Pull boxes: They’re not necessarily in a box, but that’s what comics shops call a stack of preordered comics waiting for customers, often right behind the register. Some fans have standing orders for particular series or creators; others enjoy picking favorites in advance from the monthly catalogs issued by distributors. Having a pull box guarantees you won’t miss an issue because the rack copies are sold out, and in addition to being guaranteed sales, pull boxes help retailers estimate demand for a comic. Not picking up your pull box copies for a couple of weeks (especially if you don’t pay for them in advance, which some stores allow) is a breach of comics shop etiquette.

Catalogs and solicits: How do customers know what to order for their pull box? Comics are typically solicited two months in advance, with publishers making their big announcements just before the new round of solicits (aka catalogs) comes out. Diamond still puts out Previews, a thick paper “magalog” with feature articles, hot picks, and listings for all the comics they distribute. The only way to get Previews in print is to buy it at a comics shop, but all three dominant distributors (Diamond, Lunar, and PRH) offer online versions of their catalogs.

Wednesday warriors: Wednesday is new comics day, so it’s the busiest day at comics shops. (Some comics come out on Tuesdays now, but comics fans like their traditions, so most wait the extra day.) Customers come in to pick up their pull box copies, see what’s new on the racks (there’s always something!), and check out what other fans flocking the aisles are buying.

Variant covers: Only in a comics shop could you pick up a dozen copies of the same issue of a comic with a dozen different covers. First issues can have as many as 20 variants, including the main cover, open-to-order variants, and incentive variants (which retailers can only get if they order a minimum number of copies). Variants feature a variety of artists and may also include media tie-ins (such as a movie image), cosplay variants (with photos of cosplayers dressed as the characters), and even covers made of metal or glass, or with spot holofoil or other effects. Variant covers are often printed on better stock than standard covers—and cost more than the regular issue.

Slabbed comics: What are those comics encased in hard plastic shells on the high shelves in the stores? Those are collectibles that have been professionally graded and “slabbed.” Some are old, but many are new—especially first issues and “key issues” that include major plot points or the first appearance of a character. Yes, you can pry the comic out of the slab, but that will invalidate the grading and reduce the value.

Back issues: Longboxes of back issues offer customers the joy of collecting without the hefty price tag of grading and slabbing. Katie Pryde takes a unique approach at Books with Pictures: her back issues are curated by local comics scholar Douglas Wolk, Eisner Award–winning author of All of the Marvels, who finds comics with an interesting angle, such as an early story by a well-known creator, and sticks a Post-It note on the cover with his write-up. Recent selections include Pathways to Fantasy #1 (1984), “John Bolton’s exquisite painted adaptation of Christina Rossetti’s ‘Goblin Market’ ”; Iron Lantern #1 (1997), Kurt Busiek and Paul Smith’s “Amalgam mash-up of Green Lantern and Iron Man”; and Mulligan Stew, “an uncredited underground-style tie-in to an educational TV show about nutrition from the early ’70s.” Pryde says she has customers who come in every week just for Wolk’s picks.

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Should Comics Keep It Direct?

Direct market distribution has, for decades, been a keystone of comics culture, but its future is up for debate.