Retailers are the bricks and mortar of the comic book industry and deserve ongoing support and patronage. Our Top Shops interview segment is designed to help readers get acquainted with the owners of some of the best comic book stores around the world.
Sequential Highway is happy to introduce you to Christer Larsson, co-owner of Seriezonen, in Uppsala, Sweden.
Howard: Why comic books? What led you to being a comic book
Christer Larsson: I have been interested in comics for as long as I can remember. I love the medium and read as much and as widely as I can. As a retailer I have an opportunity to devote even more time to reading, learning about and enjoying comics - I also get to share that enjoyment with others.
How would you describe the type of environment you have created for
CL: To compete with internet retailers, physical shops today have to offer something that is unique: atmosphere, expertise and a sense of community. Ideally, our shop should be a place where things are going on, besides just commerce.
We do not try any magic tricks; instead we focus on the little things. The shop should be there for anyone who wants to browse and chat for a while. It is kept clean and orderly and we do our best to make everyone feel welcome. We speak with the people who come into the shop (it is common decency to say hello when somebody enters your shop) and encourage all and any questions.
What incentives do you offer your customers?
CL: Customers are offered the opportunity to sign up for subscriptions and to order back issues. We make it very clear that we will order anything that is available and at no extra charge. We also try to be as efficient and as reliable as possible about getting people's orders to the shop. A business like ours relies on returning customers and if our service is unreliable customers stop returning.
We have regular book signings with prominent Swedish creators. This is an appreciated and successful initiative and the signings are often fairly busy. We have been able to establish good relationships with creators and publishers, and over the last few years we have arranged about four major signings each year. Many customers are very excited about seeing artists and writers, and most creators enjoy meeting their readers.
Occasionally, we make special offers. For example, we may offer a certain title at a reduced price, or offer subscriptions at a reduced price for a limited period. Right now, we are beginning a progressive sale of back issues that will run from July through September.
Would you point to something in particular that sets Seriezonen apart
from other retail stores?
CL: To begin with, Seriezonen is one of the oldest comic book shops in Sweden, and one of the very few outside the Swedish capital, Stockholm. My business partner, Harri Saarela, is one of the founders of the shop, and the shop has been in the same location for over 30 years, since 1980. In the 1980s, a Swedish comic book shop was usually a second hand shop. Seriezonen was already importing American comics in a period when that was difficult, time consuming and uncommon.
Today we attract a wide range of customers by offering a varied selection of comics. We maintain an active Facebook page and keep reaching new customers thanks to our involvement in various comics-related events, like festivals, conventions and exhibitions.
Most importantly, we are one of the arrangers behind the Uppsala Comix annual comics festival. The festival invites creators and publishers to present themselves and sell their products. Along with the other organizations involved, we are currently planning the third festival for March 2014 and hoping that it will be as successful and appreciated as the previous events.
What's your customer demographic? Young, old, male, female, and so
CL: Our typical customer is between 18 and 30 years old, but the full range is between 9 and 70. The male-to-female ratio is about 60-to-40, and I would guess our male customers spend a bit more money than our female customers. The number of female visitors to the shop has increased steadily over the last decade and a half, and keeps growing.
Does your shop support and/or promote independent comics and small
CL: We certainly do. We keep in touch with small publishing houses; independent creators have promoted and sold fanzines in our shop. For our latest Uppsala Comix festival in April 2013, we invited the English publisher Nobrow, whose co-founder, Sam Arthur, came and gave a well-attended presentation of their critically acclaimed books. We are also very proud to have sponsored the publishing of the Swedish independent horror series 1000 Ögon, created by Jonas Anderson and Daniel Thollin and recently picked up by an established publisher.
Are your customers attracted to alternative comic books and graphic
novels? Are they primarily fans of Marvel and DC?
CL: It is probably Marvel, DC and Dark Horse that keep us in business, but we do sell a good number of alternative comics as well. Some customers will read only mainstream comics while others prefer alternative books, but there are also quite a few customers who want a varied diet and enjoy superheroes as well as less-immediately-accessible comics.
Do you sell equal numbers of comics and graphic novels or a greater
volume of one category than the other?
CL: We sell roughly equal numbers of comics and graphic novels, but to different customers. Most of our regular customers at Seriezonen get subscriptions for titles that they enjoy and of which they collect single issues; these customers pick up the occasional graphic novel as well. Less frequent customers typically buy graphic novels but show no interest in single issues.
Are any titles favoured among your staff?
CL: Many titles are, but I know that Harri currently enjoys Fatale. I like Rachel Rising andWonder Woman. Both of us appreciate Mike Carey's The Unwritten.
What are your best sellers?
CL: Among the pamphlets right now, Scott Snyder's Batman is our leading seller. The Unwritten, Fables, Kick-Ass 3, Superior Spider-Man, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Action Comics are also doing very well—as are the Hellboy and BPRD titles. The Unwritten, The Walking Dead, Fables do extremely well as trade paperbacks, as well. Preacher,Watchmen and The Sandman are perennial best sellers.
What is important for you to offer your customers?
CL: Reliability and expertise. We want our customers to know that we can provide titles they want and help them discover comics they do not yet know about.
Does your business currently embrace digital comics? Do you see
digital as a threat or a business opportunity?
CL: We have no position on digital comics. Currently, I do not see it as a real business opportunity for Seriezonen, but I do not see it as a threat, either. We often hear from customers that they have seen something online that they enjoyed and they want to buy the print version. So far, I think we have benefitted from digital comics, indirectly, because they make the print versions look even more attractive.
However, it is very difficult to tell what will happen. It is still a new way of selling comics. I suspect, for example, that many customers are not always clear on exactly what they are paying for when they use a digital service; many buyers feel uncertain whether they are paying for access or ownership when they are making a digital purchase.
I think it is unrealistic to see these two ways of presenting literary material (digital and print) as mutually exclusive. Digital comics will certainly continue to have an effect on the market, but that does not mean that print is disappearing.
If you were magically granted the power, would you change anything
about the comic book industry and retailing in general?
CL: From a Swedish perspective, I would love to see more translations of American and, especially, French and Belgian comics into Swedish. Swedes start learning English fairly early, but most Swedes do not read French. In the 70s and 80s, many of the classic French and Belgian comics were available in Swedish; today, that is not the case. Unfortunately, the publishers that own the publishing rights to many of these comics expect unrealistic profit margins and do not put out any books. As a consequence, fewer young Swedes are introduced to comics.
Who are your top five favourite comic book creators of the past
CL: In no particular order (and leaving out a bunch of people who could just as well have made the list): Alan Moore, Craig Thompson, Guy Delisle, Garth Ennis and Eddie Campbell. Additionally, I would like to mention two Swedish creators, Nina Hemmingsson and Joakim Pirinen—both are amazing artists and writers.
Do you have a favourite Canadian comic book creator?
CL: Dave Sim has had an enormous influence, of course, but my two favourites are Guy Delisle and Chester Brown. Pyongyang is my favourite book by Delisle, and Brown'sPaying For It is provocative and upsetting and brilliant.
What writers, artists and publishers do you believe have made
particularly strong contributions to the comic book industry?
CL: All Swedish readers of comics are indebted to the pioneering publishers Rolf Classon and Horst Schröder for their work promoting Swedish and international (but especially European) comics and creators.
From an international perspective, Fantagraphics Books deserves credit for its efforts to create a serious forum for the study and analysis of comics in The Comics Journal, and to keep classic and pioneering comic strips like Peanuts and Pogo available in beautiful editions.
Historically, there are so many very important contributions but, to me, what Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko achieved in the sixties stands out. Virtually everything in a comic book shop today would have looked different if it were not for their achievements.
What types of products and titles are currently absent from the
market that you would like to see a publisher producing for you to
CL: Again, from a Swedish perspective, translations of French and Belgian comics. From a wider perspective, I would just love to see a bit more diversity in commercial/mainstream comics. There seem to be untapped markets that would be receptive to visual storytelling if they were presented with appealing products. Many attempts (I won't be naming names or titles here) seem a little half-hearted and forced.
Is there something that you would like potential customers to know
about Seriezonen that has not been covered in this interview?
CL: Our website www.seriezonen.nu and our Facebook page are in Swedish, but the Uppsala Comix website (www.uppsalacomix.se) and its Facebook page are in English. Google Maps allows you to take a tour inside our shop: http://goo.gl/maps/vFfkP
Come visit us. We hope to see you in our shop!
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