Rockhead's 20th Anniversary Party! --or-- The Death Of Comics?

Ah, Rockhead's. If you live in the Kenosha area, no other name is as synonymous with comics and gaming as this one. Back when I was a wee lad just out of the whelping box, I remember when the comic store moved in just across from the Aladdin's Castle arcade in the Market Square complex. Finally! A place where I could get all of my comics in one shot instead of going to all of the other retail stores in town. Yes sir, twenty years ago, I got my first taste of the true comic book store. Now, other comic book stores came and went in this town, but Rockhead's always remained there. Sure, it moved around to a couple different places, but it pretty much remained the same. So, I thought it would be fitting for me to drop in and show my support for the store that gave me my lifeblood for so long ago. So myself and my buddies Randy and Jimmy grabbed some Chinese food and went down to get our comic party on. I do not know what I expected, but I never expected what I saw. Now, I know that places like this have to evolve and change with the times, but I think that maybe things have gone too far. When we walked in, we were confronted with a slew of gaming tables, miniatures, and rule books for about three-quarters of the store. I looked and looked, and finally found the comics waaaaaaayyyyy in the back. Imagine my surprise to go into a comic store and having to look for the comics! Swarms of tabletop gamers sat playing everything from miniatures to pen-and-paper games, while a lone Monopoly box sat unloved and forgotten. I looked around and suddenly felt very old. Now, there's were people older than me there. Hell, there were some people much older than me. However, I realized that it was my understanding that was old. I had never thought that the gaming aspect would over take comics in general. However, during dinner I had a chat with Jimmy about the comic industry. It all started with The Long Halloween... You see, Jimmy was lamenting over the beautiful hardbound edition of The Long Halloween, which some people think is one of the best Batman stories ever. He really wanted it, but he also had to have some books to help with his schooling. Now, he obviously made the school choice, but it got us talking. I know someone who has a scan of The Long Halloween on their computer and told him I may be able to get him a copy. This brought on talk of the .cbr format and programs like CDisplay. He believes that programs and files like this one may be the downfall of the comic industry. With people trading these scans of comics, it eliminates the need for buying the paper books we all know and love. I did a search and found several different series, both past and present, available with a few mouse clicks. It was depressing, to say the least. I am someone who loves to have tangible things. Sure, I'll download the newest Nine inch Nails album when they are giving it away for free on their website, but I will be damned if I won't buy it when it comes out. I'll drop upwards of eighty dollars on the newest collection of Neil Gaiman's Sandman comics, just so I can have them on archival quality paper and all in one place. A lot of people are not like that, though. Is the comics industry dying? Are stores like Rockhead's putting the comics in the back because the medium is dying out? Am I just reading too much into things? Well, if I am, where the crap are all of the back-issues that used to be out on the floor at Rockhead's? Oh, wait. I heard they were upstairs being sorted out. Well, maybe I may be wrong. Hell, maybe I'm right. I guess the future will hold the answer. For now though, I guess I'll just sit back with The Dark Knight Returns or Watchmen and remember a simpler time. I guess it's true what they say about nostalgia. It just ain't what it used to be.

Comments

Mr Holm - While I appreciate

Mr Holm - While I appreciate the fact that you and your friends attended our party last Saturday, I am a bit confused and disconcerted by your remarks regarding our store.
Rockhead's has been at this location for approximately 8 years - and for the 7 1/2 years that it was owned and operated by Brian Miller, the comics/graphic novels were always located in the back of the store - where they still can be found. So I am a bit surprised that you would be upset that the comics were waaaaaayyy in the back, where they have always been.
Also - "where the crap are all the back issues?" - they are indeed on the second floor of our bldg being sorted and inventoried - perhaps you can tell me why you would belive otherwise. There is no vast conspiracy here Mr. Holm. Because there were approximately 140 long boxes of comics in the basement, none of which had seen the light of day in at least 7 years, and about the same number of boxes in the store, it was a management decision (mine) to take them all upstairs, sort them, inventory them and once that is done they will be returned to the store proper. If you still are doubtful, I would invite you to stop into the store this Sunday between 2 and 5, ask for me, introduce yourself, and I would be happy to give you a tour.
The name of our store has been, and will continue to be Rockhead's Comics and Games - comics for a reason. Any of us, Allen, Patty, or I would have been happy to address your concerns, had you brought them to us at any time. We still would be.

Thank you,
LaurieAnn Perkins
General Manager
Rockhead's Comics & Games

Clarification

I was afraid that this might happen. I would like to set the record straight on this one so none of our readership is confused. I did not mean this article to be an indictment of Rockheads for not being a "comic store". I know that the former owner had been somewhat... lapsed in some maintenance areas. I do applaud the current owners for wanting to get everything in order. Any comments that were made in my rant above are not meant to be criticizing the store, but are more along the lines of lamenting the current state of the comic book industry. In a world where I can go to any website and get an exceptional quality scan of a $75 graphic novel and not have to pay a damn thing for it, I feel that comics are beginning to see the end of their perceived usefulness. You know, like CDs. I, however, always prefer something tangible. Something to hold in my grubby little mitts, so I will be buying comics and graphic novels. I will be continuing to purchase them whenever possible from smaller stores like Rockheads. Once those boxes of back issues get sorted, I am so there. I believe I'm a little short on my The Vampire Lestat run... So, in closing, I not only am not condemning Rockheads, I encourage you to go check it out. I believe I met Ms. Perkins at the party, and she was exceptionally nice. Yes, I do still have to come in and grab that "Graphic Novels For Dummies" book. Hope it's still there. I also spoke to Allen yesterday in hopes of getting this straightened out. Great bunch of people whose store deserves a look. You know, because judging it now would be like judging a half completed painting. Just check them out, and tell them that Dorkgasm sent you.

Comics in the back ...

Hello! I am "the Dwarf" (or "Dwarf") and have been shopping at Rockhead's since the first week it opened. That week in Old Market Square Mall it was indeed primarily a comic shop with a small area for games in the back room.
Within a few years it moved to the intersection of 75th St and 26th Ave (to the building that was an insurance agency last I looked) and eventually came to have both sides of the store and ws that way for many years. Even in that layout the comics were "in the back" so to speak, albeit close to the register. Two entries into the store opened to the gaming side of the layout and the 2nd half was comics, video game machines and anime. In that layout it still felt like an old time comic book store in one section and a very eclectic and cluttered game store on the other. By this time the owner, Brian, was already fully into collectibles as a third arm of the mixed venture and said items slowly filled the upper reaches of both sides of the store. Brian either had everything, could usually get almost anything (given time) and returning was like a "treasure hunt" as he would find older stock in the basement and cycle it up on an irregular basis (and apparently less often as he cycled things down). It was awesome as heck!
After many years there it became necessary for him to move and he purchased the property where Rockhead's is today. He basically lengthened the format and added a few small gaming tables in the front (near the 40K merchandice) but continued the eclectic mix. Entering Rockhead's had always been a peak into Brian's brain, his likes and dislikes, and he tended to keep certain merchandise nearer the front and other near the back. Primarily it was games near the front, mostly miniatures (40K, Reaper, terrain) in the center aisle, with board games along one wall and and on the opposite wall near the register, anime then the new game releases. Just past the board games was back stock of RPGs followed by graphic novel formats on from there on back was the dozens of cases of backstock comics in the center aisle then finally the newer releases and the new comics at the back. Along the other wall and scattered throughout the store was collectibles, with display cases he picked up from a closed game store separating and displaying the more valuable ones on display from the comics area. I think the plan was two-fold, with one being to give comic and collectibles buyers more privacy to browse away from the (noisier) gamers as well as to create a flow through the store as the collectibles buyers also tended to be comic buyers and thus they would see the entire collections on there way back to the comics. It has been that way since he moved to the 63rd street location up until he sold the store to the current owners.

Honestly, I see the new owners as new life for the store. As I know some of them at least were fairly big into Warhammer games and as well as a number of the newer clicks and collectible game products they entered into the new venture with a different mindset. Comics actually have only expanded under the new owners, with the exception of the back stock, which was temporarily pulled as mentioned above (inventory can be an absolute pain) and most the work has been put into redesigning the rest of the store. It is ow a "gamer friendly" place with a long line of tables and space more along the Games Workshop model, but done better IMHO. They can now host larger events than local GW stores and one would have to travel to Milwaukee to find a larger gaming venue (and I only know of one such larger venue there). Although less area than the old Emperor's HQ in Illinois it probably comes close to rivaling the capacity for certain events. I would even o so far as to state that there is now more gaming stuff along the walls then there ever was in the past, and that the inventory on display (except for back comics and collectibles) rivals what it ever had before and there are probably twice the number of graph novels and books on display as I ever remember Rockhead's having in the past. The major "loss" to the store has been the collectibles, which IIRC went with Brian. This is understandable as that niche market is very long term and requires a person with their finger on the pulse of the market to avoid losing one's shirt, something I believe Brian had but Allan & crew (the current owners) are probably not as on top of. What I do see is that that Allan, one of the new owners, has had his thumb on the pulse of the gaming industry for a number of years now and the new Rockhead's reflects that.

Still an awesome store, and in many ways better than ever, covering a mix of comics and games.

Now, as for what I think is your point is that the pure "comic book store" is a dying breed. Well, that is true overall for both the old style comic and gaming store and most have resorted to diversification and mixed venues, and this has been increasing for years. Rockhead's is an excellent example of the mixed comic and game store that have been evolving since around the time it first opened. There have been a number of pure comic book shops in Racine and Kenosha, but most have closed. Amazing Comics in Racine is long gone. The one who's name I can't remember but was on Roosevelt maybe 3 blocks from where Rockhead's is now closed over a decade ago (and, IIRC, much of the back stock ended up with Rockhead's). And so forth. I do know of one shop in Racine that just caries comics (with the occasional "Hero Clicks" in the past) and that would be Legendary Comics in Racine, but otherwise all the shops I know of are combination shops and include additional ventures such s games, cards, and so forth. This does not make them any less of comic shops, but yeah, I do understand what both of you have been saying, as I have been watching the various trends for years. A friend of mine complained that when a former Chicago mayor pulled all the leases and rights of street magazine stands to "clean up Chicago's image" that had significant impact on access to rarer magazines (and even comics) in Chicago and the city lost something. All I can say to that isa variant of what some former employer of mine regularly says "Support your FLGS* and FLCS*!"

-the Dwarf

* - Friendly Local Game Store and Friendly Local Comic Shop

-Dwarf