Somerville may be a haven for comics artists, as the
latest issue of the quarterly magazine "Somerville Scout" proclaims on
its nifty illustrated cover. But one of the city's comics stores is in
a state of emergency.
Hub Comics owner James Welborn (left) sounded the bat alarm in an open letter dated Oct. 13 announcing a plan to raise "basic survival revenue," including the option to buy "comic credit" and a nine-day sale.
Manager Jesse Farrell said the problem was multifold. Sales were down all over the country for comic books, and there was "an industrywide glut of product." The store was further hurt by preordering merchandise for customers who never returned to buy it.
The result: five weeks of shipments left at the loading dock for lack of funds. At that point Diamond, the only major distributor, suspended the store's account. There are other ways to get "graphic novel," book-size publications -always a selling point at Hub, which bills itself as "The comics shop for NPR listeners." But it cuts off the weekly superhero comics for diehard fans.
"That lapse dropped revenue here more than 30 percent in September, and it looks like another 30 percent drop in October," Welborn wrote in the letter.
But readers rallied, coming in to buy the existing stock. "The response has been tremendous," Farrell said. "The community has been really, really supportive and I think the sale has been very helpful ... I think people want us to be here."
Discounts didn't apply to comics by local artists; "we kind of try to pay [them] as much as we can," Farrell said.
Additional help is coming from a place as unlikely as a public phone booth: Comicazi in Davis Square. "I was actually at Hub last night talking to James for a couple of hours," said owner Michael Burke. Welborn needs inventory - and Burke has opted not to renew the lease for his second location in Arlington. Since "I don't need a whole extra store's worth of product," he was working out a deal to turn the surplus over to Hub.
Comicazi has seen a drop in sales as well, though a small one. "Comics aren't cheap anymore," Burke said, and they're luxuries in a down economy. Closing the Arlington store "wasn't a business-is-bad sort of decision," he said.
Will Hub make it to the next issue? "That's the plan," Welborn said. He estimated that he'd be able to start weekly deliveries again in six to eight weeks. If he lost the Diamond account forever, Welborn said, he would keep the graphic novels and reopen as a bookstore focused on them.