Tech Q&A As A Metaphor For Comics Retailing

By | Tuesday, June 04, 2013 Leave a Comment
We had a education thing at work today in which there were several resident technology experts available to answer employees' questions about whatever techie-related subjects they had questions about. One person focused on apps, one on QR codes, one the company's internal social platform, there was a contingent of folks to just address general questions... There were 7-8 of us answering questions, and people were streaming through the room for a couple hours. The idea was to just alleviate people's technological hesitancy, and try to put a greater proportion of our co-workers on something approximating equal footing as far as current technology was concerned.

(As an amusing side-note, it's part of a broader initiative to help ensure the company as a whole is able to keep pace with what Millenials often take as a givens. The initiative is headed by several Millenials, and the promotional materials highlighted the younger crowd as a significant and viable demographic with money that we need to work harder to understand. And yet, several of the folks answering the questions -- myself included -- were clearly Gen Xers.)

Working in a generally technological field, I've spent much of my career explaining technical ideas to non-technical people. About ten years ago, I began looking at my job as more of a translator than of anything else. I'm used to this type of thing. And I get that not everybody is going to be even conversant with some technology, much less expert. I get it. But I have to say that I was still surprised by some of the questions we got. Fundamental level questions like, "What is an app?"

I don't begrudge people for their ignorance. I'm sure there are plenty of topics those people are expert in that I am clueless. That they aren't familiar with QR codes only speaks to their focus and/or personal interests.

I bring all this up because we all faced the challenge, for each person that came up with questions, in answering their questions and addressing their concerns WITHOUT making them seem like an idiot. Without sounding condescending. And that's relevant to comics because that is precisely the negative stereotype typified by The Simpsons' Comic Book Guy. You know, the caricature of which Matt Groening said...
I can’t tell you how many times people have come up to me and said, ‘I know who you based that comic book guy on. It’s that comic-book guy right down the block.’ And I have to tell them, ‘No, it’s every comic-bookstore guy in America.
It's the Jack Black character from High Fidelity, the know-it-all ass who's really only a know-it-all in a very specialized area that's obscure enough that many people are completely unfamiliar with it. (If you haven't seen the movie, by the way, it's worth watching to see what many comic book shops look like to non-comic fans.)

I'd like to think that most comic shops aren't like this any more. I'd like to think that retailers have learned enough to know not to piss off potential customers. I'd like to think the retail space has changed in the past 10-15 years for the better. In my experience, it has. But then again, I tend to specifically avoid lousy comic shops and I have the luxury to be able to do that, living in an area with plenty of good (or at least not bad) shops reasonably nearby. Plus, you know, I'm more of a decidedly interested party and know a bit about the medium and the industry.

But you -- whether as a retailer, a creator or even just a fan -- represent the comics industry to everyone you meet. Keep that in mind when you're out and about, and people start asking questions about the Avengers or R.I.P.D. or Sin City or whatever other comic related movie they just heard about. I'd like to think anyone that might be part of my regular audience (minuscule though it is) doesn't need to be told this, but pass this on to those people who seem to keep showing up in Our Valued Customers.
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