Comic Books Face Real-Life Villain, With Virus Halting Shipments

Tuesday would normally be the day comic-book stores across the U.S. get the latest issues, but instead the day brought mostly bad news.

Diamond Comic Distributors Inc., the industry’s largest wholesaler, said late Monday it’s halting shipments of April issues to the hundreds of stores in the U.S. that it serves.

The company’s freight network is struggling and its distribution centers are closed, Chief Executive Officer Steve Geppi said in a statement. Some printers have shut down, and many stores have been ordered closed to prevent the spread of the virus.

“Even those still open are seeing reduced foot traffic in most cases, a situation that seems likely to worsen with time,” Geppi said.

The decision means that even stores that remain open won’t be able to sell the latest editions, even by mail order.

The coronavirus, which has crushed business across the globe, has accelerated fears among some comic-book dealers that customers or publishers like AT&T Inc.’s DC Comics will switch permanently to digital versions, such as those distributed by Inc.’s ComiXology, which sells new releases online.

“There’s much more talk about that now,” said George Stasky, owner of the Brave New Worlds stores in Philadelphia and Willow Grove, Pennsylvania. “DC is owned by AT&T, and they may not be interested in physical production.”

DC didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Marvel, DC

Diamond, which handles distribution for Marvel, DC and other publishers, had already canceled plans for a retailer summit and the industry’s Free Comic Book Day marketing promotion.

Some retailers, such as Graham Crackers Comics in Chicago, had canceled in-store events, introduced enhanced cleaning in their stores and started curbside pickup. By this week only its Wisconsin location was open. At Midtown Comics in New York, staffers warned that postal shipments may be slowed by federal guidelines for mailing items during the pandemic.

Business has wilted as the virus spread and more shoppers stayed in their homes. Sales fell 8.3% in February, pulling year-to-date revenue down as well, according to Diamond.

After Diamond’s announcement, San Diego’s IDW Publishing, which produces licensed titles such as Transformers and G.I. Joe, said it won’t ship May releases. It’s accepting free returns on existing products and cutting down future releases to major special editions, to limit inventory and drive traffic to stores once they reopen.

“With these measures, our hope is that we can lessen the immediate financial risk that retailers face for IDW products, and give retailers a much-needed break for their monthly budgets,” IDW President Chris Ryall said in a statement.

Last Shipment

At the Third Planet Sci-Fi and Fantasy Superstore in Houston on Tuesday, staffer Austin Johnson, was putting away the last shipments the store would likely get for a while. Workers in the city were ordered to stay home starting at midnight. After that, he said, “We’re not really sure what we’re going to do.”

Until the pandemic struck, Stasky saw nothing but optimism. At a dealer show, shop owners talked about increasing their square footage and bringing in products that were selling well, such as graphic novels.

Now, he’s had to lay off his two part-time workers as he holds on to four full-time employees.

“We’re all on pause,” Stasky said.

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