Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Brand New Day

So, I went to my Local Comic Shop to see if I could get a copy of the Spider-Man/Barack Obama comic.

I get to the store at about 1:05. The store is supposed to open at 1:00, but it's dark inside and the door is locked. About half a dozen cars are in the parking lot waiting for the place to open.

The guy finally shows up about 10 minutes later and opens the door. Most of the people coming in are not regular customers, but are there for the Obama comic. For the next ten minutes, a steady stream of customers comes in asking specifically for the comic. The store has about 35 copies of the regular issue and 3 copies of the Obama cover, which have been marked up to $25.00.

Of course, customers are confused. They want the Obama cover, which they've seen on the news with a price of $3.99. The clerk tries to explain the concept of variant covers, but this doesn't seem to make sense to nonregular customers. After all, they wouldn't expect to walk into Best Buy to purchase a Wii for the regular price of $250, only to find that the store is charging $1000 because it is a rare item.

A little bit later, the clerk gets a phone call from an irate customer whose daughter came in to buy the Obama cover but refused to pay the jacked up price. He again tries to explain the concept of variant covers, but it becomes clear that even he doesn't understand how the ordering worked on this variant, because he seems to think that it's a one-for-ten variant, rather than the more complicated situation it actually was. He gives the customer the phone number of the store owner and hangs up.

This turned out to be the tipping point that had been building for the last 15 minutes.

The clerk lets off a tirade for any of the six or seven customers currently in the store. "Don't complain to me about the price--I didn't set it. I'd just as soon give the fucking thing away so I don't have to look at it for the rest of the day. I'd rather wipe my ass with it than sell it. And I'm going to have to deal with this shit all day."

A couple of people in the store respond about the demand for the book and the news coverage, which is the first the clerk has heard of it. The fact that he was not aware of the media attention this book was getting says volumes. And this just gets him going more:

"You know, I do want things to get better, but a big part of me hopes that it gets worse and this guy really fucks this country up. Because then all the people with their DVDs and magazine covers and shit will shut the fuck up. Because I'm sick of hearing this shit. I really hope he fucks this country up even more. And Joe Quesada has probably been whoring himself out on television rather than doing his job. He should get back to telling stories rather than this propaganda cashing in on this shit. I'm just fucking sick of it."

A customer then walks up to the counter to make his purchase and engages the clerk in further conversation. The clerk then mutters, at a lower volume than his tirade, a completely despicable racial epithet. I set down my comic and left. I won't be supporting this store anymore.

And I'd rather be out this particular comic than give that store any of my money.


Jeff said...

Every time I read this, I get angrier. For about three distinct reasons.

Anonymous said...

I completely understand not supporting this store any longer. I just hope you will be passing on the reason why to the owner, who might actually want to do something about it. Of course, by jacking up the price he was playing his own part in alienating people from comics when he had the chance to possibly make some new customers.

Scott said...

I knew there'd be this kind of stuff going on, just judging by some of the horrible stuff that went on during the campaign and during some of the coverage on conservative websites. But yeah, even though I knew it was coming, it don't make me any less pissed off.

Anonymous said...

yeah, definitely let the owner know. fuck that guy!

Nik said...

Pathetic. I'd send this in to your local newspaper too.

Maxo said...

Ugh. That seems to be one of the insidious things about bigotry - sometimes it lurches out when you least expect it. Thanks for sharing this, Dr. K; more importantly, thanks for doing the right thing by dropping that shop. Hopefully this ass won't have a job much longer.

James said...

"I'd send this in to your local newspaper too."

Oh, I like that. Shop that monster.

Siskoid said...

Seeing as I've dropped stores for much less, I heartily approve your decision. Well, who wouldn't? Geez!

Booksteve said...

wow. I'm speechless.

smacky said...

In an economic climate where even hardcore comic fans are starting to view comics as an unnecessary luxury, wishing for the economy to get worse is wishing himself out of a job. Douche.

rob! said...

Wow. Good to know this troll has this world view so completely thought out.

Bad economy = lower comic sales = you're out of a job, you racist dipshit!

Maybe Fox News will start a comics line, and he can sell those exclusively, that way he won't have to deal with, you know, Reality.

chrishaley said...

I don't know if this is poor etiquette or not, but I'd tell people (here and/or in real life) which store it was so that they can stop shopping there as well.

googum said...

It's unfortunate to hear something like that: I've always had a lot of luck with my comic shops, and love them like Barney loves Moe's.

My current shop didn't have lines or rioters, but the clerk did announce when someone asked that there were no more copies. He hadn't lost his patience or anything, but he didn't wanna have to say it four or five more times.

Anonymous said...

" Wow. Good to know this troll has this world view so completely thought out.

Bad economy = lower comic sales = you're out of a job, you racist dipshit!

Maybe Fox News will start a comics line, and he can sell those exclusively, that way he won't have to deal with, you know, Reality.

Where did he say something racist? Or are you just lobbing b.s. around?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, did you not read the last paragraph?

Mike V. Scholtz said...

My LCS put up several handwritten signs that contained both an apology and an explanation that more copies of the comic would arrive next Wednesday.

But, hey, maybe racism and stupidity works better in other cities.

Anonymous said...

Oh wow. When the story started I thought it would be about rude customers harrasing the guy about a price he didn't set. Then came that last You were right to leave. You may want to call the store owner and let him know about his employee's conduct.

Maybe someone here can tell me: does Obama even know about this comic? Did Marval have to get permission to use his likeness or anything?

Phillip said...

Najika- I'm no expert, but I'm gonna say the answers to your questions are 1) Yes, and 2) No. Number one, no way did no one bring it to his attention, and number two, he's a public/publicly elected official and as such has little to say about his image being used. (I Am Not A Lawyer!:))

Anonymous said...

THE WORKER WAS RIGHT! He tried did he not...but the people kept on and kept on....well he cant help it that those people didnt what if he let out a racial epitaph....((brown guy speaking who voted for Obama)) he was angry!! Tell me any one of you has not done something similar ((not necessarily race))...give the guy a break...

Anonymous said...

So...wishing deliberate harm on the economy and the country, muttering a racial epithet and overcharging the cover price by twenty dollars is...okay with you, anonymous number 3? And can be easily excused by blaming people eager to actually buy something from a comic shop?

I'd hate to see what you'd find unacceptable behavior.

Anonymous said...

Did you call the store managers to inform them of the inappropriate language used by their employee?

I totally would have. But I'm a female multiracial comic fan. We pretty much come out of the womb with a petition and a protest sign.

Unknown said...

Ok coming from a comic shop employee, I understand the clerk's frustration at the situation. We were blindsided by this, even worse than the death of Captain America debacle. The majority of our customers who came in solely for this book were very nice about it. We sold out our copies to our in-house customers before it even hit the stands, but we took pre-orders for the second print. Fine, no problem. Were we frustrated with the 100+ calls all day long? Of course. Did one of us go off on a tirade expressing discontent with the situation? Of course. Did any of us break out with racist remarks? No way.

This whole mess about charging more for the variant cover... does no one understand the variant cover process? You are allowed to place an order for a variant cover after you meet the ordering requirement. This does not mean you will get the cover. Very often you must pay more for this variant comic. The window to order this comic was a day and a half, and our account rep never mentioned it to us, so we missed it. Orders are placed 2-3 months in advance as well, not the week before. And look at it this way, if the book is a 1 in 50 variant and you only order 35 copies, you don't get it. And has no one ever heard of supply and demand? If there is a 1:10 or 1:50 or 1:100 ratio on a book, that price will go up exponentially. That is how pricing on rare items works, comics or not. If everyone is so hard up for an Obama cover, wait til next week for the second printing.

I agree that you should boycott that particular shop and notify the owner. But only for him poppin' off with a racial slur. If customers don't want to listen to the clerk, that's their problem.

Dr. K said...

Aimee (and others)--
I appreciate the frustration that retailers must feel about Marvel's handling of this particular situation, and particularly the customer service problems it created that weren't the retailer's fault. However, I also understand exactly why the average layperson, unfamiliar with some of the common practices of comics retailing, would not understand the issue with variant covers.

In my post, I used the analogy of buying a Wii at Best Buy. As Christmas approached this year, my wife and I decided that we wanted to get ourselves the Wii Fit system. We waited in line at Best Buy one Sunday morning when the store had advertised that they would be having the Wii Fit in stock. However, while standing in line, an employee came out to inform customers that the store only had 20 copies of the game, and there were more than 30 people in line. Demand was clearly higher than the supply.

Now, I was able to get the Wii Fit that day, and I paid the regular price of $89 for it. Best Buy did not charge a higher price for the item because of the increased demand. If I hadn't been able to get it there, I could have gone on the secondary market, where I could find the system for $150 or more, and that's where I would expect the cost to increase based on the demand.

This is a normal retail experience, so I'm not surprised that customers were confused in the comic store when a brand new item that had just come out that day and was publicized at a price of $3.99 (which also appears on the cover) was now $25, without having gone through the process of entering the secondary market first.

My point here is this: comic retailing operates on rules that both customers and retailers understand very well because they are based on a kind of tradition in the industry that these two groups accept. When someone comes into a comic store without that experience and understanding that has been built over years, then these rules can seem illogical and confusing. Variant covers are just one of those things, and it makes sense--while also requiring a considerable amount of patience on the retailer's part--that the average customer new to a comic store would be confused.

Glenn Hauman said...

Please post the name of the store, or feel free to email it to me at glenn at I'd like to cover this story properly.

Unknown said...

Dr. K- I understand about the non-comic buyer coming in and being disappointed about not getting an Obama cover and not understanding the whole variant cover process. But when I explain it to someone 3-4 times and they still don't get it -- and insist that what they saw on tv is what they should get -- that's what causes retailers headaches.

As for the Wii analogy, variant covers are a bit different. Stores get a limited amount of Wii's before Christmas. That's your first print of Amazing Spidey. The Wii's that flood the market after the holiday season are you second and third printings of the book. They're the same price, but this Wii may have the bugs worked out of it (and the book maybe has some extra stuff like scripts and sketches). The Super Deluxe Limited Edition Boba Fett Wii that retails for $149.99 as opposed to the regular Wii's $89.99 is your variant comic.

Personally, variant comics drive me up a wall. They bankrupted the comics industry in the early '90s by artificially inflating sales. Publishers thought they had 5000 readers on one title, but it was 1000 readers buying the 5 covers on that month's book. And those readers stopped buying and sales went out the window. Oopth. What Marvel and DC and a few others are doing now is making the retailer buy more copies of the comic to get that variant. Now you get the opportunity to order the variant. Think about that. The retailer will buy many more copies of a book that they probably won't be able to sell to be allowed the esteemed honor of ORDERING the book. Doesn't mean you'll get it. The publishers and distributor have the retailer and consumer by their jibblies. Marvel went so far as to disallow backorders and second printings on books. Why would you NOT want to sell more books than your original print run allowed?!

Again, I can't expect a customer off the street to come in with that knowledge. But when I explain it in the easiest terms possible, again and again, and a customer still won't listen? I show them other comics that have Obama on the cover. As I said, the majority of our customers were great about it. They just happily pre-ordered the second printing. But for the little guy out in the Boondocks who has to order a copy for $40 on ebay cuz the closest comic or hobby shop is miles and miles away.... its just messed up.

Anonymous said...

Racial epithets aside, I have to agree with the guy.

Why is an Obama Spidey cover necessary? It's just overkill. I'm sick of seeing this hero worship everywhere I go. It's scary, actually.

The worst thing is that no-one can voice any criticism, however valid, of Barack Obama or the cult that has arisen around him, for fear of being called a racist.

Chance said...

Daniel, your charge is, of course (and as you know), baseless. Valid criticism of Obama's policies and views are not racist according to anyone. Racial epithets are racist, and griping aloud about Obama's personality or charisma might be racist, but it's probably just envy.

Why an Obama cover? Why not? Why did Marvel do a Letterman cover? A Colbert cover? A Muhummad Ali cover? It's a historic inauguration. Iconic figure. Sales. Hmmm... not too tough to figure.

Anonymous said...

I work in a comic shop, and these Obama comics never even hit the rack in our store. We have an extensive reservist base in our store and they were given priority over walk-ins. Any copies left over are being sold on the secondary market. Does that make us bad people for capitalizing on the demand and willingness of people to shell out $70 to $100 for a copy of this book? I don't think so. Times have been a little rough in the comic business lately, so when something like this comes along I'll take whatever I can get for them.

What we did for walk-ins is this: we're taking names and orders for the second printing, which comes out this wednesday. And those are going up for cover price, even though the second printing is already fetching 2 to 3 times that on the secondary market.

By the way, that clerk is despicable. I'd love to know what shop he works at, because a slug like that shouldn't be in the retail business.

Dr. K said...

Matt--I just want to be clear that when I commented on the handling of variant covers, I was simply trying to point out that, from the outside looking in, it's a retail practice that doesn't make much sense compared to normal retail practices. There are a lot of these things that I would call "traditions" in comics retail that are unique to the hobby that comic customers accept because they have years of experience doing things that way. PREVIEWS and pre-ordering would fit there as well.

And on those comments about Obama getting too much attention, or criticism of Obama being labelled "racist": First of all, I think it's exciting that people are enthusiastic about the new president, and the media are largely reflecting that enthusiasm. Times are rough right now, so I find it odd that some would want to undermine any sense of optimism that might help through this situation.

Second, it wasn't that many years ago that conservatives like O'Reilly, Hannity, and others were accusing critics of the Bush administration of being "unpatriotic" for criticising the president in a time of crisis. There was a strong movement from the conservative media to silence, and in some cases, criminalize and threaten, such criticism. That was wrong then, and it's wrong now for anyone to refer to legitimate, reasoned criticism of the president-elect as "racist." However, I think wishing for the country to spiral even further downward just because one doesn't like the current president or doesn't agree with his ideology is atrocious. Wanting to wipe feces on an image of the president-elect's face because you don't want to look at it is not legitimate, reasonable criticism. And as I point out in my follow-up post, this is an employee and owner who have not had a problem expressing their political beliefs to customers at all times without any concern for whether or not those customers wish to hear them.

It is entirely possible to have reasonable intellectual debates on political issues with people that one doesn't agree with, but what happened at the store was not that. I have them all the time with colleagues, family members, and students--and I've even had a few with the owner of this particular comic store. However, any conservatives who feel now that they are being silenced for their criticism of Obama need to take a careful look at the way political discourse was framed at the beginning of the Bush administration when conservatives were in control, especially following 9/11. If it was unpatriotic to criticize a president during that particular crisis, why would it be any less so now, regardless of the party with which the president aligns?

Anonymous said...

I understand the clerk's frustration fully - I have watched people ask the same question over and over and over etc. ad nauseam at my friend's store
And it was a limited cover - suck it up, get over it and get a goddamn life. Variant covers DO sell for more than the regular, and, as a Canadian, I am right royally sick of the idol worship of the guy. It really creeps me out

Steven Rowe said...

I can see why some folks here dont want to sign their posts. What a sad world.

Anonymous said...

The only reason most people want this is the same reason they insisted on getting Superman #75: they think they are going to sell it soon for the cost of a house, on Ebay (obviously ebay did not exist with Death of Superman but the reasoning was the same.
They don't give a shit about Obama and will not hoot and cheer in a year and they don't give a shit about comics.

These same people see a movie for $15, and a 'Collectors Edition' for $30 and will buy it. They DO KNOW what this special variant implies, but know that paying $25 cuts into their imagined profit

Anonymous said...

Kudos for leaving the store. 'Nuff said.

rassmguy said...

Anyone actually defending that clerk is pretty pathetic. Racial slurs don't belong in this day and age, and anyone who would use one is pretty disgusting. Anonymous, saying to give the guy a break is ridiculous. I have NEVER uttered a racial slur, and never will--it's absolutely indefensible. I don't care how frustrated he got--if the guy running the shop I go to did that, he'd lose my business as well.

Anonymous said...

My understanding is that the price that a store must sell a comic at is the price listed on the cover. So if the price shown on the variant cover is the same as the price listed on the regular cover, then the store MUST sell both at the same price. I believe it is the same with sports tickets. The price that it is labeled for is the price it MUST be sold for, or else the seller is committing a crime. They customer should have sued the store for breaking this law. Although I probably would have punished him for breaking the law by breaking the law myself in an act of revenge. I would have walked out of the store WITH the comic book without paying. That would have showed the fool of a store clerk who was boss! And the boss is the customer, as the phrase goes "the customer is always right".

Anonymous said...

I agree that leaving the store was the right decision. Informing the owner was another one.

Did the clerk have a right to be frustrated at the situation? Yes. Were his words and actions completely out of line (to say the least)? Absolutely.

Good Job Dr. K - keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

Though I'm not defending the clerk's racism by any stretch of the imagination, I would agree that seeing Obama fuck America up even more than Bush would be amusing just to see the looks on the faces of all the people that bought into the media hype (I'm British btw).

BillyWitchDoctor said...

People leave anonymous comments about Obama because there are a lot of cult members out there who feel it is their duty to hunt down and eradicate the unbelievers.

This has been true for every president in my lifetime, so let's resist the currently-popular reflex action to fling about accusations of racism. It ends the same every time; four years from now, half of the respondents on this page will be disappointed, disillusioned, or delusional. Most will go back to voting for Nader so they won't have to take responsibility for future election results. (Politics are hard!)

Anyway, I just wanted to congratulate Dr. K on the insertion of a publicly-uttered racist phrase to complete the image of the clerk as Satan Incarnate, invalidate everything he said prior, and reinforce the idea that lack of unquestioning fealty to Obama equals racism.

People won't stop watching South Park or Jeff Dunham but all you have to do to get a regular guy burned is tell everyone he said the N-word.


(Meanwhile, Obama's putting another Republican on his cabinet. As Commerce Secretary. I know all the blather about "change!" has been dumped under the bus in favor of "pragmatism!," but wow. Why doesn't he just ditch Biden in favor of Newt Gingrich?)

Unknown said...

I want to add my voice in support of BillyWitchDoctor. I don't really think this clerk deserves to get lynched for this one mistake, and it's more pathetic that people are getting out the torches and pitchforks because of it.

Anonymous said...

Geez billy-what-hell,
Dr. K didn't insert anything.
It wasn't a fictional story.
It happed TO him.
Don't let your snarky bias color your logic.

60sThru80s said...

I've been away from comics for many years, but I'm surprised to see they are still doing variant covers.
I see nobody's learned their lesson from the 90's collectors bubble.
History teaches that mankind is fundamentally unteachable.