This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on February 22, 2017.
The foundation of ComicBook.Com is comics. While we love to cover all aspects of pop and geek culture, our roots lie in the comics community and the plethora of characters and stories that have sprung from it. If you speak with anyone in the comics community about what has made the medium successful in North America, you’ll quickly discover one answer that stands far above the rest: local comics stores. They are the bedrock of comics in the United States and Canada, supporting fans, communities, and conventions with open doors and a dedicated staff.
This year on ComicBook.Com we are highlighting this important aspect of comics and culture by taking a look at one local comic store each week. These are stores that embody what it means to support culture and community. We hope you can visit some of them throughout 2017.
It’s easy to take giants for granted. The biggest studios and publishers in America loom large as part of the world’s biggest economy and a country which exports more entertainment products than any other. Looking at the biggest distributors, retailers, and creators of any particular medium, it can make it seem like they are pillars of a landscape. So it’s easy to forget that these pillars had to be built and just how much weight they bear. That’s the case for Midtown Comics in New York City, one of the largest comics stores in the world who can be seen in the advertising pages of comics each week and at conventions all year.
One of the difficulties of building a comics store as big as Midtown Comics comes with the fact that comics themselves still attract a relatively small audience. Even as they begin to garner more attention based on movies and in the mainstream media, comics still aren’t competing on the same level as movies, television, or books. The best way to combat that is with location. Gerry Gladston, Midtown Comics’ Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) says the store, “serves a niche audience in one of the biggest cities in the world.” That provides a massive audience no matter what you’re selling.
The New York City roots of Midtown Comics aren’t just about audience though; this is a store that sits side-by-side with comics history. New York is the birthplace of comics in America and that’s something the store is very proud of. “Midtown Comics Times Square is around the block from the original office of Timely Atlas, and from the offices of Bob Kane, Will Eisner, and more” Gladston says with pride. While DC Comics may have moved to sunny California, Midtown is still nearby the Marvel offices and many of DC’s best-known creators. New York City has remained the center of comics in the USA and Midtown is situated at the heart of it all with three locations in Times Square, Grand Central, and Downtown.
Midtown Comics’ New York City headquarters doesn’t just provide a larger audience. It also presents them with a lot more competition. The cities place in history and culture means there are lots of hungry purveyors of funny books for collectors, readers, and everyone in between. Succeeding in the city isn’t based on location, but a clear mission that is consistently well executed. Gladstone says, “Midtown’s goal has always been to provide all the excitement that the core fan needs, while also appealing to a broad audience in an effort to expand readership.” That is a two-fold mission to take care of current fans and in the process provide a space and items where newcomers will want to return. It’s a difficult balance, but one that the stores have pulled off with aplomb.
Walk into any Midtown Comics location and you’re sure to find all of the aspects you would expect from any leading retail store. There are ample employees all ready with a smile, kind greeting, and the ability to help. Not everyone is an expert in every aspect of the medium, but if one employee can’t answer your question then they will happily find the person who can. That’s great for current and new fans to a medium with such immense variety. The stores themselves are impeccably kept with a surplus of stock catering to just about any taste in the medium. While the focus may remain on the best-selling titles, there’s not a lack of indie comics, manga, or artbooks. Midtown Comics is a true bonanza for those looking to dive into comics.
It’s not all about the day-to-day experience at Midtown Comics though. The store regularly hosts special events and has teamed up with some of the biggest names at both Marvel and DC Comics in the last year. The staff and owners are always looking for ways to bring exciting new experiences to fans inside and outside of the city. Axel Alonso made Marvel Comics big Secret Wars announcement from the Times Square locations in a livestream. Both Scott Snyder and Frank Miller were available for signings during the last Batman Day. These opportunities are rare and Midtown Comics does their best to share them with as many people as possible.
That effort has paid off in the past 10 years. The stores have seen continued growth in their readership both inside the stores and through their online store that serves many customers without a local comics store nearby. “Midtown Comics’ reader base has grown tremendously, and is more diverse than it was 10 years ago, particularly among women” says Gladstone. The clean appearance and great service are surely factors in making comics more accessible to fans from all walks of life.
Part of being the biggest is the requirement that you also must be one of the best. You can walk into Midtown Comics and think “Of course this place is great.” However, it’s important to remember that the dedication to excellence is what allowed them to become the biggest, not the reverse. You can witness that dedication year round to as they provide a high standard every day their doors are open and plenty of events comics fans love to attend. While it’s possible to take a place like Midtown Comics for granted, it’s even better to learn from them and appreciate everything they’ve done so far.
Name: Midtown Comics
Address: 200 W 40th Street
New York City, NY 10018
Website: Midtown Comics
Facebook: Midtown Comics