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  •         <dc:publisher>Loyola Press</dc:publisher>
  •         <dc:date opf:event=”publication”>2011-04-15</dc:date>
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Just When I Thought I Was Out . . . Chicago Comic Con Pulls Me Back In

 5 of 5 Hestons

In 2009, I was done with Wizard World Chicago/Chicago Comic Con. Marvel and DC were gone, WizKids and Heroclix were gone, and the show just didn’t have much appeal for me. I went and didn’t enjoy much except introducing my then four-year-old son to the world of cons. And Transformers.

C2E2 launched in spring 2010, and I was sure that it would be the end of Wizard World Chicago. C2E2 had Marvel and DC, and all the comics panels that Wizard World Chicago no longer can deliver. It was in the spring, so it didn’t feel like all the panels were just repeats of San Diego Comic Con. C2E2 was at McCormick Place; it felt open, expansive and clean. Wizard World Chicago was at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, and has always been cramped, crowded, and sweaty.

My son and I had a ball at C2E2 2010. They had wonderful children’s programming and we had a fun day. We only spent one day at Wizard World Chicago 2010. It was mainly a toy shopping show for us since we were going on vacation and had to go on Saturday instead of the children’s day on Sunday. Afterward, I wasn’t sure we’d be coming back in 2011.

We had fun at C2E2 2011. Sunday was a day of programming for children, and it included screenings of Iron Man Armored Adventures and SuperHero Squad episodes from Marvel Studios, two of my son’s favorites.. My son was in the costume contest, which was on a big stage with lots of seating and was done very well. Overall, I couldn’t imagine how Wizard World was going to compete.

Then a funny thing happened on the way to Rosemont. My son decided he wanted to go to Chicago Comic Con as Bucky, Captain America’s WWII sidekick, on one day and as movie Captain America on the other. The movie Captain America was relatively easy; it just took a visit to our favorite online costume store, BuyCostumes.com. But in case you didn’t know, you can’t just buy a Bucky Barnes costume, even with the movie coming out this summer. This meant we had about two months to put together a Bucky costume for Comic Con. And that we had to go from wearing a store-bought costume to full-blown cosplay this year.

As we put together the Bucky costume, our excitement began to grow. Chicago Comic Con became less about who the guests were and what the panels were, and more about the costumes and the experience of being with other people having fun together. We had more fun at Chicago Comic Con 2011, held on August 11 through 14, than we have had at any previous con.

That is what Chicago Comic Con has become: a place to experience the joy of comics with other people. It’s not about the comics so much as it about a celebration of the people who love comics. And the toys. When you take a six-year-old, it is always about the toys.

Captain America Costume


Movie Captain America.

Costume with modifications.

Bucky Costume

Cosplay Costume

Saturday was our shopping and photo day. My son used to be shy about posing with strangers in strange costumes. Now he jumps right in and poses with the best of them. He had fun identifying different costumes, and since he was dressed as the movie Captain America, he even got to shoot the teenagers dressed as Nazis (with a capless cap gun with the appropriate orange barrel plug, and to the cheers of a crowd, I might add).

Cap and Cap

Captain America and Captain America

Cap and R2D2

Captain America and R2D2

The X-Men with Cap

The X-Men with Captain America

Cap and a Dalek

"We won War World II together." Captain America and a "good" Dalek.

I have used Comic Con and my son’s desire for action figures to teach him about the fine art of haggling. It is amazing the deals that vendors will cut with a cute little boy dressed at the Sentinel of Liberty. Needless to say, the haul this year was epic.


Marvel Legends Invaders Action Figures

DCU figures

Cyclops, Flash, Robin, Superman, and Batman

On Sunday, my son and I took one of his friends to the show with us. This friend is a huge Star Wars fan, and with the 501st Legion and the Chicago Jedi regulars and Chicago Comic Con, we knew he would enjoy the show. The great thing about all the Star Wars cosplayers is that they love to pose for pictures and they are wonderful with kids. Both groups make the whole show fun and they are probably the largest contingent of recognizable costumes at the show.

Jango and Bucky

Jango Fett and Bucky

Cap, Jango, and Bucky

Captain America and Bucky

The children’s costume contest wasn’t perfect. It was scheduled in a room that could hold about 50 people. There were about 100 kids who wanted to participate. With parents and siblings, there were probably close to 300 people who wanted to watch the contest. Why they wouldn’t put the children’s costume, scheduled on Kids’ Day at Chicago Comic Con in a ballroom, I’ll never understand. The whole thing was moved into the adjoining hallway. Despite the inconvenience, it was a huge success and an unbelievable display of cuteness and earnestness.

Bucky and Jango

Bucky and Jango Fett ready for the costume contest

Wubbzy, Buck, the Defuser

Bucky poses with Wubbzy and the Defuser during the children's costume contest.

After posing with the Wubbzy and the Defuser, all the kids got to pick out a prize. The most popular? Light-up swords. What happens when you put a large group of children in superhero costumes in a tight hallway with light-up swords? A battle royale, of course. Fortunately, no children were injured during the sword fights.

Cosplay Melee

Cosplay Melee! This is what happens when you give a bunch of costumed children light up swords for prizes.

trophy and sword

A trophy and sword, prizes from the children's costume contest.

Chicago Comic Con has changed over the last five years. The focus is less on comics and the major comics companies and more on the artists in Artist Alley, the movies and television shows that appeal to lovers of comics, and the fans themselves. It isn’t San Diego Comic Con, but then I think Wizard World isn’t trying to compete on that level anymore. Instead, they have made a place for like-minded people who love the same things to get together and share the love. We’ll definitely be back in 2012, and I’m sure we’ll spend even more time putting our costume(s) together. If you are in Chicago in August, you should consider coming, too.

Why we go to Chicago Comic Con

Could you say no to this face?

East Coast August 2011 Apocalypse

An earthquake and a hurricane in one week? If that doesn’t qualify for at least a mini-apocalypse, I don’t know what does. The residents of the Mid-Atlantic United States have been through a rough week. Yes, it could have been worse; no, that doesn’t mean it has been easy or that the next days, weeks, and months aren’t going to be difficult.

If you want to help the victims of Hurricane Irene, you can make a donation to the Red Cross. Prayers for everyone wouldn’t hurt, either.

I hope our fellow Americans on the East Coast enjoy a beautiful post-apocalyptic sunrise tomorrow morning. May God bless you all as you clean up and rebuild.

I come to bury Borders, not the praise it: Part 4, the last

Antony: You all did see that on the Lupercal

I thrice presented him a kingly crown,
Which he did thrice refuse: was this ambition?
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And, sure, he is an honourable man.
I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke,
But here I am to speak what I do know.
You all did love him once, not without cause:
What cause withholds you then, to mourn for him?
O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason. Bear with me;
My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,
And I must pause till it come back to me.

Julius Caesar, Act III, scene ii

I am an unapologetic homer. Having grown up in Michigan, I still root for the Lions, even if they are playing the Bears. I come from a family of Spartans; it is almost impossible for me not to root against the Wolverines. Go Wings! And in my adopted home of Chicago, I unapologetically cheer for the Cubs (since the White Sox are in the same league and division as the Tigers).

And I felt the same way about Borders as a Michigan business. Let’s face it, the state has been in decline since at least the early 1980s. We Michiganders must embrace our homegrown successes when they happen, because they are rare and precious. It’s one of the reasons that when the indies died, Borders became my bookstore of choice wherever I lived.

When I moved to Florida in 1992, I was coming from working for an independent bookseller in Michigan, so I still had the indie-first mentality. Living in West Palm Beach and then Pompano Beach, I adopted Liberties in Boca Raton as my preferred bookstore (it’s where I saw Harry Crews for the first time). But when the original owners sold the store and the new owner ruined it, I soured on Liberties. When I moved to Ft. Lauderdale, they put in a shiny new peach-colored Borders on Sunrise Boulevard next to the canal. I had a new bookstore home. This store is now in the liquidation process.

The Ft. Lauderdale Borders on Sunrise Boulevard

In 2000, I moved to Oak and LaSalle in downtown Chicago. I checked out the Barbara’s Books on Wells, but my favorite bookstore immediately became the Borders on MIchigan and Chestnut, in the middle of the Miracle Mile. My wife traveled a lot for work at that time, so I would often drop off freelance jobs at the FedEx office in the John Hancock Center across Michigan Avenue, and then spend the evening at Borders. It was a great store. It was lost in the February 2011 culling.

When I moved to Rogers Park at the northern edge of Chicago in 2004, my home bookstore became the always convenient Uptown Borders. It was on the Red Line, which I took home every night, and cost me all of twenty-five cents to get off at the Lawrence stop, browse for a while, then get back on the train. It was an example of Borders going into an urban area that was trying to improve, and giving the community a center around books. Yes, you needed to ask for a key to use the bathroom, and the key was attached to to two-foot 2 x 4, but Borders was there. It was another victim of the February 2011 culling.

The now-closed Uptown Borders on N. Broadway at the Lawrence Red Line stop. Picture taken from the EL.

In Paul Constant’s post Books Without Borders about the end of Borders from an insider’s perspective, he pegs the beginning of the end of the Borders to the moment in 2001 when Borders CEO Greg Josefowicz made a deal with Amazon’s Jeff Bezos to allow Amazon to handle all of Borders’ online sales. While I believe the rot that would eventually kill Borders began earlier still, Borders starting dying as my personal bookstore shortly after the birth of my son in 2005.

I had long championed Borders as a better chain than Barnes & Noble. Borders was simply more in touch with the readers of Middle America. But I think Borders had one glaring weakness that they never effectively addressed: their children’s section. It was one area of the store that never matched up to B&N or the best independents.

When my son started full-time daycare, I would often pick him up on the train. Walking from the Davis Street Purple Line, I walked right by a Barnes & Noble at the corner of Sherman and Church. On the way back to the Purple Line, my son usually asked if we could stop at Barnes & Noble so we could read books, play with the Thomas trains, and hang out before dinner. My son now does not ask to go to a bookstore. He asks to go to Barnes & Noble.

Evanston’s Borders was a couple blocks away on Maple and Church. We just never warmed to it, even though it was right across the street from the movie theater. It, too, was a victim of the February 2011 culling. We bought a few books there when it was closing, mostly childrens books as gifts.

The Borders store on Church and Maple in Evanston. It was close in February 2011.

If I am reading the list of stores closed in February 2011 correctly, I believe 200 stores with an average footprint of 24,592 square feet were closed then. That equals over 4.9 million square-feet of bookstore retail space. According to a post at Bloomberg BusinessWeek, the final July 2011 liquidation with include 6.3 million square-feet of additional bookstore retail space lost. That is over 11 million square feet lost in less than six months from Borders alone.

I’ve tried to figure out what this really means to publishers and readers. I am going to walk through an exercise that I will admit includes a lot of guess work and rough estimates. Please bear with me, and feel free to comment on these numbers if you have better informaton.

Borders has closed or is closing over 11 million square-feet of bookstore retail space as we head into the 2011 fall lists and Christmas season. Let’s say that in all the square footage, only 25% was used to display books. I think this is low when you look at the density of bookshelves and the number of shelves per unit, but better to err low. I did some unscientific research with a ruler and my own bookshelves and looked at all the metadata I have entered over the past seven month as part of my day-job, and have determined that the average book has a spine of approximately 3/4″. If we assume for argument that a Borders book shelf is one-foot deep and holds a row of books just one-book deep, this means there are on average 16 books to a square foot of display space. (I was surprised as how close this estimate was when I held a foot-long ruler against random sections of bookshelves in my own home.)

So what has been lost to publishers and readers? How about this:

11 million square feet x 25% books display x 16 books/square foot = 44 million copies of books with nowhere to be displayed

Given the lead time on the final Borders liquidation and the feeling right up until the end that some kind of deal would be worked out, I’m not sure how many publishers significantly reduced their initial print runs for fall 2011 titles. I hope it was most of them; I fear it was not enough.

Many publishers had stopped selling directly to Borders over the last year, but Borders was still buying these publishers’ titles from Ingram, and those titles were on Borders shelves. With the final liquidation, the book-buying market is being flooded with undervalued books. Smart book buyers, the ones who love to gives books for gifts, are surely doing early Christmas shopping at the liquidation sales. I think a significant portion of the traditional fall demand for books is being met now, at a reduced price. And these sales are going to Borders creditors who aren’t publishers or book distributors.

With a soft/sputtering economy and highly reduced bookstore retail space heading into Q4, we may be looking at a difficult Christmas for many trade publishers. While there is an opportunity in the marketplace, the likelihood of new bookstores sprouting up before the end of the year is slim; I can’t believe there is much capital available for such a low-margin business. You would hope that the American Booksellers Association would be huddled with Ingram and Baker & Taylor working on some incentive program that would create more bookstores. Alas, these three have been mostly silent.

Forrester media analyst James McQuivey was quoted as saying that Borders liquidation would speed adoption of eBooks. It is possible some print sales will move to digital in the long term, but I think that expecting this still-maturing section of the book market to pick up all these lost print sales is folly.

So what are we do do? I encourage everyone who loves books, everyone who works in publishing, everyone who ever had a fondness for Borders to show up and say good-bye to the chain with a final purchase. Strip the meat from the bones of this retail giant. Then grind the bones (check out those shelving units and tables that are also for sale; if you have the room they are beautiful pieces of furniture and almost bomb proof). Borders isn’t coming back, and I think we are all going to need the sustenance it’s dying corpse has to offer if we are going to get through 2011 Q4 and beyond.

I come to bury Borders, not to praise it: Part 3

Antony: When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept:
Ambition should be made of sterner stuff:
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man.

Julius Caesar, Act III, scene ii

Borders was born in Michigan. I always thought that its place of birth gave it a perspective on publishing that was closer to Middle America’s than Barnes & Noble’s or even Books-a-Million’s. Borders buyers never seemed to be as interested in an author’s pedigree and reputation as they were in whether there were readers who would love a book or be helped by it.

This seemed particularly true during the time I worked at Health Communications, Inc., in Deerfield, Florida. I started at HCI in 1994 as an associate editor. I knew HCI as a recovery and self-help publisher from my time as a bookseller at Young & Welshans (I was responsible for shelving that area of the store). HCI published some of the most influential books in the field at that time, including John Bradshaw’s Bradshaw On: The Family and Healing the Shame That Binds You, Janet Woititz’s Adult Children of Alcoholics and A Struggle for Intimacy, and Charlie Whitfield’s Healing the Child Within and A Gift to Myself. Unfortunately, the federal government and many states had cut funding for in-treatment programs, and as those funds dwindled, there weren’t nearly as many books being purchased by treatment facilities. Sales had fallen at HCI, but that was about to change in a big way.

The only other editor on staff when I began working at HCI was my boss, Christine Belleris, who was the editorial director. We both started just after the publication of the original Chicken Soup for the Soul by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, but before it made it to the New York Times best seller list. One of the first books I worked on was actually A Second Helping of Chicken Soup for the Soul. I can remember kerning paragraphs in the book in some new program called QuarkXpress so that the book would fit on 352 pages. Fortunately, Christine and I were green enough and enthusiastic enough not to realize that twenty to twenty-five books a season with two editors and an army of freelancers was insanity. Somehow we survived and had a lot of fun publishing books that changed readers’ lives for the better. It may not have been New York publishing, but we sure found an audience for our books in all those states between New York and L.A.

In May of 1997, we published Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul with Kimberly Kirberger as Jack and Mark’s coauthor. It was the fourth spin-off from the main line (2nd Helpring, 3rd Serving, 4th Course, etc.), and some of us at HCI had our doubts about the likely success of title, or rather the lack of audience. The conventional wisdom at that time was that teens didn’t buy books, certainly not self-help titles. We also had some concerns about Kimberly as a coauthor since she was Jack’s sister and was not a seasoned speaker like other coauthor’s had been.

To say that both Teenage Soul and Kimberly surprised us would be an understatement. Kimberly Kirberger proved to have both an impressive understanding of what would appeal to teenagers and the ability to talk to them in a genuine way that is difficult for many experts. The book was a little slower out of the gate, but once it started running, there was no stopping it. It eventually became one of the best-selling books in the entire line.

In Spring of 1998, I had been promoted to editorial codirector at HCI. We were invited by Borders to come to their Ann Arbor office and talk with them about teen self-help and non-fiction. Terry Burke, our VP of sales and marketing, Jane Bluestein, one of our authors who was a speaker on issues facing kids, education, and parenting, and I planned a trip. We had been thinking about launching an HCI Teens imprint and we thought this would be an opportunity to pitch some book ideas to Borders buyers and see if they were interested.

I can no longer remember the names of the Borders staff who met with us that day. What I do remember is that after we floated a couple ideas by them, they cut us off and presented us with the following: They felt there was a need for teen non-fiction and self-help. They were preparing to add a section for teen non-fiction in all their stores. And they were expecting us to provide titles to fill those shelves.

It was clear that Borders was willing to buy-in any titles we published for teens. This relieved any concern about launching an imprint for teens and for publishing more titles on issues facing adolescents. We returned to the office and starting building a list of teen titles.

Over the next few years, we built a solid list of books for teens. Borders opened this door to us, and we were able to fill their shelves with books that helped a huge number of kids dealing with the issues of low self-esteem, poor body image, unhealthy relationships, destructive family dynamics, questions about their faith, and addictions. I’m sure we weren’t the only publisher Borders approached, as the industry had a mini-eruption of teen-oriented titles during this time.

It still amazes me that Borders reached out in this way. They were confident we could deliver books that would truly speak to teens, and their confidence gave us the push we needed to make it happen. In a way, this was the beginning of the growth of teen books, as these books moved from the children’s/YA area into it’s own space. Other booksellers followed Borders lead, but it was Borders that established these books in the market and sustained them.

It was initiatives like this that made Borders feel like a true trading partner for publishers. Borders worked with publishers to find the books their customers wanted and needed, and to put those books on Borders store shelves.