Comics: Nostalgia & Comics & Me – Part 3 – The joy of recommendations and why Princess Di hated comics
As part of our ongoing celebrations of 30 years of great service at Nostalgia & Comics, we’re taking a very personal look back at one ex-employee’s time at the store. Dave and David are celebrating 30 years at the shop, FPI blog’s Richard Bruton only did 19…
Continuing our series of posts from Richard looking back on his 19 year of service at Nostalgia & Comics Birmingham.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of manager Dave Hopkins and staff member David Dearn joining the shop. They’re celebrating over on the shop facebook page and we celebrated with our own 30 years of Daves post the other day. Everything culminates over August bank holiday weekend, with a party on Friday 23rd August at Le Truc Cafe and Bar and a day of celebrations on Saturday 24th August in the shop.
When I left N&C in 2006 to move to Yorkshire I wrote about my experiences on my personal blog and we’re reposting them here, 9 years later, as a little celebration of just how great Nostalgia & Comics is.
You can find all the posts in the Nostalgia & Comics & Me series here.
Nostalgia & Comics & Me: From the recommended shelf to Propaganda
(originally posted April 4th 2007)
One of the most wonderful things I ever got to do in Nostalgia & Comics was recommend comics and graphic novels to customers. Often when someone was browsing the shelves or came up to the till myself and all the rest of the staff would make pleasant comments on what they were looking at/ buying and gamely suggest that if they liked —— why not try ——-. Of course, we never, ever criticised the selection. It’s up to the customer to read what they liked. But we could always find a way to try to suggest something wonderful to them, no matter what they brought up to the till.
The rarest of prizes though, the really fun one was when a customer would come in and tell you that they’d read everything they wanted and could you suggest anything to read. That always made for a fun 10 minutes or so of chat and selling.
I always sold the books to people with the promise that if they didn’t like them all they had to do was bring it back in and we’d refund the money, no questions asked. To me it seemed the only fair thing to do. After all, this wonderful customer is putting down good money for a book just because I’m telling them it’s wonderful. I’ve spent a little time asking all the pertinent questions to gauge exactly what sort of thing they’re after, but I could always misjudge their comic character and sell them something they hate.
I’m very proud of the fact that in all my years of doing this, not a single copy has ever been returned. Not one.
So the inevitable end to this love of selling stuff I love to people would be the recommended shelf. About 1995/6 I was sorting out some of the shelves, changing a few things round and generally keeping myself busy on a long Saturday afternoon when I realised that if I moved this, shifted that and squeezed some horrible books a little I’d have a whole endcap to do with as I pleased. (Quick explain, before the FPI buyout, the shop’s shelves were a horrible wooden affair. Really, really horrible. And at the end of each run of shelves was the end cap, 4 shelves about 2 feet wide.) So this endcap became The Recommended Shelf.
Every Saturday, after toiling in the basement I’d emerge, sweaty and blinking into the light and go about the shelves looking for what I want to put on the Recommended Shelf for the coming week. Quickly get them together, knock out a quick review sheet and pin it up on the shelf.
Over time, the reviews got longer and the shelf got labels and I started to think about what I could do with it to make it better.
Luckily Dave at Nostalgia & Comics has always been very good at letting us get on with stuff if he thinks it’s a good idea and will help us sell more comics and graphic novels, so with his blessing I went about moving the shop around a bit and eventually made myself an entire rack of space.
This became, over time, my PROPAGANDA shelf. The top shelf would be a regularly changing selection of great stuff and the shelves underneath it would be a home to all the stuff that was worth reading but tended to get lost on the main shelves. PROPAGANDA was where you’d find stuff by Chris Ware, Joe Sacco, Andi Watson and the rest. And the top shelf became my mission. Every few weeks I’d select some books, take them home and labour over reviewing them. The resulting A4 review sheet/newsletter became PROPAGANDA. It took bloody ages to do. Mostly because I had to design it, write the reviews and then spend ages trying to get them to fit into the A4 space I had. But I really loved it.
In fact, leaving the shop meant leaving PROPAGANDA behind and meant I could no longer have access to all the goodies in the shop to read and review as I saw fit. Of course, regular readers will know that I’ve started reviewing again and am now putting PROPAGANDA up before you every few weeks as part of the FPI weblog.
On the plus side it means I no longer have to condense the reviews to fit an A4 sheet, but the downside is that I no longer get to have the satisfaction of selling stuff to our wonderful customers from my very own PROPAGANDA shelf.
Yes, that was the original plan – every couple of weeks! That soon fell by the wayside, and now it’s a daily thing, more books coming in than I ever have time to cover. I still miss the face to face selling though, that’s what makes a good comic shop into a great comic shop. In fact, it’s something of a litmus test. Go into your local comic shop and ask them to recommend something to you. If they scratch their heads and mumble that they don’t know, it’s time to leave and find yourself another shop. If they look excited and start trying to match comics to your tastes in books, movies, music… you know you’re in a great shop!
Nostalgia & Comics & Me: Princess bloody Diana hated comics
(originally posted April 4th 2007)
Around the mid to late 90s I found myself more and more involved with the shopfloor at Nostalgia & Comics, and particularly more involved in trying to push the product mix to include some of the great stuff that was being published.
I was particularly involved in pushing the wonderful British stuff that was being published at the time. We sourced this direct from the publishers and actively restocked so we had every issue in. Particular successes for us included: Kane by Paul Grist, Strangehaven by Gary Spencer Millidge, and Sleaze Castle by Terry Wiley and Dave McKinnon
We had a separate section in the shop and aggressively promoted all of these titles. I had lots of nice phone calls and emails with all the creators involved. All in all it was a great time for us and for the titles involved. About this time Pete Ashton (weblog) was heavily into the small press and self publishing scene. He ran a small press distributor: Bugpowder (which later mutated into the excellent website here) and was a frequent visitor to the shop. Pete and I got talking on various occasions and we ended up stocking several of the comics and books he represented on our shelves and did a nice little trade in them as well. After months of doing this Pete gets it into his head to organise a little convention, more like a formal pub meet with events and a few guests. He called it BrumCAB97 (Comics and Beer) and billed it as an informal mini-convention with the emphasis on meeting and chatting about comics in a relaxed environment.
Pete’s always been at the sharp end of the ideas business, very early on he was running fanzines, doing the BugPowder distro thing, organising comic pub meets and got into this blogging lark very early as well. So the idea of getting a few dozen quality British comics names together seemed like a really good idea at the time. To tie in with this we decided that Nostalgia & Comics should invite some of the British writers and artists we’d been supporting for so long down to sign and appear at BrumCAB97.
From memory and the convention booklet I can make a list of: Paul Grist, Terry Wiley, Dave McKinnon, D’Israeli, Jeremy Dennis , David Morris, Fiona Jerome, Jason Cobley, Lew Stringer, Paul Rainey. But there were others.
So we set the date; all scheduled to take place on the weekend of 6th & 7th September 1997. Anyone spot the huge problem with that date?
Princess Diana’s funeral.
We’d managed, through no fault of our own to schedule a really nice Brit comic weekend on the one weekend of the year where NO-ONE was in Birmingham. Literally, no-one.
As Terry Wiley put it when I asked him for his memories:
Ah yes – I recall it was a lovely day for it, if it wasn’t for the tumbleweeds blowing along Queensway it would probably have been a pretty good turnout! I remember the hotel TV was showing the funeral on EVERY CHANNEL. So when we went to BrumCAB later I remember we all went to a Balti house and the Oxford crowd started having a loud conversation about some unscrupulous person committing necrophilia on Diana! I was surprised there wasn’t a fight The next day I think the drinking started early, while the TV showed REPEATS of the funeral, for god’s sake – and Jeremy Dennis ended up with D’Israeli drawing on her (jeans) leg with a Sharpie….
I was never a big fan of Princess Diana. I’d long thought she was an aristocratic waste of space who should have known exactly what she was marrying into. Her job was simply to produce the heir and the spare, shut up about any of hubbies infidelities and wave at the right points. But the simpering, stupid woman decided not to play along. I know it was a tragedy that she died in such a terrible accident. But she was stupid enough to get into a car with a drunk driver high on something or other.
Of course, as these events were unfolding, all I was really thinking about was what impact it would have on the attendance at the weekend. Selfish and small minded of me I know. But I certainly wasn’t going to be part of the herd of cattle weeping and moaning for a woman they didn’t know and who probably secretly hated them.
Come the day of the mini con we set everything up and got the shop all nice and ready for our guests and the customers. The guests turned up. The customers didn’t.
Even on the bus into the shop that morning I knew we were onto a real loser. I think there were two other people on the bus. And they were just drunks still reeling from last nights wake or something or other. When we got into town it was even worse. The silence of the city centre was incredible. I’ve always loved the quiet that descends on Birmingham in the early hours of the morning (before the clubs kick out anyway); it has a wonderfully unreal feeling to it. But this quiet was very different. This was the quiet that signalled that we were going to have the most embarrassing of days.
Bless the guests though. They were very sympathetic and understanding. They sat behind the table and amused themselves for a couple of hours before we all headed to the pub. We held our own wake that night and it had absolutely nothing to do with some royal bimbo.
Pete Ashton put up his account of the weekend as well – here. Well worth a look.