On Business: A New Shop in Town

By | Monday, March 09, 2015 Leave a Comment
Action Jackson Comics
Over the weekend, I took a trip down to the Urbana Free Library in Urbana, IL to hear Damian Duffy give a talk about comics. One of the attendees turned out to be Jackson Bird, proprietor of Action Jackson Comics. Until recently, he was located in Bismark, ND but just moved back to Illinois. It was a very recent move, in fact. He opened the doors of his new Action Jackson location on February 28, and his official ribbon-cutting ceremony is this Wednesday.

So after Duffy's talk, I got a chance to check out Bird's new space and chat a bit. The place is still a bit sparse, but he noted that he's waiting on several more shelving units to arrive and hasn't unpacked a lot of his material yet. But from what I saw and heard, things looked promising.

One thing he noted was that he was scouting different areas before he moved. Not just specific building locations as one would expect, but he was looking more broadly at what general areas were already well-represented with regards to comics. He mentioned, for example, that Chicago itself was completely out based on Graham Cracker Comics alone, which has nine locations in the greater Chicago area. The north side was well-taken care of as well, and it wasn't until you get to a hour/hour-and-half south of the Chicago area that things started opening up.

Interestingly, though, he's still only a few minutes' drive from a shop called G-Mart. Which I had never heard of, nor had a chance to visit. However, one of the guys I was with had his pull list there, and commented on how different a store it was. Where G-Mart caters to superhero fans almost exclusively, it was clear even with the limited selection that was out that Action Jackson has a much more diverse audience in mind.

The other thing Bird mentioned which struck me was that he was already conscious of the different clientele than what he had in Bismark. Urbana is more of a college town, with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign right there. Which, I might add, is increasingly becoming a locus of comics research. Carol Tilley, who made those archival discoveries about Frederic Wertham in 2013, works there as does Mara Thacker, who garnered some press recently for pulling together the largest collection of Indian comics in North America. It's where Duffy is located, and Rob Barrett, who I just met, is teaching some comics classes there as well. I don't doubt there are others there. So the area seems well-suited to a comic shop that caters to more than the superhero crowd.

Action Jackson Comics, Day Two
Bird pointed out his kid-friendly section right next to the door for example. What impressed me with it, though, was that it wasn't simply what one would typically think of as "kiddie books." He did have those, of course, but his selections also ranged up through Young Adult type material, like stuff by Raina Telgemeier and Dave Roman. What's more, the more advanced a book was, the higher up the shelving it was racked, and he had suggested age ranges labeling each tier of shelving. So not only was it fairly clear which books were best suited to, say, an eight-year-old, the very physical set-up itself was such that really young kids couldn't reach the YA material on the top shelf anyway.

It's obviously way too early to say how successful Bird will be in this new location. But in the short time I was there, and even with the store still in the process of getting set up, it seemed to me like Bird had a good business head on his shoulders. It'll be interesting to see how he's doing whenever the next time I'm able to swing through town, but it definitely strikes me as a shop to keep my eye on.
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