The specialty comic book market is facing something that could, without an appropriate response, prove decimating to the industry as a whole.
"We have reached the moment we have been dreading," said the email.
It was from Ed Greenberg, the owner of Collector's Paradise, the comic shop which has three stores in the Los Angeles area. In an email to his customer base, he was reacting to Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti's "Safer at Home" emergency order, which was unveiled Thursday and mandated non-essential services close.
"We have been selling comics for close to 26 years now, and this is truly the first time that we are uncertain about the future of our store, our industry and our favorite art form," continued the email, which in many ways summed up the precarious state of the comic book retail business.
Even before the coronavirus pandemic, comic shops had been struggling to reinvent themselves as sales slumped — but with social distancing, self-quarantining and the effects of COVID-19 changing the way the world works, the specialty comic book market is facing something that could, without an appropriate response, prove decimating to the industry as a whole.
Comic shops were already in the process of adapting this week. When The Hollywood Reporter stopped by Los Angeles' Golden Apple on March 18, it had limited its hours, with its staff wearing gloves and sometimes masks. It had also limited the amount of people it let into its store and even set up a comic book car hop – but this latest news packed a Thanos-sized punch.
As of Friday, all of California and New York are under statewide shutdowns of non-essential businesses. Illinois also followed suit.
"I sent an email to my top five suppliers asking if they were going to be offer returnability on the other end of this — I have three weeks of orders in the pipeline, and zero ability to sell those books in a meaningful way," longtime California retailer Brian Hibbs wrote on Facebook at the start of the week, ahead of the enforced closure of his two stores. "Two of the five ignored me, the other two gave me really really dark answers and it is clear they are using each other as excuses, and only one, Image, stepped right up and said ‘Yep, returnable for now.' It's probably only 80% of the reassurance I want, but at least it is something."
Guidance from both publishers and central distributor Diamond Comics Distributors has arrived through the week, albeit in evolving, often contradictory, piecemeal fashion. (Plans for May's Free Comic Book Day event were initially expanded for the entire month, before being indefinitely postponed a day later, for example.)
"As we all encounter new and uncertain challenges in response to COVID-19 and take extraordinary measures to prioritize the safety and wellbeing of everyone in the industry and beyond, our thoughts are with the entire industry and community we all support," said Marvel Entertainment president Dan Buckley in the statement. "We have spoken with many retailers about the economic impact to their stores from this situation, and we are here to help."
DC, at time of writing, has yet to release its own statement. THR reached out and a spokesperson confirmed that the publisher is working on a meaningful plan to help alleviate current stresses on the comic book industry, and that communication to retailers is forthcoming.
Indie publisher AfterShock Comics has suspended new releases for four weeks, while Vault Comics has suspended them through the end of April. Boom! Studios announced it will stagger new releases and guarantee a level of returnability throughout the year. Oni Press has made all releases returnable for the foreseeable future, and is reassessing its release schedule for the remainder of the year.