INTERVIEW: "Batgirl and the Birds of Prey" Hunt Rebirth's Oracle
FotB Kris Bather has written about his local comic book store in Perth, and now he’s going to tell us about two different stores in Sydney, which, I believe, is about an hour’s drive away from Perth (if there’s one thing Americans know, it’s geography!). First up is Kings Comics, which is right here, at 310 Pitt Street.
I always thought the fact that Perth had 3 comic shops on the same street (it was 4 until Borders closed down) was pretty impressive. So did the wife of Jarvis Cocker who visited Quality Comics with her husband recently. He bought a classic Silver Surfer TPB by the way. Nice.
On a recent holiday to the other side of the country I noticed that Sydney also has comic shops in close proximity. They also have Starbucks and Krispy Kreme, which we are sorely lacking in Perth, but we have better weather, so I guess it evens out. Kings Comics and Comic Kingdom could not be more different, and more than a few minutes of walking separates them. First up is Australia’s most well-known comic shop, Kings Comics. Its manager Jim Papagrigoriou (who’s been with Kings for a decade), was kind enough to give me the lowdown on the store.
Starting as a mail order service, Kings’ first retail outlet was opened in 1986 in a place which Jim says, “was fondly dubbed ‘The Dungeon’ due to the lack of natural sunlight anywhere near the place,” before opening its second store at Fox Studios. That location meant celebrity visitors as diverse as Björk, The Veronicas, Coheed & Cambria, Seth Green, George Lucas and many others. The one at 310 Pitt Street in the middle of Sydney is the sole remaining store. Roughly 250m², it’s without a doubt the cleanest, most well-lit, attractive comic shop I’ve ever been in. It also holds the largest amount of action figures, busts and statues I’ve ever seen in one place, short of Comic-Con.
Jim also pointed out that Kings “was the first international comic book store to win the coveted Will Eisner Spirit of Comics Retailer Award, one of only three international comic book stores to do so,” and that Kings “also created OzCon, Australia’s first international comic book convention, which ran from 1992-1998 and is still considered to be the very best comic book convention Australian fans have attended.”
Kings is a very well organized store, with a great use of space. Everything is in its place, and large reproductions of interior comics art stretches around the walls, above the shelves. It’s not hard to find anything due to large signs indicating where certain genres and publishers are. There’s a total of 12 staff, from full-time to casual, though not all work at once. Thankfully they also wear blue uniforms, so it’s easy to distinguish them from customers, which sometimes, let’s face it, can be a problem in comic shops. Most of the staff members specialize in certain publishers too, so newbies can be confident that the right person can point them in the right direction.
The layout of the store is centered around the rectangular service area, which is able to serve customers on either side. The counter is used for freebies and miscellaneous items, as well as the sign-up sheet for their newsletter. “New This Week” eye catchers abound, and the staff make sure to keep the last two issues of every title behind the most recent one, for those customers that don’t drop in regularly and need to catch up.
Coming from my LCS which often plays heavy metal, it was also a nice touch when I heard Flight of the Conchords (New Zealand’s fourth most popular folk duo) and Frank Bennett (Australian singer who tackles modern songs in the style of Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett) emanating from the speakers. Jim and I talked about Australian comics podcasts, and I plugged my own (Extra Sequential!) and he mentioned that they have plans for one too.
According to Jim (and no, that’s not a sitcom reference) their current best selling titles “would probably have to be Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Deadpool, Batman and Robin, the assorted Blackest Night books, and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” though he admits that anything Joss Whedon writes is successful, and in fact he could put his name on Sabrina, the Teenage Witch and see it become a hit.
Comics aren’t the only hits at Kings, as Jim mentions: “Collectibles are a huge part of our store. Bowen Designs statues are probably our most in-demand product, along with the Batman: Black and White statue range from DC Direct. Actually DC Direct action figures and statues pretty much outsell almost all other lines combined, mainly because of their very high quality and range. Logo t-shirts are also a very big seller for us, with the Superman logo topping the list, and the Batman logo coming a close second.”
And for those who believe the collector’s market had its heyday in the glorious madness of the ’90s, “comic book bags, boards, and storage boxes have always been a huge seller for us.” Jim acknowledges that “collectors always want to keep their comics in the best condition possible so bags and acid-free boards are very popular with us, as are the comic storage boxes. Gotta keep your collection safe!”
Kings is a very welcome store. There’s no jostling for space with other customers. Everything from the aforementioned shirts and bags, to the jewellery to the dedicated all-ages section (consisting of the successful Archie, Sonic the Hedgehog and Mega Man) is easy on the eyes and easy to find. To bring people in to partake in all this pop culture goodness, Kings appear to be pretty proactive. “Other than being a longtime participant in the annual Free Comic Book Day event,” Jim states, “we regularly hold competitions and giveaways in-store and through our weekly newsletter, and we have our Kings Comics Gold discount card that gives our customers 10% off everything they purchase from us. We also turn up to pretty much every single comic book/pop culture expo in the country, which is a really nice way to stay in touch with our interstate customers. It’s always really nice to touch base with someone you mainly speak to online or on the phone.”
Their weekly newsletter not only gives a complete rundown of that week’s items and local events, but is filled with great pictures, recommendations and items that may very well pass most of us by, such as DC’s Peruvian Intarsias (I didn’t know what they were either) and Jack Skellington resin heads. The newsletter gets sent to thousands of customers, and has been doing its thing for over a decade, and Kings are all too aware that knowledge is power. “We like to keep our customers as informed as possible,” he says, “mainly because we are also collectors at heart and would hate to miss out on something cool, and it also makes things easier for us logistically when it comes to pre-ordering titles and collectibles months in advance. If we see a large reaction to something well enough in advance, that gives us a better feel for the product we order.”
As for the customers who visit Kings, Jim guesses that “about 65-70% are male, aged somewhere between 20-40. Most of the regular customers would be your average working Joe, with a smattering of students and teenagers thrown into the mix. 15-20% would be female. We encourage female readers (we’ve actively been doing so for years now) and try to cater towards that readership as much as possible. The rest would be younger readers, aged 15 and under, both boys and girls. This is another area we feel very strongly about and try to have as many younger reader titles on hand as possible.”
Location is also a factor in King success. As it’s only a brief walk away from a large cinema, Kings has benefitted from curious viewers of comic book films wandering inside. “We’ve noticed waves of people coming through all the time,” says Jim. “We always know when the latest screening of Captain America: The First Avenger is out as we get quite a few people coming through looking for the latest comics and trade paperbacks of their favorite comic book characters.”
Like fans and retailers Jim has witnessed the change in perception of comics over the years and admits that “there have been times where it seemed that comic books would disappear, but the last ten or so years have seen the industry evolve,” to a huge increase in titles which offer something for every reader giving the industry “more diversity than it ever has. From the utterly brilliant Strangers in Paradise to Cerebus to Blankets to Black Jack to Archie to Bone to Tintin to a thousand other characters.”
Any talk with a LCS owner has to turn to DC’s ambitious plans, but the staff (and apparently customers) at Kings are quite upbeat and optimistic about its success. Jim mentioned that he is slightly concerned with making room for the onslaught of 52 new debut issues on his tidy shelves, but the response to the DCNewniverse (as they dubbed it) has been largely positive. “We’ve had a lot of interest in it and have had many new customers come through our store wanting to start reading the rebooted series,” states Jim. “As a retailer, and personally, I think something like this is long overdue. DC have a very strong stable of characters that have desperately need some kind of update for a long time now. Characters like Batman or Green Lantern will always have a very dedicated fanbase, but most readers out there, whether longtime comic book readers or casual readers, want something exciting and new and modern, and I think at the end of the day this is the very best thing the folks at DC Comics could have done. Marvel had better take a good long look at what DC are about to do, because I think the market share is about to tip in DC’s favor.”
I hope Dan Didio is reading this! Jim also told me something that I’ve never thought about before, as a fellow long-time DC diehard – how often will you get to own an Action Comics #1? Hmmm. Good point.
Thanks to Jim and the staff for letting me ask questions and take snoopy photos!
And thanks to Kris for writing this. He’s working on another one for Comic Kingdom, and maybe I’ll post it sooner than I posted this (he sent it to me a few weeks ago, and I didn’t post it because I suck). As always, if anyone else wants to write about their local comic book store, feel free to e-mail me at email@example.com. I would be happy to post it!
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