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Death of a Comic Store
by Mike Baron

Marshak's, Fort Collins' premiere comic and gaming store since 1993, is closing its doors. Owner Don Krause has decided to hang it up. "It stopped being fun about three years ago. I had no other options at the time, or I would have closed it up then. Basically, I figured out long ago working for somebody else would never get me where I wanted to go."

Marshak is closing "for a thousand reasons. I no longer need the income and the hassles are no longer worth the benefit." What hassles? "I care about the comic industry. In my opinion, the primary comic distributor no longer cares about the industry. I don't want to blame Diamond. It's my decision to close my doors. But I got tired of paying for Diamond's mistakes."

According to Krause the most common mistake was Diamond's failure to include ordered titles on an ongoing weekly basis. "Every week they failed to put books in boxes which I'd ordered. They'd just miss them." Krause pulled out a stack of weekly listings on which the missing titles were marked. The missing included X-Men, the first edition of Ghost Rider now on the stands, Superman, Inu Yasha, The Majestic, Bone, Wonder Woman, titles from every publisher. "It wasn't worth the weekly aggravation. I was apologizing thirty to forty times a week and paying for books I didn't get."

He pulled out a typical Diamond shipping box, the kind that holds two hundred comics. "It costs me five dollars shipping every time Diamond sends me a box like that. Do you know what was in that box?" He tossed a copy of the Diamond newsletter in the box.

"The situation would be fixed in a second if there were a real competitor. Everybody I know would switch in a minute. I've talked to over one hundred retailers with the exact same problem. And yet I've been told by four separate Diamond representatives that I'm the only retailer in the country with this problem."

Halley's Comics, around the corner from Marshak's, has not had the same experience. I asked owner John Bonner and he was hard-pressed to think of an incident where Diamond had shorted him or neglected to send the ordered titles. "I was extremely dubious when the four distributors gave way to one, but in retrospect I think Geppi saved the comics industry in the nineties. For a monopoly they're remarkably benign."

Krause doesn't blame his account rep. "Scott, my account rep, is the best, hardest-working person in the industry. He bent over backwards to accommodate me." But Krause sticks by his assessment. "I lost twenty to thirty thousand dollars this year because of Diamond's mistakes. Every time they make a mistake they profit." Krause explained. Marshak's and Halley's both order one hundred copies of X-Men. Marshak's doesn't arrive. Suddenly Halley's has double its business for X-Men. Thinking business is picking up, Halley's doubles its orders on X-Men for the next two months, not realizing this is a fluke and that Marshak's customers will come back. End result, Marshak's has pissed-off customers, Halley's has books it can't sell, and Diamond has increased its sales of X-Men by a third; they eventually ship Marshak's books too. (Bonner disputes that he increases his orders due to frustrated Marshak's customers.)

"The thing that bugs me the most," Krause says, "is that people will leave the hobby when I close. It always happens. That pisses me off." Bonner echoed that sentiment.

After I spoke with Marshak he e-mailed me: "We just received our weekly 'restock' shipment. It's generally comics that sold through too quickly, TPBs that we are re-stocking, and special orders. Of the 30 line-items we ordered this week, 10 items were missing. Thirty per cent error rate, and Diamond 'apologizes for the inconvenience'. Oh, and we still have to pay for them next week even though we don't have them."

Mike Baron worked for the Boston Phoenix, Boston After Dark, and the Real Paper. He broke into comics with Nexus, his groundbreaking science fiction title co-created with illustrator Steve Rude. Baron has written Marvel's Punisher, DC's Batman, Deadman, and Flash. Nexus has garnered honors too numerous to mention, including Eisners for both creators. Baron has written Star Wars for Dark Horse, Turok, Dinosaur Hunter and Archer & Armstrong for Valiant, and has three issues of Legends of the Dark Knight in the works.

A prolific creator, Baron is at least partly responsible for The Badger, Ginger Fox, Spyke, Feud, and many other comic book titles. He is currently writing Detonator and Night Club (May) for Image, and is a regular contributor to International Studio, Argosy, and Popular Polar Bear.

Baron lives in Colorado with his wife and dogs. He collects rocks.
by Mike!

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