Selling The Comics Lifestyle

By | Thursday, January 26, 2012 Leave a Comment
I first started going to a gym regularly in my early 30s. It was mostly an effort not to lose weight, but to avoid putting any more on and maybe get a bit of muscle strength as well. And while I was going to that gym, my weight remained pretty steady and I got a little stronger in my upper body. (But not much.) I did about an hour's workout pretty consistently every other day for maybe four years. I stopped going in 2007 largely because of finances.

In mid-2010, I learned that a friend was going to run a marathon. I said to myself, "Well, hell, if Chris can run a marathon, why can't I?" It wasn't exactly a bucket list item for me, but I thought it would be a neat accomplishment. So I tried repairing the decomposing treadmill in the basement and started running for the first time. The treadmill lasted only a few months before it died beyond my capacity to fix it. At which point I joined another gym, my finances having at least stabilized.

Since my goal was to complete a marathon, and having absolutely zero experience in running, I started reading up on it. And health in general. I read a lot, and was able to pick a great deal of information about fitness and nutrition. But to do any good, I had to start acting on it. I started eating breakfast again. I changed my lunches to primarily salads. I recently had the epiphany that I had unintentionally almost entirely eliminated red meat from my diet. And the marathon training itself is a regular schedule of running, of course, but also weights and swimming.

Not surprisingly, the gym has been pretty packed lately with a bunch of people trying to make good on New Year's resolutions. But I look around while I'm working out and I can pick out the folks who are most likely not going to continue showing up all year. In fact, I've already seen more than a few people who showed up every day for the first week or two now coming in more sporadically. You see, what these people don't get -- and what I didn't get until I really found myself embedded in it -- is that fitness is a lifestyle choice. You can show up at the gym and take the zumba class for a couple months and lose 10 pounds or whatever. But if you want to see a "permanent" change, and not just a short-term fix, it requires a mental adjustment as well. You need to incorporate a new exercise regimen and a new diet into your lifestyle. Diet, as they say, is a not a verb.

What does this have to do with comics, you ask? Well, comics is a lifestyle choice, too, isn't it? You're not JUST reading Spider-Man; you're going to the comic shop every week and chatting with the other folks there, you're online reading about upcoming storylines, you're creating fan art, you're hunting down back issues, you're analyzing plot points to see if you can figure out what comes next or whether or not they've screwed up the continuity... That's why "comic" conventions frequently also have actors, wrestlers and models as guests -- the "comic" of their title refers to the lifestyle, not the specific medium.

Gyms periodically offer discounts and use advertising that can go along the lines of, "Lose that belly fat so you look great on the beach this summer!" But the people those attract are mostly short-term customers. The long-term ones, the ones who act as an ongoing revenue stream, are the ones who have made a lifestyle choice, and they have a very different message sold to them. It's not four walls with some weights and treadmills; it's a club where friends hang out and bond.

I think more comic shops could stand to take this approach. Don't sell the customers/readers on the physical comic books themselves, sell them on the lifestyle of hanging out with cool people who lead interesting lives and have imaginative ideas. Comics is very much a lifestyle choice that goes beyond just reading the stories. Why are you here reading this, after all? There are some shops out that are doing this already, and some of those are doing it better than others. But I don't think you can grab new readers on the draw of a single character or book alone. At least, not for very long. I think the lifers that stay with comics are the ones who not only say that this is a cool medium, but the ones who say it's a cool medium with lots of cool people I want to hang out with.
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