Here we have an interview with Peter DeCourcy, the manager of the Barrie, Ontario comic shop Blue Beetle Comics. About 2 years ago, Blue Beetle was purchased by Walter Durajilja and Marc Sims, owners of Big B Comics in Hamilton, ON.
Blue Beetle has improved their public profile and hosted a number of great events recently, from book launches to fundraising for the HALO Foundation.
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Owner’s Name: Walter Durajilja and Marc Sims
Manager’s Name: Pete DeCourcy
Number of Employees: 3
Years in Business: The store has been in operation for seven years, and operating under current ownership for two years.
Physical Address: 1 – 241 Essa Road, Barrie, ON, L4M 3N4
Telephone Number: 705-739-1513
How did you choose your store name?
I’m going to turn this question over to Alice-ann who has been with the store through its many incarnations and knows all of Blue Beetle’s secrets:
“Blue Beetle Comics got its name from the previous owner, Dave Mackay, who has a major love for Golden age comics. He wanted a neat name and he thought of the historic character Blue Beetle, who was a Cop like him. Thank goodness he went with Blue Beetle Comics, because he could have gone with his other Golden age love and named the store Good Girl Comics.”
Favorite Comic Book, published in the past few months:
Oh man, that’s a Sophie’s Choice. I love Criminal by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. We’ve been pushing that book pretty hard; it’s just the most exciting book out there. The fact that lots of customers who read Incognito are sticking around for The Sinners really gives me hope for creator owned non-superhero books.
In saying that though, Grant Morrison’s Batman & Robin is just really fun and the fact that Cameron Stewart is doing art on the next big arc has us all really pumped since he’s one of our all-time favourite artists here at the Beetle. (For proof check out Sea Guy, Apocalipstiks and the trade paperback Catwoman: Relentless.)
Five all-time classic comics, graphic novels or story arcs:
We spent a lot of time arguing over this, and it was pretty hard to decide. A lot of comics (Bone, JLI, Preacher, Y, Swamp Thing) got left on the cutting room floor and it felt like we were losing a limb, but in the end we decided to go with these. Don’t make us put them in any specific order – it’s hard enough.
Daredevil: Born Again
Grant Morrison’s JLA run (#1 – #41)
Essex County Trilogy (I dare anyone not to shed a tear at the end of Book two… wow.)
DC: The New Frontier
What are you excited about for this coming year? What are your plans for the next 12 months?
In terms of comics – we’re pretty excited about Jonathan Hickman’s Shield series (the idea of seeing Leonardo Da Vinci face down Galactus makes us all a little happy inside.) , the possibility that we’ll finally get to see Miracleman reprints. (I know they haven’t announced anything yet – but c’mon – it’s going to happen.), the return of Batman, as well as the fact that Matt Kindt has a new GN coming out from Vertigo’s Crime line. In fact the idea that we’re seeing more non-superhero books enter into mainstream recognition and light up sales charts really makes us happy. As much as we love superheroes and all their sturm und drang – we really want people to realize the potential this medium has to convey any kind of story.
In terms of Blue Beetle Comics, 2009 has been really great for us, and we’re hoping for more good things in 2010. We’re currently talking with our local armed forces base (located out of Borden, Ontario) to donate collections of TPBs to the soldiers.
We’re really looking forward to Free Comic Book Day 2010. This year we’ve got plans to involve local elementary schools, as well as the Barrie Public Library, to really get the word out on this really fun day. It’s a joy to get new readers to come in for the first time and be able to tell them all about the books that we’re passionate about.
What has been one of the most rewarding parts of running your business?
I’ve loved comics since I was reintroduced to them when I was 19. The sheer joy I get out of reading comic books is second only to getting to talk to people about comics. When you find a comic book that moves you and you have the ability to give that same feeling to someone else, it’s a gift that is really specific to being a comic book retailer. This is my second year as a comics retailer and it’s great to see our community grow from a group of strangers who recognize each other to people who come in at specific times to talk about comics they’ve read. This has really made this job so incredibly worthwhile.
What has been one of the biggest challenges?
There still is a stigma on comic book stores (see The Simpsons’ Comic book Guy as a reference) and our store strives to have a completely different ambiance. Sure you can find people talking and debating comic books, but we’re a pretty inclusive group of people with a family friendly atmosphere.
Why are you a comics retailer?
I feel totally blessed to be a comic retailer. I’ve been lucky enough to make my hobby into my job. Not many people can say that, and to find out that my passion for comics has translated into not only a successful business but a career is something that I can’t even believe. I still get excited to come in on Wednesdays to see what the shipment will bring.
Product Lines Carried:
We try to cover all bases for our area. We sell Manga, T-Shirts and Hoodies, Graphic Novels, Monthly Comics, Collectible Card Games, Toys, Plushies like Ugly Dolls, and some statues.
Best selling floppy/monthly books: Blackest Night and New Avengers
Best selling manga: 20th Century Boys
What percentage of your business is comics compared to the peripherals of a ‘culture store’?
Upwards of 80% of our sales are in reading material of some sort (comics, graphic novels, manga). We are a comic book store first and foremost. We try to have a few peripheral items that are cool, but our main focus is on comic books.
What are your Best selling graphic novel books?
We have what we call our introductory graphic novels – books that we tend to recommend to people who are looking to get into comics. These tend to be along the lines of Vertigo titles like Preacher and Y the Last Man, Image books like Walking Dead and Invincible and Marvel titles like Runaways. We keep these stocked pretty deep as they’re great gateway books. Obviously we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Bone. Jeff Smith deserves all the praise he receives. Those books are fantastic.
What books do you find yourself recommending the most?
For younger kids we recommend Bone, Mini Marvels Digests, Tiny Titans and the Crogan Adventures series by Chris Schweizer.
(For adults) I’m a Daredevil fan from way back and the title has been in a bit of a renaissance since Bendis started writing it a few years ago. After him came Brubaker and now Diggle who are also great. The fact that they seem to pass the baton (or billy club) at an unusual situation really cements Daredevil as being a revolutionary series amongst other titles where returning to the status quo is usually par for the course.
I find that I lend out my digest collections of Runaways to lots of customers because it’s just such a fantastic, well thought out series that people can read without being bogged down by years of Marvel continuity. Y The Last Man and Walking Dead constantly fly out and those who are reading them are all over the map in terms of age and gender.
What great comic/manga should everyone under 14 be reading?
Have you read Crogan’s Vengeance? If not you’re missing out on a pretty novel idea. The book follows the adventures of the Crogan Family tree. The first volume – Crogan’s Vengeance – tells the tale of ‘Catfoot’ Crogan as he becomes a mighty pirate. It’s packed with great action, humour and some beautiful black and white illustrations (which are pretty well researched, so everything looks authentic, even though it’s in a fairly cartoony style.) The second volume (Crogan’s March) was supposed to be out in December so hopefully we’ll see that one sooner rather than later.
What comic/manga would you recommend for an adult interested in returning to comics
For people who want an epic superhero story that will really introduce them to some of the superheroes they know (and maybe a few they don’t) I would point them in the direction of DC: The New Frontier. It’s a beautifully drawn and intricately plotted superhero story that evokes the best of what superhero comics can be.
In terms of non-superhero works, I’d recommend Darwyn Cooke’s adaptation of Richard Stark’s The Hunter. He subtly changes his art style to suit this top notch crime story that’s sure to be recognized as a classic work of not only cartooning but storytelling.
How important is the web to your business?
I can’t really describe just how important our website and facebook group are to us. We send out a question of the week every week to our facebook group members and have discussions on our wall. It’s also really great because a few of our members have left the area, so it offers all of us a chance to stay connected. If – heaven forbid – we forget to put up what’s shipping on our website, we can expect to receive quite a few phone calls reminding us to do so.
Does your store have an area of expertise? What makes your store unique?
I’m a fairly humble guy, so instead of telling you about how awesome we are, I chose to instead ask one of our regular customers Brent, to explain why he shops here:
“I guess what I’d say is unique about the Blue Beetle is it’s a clean easily accessible store. If no one was actually staffing it, you could pretty much go in, find what you wanted and purchase. The bonus is that the staff of The Blue Beetle tends to be really knowledgeable. So on the off chance I can’t find something, the staff usually pick up on what I’m saying and figure out that the “comic book with the blue cover” is actually the latest issue of The Lone Ranger. Everyone that works there seems to have a great grasp on what they carry. While they’re all pretty well rounded it seems like each employee has a specific area that they specialize in. Wade handles all things DC. He once explained to me DC’s complete continuity while he bagged and boarded my comics. Alice-ann is a new mother so her focus is on making sure she knows exactly which titles are appropriate for kids, and has found some less traveled titles for kids that I normally might not have known about. Zackary Holmes? Jellaby, anyone? Pete just seems to handle the rest and because his tastes seem to be more in line with mine, I’ve discovered titles like Scalped, The Other Side and Criminal.”
Do you participate in Free Comic Book Day?
Yes! We really enjoy FCBD. We get a local artist to come in and do free sketches for kids, superhero themed cupcakes and face painting and have some of our customers come in costumes to entertain the kids.
What aspect of your store are you most proud?
Customer service. We pride ourselves on pretty great interactions with our customers – whether they’re 5 or 95. We try to get customers’ opinions on comics – hoping to see a different point of view and help us in terms of reorders, knowing how to adjust our orders for stock and how to order future volumes. We’ve gotten a group of really talented young kids to write us reviews on kids comics and give us their honest opinion. We put a lot of these reviews into our monthly newsletter so that others can learn from the opinions of those that the books are actually aimed at.
What have been some or your best/most fun promotions/events?
This year we hosted an art-drive/fund raiser/BBQ for the HALO foundation “The HALO Foundation is committed to enhancing living conditions and providing art therapy for orphans worldwide. HALO provides American youth with opportunities to learn philanthropy and volunteerism by seeing the world through the eyes of the less fortunate.”
It was a really fun event and we successfully raised lots of money and supplies for needy kids. Also we got to see one of our youngest customers dress up like The Goon and Ice Cream Soldier (From Sgt Rock).
We also hosted an after hours signing for a local artist and his anthology comic, and while it wasn’t as successful as we had hoped it would be, it was a good learning experience for us, showing us what to improve upon the next time we do one of these events – and we do plan on doing many more.
Have the last few years of Hollywood film releases changed your customer base?
We’re at the local movie theatre for every opening night for a big comic book movie, where we give out free comics to those who correctly answer our pre-movie trivia questions. From when we first started to where we are now our questions have gotten a little bit harder since more and more people are learning about comics. We also get a lot of parents who come in wanting an all ages Iron Man book now that their children have seen the movie.
But a lot of the time we find that once news breaks on the internet about a comic book being optioned we immediately sell out of the trades; we’ve come to understand that even if something is mentioned once or twice on Chud.com, Aintitcool, Comic Book Resources, or the ever reliable Comic Book Daily, we order up at least five copies of whatever is available since we know it will become a big seller.
Graphic Novels have been a growth product for large bookstore chains, does this affect your customer base or business?
I’ve found that a lot of our customers are constantly ‘on the verge’ of switching from single issue comic books to trade paperbacks. While some have managed the switch, there are still a large amount of customers who just can’t give up their monthly comics.
By last month’s totals graphic novels make up at least 33% of our overall sales. While we lose some business to larger chains, we manage to make up for it by having a much larger selection than most retail chains and we offer sale incentives such as our buy 9 get the 10th free stamps card.
We’ll be launching a book club later this year that will be exclusively for graphic novels.
See our other retailer interviews:
Heroes Comics (London, ON), The Comic Book Collector (London, ON), Cover to Cover (Winnipeg, MB), The Dragon (Guelph, ON), 8th Street Comics & Books (Saskatoon, SK), Downtown Comics (St. John’s, NL), L.A. Mood Comics & Games (London, ON), Stadium Comics (Brampton, ON), Legends Comics & Books (Victoria, BC), Worlds Collide (Oshawa, ON), Comic Encounters (Terrace, BC), Another Dimension (Calgary, AB), The Neutral Zone Comics and Collectables (Niagara Falls, ON), Amazing Fantasy (Red Deer, Alberta), Big B Comics (Hamilton, Ontario)