Lansing comic shops holding steady in a digital era

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By Alexander Smith
Listen Up Lansing Staff Reporter

Summit Comics nestled in downtown Lansing. Photo by Alex Smith

Summit Comics nestled in downtown Lansing. Photo by Alex Smith

You can count the number of comic shops in Lansing on one hand. With how accessible comics are elsewhere, it’s not surprising.

“I have an app on my phone that has a ton of comics,” said Lansing resident Rolland Mollitor. “Physical books aren’t something I need. As long as I can read it, it’s cool.”

Lansing resident Savhanna Moore shares that sentiment.

“I almost always go digital,” said Moore. “So I try to make up for it by buying merchandise instead. I’m more interested in getting into the fandom and contributing to the community.”

That contribution includes buying from local comic shops occasionally. However, Moore said Barnes and Noble is the most convenient.

With readers shifting to digital or buying from big retailers instead, how are Lansing’s comic shops doing?

Summit Comics & Games, formerly Clem’s Collectibles, has been in business for nearly ten years in the heart of downtown Lansing and serves a steady clientele.

“Everyone kinda expects these caricatures of a nerd to come in, but honestly, since we’re located down near the capital, we get a lot of professional types,” said Summit employee Travis Post. “If you come down here at 1 p.m. on a weekday, this place is the busiest.”

Summit mirrors the same look as most comic shops, with racks of monthly floppies, shelves of trade paperbacks, and a healthy helping of board games and licensed merchandise. The board games are a big part of Summit’s business, Post said, and the store has a room in the back where people can play.

Across town in the Frandor Shopping Center, Just 4 Fun Hobbies and Comics is another one of Lansing’s comic shops. Unlike Summit, the store is geared toward hobbyists, with shelves full of plastic models and supplies. Comics are secondary.

“Three-quarters of our business is the hobby shop side and a quarter on comic books,” said Just 4 Fun’s Sara Dutcher. “Depending on what storylines are going on, we see readership go up and down.”

Dutcher and Post both said whenever a new superhero movie comes out, there’s an increase in traffic. Dutcher said this helps bring in new readers, but the demographics in her store have held steady over the years.

“Most of our readers are older,” said Dutcher. “We have several people in their late 50s to late 60s who were avid readers. We have a group of people who are in their late 20s to early 40s, then we kinda lose them for a little bit, then they come back.”

Hobbies, including comics, often come and go in cycles.

“We see people from the time they’re 6, 7, 8 years old until they’re 14, 15, 16,” said Dutcher. “Then they get jobs, discover cars, discover the opposite sex, or get really involved in schooling and we lose them for a few years. We’ll see them come back sometimes during their college years and after graduation when they have a little bit more disposable income or time.”

Dutcher said after that, people often quit the hobby when they get married, have a family and don’t have the free time or money, but some come back to share the hobby with their children.

Coincidentally, the MSU Comic Art Collection consists mostly of donations from those collectors who get out of the hobby. Randall Scott, MSU’s comic art bibliographer, works with a small budget and often relies on donations to build the archive.

Some of the many additions to the MSU Comic Art Collection. Photo by Alex Smith

Some of the many additions to the MSU Comic Art Collection. Photo by Alex Smith

“When I have money, I like to patronize comic shops, but in terms of regular floppies, I wait until someone donates them,” said Scott. “Collectors collect their heads off in college and then they get married and have to use the other bedroom for something else, so [MSU] gets the comics.”

Scott didn’t keep his collection either.

“I tried that,” said Scott. “My kids weren’t interested, so I donated my comics here too.”

Though Lansing’s are doing well, comic shops have to adapt to stay put. Summit and Just 4 Fun are only two examples of stores splitting or specializing in products other than comics. Ultimately, there’s enough of a market and community to keep those two going, but the days of a strict comics-only shop are gone.

“Comic shops come and go,” said Scott, “That’s sad, but it just means to me that it’s a hard business.”

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