At first glance, the central desk in the first floor of the University Bookstore looks like customer service spot. Upon further examination, though, it’s actually a comic book nook, a little haven for everything nerdy the store has to offer. About 10 meters long and 5 wide, it’s home to racks of comics and displays of apparel featuring art and logos from popular franchises. Shelves are lined with manga and tabletop games. It is a diamond in the rough for students and faculty alike who would otherwise have to order things online or travel outside of Boone to pick them up.
The bookstore has always carried comics in some capacity. However, they used to be limited to graphic novels and trade papers, tucked away in a corner of the storemost don’t see until they’re waiting in line to rent textbooks at the beginning of a semester. In February 2017, John Pearce, support services supervisor at the bookstore, plucked the graphic novels from this section and put them by the front desk.
“In the first three months that the graphic novels were up front here at my desk, I had four people per day stop and ask about it,” Pearce said. “Some people would say something like, ‘Hey, when did we get graphic novels?’ when we actually had them all along.”
After seeing the interest that passersby had, Pearce began doing market research. Taking into consideration that there weren’t any standalone comic stores in Boone anymore, he decided by the end of spring 2017 to bring a comic section to the University Bookstore. Retailers have to order their stock from Diamond, the distributor, two months ahead of time, so Pearce placed his first order in June that year. When students returned for the fall semester in August, the comic book nook was ready to begin.
Boone wasn’t always devoid of comic book shops. The town has seen at least four since the turn of the millennium. It was previously home to The Warehouse, The Dragon’s Den and Plan 9, which used to have two locations in Boone. All of these have since closed their doors. This can be attributed to a couple of key issues, Craig Fischer, who teaches a class on comic books and graphic novels at App State, said.
Comic stores typically get a list of upcoming titles around three months before they come out. The shop then gets the word out and suggests customers place orders on what they want ahead of time.
“That way, the publisher controls inventory,” Fischer said. “You don’t want to print too many more than people order, and he doesn’t lose money on it. Because the thing about Diamond is that it works on a non-returnable system. If John (Pearce) ordered like, 10 extra copies of a comic and he only sold one, he’d take a bath on it.”
This makes it a little harder for newcomers to simply browse the selections, as there aren’t often surplus copies laying around, but it’s a system that benefits both Diamond and local shops, as unsold goods are a store’s worst enemy.
The no returns system, combined with unsold comics, is a large part of what led to the downfall of some of the comic book shops around town. People began ordering comics, but they didn’t follow through on picking up, and the stores were left on the hook.
“My friend Mark Hayes ran the Warehouse,” Fischer said. “He took a real bath after 9/11 when the economy kind of tanked and a number of people who ordered things just didn’t show up in the shop to pay him for them, so he had all this merchandise. People who said they were going to buy them didn’t come to pick them up.”
Pearce isn’t worried about these problems, though. The store doesn’t depend solely on comics. It also deals in other books, the tech store and school merchandise.
“Selling comics is only about a quarter of my sales,” Pearce said. “I don’t depend on comics to operate. This bookstore was here before we had comics; if we ever don’t have comics again, it’ll still be here selling books. And I have other things that I can generate revenue with, whether it be board games, merchandise or posters. Having a trade bookstore as being the majority of my sales is helpful and it cushions the cost of dealing with comics that don’t sell.”
He also has a unique advantage in that students can use their express accounts to pay for their comics.
“If a comic doesn’t sell, I’m not out a whole lot of money,” Pearce said. “If I have books that don’t sell, it’s equivalent to having 10 comics that don’t sell. If I can reduce the amount of comics that don’t sell, I’m fine. Plus, this is a service to the students, not necessarily a money raking, profit-driven endeavor.”
Despite just being a section of a larger store, a community has developed around it, one that is continuously growing, Liz Orange, a senior English major who works at the center desk, said.
“I think it’s definitely something that people bond over, just like, having a physical place that you can come and talk about comics, purchase comics and hold events,” Orange said. “We have Free Comic Book Day and Halloween Comic Fest, so many people will come for that and I think it’s very important for the community.”
Having a location where people can come in, see folks with similar interests and have discussions is a big draw.
“We had two students coming in, they were both interested in comics. One was a writer and one was an artist, and they ended up collabing,” Orange said. “They sat in our store for probably three hours, talking about a comic they could do together. Just having that outlet happen in the store, people being able to come here and talk about and then having something like that happen is really cool.”
Story by Mack Foley, A&E Reporter
Photo by Paola Bula, Staff Photographer
Featured photo caption: Students browse the comic book section of the university bookstore. The bookstore’s new selection of comic books ranges from superhero stories like Black Panther to TV show favorites like Stranger things.