May 1, 2012

A Tale of Two Comic Shops: Comic Odyssey and Planet X Comics

Sandy Sansolis, proprietor of Comic Odyssey, couldn't read yet when he was four years old, but he picked up a comic book and fell in love with the pretty pictures. Fourteen years later, he started working at the Northridge and Hollywood branches of Golden Apple Comics for store credit while attending college, and started making money off of the comics he got by reselling them on the convention circuit. He's had some pretty wild moments in the retailing business, including having his phone ring off the hook in 1992 with off-the-chart preorders for the Death of Superman!

Art by Rommel Estanislao. How many people can you recognize?

In 1997, Sandy moved back to Manila and opened up Comic Odyssey at Robinsons Ermita. "At that time, NBA cards were all the rage," he says. (You guys remember that?) The opening of the store led to at least one new reader in Sandy's brother-in-law, Eric Baga.

"I first read a Spider-man comic book when I was 8 years old," Eric said,  when I asked him about his first exposure to comics. "My cousin and I used to play under their elevated old house and we found a stash of old comic books there. Most of them were locally published but there was 1 Spider-man comic among the stash. The next time I encountered comics was when Sandy decided to open a store here sometime in 1997. I wouldn’t say that I fell in love with it but I will say it got me keenly interested."

Eric is, of course, the proprietor of Planet X Comics, which can be found in Glorietta and Trinoma since 2008. You've probably noticed that they share some of the same backstock, and there's a reason for that. Eric was asked to help at Robinsons Ermita while Sandy went back to the States, but then Sandy came back and opened up a second shop at Robinsons Galleria, which turned out to be his main branch.

"My being involved with a comic book store was accidental," Eric continued. "I am a licensed Civil Engineer and at that time was employed by a private firm on a contractual basis. My wife was with Sandy helping him run Comic Odyssey at Robinsons Ermita. When Sandy decided to go back to the US, I was asked to help run the Ermita store. That’s how it all started for me. When Sandy got back, he helped me open my own store."

"We are basically sister shops," said Sandy. "Although different shops and separate stocks, we still help each other out."

Both shops will be celebrating Free Comic Book Day in their own unique ways.

"I'd like to keep our FCBD celebration simple," Eric said of Planet X's FCBD festivities. "Aside from the free comics, loot bags, and other freebies, our customers usually avail themselves of the sale on that day where we sell all back-issue comics (issues 3 months and older) at 50 pesos each, plus big discounts on graphic novels and collectibles."

Comic Odyssey in Galleria, where the attendance for the last two years has been "insane," according to Sandy, will not only have the sketch drive for Tony DeZuniga, but will also have an additional offering.

"Last year, we gave away an extra 50 assorted comics to everyone in attendance," said Sandy. "This year, we will be publishing our own FCBD 2012 Komiks. It's going to be about 28 pages with an FCBD theme. I feel this is a great way to feature and promote our many local komiks talents to everyone in attendance on FCBD."

But what does Free Comic Book Day really symbolize to retailers? "As a retailer, FCBD has become an integral part of the hobby. It's a day of comic good will where I am able to share my love of the hobby. Of course, it's also one of our best sales days of the year," explained Sandy.

"FCBD is a chance for us retailers to give back to our valued patrons. We do sale promos that are exclusive during that day only," Eric added.

And how does this help out consumers? "FCBD is a chance for consumers and collectors to check on other titles that available from other publishers," said Eric, adding that "I am looking forward to more publishers doing this yearly program. I hope that restrictions on some FCBD titles be lifted so comic fans will be exposed to more material."

"FCBD is a chance to try other titles for free. It's a great way to meet and bond with other collectors and creators. It's simply just a fun day to geek out," added Sandy, who then answered, when I asked him which offerings this year he'd recommend, "All of them."

Both retailers also emphasized the importance of passion and connecting with their customers. "Understanding your customers collecting preferences and needs, offering better service and a wide variety of titles and products to choose from is key to a successful comic book shop," said Eric, while Sandy added, "Aside from being careful in ordering and keeping just the right variety of titles, a comic shop owner has to have a genuine interest in the medium. Caring about the products you sell goes a long way in this business."

Their sincerity is palpable. Sandy expressed much enthusiasm over the future of the industry: "I think readership here has consistently grown through the years. Collectors here have a genuine interest in the stories and art in comics. The monetary value of comics is secondary to most collectors here. I'm very positive on future demand as there is so much product available now."

He added, "In five, six years, I just want to continue to enjoy what I'm doing."

The same is true of Eric. When I asked him for his key moments in his run as a retailer, he simply said, "Seeing a satisfied customer does it for me."

Wherever you go this Free Comic Book Day, I hope you have retailers that treat you as well as these guys.

Comic Odyssey can be found at the Basement 1 Level of Robinsons Galleria, below the Food Court. It's right across Abensons. Click here for their Facebook page.
Planet X  Comics can be found on the third floor of Glorietta (the same floor as the Food Court), right across the Mercury Drug. Click here for their Facebook page.

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