Local Business Spotlight is a monthly feature where we showcase and support small local businesses in Philadelphia and the surrounding areas.
On a snowy afternoon last week we took a trip to South Philly Comics and were deeply impressed with both their selection and their positive vibe. They sell Comics, Graphic Novels, Heroclix, Magic Cards, Action Figures, and more.
What’s so great about these types of shops is the knowledge of the owners and employees and at South Philly Comics you don’t have to be embarrassed or worried about asking stupid questions. There’s no judgment, just enthusiasm for the art. They love to discuss it. My favorite thing about this shop is that they are very dog friendly and even have treats on the counter for your pooch.
We got to chat with Johnny, one of the owners and a hell of a nice guy, about everything in his world of art and commerce.
Riot Nerd: How long have you guys been open?
Johnny: We’ve been here for 3 years. We just had our 3-year anniversary on Saturday.
J: It was really fun.
RN: How’s it been going?
J: Oh, great.
RN: Is it busier now than it was when you started?
J: Oh, totally.
RN: What made you decide to open up a comic book store?
J: Oh, well it used to be different ownership down the street and I was just a volunteer there. The old owner was moving on and was selling and I don’t know, I never really wanted to own a business or anything like that before. It just seemed like an opportunity that I shouldn’t waste.
RN: Cool. Have you noticed any changes in the industry since you opened the store?
J: Somewhat. Honestly, I could really just speak, I could look over the numbers, what’s happening nationally or whatever but I can really just speak for my own store here because every store has its own flavor of what they move more. I’ve noticed a big swing in, I guess more Creator Owned stories and really a little bit less of the big two. Batman, Spider-Man, they’re always going to be popular. Well maybe not always but for right now, they totally are but there’s a huge swing of readership going to Image books or Dark Horse. Maybe they’re just trying something different. Image Comics is huge right now, because they just have the best variety in comics right now. They have a Lewis and Clark Horror comic, Sci-Fi Westerns, they just have everything. It’s so much fun.
RN: Walking Dead and Saga’s on there too right?
J: Oh yes. Saga is our biggest seller here, the one thing I sell more than Batman.
J: Which is saying a lot.
RN: Yeah, that’s not surprising. It’s very popular. Aside from Saga, what are the other best-selling titles?
J: Batman, East of West, Sex Criminals, Miss Marvel, Thor, Oh, what else, not really a whole lot of stuff. It’s a lot of fun. And everything you have goes through wanes of popularity. Sometimes we’ll sell a lot of Fables trades. There are times not a bunch of them, so everything comes in waves.
RN: Do you sell more individual comics or collected editions?
J: Hmm. Honestly it kind of evens out. We probably sell more individual issues just because we have sub, we have a lot of subscribers, people get the new books but then we have a lot of people that only read trades, they just wait for the volume because they like the format of like, okay 6 issues in a row, okay thank you.
RN: That’s what I do.
J: That’s most people, but sometimes depends on the story or how much they like it or want it. Like Sandman Overture which comes out bi-monthly but at the same time, it’s consistently late. A lot of people are like, “I can’t wait because I’ll be waiting for 3 years by the time this trade ends,” so they’ll come and get those loose issues or even books with really strong letter pages. A lot of people I’ve noticed will get caught up for their trades and then get on the single issues just to be a part of that experience, which I find very interesting, because Sex Criminals, their letter pages are wonderful, their letter pages are better than other comics, the entirety of it. Not all but some. It’s just impressive because Saga’s funny, Brain K Vaughan is hilarious. I noticed that that’s a trend but not all of them though. Like Walking Dead, some people want it and some people are just very content with the trade because since it’s been going on so long, it has its ups and downs and it’s like, oh this issues’ going to be boring but then pretty much the next issue’s going to be pretty action-packed. So that one, those letter pages are strong but some people are just content not to really give a crap because that’s not really the focus for them. I guess it really all depends on the individual.
RN: Do you think the popularity of the Marvel films have brought more people into the shop to pick up the original stories?
J: Not really, not as much. A little bit but at this stage in the game, most people already know who The Hulk, Spider-Man, Avengers, Cap, Thor are. No one’s like, “I saw this movie, and I have to know more about this Spider-Man!” Like that doesn’t happen, but Guardians of the Galaxy, it did. But, the one thing that was a shame, since the movie was more based off of the Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning team, those trades weren’t in print, they were in print for a hot second while that movie was out. So, it was kind of a shame when people were like, “Oh, I need to know more about this.” And it’s like, “Well, I can’t order that for you.” I have some back issues of this or that, and the current Guardians run is okay, but it’s just …
RN: Yeah, it doesn’t stand up to that.
RN: Are those still in print? The big hardcovers?
J: Not all the time.
RN: Wow. That sucks.
J: It’s just really frustrating.
RN: I loved those.
J: It’s crazy because Marvel is generally very, very good at making money. And, I feel like that was very much a missed opportunity. But, no, that was the one that since they were very offbeat, that brought in a lot of new people. Like everyone’s like, “I love Groot, tell me about Groot,” or I had people asking me like, “Who’s Ronan the Accuser?” For me, that was great, because I love when people ask me like funny questions, instead of like, “Oh, what’s going on with Batman?,” some people are like, “I read something about the Metal Men, who the hell are they?”
RN: It’s like the deeper people want to get, the more fun it is.
J: Yeah, so you know, that’s been interesting. And, I feel like they do more using like their B and D list-ers, it’ll bring more people in. But, generally, like the big ones, not as much, but a little bit; for some of like the kids of like, “I saw this movie,” and that are young.
RN: Do you think now that they are getting more into Civil War that’ll have people looking for those stories?
J: I have had people coming in for Civil War since that was announced. They’re like, “Oh, I just heard about it.” And, now, you know … at least that one, but we’ll see.
RN: Do you think fans like it more when comics maintain a status quo, or when things are rebooted?
J: Um, both. Which is kind of a crummy answer, but, well let’s think, like an example, primarily with Superior Spider-Man, with Doc Ock, that was the thing when it happened, people flipped out about and were super angry. Dan Slott, the writer, actually got death threats. Real death threats. Like, “Do you know what, Spider-Man? You’re ruining my life.” Like death threats, that’s insane over a fictitious character. When you know it’s going to come back in a year or so. And so a lot of those people flipped out, blew their lids, and then, by the end of it, they were flipping out that it was going back to the status quo. They’re like, “No, this was so good!”
Frankencastle was another funny one. People hated it. I loved it because it got wacky, you know it’s going back to the status quo, it’s rare that someone does anything different with Frank. And the art got so much better. I think that maybe Tony Moore was on there, but it was great. So, that was another one that later on, retroactively, it got, “Oh, this is cool.” But as it happened, people were like, “No, I don’t want my comic to start having this.” It’s a mixed bag of nuts. I mean, you can never make anyone happy, or this or that, but people are annoyed with, like, “Oh, you’re killing this character off. Right. He’s just going to be back soon.”
RN: Yeah, like they just killed Wolverine, like for no reason.
J: You can’t take that serious, because Wolverine makes more money than I’ll probably ever see in my entire life. But, at the same time, they can do that comfortably. Now, it’s Secret Wars, and they’re going to have like a soft reboot, streamlining so they can bring him back in. It’s like, whatever. You got to do what you got to do to keep the lights on, make money, whatever. But, if you can make it make sense in the story, who gives a crap? As long as the story and art are good, I don’t care.
RN: Current personal favorites?
J: Probably East of West or Mind Management. Mind Management is my absolute favorite, that’s the one I get very excited about when it comes out. And East of West is just like, oh my gosh. It’s phenomenal, it really is. We go through a lot of these, because it has one of the best set-ups. It’s like, oh, sci-fi, western, alternate history with death as the protagonist going against the horsemen of the apocalypse, who are trying to bring about the apocalypse with the world of man. So cool! And Hickman rarely disappoints, he’s good. The only thing to say against him is that you can’t just jump in the middle of his series … I love that.
East of West
RN: Yeah, I really like his Fantastic Four run.
J: It was magnificent. East of West is probably my favorite, it’s probably my second. Secret Warriors was good. He’s just great. I like when you can invest in a whole run of a book and the first issue is still important. Like he didn’t forget anything that happened. I just appreciate that, because so many times a series will go on and even the creative team might forget things that happened or whatever.
RN: And it rewards rereading.
J: That’s why I’m looking forward to Secret Wars. Part of me wants to be cranky about it with like, “Oh, this event with all these side things, blah blah blah …” but the main meat of it is going to be great between Hickman and Esad Ribic.
RN: He’s a great artist.
J: Yeah, that can’t be bad. But all the rest, we’ll see. You don’t have to buy everything, so that’s the beauty of it. People put a lot of stress and pressure on themselves, but it’s like it’s a hobby, have fun with it.
RN: All time favorites?
J: Oof, that’s rough. I’ve been really into a lot of the old EC Comics from the fifties. Like Glosswood, Graham, and Golds, all those guys just completely blow my mind of just great story craft. I’ve always loved Flaming Carrot, Bob Bergen stuff. So wacky, mad cap, and just perfect for what it is. Man Thing. I always loved Man Thing, because you can really feel it. Uh, poor dude. I’ve always been a diehard Inhumans fan since I was a kid, just because they were so weird. And they always got so poetic when they talked about them, and I always found them great. The modern stuff is fun, too, but … I enjoy it, but at the same time, I just get it because I have every other Inhuman appearance already. Those are all hard to get and pricey, so I can’t stop now. So, it’s pretty ridiculous, but I’ve always loved them, I’ll always have a soft spot. Metal men, Sergeant Rock, or any of the big five war books that DC put out.
RN: Do you think the movies are going to do the Inhumans justice?
J: Personally, I’m not a big movie dude. I enjoyed some of the others, I haven’t seen a lot of them, mostly because of time. Not really … More apathy, not like, “No, don’t change anything.” I like change in a different medium as long as they hold on to some kind of character integrity, because that’s fun. Recently, I just saw Guardians a week ago, and that was a lot of fun, but, I don’t know. Inhumans are so close to my heart that that’s one I’m going to have a hard time with. I’m going to keep it internal and not be cranky and ruin it for anyone else. But, that’s one that I’m going to personally be like, “Karnak’s head isn’t long enough! What are you doing? You’re ruining my life!” I’ll try to keep it to myself. Yeah, that one I’m nervous about, but whatever.
RN: Where do you see the comic industry going in the next five to ten years?
J: Who the hell knows. So much is happening, I really don’t know. Hopefully, it just keeps getting better and better. I like where Image is going and DC, I don’t know, I feel like they are still trying to find themselves in today. I don’t know.
RN: I feel like they’re putting too much effort into trying to make the books more like the movies, because the movies are so popular.
J: Yeah, there is a little bit of that going on.
RN: They always want to go back to a status quo where, it’s like, you know …. Like even you said, people aren’t coming in being like, “Oh, show me this Spider-Man.” You know? So, what’s the point of having to reboot Spider-Man to make it more like a starting point every five years?
J: But that’s the thing, some people need that, like, “I want to read everything from the beginning.” I try to explain, “Well, you probably won’t like Batman from the beginning from like the forties. You might, but probably not. But, give it a shot.” Or you know, there’s a lot of things like that. Or, some people are like, “Oh, I can’t get this from the beginning.” Like, if I was a kid, “That’s a cool cover, I’m going to read it.” And if you like it, you’re going to find the others. I notice less of that. I think they just have to keep things interesting and fresh. Which may be like, I don’t think you have to have any soft reboots, but that’s when the trades help, because you can just get a story arc in here. Like, “Oh, here’s this one when you’re dealing with this situation.” That makes it easier to break it down. And, we do bag sets that do that also, just ’cause it’s fun.
Yeah, I don’t know. That’s a weird one. But, who the hell knows. That’s a rough one. If you could figure that out, you could make a whole lot of money if you had that kind of speculation thing. Between the big two, I think it’s hard, there’s like an easy flip when things will go up, but over the long scheme, no. All these modern books aren’t going to really go up much in value. But that’s what’s interesting with Image and some of the other Creator Owned stories, because they can, if they can go a distance. Like Walking Dead’s been going up so much in value ’cause it’s over a hundred issues.
RN: When that first started, nobody thought it was going to amount to anything.
J: Yeah, or like Gabriel, the preacher, his first appearance is mentioned, and that’s a little more money than other books. That’s incredible to me. Or, like Michonne’s first appearance, people care about that like in a non- big two book. And that’s just so cool.
RN: People really identify with those characters now because of the TV show, and they’ve done a really good job adapting certain characters. Like Michonne’s pretty much how she is.
The Walking Dead
J: Nails it. And a lot of them are pretty good, it doesn’t do wrong. I like how it’s different, because that makes it fun and interesting for comic readers to enjoy it, because when it first started I watched it, and I was bored to tears, because it was so close. And, as soon as, not to ruin anything for anyone else, but there is one major difference in the beginning where you can see these alternate timelines. But, the biggest thing for people is when they come in for Walking Dead and they find out there is no Daryl in the comics. And, people are like, “I really want to read this. I can’t wait to read Daryl as he is in here.” And, I’m like, “I’m really sorry, but he’s not in this book.” I’ve seen people put it back on the shelf. They’re like, “Oh, never mind then.”
RN: Who would have thought he would so popular. I’ll tell my Wife things about what Carl and Glenn are doing now in the comics, and she’ll be like, “Oh, what’s Daryl doing right now?” She keeps forgetting that he’s not there.
J: My favorite thing is when people pick up, “I really like the show, I hear it’s a comic book.” I’m like, “Oh yeah, it’s over here.” They’ll pick it up, they’ll flip through, and like, “I’m sorry, but do you have this in color?” It’s like, “Ah, no, they don’t do that, I’m so sorry.” And they’re like, “Oh. Why do they do this?” I’m like, “I don’t know.” That’s one thing that always just makes me smile on the inside. It’s so innocent, “Does this one come in color?” No.
South Philly Comics is located at 1840 East Passyunk Ave (corner of Mifflin St and East Passyunk Ave) right in the heart of the East Passyunk shopping district. Check them out, you won’t be disappointed.