Surviving the recession and the rise of digital distributionwere the hot topics as ComicsPRO, the advocacy group for comics shops, held itsfourth annual meeting March 25-27 in Memphis, TN. Comics retailers from aroundthe continent gathered to meet with publishers and kick around industryissues. Although retailer attendance was about the same as last year, many morevendors attended, said board member Carr D'Angelo of Earth-2, a store with twolocations in Los Angeles. "I would say it was arguably the largestgathering of retailers, vendors and publishers not tied to a convention orDiamond Summit."

ComicsPro 2010 LogoThis year's show emphasized a wide-ranging discussion of howto face overall challenges in the retail landscape, as opposed to productannouncements, which had been featured in past years, according to retailerswho attended.

Digital comics, soon to be available via iPad's iBookstoreand already on sale through such applications as Comixology and Longbox wereunderstandably a hot topic. Writer Robert Kirkman, who is a partner at ImageComics and author of the bestselling comics The Walking Dead and Invincible, addressed the issue in his keynote speech. Although Comixology, an applicationfor iPhone, already sells Walking Dead, sales of print comics have actuallygone up, he reassured retailers in the speech.

Image Comics Sales and Licensing Coordinator Joe Keatingeadded, "Digital comics and what they mean for the future of brick andmortar was definitely a hot topic, but I think everyone came to the sameconclusion: comic shops are not going anywhere. My colleagues and I agreed weforesaw this leading to new fans being exposed to comics as a whole. Image, forone, is planning our digital strategy around this. For example, our primarypartner thus far, Comixology, ends every single issue with a Buy In Printoption, directing fans to the closest comic shop."

DC's VP of Sales Bob Wayne agreed that attendees werelooking at "various ways that we might proceed in the digital realm,keeping [stores] in the mix and aiming to grow the market for all of us, ratherthan redistribute the existing market."

According to Tate Ottani, owner of Tate's Comics in Ft.Lauderdale FL, digital comics were the one note of anxiety at an otherwise positivemeeting. "But I don't know if it's warranted yet. Other than Marvel, mostpublishers aren't sure where they're going with their digital publishing yet.Personally, I'm not so much scared as let's wait and see. Retailers want to beinvolved with it, but there's not that much to be involved with yet."

DC made a big splash at the show sponsoring an entire day ofprogramming, as they did last year, and introducing three members of their newfive-person executive line-up, including co-publishers Dan Didio and JimLee and EVP, Sales, Marketing and Business Development John Rood, as well asmany other top execs including Wayne and even former President and Publisher,now writer and consultant, Paul Levitz.

"There was a lot of enthusiasm over the way DC ismoving," said Ottani. "They made it clear that they are there for thedirect market retailers."

Boom! Studios made an impression both with their ambitiousslate of Disney licenses aimed at bringing more kids back into comics shops,and an RV stocked with beer which served as a de facto all-night lounge tocontinue discussions late into the night.

The meeting was also a chance to see where the retailcommunity stood after the economic woes of the past year and brainstorm the wayforward, with some having weathered the storm with some tough choices."All the stores that came were doing okay," said Ottani. "Thisyear a lot of stores learned to cut back and work on their strengths and getrid of weaknesses."

"I've attended all four of the annual ComicsPROmeetings and this was the best one to date, " said Wayne. "[It had]some of the best publisher/retailer interaction we've ever had at an industryfunction."
Carol Kalish ComicsPRO awards

"In the end, I had a number of retailers who admittedto fearing for the future on the way in feeling reinvigorated when theyleft," said Keatinge.

Other vendors attending included Diamond, Dark Horse, IDW,Radical and the CBLDF, which sponsored a party with cartoonists Jeff Smith andTerry Moore. The first ComicsPRO Industry Appreciation Awards, a sort of Hallof Fame for people making an impact on comics retailing, were presented to Levitzand, posthumously, to Carol Kalish, a former sales executive for Marvel who wasinstrumental in developing services for retailers in the 80s.