A long-time Bay Area comics-shop owner -- I've known several of them pretty well for, oh, probably a decade or longer -- was in a casually candid mood this week. The most inside revelation: He has been dealing with sales declines in the 30 percent range as the economy has tanked. And he said other comic-store owners are telling him they're more or less in the same boat.
That's not to say every store is under stress. There may be a lot of variation based on unemployment rates in the immediate vicinity of each shop. Located in Silicon Valley with customers who tend to be young high-tech workers at firms undergoing lots of downsizing? That won't be good.
Most interesting to me: The guy I talked to has felt direct impact from the lousy material the major publishers have been putting out. Marvel's despicable "Brand New Day'' Spider-Man story line led to a stream of lost sales. DC's incoherent "Final Crisis'' series changed habits: Some customers stopped showing up with regularity on new comics day each week (and that includes me).
Comic books are the seed product that bred generations of fans for the high-quality comics movies that now are flourishing. "The Dark Knight'' (the best, I think), "Iron Man" and "Watchmen'' are all recent and extraordinary examples. To have the core product -- print storytelling of a fabulously imaginative nature -- be floundering so badly is frustrating and sad.
"Thor," said this comics retailer, "try that.'' OK, when I happen to be near a shop.