“Bigger than philosophy, larger than romance.” That’s the way Tattered Cover Book Store backlist buyer Carol Hellmers describes the Denver, Colo.-based independent’s decade-old graphic section. Hellmers, who shares the buying for the section with head buyer Cathy Langer, encourages hesitant booksellers to jump in and stock manga, comics and graphic novels.
Many trade publishers either have their own graphic novel lines and/or distribute them, she points out, which makes it easy for booksellers to order. Plus, now that graphic novels have gone mainstream, says Hellmers, booksellers have additional resources like Publisher’s Weekly and Above the Treeline to fill in titles they may have missed. Although she buys from Diamond, the distributor is not her sole or even primary source for graphic novels or comics.
Tattered Cover’s three stores average about 24,000 square feet each. While manga sales have leveled out, graphic novels are steadily rising, says Hellmers, who also finds that true at Tattered Cover’s other locations. In addition to the Colefax store, there is LoDo in Denver’s historic downtown area and Highlands Ranch in the suburbs, which both have small Graphic sections. “During the last year,” she says, “graphic novels have shown a slow and steady increase in sales. It is now one of our top performing subsections in genre fiction. At Colefax we have devoted two and a half cases to graphic novels, manga and comics.”
As with other trade books, movie tie-ins work especially well in the graphic novel and comics categories for the Denver retailer. Last year Marjane Satrapi’s The Complete Persepolis (Pantheon) was a Tattered Cover bestseller. This holiday season Alan Moore’s Batman (DC Comics) did well as did Watchmen(DC Comics), which was featured on a display table in the Fiction section.
While Tattered Cover carries some periodical comics in the magazine area, few sales are generated by customers coming in for weekly releases, says Hellmers. Instead most come from regular bookstore shoppers who browse the graphic novel area, which is divided into graphic novels, manga and comics. Crossover books like Jeff Smith’s Bone series are stocked in both adult and children’s. There is a separate graphic novels and manga area for kids.
For Hellmers, the most surprising thing about Tattered Cover’s Graphic section is the people who shop there, neither students from the high school across the street or young men in their 20s and 30s. “I think some people are reading graphic novels quietly,” she says, noting that the staff who make suggestions for the graphic novel Staff Recommends cut across age and gender lines.
She describes graphic novels as largely a self-service category at the store, with customers on a treasure hunt for single titles. “It’s not like you’re stopped by anyone for help,” says Hellmers. “But they sell. Many of them are quietly purchased. In general, it’s the right person finding the right book, which doesn’t have to be new.”