Jamie Newbold is as seasoned a salesman at Comic-Con International in San Diego as they come.
The retired police officer started selling back vintage issues at the world’s biggest comic book convention in 1975, long before he opened his Southern California Comics store in 1998. He believes he is one of the last original Comic-Con dealers, which over the course of four days plus a preview night normally attracts legions of people – many engaged in elaborate cosplay – looking to meet their favorite artists and authors, sit on panels with famous TV and movie stars and stroll through exhibition stands filled with valuable editions of comics and comic book art.
But last year, after Newbold already acquired valuable inventory to sell at the convention, the surge in COVID-19 cases forced the cancellation of Comic-Con’s in-person gathering for 2020. Its biggest sales week of the year was over. “It was a kick in the teeth.”
The virtual events hosted by Comic-Con were not the same for Newbold. And when this summer’s in-person convention was also canceled, he thought 2021 would be another lost year. But this weekend, a smaller three-day in-person event called Special Edition Comic-Con returns to the San Diego Convention Center. Even though the rally will take place on a holiday weekend without the usual influx of summer crowds – attendance has been estimated at 167,000 in recent years – comic book store owners like Newbold are eagerly awaiting the return of ‘an IRL broadcast. Although many of them will not be present.
“Con, I need it,” Newbold said. “Most of us, the dealers of past shows, need this show because it’s a real source of money. Comic-Con is a big part of my business.
Still, Newbold says he and most of the back-issue dealers he knows across the country won’t be in attendance this time around.
“It’s not practical,” he said. “It’s awfully expensive when you go for a week, but it’s handy because it takes a week to make that kind of money doing what we’re doing on this show. There’s no way to justify dragging the material, say from New York, for a two-and-a-half-day convention where they charge that much for a booth.
Even moving inventory just a few miles away, Newbold says, is a logistical problem for a small-scale convention where turnout is unknown.
But he is not afraid of losing income. He believes he has done well enough in the store this year to make up for the loss.
No matter the time of year, the energy of Comic-Con blossoms in Southern California comic book stores, spaces deeply tied to its culture.
“Comic-Con started out with a variety of exhibitors and the main ones were comic book retailers,” says David Glanzer, director of communications and strategy for the organization. “It continues to this day. Of course, the industry has changed a lot over the past 50 years with digital comics, online retailing, and other factors. But comics have been and continue to be one of the main thrusts of our event. “
About a mile northeast of the San Diego Convention Center, tucked away at the corner of F Street and 11th Avenue, is one of the city’s newest comic book stores: Now or Never Comics.
On a recent Friday morning in early November, the store was sleepy. Frankie Carreno stands behind the cash register and waves to the few customers who enter. Zach Norris has organized comics in bins and shelves nearby. Playing on a TV screen in the back of the store is “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring”.
Store owner Aaron Trites opened the two-story comic book store in December 2018. As he says, Comic-Con was one of the main reasons he moved from Boston to Southern California and opened a store downtown.
“I had high hopes of being near the convention,” he says, “and I’m really looking forward to the show coming back so we can start getting some additional foot traffic from the Con. “
While he still understands how the convention affects business, he got a taste of it in 2019.
“At that time, our first year at Comic-Con was by far the biggest selling week we’ve had in the three years we’ve been open,” he says. Revenue exceeded three times the store’s average monthly sales.
But when the pandemic struck in 2020, fear and uncertainty took hold. The comic book industry closed for almost three months, with no new comics – “the bread and butter of comics” – in April, May or June. Trites, like Newbold and others, was forced to pivot to stay afloat: he broadened his selection of vintage comics, increased his sales on Ebay, pushed social media promotions, and offered curbside pickup. .
But to his surprise, even as comic book fans mourned the cancellation of Comic-Con for two years in a row, his spirit was unwavering: the weeks the convention was supposed to take place were the biggest selling weeks in the world. store of the year.
“Even without the convention, everyone felt like the show was going to take place that week, so everyone was still in the Comic-Con spirit,” Trites said. Customers showed up with shirts, hats and badges from previous events.
For the Con community, the show would go on.
“It’s really nice to see how deeply rooted the convention is in the city,” he says. “It’s not just this traveling circus that crosses the city once a year and then disappears. It’s part of the city’s DNA.
What this year’s Comic-Con will bring is anyone’s guess, but traders don’t expect pre-pandemic traffic as people will be leaving town to spend the Thanksgiving holidays with friends and family.
Last year’s travel season was turned upside down by a booming winter wave, but travel experts estimate some 3.8 million Southern Californians will drive out of the city this year.
For Trites, “any show is better than no show”.
Despite all this, Robert Estigoy will not be discouraged.
Assistant Director of Comics-N-Stuff in Chula Vista, Estigoy will be on the showground with his partner and illustrator Asia Estigoy to sell their small print comics, including their more famous “Peaburt’s Big Adventure” and associated merchandise.
But the retail store he works for, which has exhibited at the convention for nearly 20 years, won’t be there this time around.
Estigoy is convinced that people who do not attend the event will instead switch to the store, as they have done for years. “Collectible book and comic book stores are traditionally larger retail environments, allowing people who don’t get tickets to have the Comic-Con experience during the convention and year round. He said.
On a recent Friday afternoon, Shawnee Myers browsed the shelves and trash cans of Southern California Comics, a low-key warehouse tucked away in an industrial San Diego cul-de-sac. Superhero posters and murals line the walls and hang from the ceiling. Jazz music is played from a nearby loudspeaker.
The San Diego resident and weekly customer’s loot includes comic book issues from “Batman”, the sci-fi fantasy series “By the Horns” and the apocalyptic “Penny for Your Soul: Death”.
Myers attends this year’s Comic-Con Special Edition event with her husband and is disappointed to learn that her favorite local comic book store won’t sell. “It’s sad he’s not here but I totally understand why.”
See this weekend’s event as a transition to a Comic-Con resurgence next year.
“[Comic book stores] are really part of our fabric, ”says Glanzer. “As long as comics exist, they will be at the heart of our organization.”