By ELAINE ALFARO
For more than 50 years, comic book collectors and fans both near and far have made the annual trek to downtown San Diego to attend the global phenomenon, Comic-Con. Despite being a steadfast event ingrained in San Diego’s history, the convention itself has evolved with the pop culture and trends of the time.
In 2020, along with other large-scale gatherings, the pandemic left its mark on Comic-Con. However, local comic book store owners have said that even amidst the pandemic, there have been opportunities to revisit collections and feel a sense of nostalgia.
Although Comic-Con took to the online world last year and will continue virtually this year, the local comic and toy industry is still thriving according to Bryan Mitch, owner of It’s Geeky, a comic book store in La Mesa.
“I’ve seen an uptick in my store,” Mitch said. “I think the year is going to turn out well.”
Likewise, Ed Sandberg, owner of Comics ‘n Stuff, projected: “I think this year, as far as money-wise, it’s going to be a very good year.”
The reason behind the growth in sales and consumer interest was the unforeseen free time the pandemic offered, according to Sandberg.
“They were locked up for so long they went back and bought supplies and were figuring out which comics they needed,” he said. “They’re doing something to get their minds off the pandemic. They’re using comic books or collecting as a means to escape from reality.”
However, one cannot escape the fact that, despite the growth currently seen, this past year came with significant setbacks for this industry, according to Chase Lirley, co-owner of Allied Gardens comic book store, TC’s Rockets.
“The week where they announced all events down, everyone basically shutting down, that was the week of Comic-Con,” Lirley said. “Between that and my dad [co-owner] saying, ‘What do we do?’ we had to cut our hourly staff.”
To adjust to the pandemic, comic book store owners had to vamp up their online sales.
“I had just changed my focus from in-store business to online business to make it by,” Mitch said. “I was already doing online sales but I had to work harder and harder to post more items online.”
Still, even when postings went up smoothly, inventory is a diminishing resource.
“Just like the price of wood has gone up in the housing, the same thing with all the comic book supplies and everything,” said Sandberg. “That’s one of the struggles now, trying to find inventory to sell. People want this stuff but you can’t get it.”
However, the upcoming Comic-Con events of 2021 offer an escape from the virtual world for these vendors and collectors alike. In addition to the online festivities that will feature the panels and pop-culture facets in July, Comic-Con scheduled a smaller, in-person event called “Comic-Con Special Edition” for November.
“I think it will be a great opportunity for people to go there, to be able to get out, and actually buy stuff,” Sandberg said. “Most of my customers that come in can’t even go to Comic-Con anymore because they’re ousted by all the people who think it’s cool to go to Comic-Con now. Now, my customers can actually go to Comic-Con again. It’ll be a good year for the comic book collectors.”
This is exactly what these owners are looking for because the online world just doesn’t fit the realm of comics and toys, according to Lirley.
“I am not the biggest fan, I won’t lie,” said Lirley. “It’s not the same, but it’s coming from a skewed point of view. You lose a lot going virtual. I think conventions have to be in-person, people realized that.”
The in-person gatherings are what makes this community feel connected, according to Mitch,
“People that you’ve met at conventions [become] life-long friends… it’s hard,” he said. “I have friends who are in Philadelphia [and] I haven’t seen them in a few years now. It’s completely different than going in person.”
However, if you would like to explore some other options this summer in preparation for the Novemeber festivities, these owners have some ideas.
“A lot of people still go down to the convention and take their Hall H [the location of the biggest stage in the convention] pictures,” Mitch said. “The best thing Comic-Con lovers can do is go support local comic book stores and maybe chit-chat with someone who knows a little bit more about the comic books or [a] comic character.”
— Elaine Alfaro is a journalism student at Point Loma Nazarene University and a former intern for San Diego Community Newspaper Group. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.