Friday, April 23, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 85

Cast of Characters:
Paul: age 37
Mal: my wife
Adam: my son
Cassy: my daughter
Brian: an artist and my friend


On top of the almost overwhelming effort of moving into our huge new store location, managing two stores, finishing up our “Classic Toys Trading Cards” project, and the day-to-day operations of the comic book business, I decided to complicate my life even more. I had been married for nineteen years and my wife really hated my teeth. They were crooked and in some areas I had multiple rows of teeth. I thought it would be a nice “gift” for her if I got my teeth fixed. So at the ripe old age of thirty-seven, I got braces. This required five teeth to be pulled out and far too many inconvenient orthodontist appointments but she liked the results. Through the process I discovered some of the discomfort that my son, Adam, endured during his first experience with braces. Sore teeth, broken wires sticking into the inside of my cheek, and cleaning food stuck in the braces, were just a few of the negatives. This wasn’t fun for me but since it was only for a year and a half I knew I could handle it. After all, children do it all of the time. Eventually, Adam and Cassy both endured braces twice.

The commercial building I purchased had almost 20,000 square feet of floor space and it was divided into two almost equal spaces by a cement block wall. I planned to use one side as my retail section and eventually I’d use the other section for storage of my extra, un-needed “back-room” inventory.

Shortly after I bought my new store building a man named Gary contacted me. He had been interested in buying the building but he waited too long and I ended up with it. He asked if I’d be interested in renting part of it to him so he could relocate his business there. Gary and his wife, Janice, ran a Halloween store called “The Halloween Outlet” that sold costumes, props, wigs, makeup, and more Halloween related merchandise. I had no idea what most commercial spaces in this area were renting for but I figured out what my mortgage, interest, taxes, and insurance would cost each month and quoted Gary a little bit above that amount. Gary agreed to my asking price immediately. He knew what a bargain this was and I was thrilled to be in this new location at “no cost.” This relationship was important for both of us for many years. Some people considered this to be another one of the examples of my “luck” and they may be right.

In mid-1992 DC Comics revealed to retailers that they intended to “kill” Superman in the seventy-fifth issue of his current comic book series. This special issue was going to be sold in two versions. One would be a regular comic book and the other would be poly-bagged with a small poster and a black armband. The poly-bagged edition would have a $2.50 cover price and it would be sold exclusively at comic book stores. We ordered five hundred copies, double the number of copies we normally ordered of the ongoing “Superman” series. Since we ordered these comic books almost two months before they were released we really were just guessing at the demand for this “special” issue.

We were not prepared for the major press and media attention to this comic book. DC Comics managed to make this big news in the mainstream media by seemingly issuing press releases to everyone on the planet. I guess the gullible press really believed that when DC Comics “killed” Superman that he would stay dead! As the release date drew near, television, radio stations, and newspapers reported about Superman’s death and it began to seem as if the general public would actually be interested in buying this issue. We doubled our original order for this comic book to one thousand copies.

I don’t remember which one of my employees (it may have even been my idea) in my organization came up with the idea for our special “Death of Superman” event, but it was a great idea. We hired one of our customers to dress up in a Superman costume. Gary, the owner of The Halloween Outlet, let me borrow a prop coffin for our fake funeral for Superman. I called around to a few funeral homes to see if I could have some of their unwanted flowers that might have been leftover from recent funerals. Some of the funeral directors were insulted by my request (I guess they thought I was making a mockery of their profession) but I finally found one guy who was willing to help me. He gave me some nice looking funeral flower displays that were only slightly wilted and they would serve their purpose well.

Albert Aeed, one of my more “fun” employees, would dress up as a minister and he prepared a solemn and passionate eulogy about Superman. All of my employees had collaborated on this event in different ways. A few weeks before the funeral, they had all offered different ideas and many hours were spent discussing and planning this event. Everyone was willing to work together to make this fun for our customers and a potentially profitable event for the store. We decided to gather up a few thousand back issue comic books that featured Superman in them and planned to give them away to the people who attended the funeral. We also made up some packages of ten Superman-related comics to give away to anyone who came to the funeral dressed up as a “super-hero.” Faxes and press releases went out to radio stations, newspapers, and the cable company. We then followed up with personal phone calls to these media outlets. Surprisingly, most of them expressed interest in running some sort of story for this event. The major newspaper in the city ran a small story two days before the event and sent a reporter and a photographer to cover the funeral. The local cable-TV news channel did a nice two-minute segment the night before the funeral and followed it up with a story after the funeral too.

With all of this advanced publicity I was concerned that we wouldn’t have enough copies of the special edition Superman comic book to meet the demand. I called “Jeep,” my Diamond Comic Distributors representative, and he was able to do me a favor by getting me another seven hundred copies. We were pretty sure we were ready now.

There were already people lined up when we arrived at 9:00 a.m. at our store on that Saturday morning. By the time we opened an hour later there were a few hundred people!
Our “Superman” laid perfectly still in the coffin with his eyes closed for almost six hours as almost one thousand people streamed by him to “pay their respects” to the fallen hero. Mal and our two children, Adam and Cassy, came to help out in any way they could. My mother and my Aunt Jody (Cousin Steven’s mom) even came by to be part of this event. A few dozen people came dressed as other superheroes including Sandman, Insect Man, and Batman. Albert Aeed’s eulogy was well received. We gave away thousands of the back issues of the Superman related comics and sold every copy of the special edition for $2.40 each. (It was our policy to sell all of our new comics for ten cents off of the cover price) The visitors had a great time and we were rewarded with a record-breaking day of sales.

Because of all of the publicity we received, people came in looking for a copy of the special “Death” edition of the Superman comic book for many weeks after the funeral. My pal, Jeep, managed to supply us with more copies so we were able to accommodate these potential new customers at the original cover price while most of our competitors were “gouging” people for as much as twenty dollars a copy! The goodwill we earned from this event paid off in many ways.

Next chapter: The Norman Rockwell comic book connection.

Picture: The Death of Superman

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