Blog: Dan Merritt

In the comics, as in life, actions speak louder than words. From toughing out road construction projects to the digitizing of print, Green Brain Comics co-owner Dan Merritt covers the survival of the superhero of American art forms, the comic book.

Post 2: Tales From The Shelves of a Comic Retailer my wife Katie and I bought Green Brain Comics (then Comics Plus) in 1999, the comic book industry was just recovering from the bursting of its own speculative bubble.

Our new endeavor was surely seen as a foolhardy move by those closest to us, and by most every bank that we took our business proposal to. Maybe it was the passion that won out over common sense.

As fate would have it, mass market book stores discovered comic books soon afterwards. More specifically, book stores discovered graphic novels (sometimes called trade paperbacks), a compact, bookshelf-friendly off-shoot of the traditional comic book format.  This helped to not only stimulate regrowth for the comic book publishers after almost catastrophic losses in the 90s, but it also catalyzed a metamorphosis for the floundering comic shop business model.

Graphic novels gave us a new product with a multitude of positive aspects. First, they have a much longer shelf life, where periodicals have a 4-8 week sell-through expectation. Flexibility in storage and display are innate with a conventional book, not only touting a full cover illustration that sells itself, but maintaining a descriptive spine with a more prudent opportunity for shelving. Most importantly, graphic novels provided stores like ours the type of product that appealed to an audience not normally receptive to the established comic book periodical, sometimes disparagingly called a "floppy".

Even with all of the charm of this new product, the time-honored format of the comic book format was rightfully never aband
oned. While a few smaller publishers have forsaken it in their product line, the comic book remains fresh and functional. are a place to innovate and develop new ideas with a relatively small amount of risk for the producer and the consumer.

This brings me to some important notes about comic retailing in the metro Detroit area. Detroit has long been a huge market for comic publishers, during the booms and the busts. When America went to war in the '40s, comic books went too.

Nowhere was that more apparent than in Detroit, "The Arsenal of Democracy". The post war baby-boomer generation grew up on a steady diet of TV and comic books, and Detroit manufacturing gave their parents the income to afford these luxuries.  In the '70s, Detroit was home to one of the first direct market distribution companies, Big Rapids Distribution, which later became a model for the current direct distribution of comic books when newsstands could no longer keep up with the rapid expansion of comic book publishers.

Today, Detroit remains one of the biggest markets for direct market comic book stores. It's been estimated that Detroit area comic book stores sell five million dollars' worth of comic books, graphic novels, and miscellaneous related products annually. This doesn't even include the mass market book store share.

This isn't to say that our geographical mark
et is without its challenges, but I'll talk about that in a post to come.