Comic Book Men: Reality TV or Make Believe- what’s the difference?

I just watched another episode of AMC’s “Comic Book Men“. I did a quick review of the first episode (called “Junk“) and a tour of The Secret Stash on my site Have Geek Will Travel, and have continued watching hoping that they would redeem themselves for that episode. It’s gotten a little better, and Bryan Johnson has acted like less of a douche than before on the show, but it still not what I had hoped for in a show about comic books from Kevin Smith. The guy sold his comics collection to help finance his first movie Clerks, and after a couple movies bought the comic shop in his home town. That’s some serious comic geek street cred in my book! So much so, that as a fan I wanted to check out his comic shop. My Bushi Tales co-horts Dave and Micah and I made the trip to Red Bank, NJ before attending a comic show in Reading, PA one weekend. I had a blast, and dug seeing a lot of the movie and comic memorabilia from Kevin’s career. Also was glad to meet the store manager Walt Flanagan– who’s also been in several of Kevin’s movies and worked with him on two Batman comic series, as well as with Bryan on their own comic Karney.

I’ve wanted to like the show, and have tried to give it chance. The show has some interesting moments and comic content, but over all it just seems incredibly staged and not that original. I’ve heard it described as a rip-off of Pawn Stars and Antiques Road Show– and truly that’s not too far off the mark. My wife was done with it when she got tired of counting comic book discussion cliché after cliché. The one about sex with superheros and Barbara Gordon “not feeling anything below the waist” sent her over the edge and out of the room. Like all “reality TV” I really don’t know how much of this show- especially tonight’s episode (#4)  is “real” or “make believe“. I’m hoping it’s mostly made up, because what I saw tonight was not only the good, the bad, and the ugly– but the stupid, too. Heavy on the stupid.  I’ll explain.

After watching the new episode of The Walking Dead I decided to keep it on the same channel and give  Comic Book Men another shot. Tonight’s episode “Zombies” had Ming Chen, the show’s “whipping boy” (yes- that’s what he’s described as on the AMC site) pitching his killer new marketing idea to co-workers at the store- Walt, Mike, and Bryan. It was  a “zombie day sale” called “Day of the Walking Deal“.  The store would offer 20% off for one day only and each of the guys would get made up to look like zombies for the flyers. The guys think it’s another of Ming’s bad marketing ideas, but finally give in. A make up artist is brought in, they go to a photographer’s studio, color flyers are made up, and Ming starts plastering them around Red Bank. So far it seems like a great idea, especially with all the product placement of “The Walking Dead” merchandise during the show, and the fact that Comic Book Men follows The Walking Dead on AMC. Good tie in, right? Well, you would think.

I’ve done marketing and ad campaigns for my old t-shirt shop and self-published comic series. I’ve had some successful ones, and some not so successful ones. Here are some of my criticisms of their marketing campaign, and just hope they aren’t that stupid in real life. They can’t be. Please don’t be..!

First, let’s look at the flyer ad Ming papered downtown Red Bank with. I’m assuming it was just downtown since we only saw Ming walking around tacking up the flyers, and hope that IF they were actually doing a sale they would do more than put some around the immediate area the shop is located. They say in the episode that it’s a “zombie day” sale, and that everything in the store is going to be 20% off. 20% is not bad, and a normal % for a lot of sales. I’ve learned you have to do at least that to get anyone’s attention. 10% just doesn’t cut it, but some shops do 10% for new comics if you have a pull box. Well, on the flyer it states you get 20% off when you spend $100 or more. Not exactly the same thing as what Ming had said in the episode, and since they state they only made $37.88 for the day I guess nobody spent at least $100. I buy a lot of comics and comic related merchandise and haven’t spent over $100 in one visit in a long time! I don’t shop weekly anymore and $25-50 or so is about all I’ve been able to afford to spend when I do go in, unless I’m Christmas or birthday shopping for my fangirl wife. I’ve seen some spend that much on Free Comic Book Day when one of our shops runs a 20% off sale, but that’s advertised well in advance and is annual. People know that event and their other holiday sales are coming up because they don’t wait until the last minute to let it be known. (FCBD is May5th this year.)

This is a “zombie DAY sale”, but there’s no date on the flyer I saw. I am going to assume they did have one on the printed ones, but I’ve seen flyers and websites sans dates like this. Very bad. Okay, even if they had dates, according to what I saw in this episode Ming distributes the flyers the day before the sale! Really..? They didn’t put flyers in their customers’ bags- at the very least the Wednesday (new comic book day) before the sale? They didn’t put the poster-sized flyer sign in the window until the day of sale? Ming- who is Kevin’s web-master, didn’t promote it on the View Askew web sites? They didn’t talk it up on any of the pod-casts they do? Didn’t place an ad in any of the local papers? Didn’t do a press release about zombies in town? I honestly don’t know if they did or didn’t- they never mention it when they talk about “Ming’s great idea” during the episode. All I saw was Ming running around town with flyers, tape and a staple gun.

I don’t know when the shows were or are being shot, but seeing the amount of The Walking Dead product placement in the show it’s a safe be that even if they didn’t know they would be following TWD on AMC that they would know they were going to be on the same network as the zombie show. I don’t see any mention of Walking Dead merch on the flyer, or for folks to tune in or stay tuned for it or their AMC show. Cross promotion opportunities missed.

Now, on the day of the sale Ming stands outside the shop and tries to hand out flyers and talk people into coming into the shop for the sale. Walt and Bryan can’t believe he’s talking to women. “That’s not our target market! “Show me a fat ugly dude,” Walt says. “That’s where I see dollars.” Wait, Walt- you’re looking to bring in new customers to the shop, and you don’t think girls/women buy comics or like zombies? Even though the “hot chick” blond Ming asks says she doesn’t like zombies, she tells Ming her husband does. Hello, potential customers! Either she buys something for her husband, or tells him about the shop and sale.

Many women make the majority of the family spending/buying decisions. I know in my household, my wife Nicki not only controls how most of the money is spent, but she spends more money on comics and video games than I do. She likes Star Wars, superheroes, and sports. She buys just about every comic Gail Simone writes or Batgirl and Wonder Woman collectible she finds, and would have been watching The Walking Dead with me tonight but wanted to kill aliens in Mass Effect 3 on her X-Box 360 instead. She’s a gamer and the one that has a hold box/pull list at a local comic shop- I closed mine over a year ago. She goes weekly or every other week to buy books, and meets her female best friend Traci there on the Wednesdays the new Star Wars comics come out. She did all this before dating or getting married to me, and now runs her own comics site- So women aren’t your target market, Walt? Women aren’t interested in zombies or superheroes? “Market to dudes!“, Walt- seriously..? Well, I’ll put it in terms you might understand- as Master Yoda once said to Luke Skywalker, “That is why you fail.

So what about ugly zombies at the sale? The guys didn’t even do any simple make-up for the sale, or at least have Ming zombified for the day. They didn’t have Ming go out as a zombie to pass out the flyers, or have him lead a “walker” around town before the sale. He could have been a walker that Bryan lead around and handed out flyers. They didn’t wear any zombie tees, or ask any friends or fans to come out to the store as zombies.

Could they have tied it in with Halloween, Day of the Dead, or Valentines Day? Could it have been a block wide event on Broad- a “Dead Man’s Block Party“? What about a “Bring out your dead!” comics trade where folks could bring in old issues they don’t want for store credit, or donate the unwanted comics to a local library or charity. Could any of this been a part of their “Day of the Walking Deal“? Maybe, but we don’t know when this was shot, how well they get along with their neighbors and the city of Red Bank, and just how much thought and effort they are willing to put into their “marketing”.

Maybe the Comic Book Men have never heard of zombie walks? I’ve seen 1000+ walking dead on Beale Street at each of the two annual Memphis zombie walks I’ve attended. (Next one is scheduled for May 25th.) The walks are highly successful!

One year I volunteered to do zombie make-up effects along with some of my Haunted Web of Horrors scare crew. We made up people as zombies for free and promoted our haunted house, and had some of our haunt volunteers come dressed up. People of all ages (and both sexes) brought out their dead for mayhem in Memphis that May.

The second one I attended had a “Sheriff Rick” look-a-like and several “horde herders” leading the zombie apocalypse from the train station down Main to Beale.

Zombie brides and grooms, an Amish zombie, Elvis Zombie, baby zombies, and even a Lego Zombie invaded downtown Memphis in organized chaos. It’s awesome, and a blast to see the looks on the  faces of folks who didn’t know it was going to be happening! “WTF..?!!

Maybe the Comic Book Men don’t have contacts with AMC to get any free The Walking Dead promo items (tees, posters, DVDs, etc.), or who can help to schedule any of The Walking Dead cast members for an in-store appearance? (Yes, that’s sarcasm you smell.) Shame, I’ve been to smaller comic conventions that had two or three cast members at each. Maybe small con promoters have better Hollywood contacts than Kevin..? (Extra sarcasm.) No zombie artists or horror writers there for a signing? I’m sure that there are some creators nearby Walt or Kevin could call- NY isn’t that far away. I think that no signings at this event may be due to the fact that they don’t have anyone else other than Kevin do in-store appearances and signings. (Hey- that’s what I heard from Mike back when I called to ask if they did comic signings at the Stash.)

The one thing I do hope is real is Walt and crew not trying to take advantage of people who don’t know what they have and what it’s worth. I have heard horror stories of other stores doing so. In this episode a girl wants to sell an incredible Marvel silver age collection that she inherited from her dad. She said she ‘s a big comics fan, but needs to sell the collection for college tuition. Walt looks through the box and asks her what she wants for them all. She admits she doesn’t know what they’re worth but says she had been offered $1000 for the long box. He tells her it’s probably closer to $8000 and advises her to buy an Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, do some research, and not let anyone- including himself make an offer until she has a better idea of what her comics are worth. I hope Walt would do that with all of his clueless customers, but I doubt it. Someone just walking in off the street with a box of “every key issue from the ’60s” I find hard to believe. Especially when it involves guys who are disgusted by “Tortured Souls” dolls but made the film “Vulgar” (about clown rape) and joke about “anal breach births“. Ugh…

As with the debacle that was the flea market scene in the first Comic Book Men episode, I have a hard time believing that any of this show is real. Let me restate that- I HOPE most is not real. Tonight the opening discussion was about which of the greatest comic book battles was their favorite. Mike says Superman VS Shazam (Kingdom Come), Walt says Thing VS The Hulk, and Ming says Batman VS Superman. When asked, “Which time?” we find out it’s the end battle in Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller- which apparently Ming has never read, and only heard about. Seriously? The guy works in a comic shop, claims to be a comic book fan, and has never read Dark Knight..?!!! Turn in your comic fan membership card, Ming! Now, I don’t think every comic fan should read that comic or every book Frank Miller has done, but if you work in a comic shop you should take the time to read books that have had a HUGE effect on Batman and the comic industry like Batman: The Dark Knight Returns . Walt as a manager should insist on the staff educating themselves on those type of comics- it’s good for customer service. Other than folks coming into try and trade their comics and collectibles for cash (get rich quick) it doesn’t look like there are that many customers to keep them from sitting around and reading comics all day anyway. Read a comic book! And when Ming acted like he had never seen original comic pages when the Silver Surfer pages came in? Man, educate yourself on what you are selling- or stop acting stupid. It’s embarrassing. There’s got to be a better way to inform the audience about comic info and history without looking like an idiot.

Even if it is all made up, why show failed marketing attempts? Why not actually go all out for a promotion? Show other comic shops and fans what a well run one looks and acts like. Show a successful event where everyone is have a great time, not a failure and finger pointing. I’m not saying you have to blow your budget, and free publicity and volunteer help is great. Bravo, but you can get a “free” make-up artist but can’t use your Hollywood or local contacts…really? You put an ad in a local Latino newspaper to get Spanish speaking comic fans in your store, and all of the comics you sell are in English- again…really? If this is the type of marketing they do and aren’t willing to try to get more women or non-fat guys in their shop I’m amazed they’ve lasted this long. Better shops have gone under in this economy and state of the comics industry. If I had seen this show before going to Red Bank I really wouldn’t have made the effort to visit The Secret Stash. I don’t know how many new customers they expect to bring in with a show like this- or keep if they really act that way.

I’ve been told dinosaurs are extinct, but apparently I saw an actual dinosaur tonight on Comic Book MenThe Secret Stash. It’s not a giant reptile, but I predict it will be just as extinct if that’s how they choose to run a comic shop.

Hey, wait- they do show Walt as a giant lizard in the opening credits…coincidence? After this episode I don’t think so.

The next episode is called “Episode 5: Con Gone Wrong“. This doesn’t bode well…


Comic Book Men: Reality TV or Make Believe- what’s the difference?

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