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WAITING FOR TOMMY: BRYAN TALBOT
By Richard Johnston

BRYAN: OK! Page 45 is the best comic store in the UK. By thinking outside of the box, thinking in realistic commercial terms rather than being restrained by a traditional comic store mentality, they are a huge success. They're very clever. For a start, the title is non-committal, non-genre, not "Fantasy Bastards" or some such.

Their high street (not up a back alley) store front is very classic, modelled on Waterstones - black window frames, black sign with gold letters and the 3 windows are black showcases, into which they put simple and tasteful displays, perhaps just with a single graphic novel and a blowup of one of the panels, as opposed to the usual garish displays of muscle-bound tiny-headed freaks and half naked ludicrously-proportioned pin-ups (exciting for the owners but very off-putting to many people).

The doors are always open wide, so it's as easy for passing trade to stroll into from the street and browse as a regular store. Most comic shops offer to the uninitiated passer-by a bewildering barrage of esoteric magazines (amazing as this seems, to normal people SPAWN and X-MEN ARE esoteric!) and toys. This makes them a little like sex or martial art shops or surgical stores - you just wouldn't go in unless you were part of the clique with whom the stores deal with.

In Page 45 comic albums that would immediately interest the general public are the first thing you see when you enter: stuff to entice them in. Inside the shelves are black oak with the titles displayed face-out, not the usual box racks. There's nice music playing at a reasonable volume. No posters or stickers, just a couple of framed prints.

The staff are well motivated and mingle with the customers, chatting to them and recommending books ("Oh, if you like that, you'll LOVE this one"). It's part of their job. How many times have you been in the boys' locker room-type comic store where a sales assistant holds court to a few fans round the counter, ignoring the rare potential customers who drift in, look round and exit?

They specialise in graphic novels - something with a much higher profit margin than monthly pamphlets. They always keep full runs of books in stock - every single Cerebus album, Sandman, Bone etc. This is very important for several reasons. They carry all the Small Press books - these are far more likely to sell to non-comic readers than superhero comics.

They DO carry Superhero and Manga titles BUT these are all tucked away in their own section right at the back of the store. Think about it - the comic fans who buy these titles are going to come in and buy them ANYWAY! There's no need to draw these customers in. Instead they concentrate on getting the general public in there. Their philosophy is that it's pointless trying to sell comics to the tiny percentage of the population that comprises comic fans. They aim to sell comics to everybody. The general public is their intended market. And it works. I've seen a Tory blue-rinse old lady wander in, saying "And what sort of a shop is this, then?" and walk out 5 minutes later clutching a GN. There are actually women on their own looking round (in a comic shop?) - they have a whole section of women's comics. In fact, the store has as many customers looking around all the time as a regular good bookstore.

At a time when most comic shops are losing money hand over fist, Page 45's profits go up every year, well above their sales projections. This in a town with 3 other nearby comic shops, including a Forbidden Planet. They're now in their 6th or 7th year.

The owners, Steve and Marc, are quite evangelical about it - they'd like to see stores like theirs all over - it would increase their own potential sales if more people in the country read comics, a knock-on effect. But when they try to tell other retailers how to achieve this, as in an open letter to retailers published in Comics International, all they get back is abuse. "How dare you try and tell us how to sell comics?" Insane.

Page 45 have sold well over 100 copies of each of my last few graphic novels in the first two weeks of sale. Then they keep them permanently in stock as consistent sellers. Most comics stores get a few in (if I'm lucky), sell these, then forget about them. If every town had an equivalent of Page 45, I'd be rich.

If any readers know someone who's thinking of starting a comic store, please - tell them about Page 45. Steve and Marc gladly tell them all they need to know. It's just common sense. As Steve says "It's not rocket science".

RICH: As evangelicals go, they sound like they've got one convert. Thanks, Bryan.

Bryan Talbot's website can be found here, his prints here and a new Luther Arkwright website here. Rich Johnston writes Lying In The Gutters.

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The Waiting For Tommy Archive

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