Interview by Paul D Houston
We always try to emphasize that we are a space for everybody, not a clubhouse for die hard fans only.
From my experience, some of the sleepiest towns in America have some of the best comic book stores. I’m not sure why that is, but Colorado Springs, Colorado seems to go right along with that very unscientific formula. Not being a native of this town, I am still trying to figure out why Colorado Springs is so… chill? (I could have used a few other way less complimentary terms here, but I didn't) Downtown and the two or three trendy areas in this town are ghost towns by the time 10pm comes around. Even on a Friday or Saturday night, it’s disturbingly quiet for a town of 400 thousand plus people. I come from other places in the USA, where it’s not proper protocol to even leave your house until 10pm, if you were going to a bar or club or just going out. But, this is an old cowboy town and I guess cowboys go to bed early and then wake up with the chickens at sunrise, or something? So, while the night life scene here in Colorado Springs is dead, during the day, it's another story entirely. This town is packed with cool little shops, bustling restaraunts, dog parks, hiking trails and other adventures.
ESCAPE VELOCITY COMICS is one of those cool little shops. In fact, there are two Escape Velocity Comics shops in town. One is downtown on Bijou ave, just off Tejon st and the other is in the southeast, in a fancy, pseudo bourgeois shopping plaza just off Powers blvd. While I prefer the one downtown, because you can feel the history in the store, the one in the southeast is still a great little location too, with almost as unique a selection as the downtown store.
My love for comics has been almost a lifelong thing, but my experience with comic book stores is quite ambivalent. Too many comic book stores are dreadful boys clubs without any real life to them. They're merely stacks and stacks, rows and rows of comics in boxes, with horribly designed boys club style superhero posters stuck to their walls. Colorado Springs has a handful of these terrible looking stereotypically lame boys club kind of stores and I just don’t know how they stay in business?
Because of my animosity for the greater number of comic shops, I find myself drifting towards ordering comics through mail order or in digital format through the online Comixology website. So, to find an interesting comic book store, that carries a wide variety of non-mainstream comics in this town, is a really big deal for me. Not only is the downtown Escape Velocity store laid out in an interesting and easy to browse manner, they have a large catalog of all the most interesting comics. Its not just another superhero comic book store. From graphic novels, to almost every indy comic you could think of, Escape Velocity has it. Plus the staff is great. Friendly, helpful and hip without the pretension.
Escape Velocity also has social events to get fans in the store, from Drink & Draw’s to Book Clubs, to great regular sales. Its really a hell of a place and I look forward to going every chance I get.
Social Media Manager and Events Coordinator at Escape Velocity, Tasheena Vigil was kind enough to answer a few questions about running the best damn comic shop in town...
When did Escape Velocity Comics downtown open? And the one off Powers Blvd?
The Downtown store has been open 15 years under current ownership (2004) but was open as Bargain Comics for 20 years prior to that and our First & Main location opened in 2014.
The look and feel of Escape Velocity is decidedly different from the standard comics shop, why was that an emphasis?
We always try to emphasize that we are a space for everybody, not a clubhouse for die hard fans only. Comics and graphic novels are our main focus so we try to keep our selection up to date, fresh and relevant, but we also try to offer a wide variety of items that allow people to engage with their favorite characters and stories beyond the printed page. We try to provide an environment where everyone in the family can find something they want.
You know the comics scene in Colorado Springs as well as anybody, how well is business in this town? We have almost 10 comic shops in business right now, in the greater Colorado Springs area. That has to be above average for a city of Colorado Springs size? How does that affect your bottom line?
If you count both of our locations separately, there are actually 12 comic shops in Colorado Springs (and 1 in Manitou Springs - sister city to Colorado Springs, almost more a neighborhood of the Springs, to be honest) which is a huge amount of competition for such a niche market. Not all of them have Diamond accounts but that hardly seems to matter. It absolutely cuts into our bottom line.
Today, single issue comics are $4 and $5 per on average, cover price, (not counting graphic novels), could you explain to the average person, why comics are so expensive these days? And how does a comic shop stay afloat while the median wage or salary for the average citizen, has largely stayed flat over the past decade? Has the high price point of todays comics killed a large section of the comics buying public?
Because comics are now a multi-million dollar business, publishing houses have larger corporate structures and more overhead. Also, comic creators used to be strictly free-lancers, and publishers (mainly Marvel & DC) paid them in dog scraps. Smaller creators still get stepped on all the time, but the pay is better now. In terms of how we stay afloat, each shop seems to be just different enough in the experience it offers that anyone looking for a favorite lcs can find someplace they fit in. Collecting comics will always be about the hunt. Every comic shop is going to have a different selection, so anyone who's trying to complete a run or find something specific only has to be willing to go out and search for it. We might not have it but the next shop will and that's probably why Colorado Springs has been able to foster so much growth in this industry. And you can't forget about our Wednesday warriors. The people who come in every single week to pick up their books and simply do it for the love of comics. There are a number of things that make it much harder for a lcs to thrive, not the least of them being online sales. Publishers will often offer graphic novels digitally for just pennies and larger distributors like Amazon get a bigger wholesale discount on the same books we have so that can definitely make it feel like we've lost a portion of that "comic buying public" as you put it.
If you can hazard a guess, what is the average age of your customer base? And what is the male to female ratio?
Late 20's to early 30's? Seems like maybe 20-30% of our *regular customers are female, but the walk-in ratio is probably much higher on the female side.
I’ve read that sales on single issues are declining because more fans are trending towards graphic novels. Is that true?
Sadly, yes. The single issue format allows for more episodic storytelling, but most writers write heavily serialized stories anymore, so it makes more sense to but the whole thing in paperback. Plus, GN's take up less space as they don't have to be stored in a box in the garage or in the closet and can just be put on the bookshelf. There's still a variety of reasons someone would want to continue to buy a series in single issue format and people's buying habits have a way of morphing all the time. We're sure single issues aren't going anywhere anytime soon. In fact, with the rising popularity of the Spec game (buyers who are only looking for comics that are selling for above cover price) it would seem that the need for shops to carry more single issues is getting a second life. It's a dangerous game to play for retailers and often feels like a rat race but at least there's never a dull moment.
You do things a lot of comic stores don’t do, like Drink & Draws, Book Club Meetings, regular sales, why do you do these things and other comic shops in town, don’t?
Our events have always been about helping us connect more with our customer base. It's wonderful to have warm bodies in the store and if they spend money while they're there, that's awesome too! But it's never been about the money. Drink & Draw started as a way for us to offer support to the local artist community in the Springs and allow local creators a casual setting in which to meet other artists. We've also hosted a variety of musical performing acts in the store as well although we don't really consider ourselves a venue. And book club spawned from our own passion for reading comics and became this sort of great way for readers to break out of their comfort zones a little. Simply put, events and sales are just a really great way to get people in the store to talk to us about what they love.
How is the local comics scene from your opinion? Do you work with the local indy artists? And are there any that do pretty well sales wise with Escape Velocity?
We try to support the local creators in the Springs as much as possible and we're always looking for artists and creators who are willing to come and be a part of the events we host. It's awesome to have several artists to choose from when we need help putting together a poster or making an event like a Drink & Draw happen. We have a local creators section at both stores and as long as there's room on the shelves, we're willing to carry your material. We couldn't really say who's work sells the best but there does always seem to be some room on those racks.
Have all these superhero movies had an effect on the growth and sales of comic books in general? Is there a translation? Do you see new readers coming into the store because of them?
I don't think it sparks long-term sales. There're usually spikes of sales immediately after the movie releases, but that quickly dies down. More than comics, the movies sell Intellectual Property, which the parent company can then put on key chains, clothing, backpacks- that sort of thing. And those merchandise items do sell better over time.
You stock quite an inventory of indy or non-Marvel/DC comics, is that an ownership choice or an audience demand, so to speak? And what are some of your best sellers, non-Marvel/DC wise?
Both. A lot of people will quickly get tired of "The Big Two" and crave something a little different. And there are some GREAT indy comics out right now! The great thing about indy books is that it has a tendency to shift some of the attention back onto the creators. Deadpool will always sell because people love Ryan Reynolds. What we're counting on is those same people making the connection between Skottie Young's Deadpool and Middlewest or I Hate Fairyland. Helping people find the content they like is a HUGE part of the job and staying well stocked on indy books helps us accomplish that.
What are some staff favorites, at Escape Velocity and why?
Our staff is incredibly diverse in their preferences when it comes to comics and we all have our perennial recommendations. Between all of us, we really can find something we think you'll love.
Some of our favorites are:
Mister Miracle by Tom King
Saga by Brian K. Vaughan
Gideon Falls by Jeff Lemire
Ice Cream Man by W. Maxwell Prince
Invincible by Robert Kirkman
Immortal Hulk by Al Ewing
Farmhand by Rob Guillory
Deadly Class by Rick Remender
Harrow County by Cullen Bunn
Hellboy by Mike Mignola
If you were to give advice to anyone wanting to open a comics store right now in the greater Colorado Springs area, what would that be?
Pueblo could use a comic shop. Maybe Woodland Park. We've got the NO VACANCY light on in Colorado Springs, haha.
Check out more from Escape Velocity by visiting their website and social media. And if you are ever in town and need a comic book fix, I highly recommend stopping by the downtown store, its fucking great!
Escape Velocity Website: https://www.escapevelocitycomics.com