BLOG — Superheroes of Yellow Springs – an interview with Jared of Super Fly Comics
- Published: November 21, 2015
Finally, I’m back to doing interviews after a few weeks of my personal ramblings. What follows is an interview with Jared, the manager at Super Fly Comics. I was lucky enough to talk to him about the comic book industry, the changing and not-so-changing perceptions of comics, and the ups and downs of running a comic book store. My primary experience with comics is a brief interest in a series called Bloodstrike put out by Image comics in the mid-90s. It was by all accounts a terrible book, and it’s a shame that the tape recorder was turned off when we talked about what’s so-bad-it’s-kind-of-good about that series. But the insights I did capture about everything else are recorded below. As always, it was a fascinating conversation and I’m grateful for the opportunity to become at least a little bit enlightened about comic book stores and the larger world of comics today.
The different levels of knowledge about comics and comic book stores are weird – you’ll have the super oblivious people who don’t even know it’s going on; you’ll have people who got out of it but are getting re-acclimated; and you have the people who have been into it the whole time. People largely still think that comic stores are just backdrops in movies and TV shows. People don’t know they still happen, but it’s like, your whole media at this point – every TV show or movie you’re interested in – has some comic tie in at some point. Comic book characters are a pop-culture thing now and not just characters in comics. It’s funny how people still have the idea of clammy-handed nerds are the only people that read comics.
I’ve read comics my whole life and I’m interested writing and stuff, but it was never like, “Oh man, I can’t wait for the opportunity to work in a comic book store.” But the opportunity came up, and it seemed cool. I really appreciate it now. Basically some friends of mine asked if I’d be interested in helping them out. Super Fly was originally a store next door to where we are now, and I used to go in there a lot when I moved to town. I talked to Tony and Tad, who were in charge at the time, and Tad eventually asked me if I’d be interested in coming and helping them out. They were looking for more people. I was in there a lot and they dug me OK, but it wasn’t like I’d been trying to get into comics my whole life.
I’ve worked here for about six and a half years. I am the manager. Tony is the owner and he and I are basically the main guys, the decision makers. We do all the heavy lifting and keeping all the wheels on the ground, as it were. We have a couple of employees. Larry just came on recently, and he does a lot of the gaming stuff, Heroclicks, Magic, stuff like that. Mike does Magic Tournaments.
I’m mostly a video game guy. I’m not big into Magic: the Gathering but I board game once in a while. I have Cards Against Humanity. I like comics, but Marvel and DC stuff has been wearing a little thin. Image and Dark Horse are doing a lot of cool stuff, but I’m really excited about video game stuff.
Personally, I do a YouTube Let’s Play channel, and people make fun of me because I’m bad at it. (According to Wikipedia, “a Let’s Play is a video documenting a playthrough of a video game, almost always including commentary by the gamer. A Let’s Play differs from a walkthrough or strategy guide by focusing on an individual’s subjective experience with the game, often with humorous, irreverent, or critical commentary from the gamer, rather than being an objective source of information on how to progress through the game.”) That aspect of video gaming is cool to me. I follow a lot of esports stuff (competitive gaming), like Counter Strike and Starcraft 2 and I just started checking out Rocket League. People think it’s weird, like why would you want to watch people play video games? But it’s just like people who play football – someone is excelling at something and you can watch the competition. It’s the same as saying, “why are you watching basketball?” Well, why don’t you just go play basketball? Why do you watch detective movies – why don’t you just go learn to be a detective? It’s the same thing man!
How much work/play overlap is there? If you like comics, it seems like it would be a dream come true to be around all this stuff all the time.
It’s a lot of work. The popular myth is that we’re in here reading comic books all day. I’m super behind on comics and don’t get a chance to read anything. Some comics come out every two weeks; some come out every week. It’s hard for me to keep up.
It’s fun, but even when it’s fun it’s still work. We effectively have a comic book store and a gaming store and gaming tournaments we have to keep going. We have shows happening or sales going on and special events; Street Fair is a big deal because we have a million people here. Nine months out of the year Tony and I are going to comic conventions. We went to Michigan three times this year. We went to Chicago and did a couple shows in Indiana. Tony went to West Virginia twice. Even when you’re at a comic con, you have to build a booth and there’s travel and eating crappy fast food and sometimes stay in not so great hotels. Then you have to get up and set up the booth and you’re up on your feet talking to people all day, for two, three, four days. It’s like being on tour in a band. You have fun playing for forty-five minutes or an hour, but sometimes it’s a pain getting to the next place to do those forty-five minutes to an hour. But our forty-five minutes is seven or eight hours.
But it’s still the best job I’ve ever had, hands down. I’m surrounded by stuff I’m interested in, whether or not I get to read it in a timely fashion. It’s a really fun job, but am I just in here reading books and being a dummy? No, but I am being a dummy being really tired, figuring out how we’re going to pay for books. (Laughs) But I hang out with my friends – my friends work here, and there are worse things than working with your friends. And you could be working and doing something you don’t care about. I’ve had those jobs where I don’t care about what it is, I just want the paycheck and be gone. And that sucks. Nobody enjoys that. It’s not fun. It’s fun getting excited about a movie coming out, and it’s cool to have a job where people are coming in saying, “hey, how about that movie or comic or game coming out?” It’s a constant influx of common interests. And that’s cool, man. That’s a good environment to be in – you have an endless supply of friends coming in. Or at the very least, people who have similar interests.
There’s always ridiculous stuff going on. We’re next door to a bar, so that’s always fun. There’s always some drunk person coming in, being like “It’s juussht like the Big Baaang Theory!” A lot of the good stuff is just seeing people have a good time. When someone whose interest has lapsed for a while and wants to get back into stuff and ask what’s good, it’s like, “Well! Let me tell you!” Then you get to tell them what you’re interested in, what other people are interested in. It’s cool seeing people who were into comics and are getting back into start remembering things they like. Or people who don’t expect to find anything they’re interested in and then they find something and go “ohmygodohmygodohmygod that thing! I have to have that right now!” Or little kids coming in, interested in Magic cards or Pokémon or whatever – little kids exciting about anything, while sometimes annoying, is always cool.
It’s a really good time but it’s like anything in retail – retail is tough to an independent store in a world of box stores, who can sell stuff at a million times less than you can.
There’s one company that distributes comics. Technically there’s more than one, but Diamond has exclusive contracts with Marvel and DC and all the major comic people. So if you’re trying to have a successful comic store, you kind of have to go through them. There are smaller independent places, but if you want anything people will have heard of, you’re probably going to have to go through Diamond. We do orders based on word of mouth about what people are interested in, what’s popular on the internet. They put out a book called Previews, which are solicits for books and toys and all the stuff that is coming out in a few months time.
We go by what sold previously, what sounds like it’s going to be a big deal, what people are excited about, what people aren’t excited about, what we’re excited about – that helps too because it’s easy to sell something if you’re personally invested in it.
When you do it long enough, you kind of get an idea of what individual customers like, like “this guy likes so-and-so writer,” or “she likes X subject matter or fandom or whatever,” and you can suggest stuff based on that. I don’t want to say it’s a really big part of the business, but sometimes it’s better to put something in somebody’s hand and have them say, “thanks, but no” rather than have them miss out on something really cool because they didn’t know about it.
People appreciate your suggestions because you’re taking an interest in the things they are buying. They’re not just someone coming in off the street and we’re trying to take their money. You’re building a rapport with your customer base. We want to make sure you’re having a good time and you get what you want. I mean, there are a million books out and if we really wanted to we could just push whatever the hottest thing is or whatever the thing we have the most of is. We don’t have that wall where we don’t really care about who you are and just sell you stuff to get our bills paid.
The great majority of customers are college-age kids. There are always new people coming into the College, so there’s always an influx of people interested in stuff. People will come in with their friends and say “I’m not interested in comics” or they say they’re into something else [and think we have nothing to offer]. They’ll say, “I’m into Dr. Who” and I’ll say, “well, there’s a lot of Dr. Who stuff here.” Or stuff from TV shows like Star Trek, or the Walking Dead. The Walking Dead was a comic before it was a TV show, and a lot of people still don’t know that. It will be someone’s favorite show and they’ll be like, “Oh! There’s a comic about that?” Yeah – it started like twelve years ago. (Laughs) You get a lot of people interested that way.
But sometimes it’s really hard to go back to being a fan once you’ve seen behind the curtain and met people and see the process of how comics are made, or the process of getting books out. When people are super excited about a movie or book, you could be not excited for reasons that don’t have anything to do with the content of the book. Sometimes the backend stuff will color the actual content of the book for you. If somebody has questionable politics or has done something uncouth, it makes you kind of weird about promoting them or selling that product. On the one hand, it’s your personal politics and thoughts about it, but if you let that bleed over into your business… it’s more complicated than people think. It’s not like people are getting murdered in the comic industry, but there is nuanced stuff that kind of makes you go [grimaces]. It makes you look at it a lot differently than a cool DC book or Marvel book. Getting the books in the door is a lot more pain than people think. People think you just order books and they show up.
Is the resurgence in the interest in comics based on the popularity of Marvel and DC movies? Is there a nostalgia that is manifested in the newfound popularity?
It’s not like comics ever went away. During the 90s, the bubble burst and the comic industry went through some major changes, but it didn’t ever go away. Marvel and DC didn’t disappear or anything, but at the same time, for people who are my age or older and used to read comics but grew up and got a job or whatever and fell out of it, it’s easy to not keep up [with the state of comics]. Seeing all these comic movies out right now, it must mean comics are back. People will be like, “oh, they’re making a movie about Captain America,” and not even know that Captain America is still happening. A lot times, with older people, they’ll say they remember when comics were ten cents and they fell out of it, and they come in here and look at it like it’s a museum. But the comics they’re looking at just came out this week. It never stops. Anything that gets super popular or mainstream, you’re going to get people who were not aware of it at all and go, hey, this is a new thing, but it’s obviously not.
What makes a particular book or character good? Is it a progression of the form or a well-done classic character trope?
It really depends on the reader. Some people want comics that are more linear and traditional, and [the traditional vs. new] is kind of a clash going on in comics right now. Like Marvel, they’re being a little more progressive about stuff, where it’s like Captain America is Falcon now, a black guy, and Thor is a woman, and people were kind of bugged out by that. They’re doing a bunch of new ideas and new ideas for characters. But you can tell a lot of new stories.
When you go, “this character does this, this, and this and that’s it,” it’s really hard to keep making that interesting. Captain America used to be Steve Rogers punching out Hitler, but it’s 2015 and you can’t really punch out Hitler anymore. Your fanbase wants something new and interesting, new readers want something new and interesting, so why should Captain America still be fighting Hitler? It’s not going to resonate with a large amount of people.
You have to take risks; some people are taking more risks than others and some people are staying a bit more traditional. There’s no right way. It’s to taste. Everyone wants to see themselves in the books – they’re that much more relatable when you see someone that looks and acts or is interested in something like you are. Some people like serialized, linear stuff. And that’s cool too – I’m not saying that’s an outdated concept because some stories you have to do that; certain characters dictate a more straightforward story.
Me personally, I’m more interested in interesting story than any kind of “tradition.” The most interesting stories are like, here’s this straightforward premise and here’s this left turn we throw in it. For example, there’s a book that Image does called “Sex Criminals.” It sounds pretty ominous from the jump. There are two main protagonists, a guy and a girl, and the girl finds out when she’s young that she can stop time when she has an orgasm. She meets this guy who can do the same thing, then they decide to rob banks. It’s just an interesting, weird, premise to a book, and it’s one of the best books out. There are so many books out that it’s about getting guided to where you are comfortable with.
Do the updated stories of classic characters exist in separate canons? How do they reconcile the different Captain America stories over the years?
Publishers handle it one of two ways – they make the stories in the characters in the publisher’s universe align, or they tell separate stories. Marvel just did a reboot where they only have one universe now.
Steve Rodgers still exists in a storyline about why he couldn’t be Captain America anymore, so Falcon took over for him. Falcon as Captain America is Captain America now. Or Thor – the guy who was Thor isn’t anymore. Thor has been a woman before, Storm has been Thor, Thor was a frog at one point. But Thor is the person that has the hammer, so in the instance of a new Thor, it’s follows the main continuity of the universe, because whoever has the hammer is Thor.
In the other instance, they have these one-off stories that aren’t in the main continuity, so you can just tell a wild-ass story and it’s not “really” happening.
So would Marvel just issue a press release or something saying, “Here’s what’s up now”?
It’s a big enough business that you can go on TV or just issue a press release where they say “this is what we’re going to do.” Marvel and DC have different ways of doing it, but they go public when there is something that’s going to change. It gets audiences ready, it gets mainstream people interested, it gets people talking about it. Marvel’s been going that for years. I think they were on the View when they announced that the man who was originally Thor was not going to be worthy anymore, and that the person who is worthy now is a woman.
When you’ve been reading comics for so long, it’s crazy to see. I mean, Fox News was talking about black Captain America – a news outlet was talking about comics in some kind of real way; in any context that’s insane. Ten years ago, you’d talk about comics and people would laugh in your face. Now people are finding out everything they can about the Walking Dead, like who is going to play who from the comics, and it’s a huge deal. The comic cons get covered by “real” entertainment outlets because they make a lot of money and they’re a big deal.
Free Comic Book Day (the first Saturday in May) is our biggest sales day of the year. You’ll always have someone coming out when you have free in the title. We’re giving out thousands of comic books but it still manages to be the biggest selling comic book day of the year. We’re able to do that outreach – we get people in the door and they find out that there is something they’re interested in. People pass the store all the time and never come in come in when we have a sale or show or artists coming in.
Comics are this weird nebulous thing, like music – when you meet somebody who makes a comic and is selling it right in front of you, it can be really altering for people. Everything seems super far away until there is somebody who writes a book and they’re right here and you can talk to them. It’s very real, and people respond to that.
It’s not a big-money business. There are people who are doing OK, but it’s not like there are a lot of people rolling around in a Bentley because they write comics. A lot of cats who are doing Marvel and DC have “real jobs” on top of writing or drawing comics. It’s a hustle. There are a lot of people at comic cons who are there to sell their thing. They’re not big or well-known.
Comics are a big independent thing too, like with music. You can just go on the internet and sell stuff. You don’t have to work for a big company to do it, but it’s rough because you don’t have the advertising dollars to cut through to people. There are a lot of people we know who go to comic stores and they’re out hustling and on social media and really trying to sell their product. We have regional and local comics by people who are trying to make it happen. We have a buddy named Dirk Manning who is a great writer. He writes “Tales of Mr. Rhee” and a book called “Nightmare World,” he’s got a book on how to put out your own comic, in a real way, like you have to hustle, you have to decide this is what you’re going to do, you have to know social media, you have to be out there constantly; that’s the only way its going to work. When you bring someone like that in, who isn’t a big, widely-known person, but at the same time, this is a person who has eight books. He has some company work. He’s done stuff with Dark Horse and he’s got a ton of self-published stuff. He’s at literally every show we go to. He’s one of the hardest working guys. Him, Victor Dandridge from Columbus, you see them out there getting bigger and bigger gigs and you remember when they were in your store. You can see the progression of their hard work. Those kinds of people are out there doing the groundwork. That grows the business more than the movies or gimmickry – the core group of people who are into comics and into the industry are going to be into comics during it’s ups and down. That’s the cool thing and the right thing to do with the business.
We try to bleed a lot of other interests over into the store. We used to bring in video game consoles and have people play on the projector. Kids will do their senior projects on video game tournaments and ask if they can play Smash Brothers in here on a Saturday. We have musical acts come in, friends of ours, who do nerdy hip-hop stuff. They are doing raps about Ms. Marvel and DC vs. Marvel and Game of Thrones. Our buddy Adam WarRock, who was here this past weekend, has songs about Golden Girls, of all things, and how he’s never watched Dr. Who until his friends harassed him.
It’s interesting how it all blends together. Me personally, for the store, I think that having a lot of different things going on that are still centralized in the comic/gaming culture will bring people in. There are people who are into hip-hop who don’t know there is an entire subgenre of people who just do raps about comics and videogames and being a nerd, or whatever their fandom is. They’ll come see Adam WarRock or Tribe One or Mikal kHill, and the doors are open because they’re in a comic shop and watching these guys rapping about MegaMan and stuff like that.
Somebody drove six hours to come see Adam WarRock because they’d never seen him before. He drove from Michigan to come to the show. He drove for six hours and had a good time and thanked me for having the show: “Oh it was so cool you had him come out! I’ve never seen him before and I’ve been listening to his music for forever and I finally saw him and met him and he’s really cool!” It’s like, wow, that’s cool man. So much of the business is people being mad that something is changing or some movie is not as good as they thought it should be. There’s a lot of negativity floating around, so it’s awesome when someone is genuinely having a good time and happy about something.
We had [Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles creator] Kevin Eastman here last year, and you’ve never seen so many people just happy. He doesn’t do a lot of shows, so to have him showing up is a big deal. We’ve got a roomful of people who are here to meet this guy who created characters who really mean something to them. And he’s really cool too. He’s way cooler than he has any right to be. He’s so nice. He thanked us for having him come here to do signings, saying if it wasn’t for fans and the store, he wouldn’t still be doing this. Ninja Turtles meant a lot to me too, and I’m like, oh man, this dude is thanking me for him having a career. I was like, I’m not going to cry in front of this guy. (Laughs) It meant a whole lot.
Having a really good sales day or having a cool event or having a decent amount of money is always fun and I’m not going to downplay it, but when something like that happens, I don’t take that for granted. A lot of people don’t get to do that stuff. I met DMC last year, from RunDMC. He does comics now too, and I met him at a comic con in New York. I saw him again this year and he remembered my name. Ten year old me, who listened to all his records – this dude knows who I am now! That’s crazy. I met Stan Lee this year in a hotel lobby. It’s surreal. I met David Duchovny last year. I didn’t know that I wanted to meet him until I was like, hey! It’s the X-Files guy! I met Norman Reedus a few years ago. I know the president of Dynamite Comics. He buys me drinks, even though I don’t drink. You’d be surprised at how many times I’ve run into Lou Ferrigno. It means a whole lot that someone who works in a field you are interested in knows who you are and respects you enough to be like, hey you’re a guy I’m acknowledging when I walk by. My favorite thing is, my mom is like, “I don’t know how you make money. I see pictures of you guys at comic shows and hanging out with whoever – how do you make money?” And it’s like, we still sell stuff!
Is there a fantasy crossover comic book you’d like to see?
I would’ve said “Batman vs. Ninja Turtles” but apparently that’s happening next month. They did Robotech and Voltron book last year. It wasn’t great, but it happened. They’re doing “Street Fighter vs. GI Joe” next year – like, what? How is that even a thing? There is “Archie meets Predator,” and the Archie zombie book is really cool. It’s to the point where I can’t even imagine anything right now because it will probably happen. Like “Marvel vs. WWE” or something like that? That would actually be kind of awesome. “Captain America vs. John Cena” would be a good comic for someone to write. I really don’t know who would win.