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Retail For All-Ages: An Interview with Randy Lander of Rogue's Gallery Comics and Games

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We all remember the sense of awe and wonder we felt as kids when we encountered something new, imaginative and cool. That passionate feeling is like nothing else we can experience in this life. Comic books can ignite that passion in kids both young and old, if given half a chance…

In the recurring theme of trying to break down the false stereotype that kids don't like comics these days, I thought it might be a good idea to discuss all-ages comics with someone who has their proverbial finger on the pulse of the situation.

Randy Lander is the owner of Rogue's Gallery Comics and Games, a fine comic shop in Round Rock Texas, just outside Austin. One of the reasons I believe Randy is a perfect person to discuss this with is the location of his shop. For those who don't know, Austin Texas is a very techie-oriented and sports-oriented city. So, the average kid living in the Austin 'burbs has access to most video game systems, has a smartphone, knows how to tweet and when they're not busy doing that, they can participate in youth sports and other outdoor activities year round. So, if there's any place in the United States where comic books have a lot of competition for the attention of young people, it's Austin.

With all that going on, you'd think this would be the toughest place on Earth to sell all-ages comics. Well, that is if you believe the lie that kids don't like comics anyway and they have too many other things vying for their attention. But, as we're about to discover, that's anything but true.

WONDER KIND: A lot of people say that kids don't like or want comics anymore. Have you seen that to be true in your store?

RANDY LANDER: A lot of people don't have any idea what they're talking about. [smiles] I see kids literally every day, and they love comics. Love them. It's true that when they get to a certain age, say 9-12, they're more likely to come in asking for only HALO or other videogame-related comics, but in general, kids love comics.

We've got a big kids' section, and we see a lot of parents who bring in their kids as a reward to buy them a Scooby Doo, or a Sonic, or even something bigger like a Bone volume or Amulet volume.

WK: In a market where the target audience is 25-35 year old males, why bother trying to sell comics to families? Surely, moms, sons, daughters and such aren't your target audience, are they?

LANDER: It's silly to have one target audience. There's no denying that the target market for comics these days is 18-40 year old males who love superheroes. That's been the case for quite a while, even in the much-heralded '90s when comics were selling in the millions it was mostly X-Men, Spider-Man and Image superheroes selling those numbers. And honestly, I have no problem with that. I love that comics have grown up enough to appeal to that large a section of grown-up readers.

But moms, sons, daughters, grandparents, everyone is comics' target audience. They aren't the biggest segment, but it's silly to ignore them. Fortunately, it's pretty easy to keep a wide range of material to appeal to anyone in today's comics industry. DC in particular has their Tiny Titans and Young Justice along with the Vertigo line and their DCU comics, which gives them a pretty wide cross-section of age and taste appeal. And Marvel's all-ages comics, the Marvel Adventures Superheroes and Spider-Man, are fantastic comics. That's without even taking into account all the great indy material for families, like Scholastic's graphic novels, or David Petersen's Mouse Guard, etc.

WK: Since you do sell so many books to young readers, can you share an anecdote with us of a first time comic reader who came back for more?

LANDER: I can. One of our newest staffers is a 25-year-old woman. We've known her since she was in her early teens, buying Crossgen's Mystic and Sojourn and pretty much their entire line, which starred female characters and had gorgeous art. She came back as a customer in her twenties and started reading X-Men, Dark Tower and Fables, and recently we hired her to work at the store because she knew and loved comics so much.

I can't give specific examples of kids buying comics who came back as teens, partly because we haven't been in business quite long enough for that and partly because my memory isn't that good. But I do know we've got a lot of loyal family customers and their kids.

WK: When placing your monthly Previews order to stock your store shelves, how much time and effort do you put into seeking out All-Ages material?

LANDER: It's not really a specific goal. Because there are so many trade paperbacks and digests aimed at younger kids, we've got plenty of variety on our all-ages shelf. It's like everything else... if it stands out as having a great premise, great writing and/or great art (preferably all three), we'll order it. If it doesn't, we won't. You don't get bonus points for being all-ages from me if the work isn't good enough.

WK: How has providing comics for families in your community helped you grow your business in these tough economic times?

LANDER: Really, it's very simple. If you're appealing to as wide a cross-section of customers as possible, you're going to have a better chance of making it through a tough economy. To not support a younger market in particular is crazy, because your older market is going to continue aging, having kids, changing jobs and such, and you need to be constantly bringing in new readers, whether they're college students who have never read comics before or kids who might grow up to buy their own comics once they've got an allowance or their own jobs.

WK: What is the average initial reaction from a young reader who steps into your store for the first time and discovers the all-ages comic books? Can you describe a particular instance that really stands out in your memory?

LANDER: Nothing specific, but I can say that parents coming in with their kids, asking "Do you have comics for him (or her?)" and being directed over to the kids' section, happens on a daily basis. And on at least a weekly basis, I see a kid get that eyes light up, "why have you never brought me to this place before" look on their face that you mostly see in Disneyland commercials.

WK: Round Rock, Texas is known for being a family-friendly community. How do you think that's helped Rogue's Gallery in providing reading material to the all-ages audience?

LANDER: Honestly, it's an "if you build it they will come" situation. Our comics store was always going to be family-friendly just by the nature of the previous owner and myself and our preferences, but when you have a large number of families and kids coming into your store, you want to make sure they're finding stuff to keep them coming back. It's kind of like how stores in college towns will have an easier time building up an indy section, because it's easier to take chances on material when a lot of it sells to your existing customer base.

WK: Do you think your store would be as successful at selling All-Ages material if you were in a less family-friendly environment? What do you think you'd have to do differently to achieve the same success in such a community?

LANDER: I think if we were dead in the center of a college campus area, our All-Ages section probably wouldn't be as big of a focus. In comics retail, as in any retail, you aim for your audience, and while you always want to have outlier material for anyone who comes in, if we didn't have as many families coming in and buying all-ages comics, we wouldn't carry the same amount of them.

WK: Which All-Ages books are your favorites? Which ones resonate best with your customers? Which ones would you recommend to someone who could only take five things to a desert island?

LANDER: My personal favorites are Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi, Bone by Jeff Smith and Tiny Titans by Franco and Art Baltazar. I'm sure there are literally dozens I'm forgetting.

The ones that resonate best with customers? I'm continually shocked at the popularity of Sonic the Hedgehog, and Viz's Legend of Zelda manga, and there are a lot of kids out there who still love classic characters like Scooby Doo and Archie.

As for five things to a desert island? Amulet Volume 1, Bone Volume 1, Tiny Titans Volume 1, Mouse Guard Volume 1 and one volume of Marvel Adventures, probably featuring work by Jeff Parker and/or Paul Tobin.

###

Mike Bullock is an international award winning all-ages comic creator and author. His all-ages work includes LIONS, TIGERS AND BEARS, TIMOTHY AND THE TRANSGALACTIC TOWEL, SECRETS OF THE SEASONS and several others. Bullock is also the most prolific PHANTOM writer in American comic book history.

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Comments

  • Kris Bather

    Kris Bather Nov 3, 2011 at 1:06am

    Great interview Mike. It's good to see a shop making the effort to reach out to younger readers, and encouraging to read of their success.

  • Andy Oliver

    Andy Oliver Nov 5, 2011 at 1:49pm

    Great column, as ever, Mike!

  • Mike Bullock

    Mike Bullock Nov 7, 2011 at 10:16am

    Glad you two liked it. Randy is a great guy with a tremendous zeal for comics. :)

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