 If it’s an “office” day, I’m usually catching up on paperwork, fielding calls from suppliers and comic creators/publishers to set up events or discuss new projects, and taking care of inventory and marketing concerns for the company.
I wear many hats, and love to be involved in every step of our operation, but luckily, we do have a very good crew that I can trust to oversee certain aspects.”
Speak to any collector or comic fan and they will espouse about their own particular passion, and so with so much diversity in collecting and fandom these, the once simple comic shop is now often more like a collector’s emporium with everything from the Millennium Falcon to life size Disney Characters, and Third Eye comics isn’t any different, Steve told me how his vision for Third Eye evolved from visiting and admiring comic stores such as Midtown Comics, Meltdown Comics, Forbidden Planet, and the late, great Atomic Comics. If you “want it”, Third Eye Comics goal is to have it, and while Third Eye's focus has been and will always be on comics and graphic novels, you will find video game-related memorabilia, and designer toys (like KIDROBOT) in the mix at Third Eye Comics.
I was interested to get Steve's view on the rise of the the Kindle and other devices, which have spawned a huge surge in self-publishing authors, I asked him if he could ever see a time when comics could become a digital format only?
“I honestly don’t, I think that digital comics have their place, and that they are a great channel of getting comics to fans that are in areas without comic shops, or comic shops that carry the titles they want to read.
There’s a lot of innovative material coming out, and I think that if a person lives within reasonable distance of a good full-line comic book store, they’ll always choose to have it in print before digital.
With that being said, I personally believe that comics are very much in tune with record collecting culture. They are a physical artefact, and while the stories and content is modern, there’s something about the actual experience of a comic that is so timeless, and unique, that it’ll never go away.”
Browse the shelves of any comic store, and nestling alongside the comic world big guns, such as Marvel, you will find many independently published comics, a market which does seem to continue to grow and flourish, and I asked Steve how he thought the independent small comic publishers were fairing?
“Fantastic! All of the companies are offering their best of the best these days. Marvel, and D.C are both doing a great job, but we’ve seen the line between “Big 2” and “everyone else” kind of vanish between publishers. It’s all about quality now. People want a good story, and companies like IMAGE COMICS are giving them to them. There’s also a lot of great comics coming out that are 100% independent, but have the production values of a major publisher. Th3rd World Studios’ FINDING GOSSAMYR and STUFF OF LEGEND are great examples of this, as is Sam Humphries’ SACRIFICE.
Speaking to Steve, it seemed the perfect time to garner some tips from an expert, and so before finishing up, I asked Steve if he could give our readers some advice on comic care and any tips on comics they should be watching out for in the future?
“Your best bet to take care of your collection is basic 2-mil or 3-mil bags and boards. They come in a variety of brands, are inexpensive, and last a long time. Always make sure to store your comics in dry areas, and avoid storing them in areas that may flood. Moisture is always the true enemy of paper. 🙂
As far as comics to watch out for, I’d keep an eye out for BEDLAM #1 from IMAGE COMICS. REVIVAL is another new IMAGE series that recently blew up, and deserves the hype it’s getting.
Also, Marvel’s MARVEL NOW titles will be huge.”
Steve's love of and enthusiasm for his beloved comics and shop are obvious as soon as you speak to him, and so I ended by asking Steve with his good rapport and understanding with his customers – 'where does Third Eye go from here? A third store perhaps”, his answer was unsurprisingly tight lipped….
“I could tell you, but this is a no spoilers interview. ;)”
As with our KewelWorld interviews, I finished up with a few fun questions…..
If you were a super hero who would it be?
“Does Don Draper count?”
What music are you currently listening too?
“Right now, THE JAM is on my playlist. I’m a big fan of punk and post-punk. I have a hard time finding new music I like, but if I had to pick four new bands (or new to me) I really dig, they’d be: ICEAGE, Cloud Nothings, Ceremony, and Yuck.”
Who is your favoured comic book artist?
You can find out more about Third Eye Comics on their website – www.thirdeyecomics.com/ and of course if you are in the Maryland, USA area by popping in and browsing the store yourself.