This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on April 12, 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.
Joe Field has always been ahead of the curve. Flying Colors Comics & Other Cool Stuff, Field’s store, was founded in 1988 and all three decades of its existence have presented some of the most important lessons the American comics industry has subsequently learned. From the founding philosophy of Flying Colors to the creation of events like Free Comic Book Day, this is one store that has left an indelible mark on the industry. Field, his family, and his staff have continually led comics forward and the many stories they have to tell are still worth a listen by retailers, publishers, and fans alike.
When Field opened Flying Colors it was months before Tim Burton’s Batman movie opened, it was on the cusp of the 90s comics bubble and it was just after the bust of the black & white boom. It was a great time to get into comics, one that came with a built-in audience and plenty of opportunities. That wasn’t enough for this store though. Field strove from the very start to be a family friendly store in which anyone could enjoy themselves and find something to read, not just the current crop of collectors and readers. “My wife and three young daughters were my ‘marketing research’ team as we looked at all kinds of stores to come up with a plan,” says Field. The diversity of perspectives in age and gender that founded Flying Colors was decades ahead of its time and has paid off in a big way.
Field pays close attention to his customer base and has noted a big shift over the decades. When Flying Colors first opened its doors their customers were 80% male and about 20 years old on average. Today women make up more than 35% of the base and the average age has shifted upward towards 33. That speaks to the importance of inclusivity and building lifelong customers who keep reading well after high school. It’s the sort of change that emphasizes the long-term.
The long-term is a key concept behind Flying Color’s most successful initiative: Free Comic Book Day (FCBD). Joe Field was the man with a plan behind this international event that started at his store in Northern California. The first FCBD occurred in 2002 with only a few special issues and 8 publishers involved. In the 15 years since it has exploded into an event that will feature more than 2300 comic shops in more than 60 countries giving away 6 million comics from 38 publishers in 2017. It all began with Field looking at what worked outside of comics in an effort to boost his own industry. Field says it was all about “an age-old method of promotion: the freebie.” He had staked his livelihood on comics and believed in the product. FCBD was about giving people a taste of what makes the medium so special. For anyone who has visited a comic book store on the first Saturday of May in the past decade, the results speak for themselves.
Click ahead to learn more about Joe Field’s origins and where the future of Flying Colors lies.
Joe Field and Flying Colors owe a portion of their story to one of the great writers of origins in comics: Stan Lee. Field was working in sales and marketing at KJOY-AM in Stockton CA when he did a promotion asking Marvel to name Stockton as the “birthplace of the Fantastic Four.” In early 1986 Stan Lee visited Stockton to officially bestow the FF”s hometown designation with lots of media in attendance. The pair hit it off and Lee invited Field to help him with some a freelance public relations gig. . It was a rabbit hole of comics fandom including promotion for Lee’s wife’s new book and the first few years of WonderCon. Field was hooked and opened Flying Colors only two years later.
Field captures a bit of Lee’s own flair in how he promotes his store and the people who make it a unique hotspot for comics. He refers to his customers as the “FlyCo Faithful” in a manner similar to the “Merry Marvel Marching Society”. The staff of Flying Colors, who have only numbered 53 in total over 28 years, are a source of immense pride for Field. That incredibly low turnover speaks to both their loyalty and a team people genuinely desire to be a part of.
The early years brought Field into touch with a lot of great young talent who would also leave a mark on the industry. He is quick to rattle off names like Dan Brereton, Jeff Johnson, Ken Hooper, and Darick Robertson. It was none other than Jim Lee who did his first professional store signing at Flying Colors’ Grand Opening which was three weeks after the store opened.
Flying Colors is a store with roots firmly embedded in the comics industry. You only have to look at highlights like early flirtations with Stan “The Man” Lee, support of many rising stars, and the creation of a world-wide event like FCBD to realize this is a comics store that cares deeply about comics. That’s a point Field doesn’t shy away from either. There is the “Other Cool Stuff” portion of the name, but it’s all a bonus that comes in addition to the comics. “We’re not a game store, even though we carry a few card games. We are first, last and always a full service Comic Book Store, and everything we do spins out of that,” says Field.
Flying Colors has already begun to gear up for its 30th anniversary coming in October 2018. There are a variety of events in the works and based on the store’s track record it’s entirely plausible the next FCBD might spin out of them. However, Field stresses that one of the most important things to do in comics is to remain flexible. The past 30 years of comics have been crazy with big ups and downs, and Flying Colors’ ability to survive it all speaks to some hard won wisdom. “It’s vital for us to stay low to the ground, and be flexible enough to charge hard when we can and pull back when we need to,” says Field.
Whatever the 30th anniversary and years after it may bring, there’s no doubt that Flying Colors will remain a leader in American comics. You only need to look at its history and how each of its ideas have played out to see how this store has consistently represented the future of comics. Field and his team led efforts to make their store inclusive and diverse before those were buzzwords. They actively pushed for new readers with events like FCBD. Artists teamed up with them to find readers and meet fans before striking it big.
Flying Colors is a testament to what one store can achieve and how ideas can spread to make an entire industry a little bit better.
Click ahead to see full details and photos of Flying Colors Comics & Other Cool Stuff.
Name: Flying Colors Comics & Other Cool Stuff
Address: 2980 Treat Blvd
Concord, CA 94518
Phone: (925) 825-5410
Facebook: Flying Colors Comics & Other Cool Stuff