The comic industry has changed radically over the last decade. But while we usually turn to publishers or artists to ask where it’s heading… who really knows better than the comic shops who sell their wares?
Located in Soho, central London, GOSH! has cemented itself at the heart of the capital’s comic scene. With regular launch parties, drawing nights and the best small press rack this side of the pond, the shop team have become a go-to hub for artists and publishers alike.
But what are the realities of running a comic shop in the age of self-publishing, webcomics and small press? We chatted with GOSH! manager Andrew Salmond to find out.
GOSH! has always had a slightly different reputation, or seemed to be part of a different comics scene than traditional comic shops. What do you put that down to?
From the outset, the idea was to make GOSH! a distinctive destination for shoppers. Obviously at the time (in the mid-80s) there wasn’t really scope for the business to offer much outside the traditional comic shop model of new releases, back issues and merchandise, but the idea was always to offer a presentable, easily navigated space, supported by friendly, knowledgeable service. As much as that seems like a no-brainer now, and is common practice with many shops, it certainly wasn’t at the time.
Of course over time our stock mix has evolved, and we’ve tried to reach out beyond the traditional market, particularly since the move from opposite the British Museum. Drawing non-comics readers in, making them feel comfortable and welcome, and helping them discover the medium is what we’re always trying to achieve and improve upon. Not that we neglect the monthlies or the back issues: we all still love new comics day and read widely across all publishers.
Is ingraining yourself in the local comics scene important for a comic shop?
Absolutely, and in as many of the local scenes as possible. We really try and get behind the small press scene as much as we can. We want to be there on the ground floor helping people find their audience, and are always excited ourselves to see all the new talent coming up. And not to sound too mercenary, but it’s something that performs very well for us. We have a number of people who visit the shop for the sole purpose of buying books from the small press section, simply because that’s where they’re most likely to find new, interesting works they haven’t seen before.
A shop like GOSH! is well positioned to spot trends in comics. Where are things at the moment?
Well, that’s more of an essay question than a paragraph one, but in a nutshell it’s still a very exciting time. Diversity is probably the best word to sum things up: in the content being produced, in the artists creating it, and in the audience consuming it. The level of talent currently working in comics – no matter what particular type of comics you like – has never been greater. All the more phenomenal given the difficulty of actually making any money for the effort required to create it. We’re just lucky there are so many talented people who love comics so much.
Did the rise of small press and indie publishers such as Breakdown and Nobrow take you by surprise?
We do have a close relationship with Breakdown, so their success hasn’t really taken us by surprise at all: Tom and Simon have an excellent eye for talent and strong ideas about form and content. Nobrow also had a very strong aesthetic identity from the start and knew where to find their audience. To be honest, it’s rare I would use the term surprised when someone succeeds, simply because you can usually see it in how they comport themselves as publishers.
An eye for talent, an agreeable, collaborative attitude, a good slate of regular new material and a good dash of business acumen usually spell sustainability. I’m probably more surprised when someone with those attributes fails, but then I guess there are elements of luck you can never allow for.
From the perspective of a comics seller, what must these types of publishers do to keep readers coming back?
Keep publishing good comics is the easy answer. Not over-extending, would be the most important one for those starting out. It’s easy for enthusiasm to go down the tubes for a one-person publishing outfit when that fun thing you do on the side starts to consume your life. And it’s easy to find yourself in the death spiral of all your liquid funds tied up in unsold stock while your bills start falling late. As soon as you start publishing and selling on any scale you’re operating a business – be it a co-operative or a ruthless empire – and if you want to sustain it you need to treat it like one.
Are we right in thinking that GOSH! is moving in to publishing its own titles?
We’re starting to do a few exclusive, very small run publications, yes. Our first was Dreadful Wind and Rain by Isabel Greenberg, and we’ve got a couple more lined up for the very near future. Keep an eye out for announcements soon.
What’s the attraction of being a publisher?
Just being able to promote artists whose work we’re excited about in editions that we can be proud of. It’s a side project and probably will remain so: there’s plenty of work already involved in the day to day running of the store!
What do you think is next for comics? How do you think the industry will evolve again?
Another essay question! More outreach, I hope. Finding that mass audience. The health of the YA graphic novel audience is very encouraging, and hopefully we as an industry can parlay that into a future comics-hungry audience. We’d better be able to, otherwise we’re not doing our jobs right.