Top Shops Features Another Dimension, Calgary, Alberta
Retailers are the bricks and mortar of the comic book industry and deserve ongoing support and patronage. Our “Top Shops” interview segment is designed to help readers get acquainted with the owners of some of the best comic book stores around the world.
Sequential Highway is happy to introduce you to John Tinkess, manager of Another Dimension located in Calgary, Alberta.
Peter Howard: Why comic books? What led you to being a comic book retailer?
John Tinkess: I began reading comics at the age of six and quickly became an avid collector. After a move from rural Manitoba to Calgary, I discovered comic book stores and began spending most of my free time in them. In 1980, I met John Byrne (who was living in Calgary) at one of the local shops and my mind was blown. The Claremont/Byrne X-Men series was my favorite comic at the time and to meet one of the people responsible made me realize that you could actually make a career out of comics. That’s when I decided that I had to be involved somehow. It didn’t take long to realize that I had little or no artistic talent so by the time I was in high school I started bugging the local comic stores for a part time job and ended up being hired by a new upstart, Another Dimension. That was 1984 and I’ve been here ever since.
PH: How would you describe the type of environment you have created for your customers?
JT: Another Dimension started out much like every other comic store with a few racks of new issues and bins full of back issues. But we quickly started moving away from that clubhouse atmosphere and tried to make a clean, well organized, friendly environment where anyone would feel comfortable. We were early adopters of the graphic novel format back in the 1980s, when you could fit every in-print book on one shelf with room to spare, because I thought it was important to have books available that were more easily accessible to new readers. I’ve always believed that there are comics out there for everyone; most people just don’t know it yet. Hopefully we’ve succeeded in building an environment where both the hard-core fan as well as someone who has never before read a comic can feel welcome.
PH: What incentives do you offer your customers?
JT: We offer a subscription service as well as various sales and specials throughout the year.
PH: Would you point to something in particular that sets Another Dimension apart from other retail stores?
JT: I think I am most proud of our selection and depth of inventory. We stock literally thousands of trade paperbacks across all publishers, and stock heavily on the better sellers so we are rarely out of stock. We also keep new comics on our shelves for anywhere from four to twelve months depending on sales, which makes it much easier for someone to start reading something new. With so many quick sellouts from many publishers lately, tracking down all the recent issues to get into a new series can be difficult but we’ve become known as the place where you can still get Saga #1, for example, after everyone else has sold out.
PH: What’s your customer demographic? Young, old, male, female, and so on?
JT: All of the above! Seriously, our customers cover all age and gender demographics. Being located just a few blocks from an art college we do see a large number of students during the week but on weekends the store is filled with families and kids. Since we’ve been around since 1983, we also have a strong contingent of seasoned collectors, the 40 or 50+ [year old] fans who have been shopping with us for years and in many cases are now bringing in their own children to get them started reading. The real change we’ve seen over the past decade has been the growth in the number of female comic readers. In the past we would often see guys dragging their girlfriends into the store but now we often see women buying comics with their bored boyfriends in tow.
PH: Does your shop support and/or promote independent comics and small press?
JT: Absolutely – and this is something we’ve done from the beginning. In the 1980s when distribution was a little more hit-and-miss, we were ordering direct from publishers like Fantagraphics and Kitchen Sink in order to maintain a full selection and we have continued to devote as much or more space to independents as we do to Marvel and DC. We also devote sections to specific creators such as Dave Sim, Charles Burns, Adrian Tomine, Dan Clowes, Chester Brown, the Hernandez brothers and many more. Dave Sim has come out for signings twice in the past and has always had a good following here. More recent signings include Riley Rossmo (Green Wake, Rebel Blood) and Fiona Staples (Saga) and we will be hosting Cary Nord when X-O Manowar #1 is released. We do what we can to support the local scene and also maintain a section of self-published zines by local creators.
PH: Are your customers attracted to alternative comic books and graphic novels? Are they primarily fans of Marvel and DC?
JT: A bit of both. Some people won’t go much farther away from Marvel and DC than reading something like Hellboy or The Walking Dead but with the college nearby we see a lot of folks without any preconceived ideas about comics that are more open to trying new things.
PH: Do you sell equal numbers of comics and graphic novels or a greater volume of one category than the other?
JT: Comics have a slight edge over graphic novels but they’re very close.
PH: Are any titles favoured among your staff?
JT: Staff favorites are constantly changing but they are all encouraged to read as much as possible in order to make quality recommendations to customers.
PH: What are your best sellers?
JT: DC’s New 52 has been dominating our sales charts for the last few months, led by Batman and Justice League, although Avengers vs. X-Men looks like it will be our best seller this month. Last month Saga #1 was our top seller and Rebel Blood and The Manhattan Projects have both cracked the top ten recently. Image has put together a nice string of hits in the last few months.
PH: What is important for you to offer your customers?
JT: A friendly, welcoming environment, especially for women. Walking into a comic shop can be an overwhelming experience for a newcomer and I want anyone who walks through the front door to feel comfortable.
PH: Does your business currently embrace digital comics? Do you see digital as a threat or a business opportunity?
JT: I’m neutral on digital comics so far. It’s too early to tell but I think the digital market might end up being a feeder system for good comic stores, much like the bookstore market was. Anything that might expose new people to comics and drive them to seek out more seems to me to be a good thing. Two things that bother me about digital are: one, that so much marketing seems to be directed towards existing customers when the focus should be on attracting new readers; and two, that so many publishers believe that they need to discount their books in order to sell them. For the most part [in trade [publications], digital books are the same price as their print counterparts and even in music, the cost of [downloading] an entire album is usually close to the price of a CD but for some reason, comic publishers feel the need to devalue their own products.
PH: If you were magically granted the power, would you change anything about the comic book industry and retailing in general?
JT: It would be nice to see more comic stores opening up and more stores that are willing to promote material outside of the top 100. I think one of the main reasons that overall comic book sales have been struggling [for] the past few years is that there are still many areas of North America that are underserved and adding more quality stores would help to get comics out in front of more people.
PH: Who are your top five favourite comic book creators of the past twenty years?
JT: In no particular order, and off the top of my head: Brian K. Vaughan, Ed Brubaker, Garth Ennis, Darwyn Cooke and Adrian Tomine.
PH: Do you have a favourite Canadian comic book creator?
JT: Dave Sim. Not only was completing the 300-issue run of Cerebus a major accomplishment but he also helped to pave the way for many other self-publishers. And he does really great signings.
PH: What writers, artists and publishers do you believe have made particularly strong contributions to the comic book industry?
JT: Recently or in general? There would be no comic industry without the immense contributions of people like Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Will Eisner, Siegel & Shuster, etc. Over the last 20 years, I think a lot of credit has to go to Steve Geppi and Diamond Comics for keeping the industry afloat when times were tough in the late 1990s as well as Marvel and DC for continuing to produce monthly comics even at times when it probably wasn’t very profitable to do so. More recently, DC’s New 52 launch brought a tremendous number of new and lapsed readers back into comics and Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead has become a phenomenon that shows no signs of slowing down.
PH: What types of products and titles are currently absent from the market that you would like to see a publisher producing for you to sell?
JT: It would be nice to see Marvel and DC producing more all-ages super-hero titles featuring their core characters. And by this I don’t mean a kids line, which both publishers already have covered but, instead, a regular Batman or Spider-Man comic that is suitable for an eight year old (as almost all super-hero comics were before the last decade). Most kids want to read “real” Batman comics and not a dumbed down version. With half a dozen or more Batman titles being published every month, surely one could be set aside where the extreme violence and language is toned down a bit, making it accessible to everyone.
PH: Is there something that you would like potential customers to know about Another Dimension that has not been covered in this interview?
JT: I would just like to add that 2011 was our best year and so far 2012 has been up of new customers both brought in. Whether the rest is thanks to digital marketing or despite it, it’s too soon to tell. All I can say is that manga was supposed to “save” comics, then bookstores were supposed to “save” comics and now digital is the latest saviour. As long as there are passionate retailers in the direct market, I don’t think comics will need saving, and they’ll be around for a long, long time to come.