Lockdown is easing, shops are open, and life is slowly starting to return to some sense of normality. During the early stages of the pandemic, I had to completely change ethe way purchased comics, and comic stores had to completely change they way they sold comics. Continuity of service was essential if small businesses were to survive, and that is something that Jared Myland, the owner of OK Comics in Leeds, provided to customers new and old. I first heard of OK Comics from a shared post on social media and have been following the store ever since.
Please note that this interview was conducted in April and has taken a while to get out. I have 2 kids and a full-time job which got a bit too hectic! Apologies!
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your “comic origin” – How you got into comics, your first comic etc, and how have you been during the pandemic?
I’ve been into comics since I was learning to read, my Grandma would get me Spider-Man and Hulk comics from the local newsagent; but I got more into collecting when I accidentally stumbled across Odyssey 7, the comic shop in Leeds. That must have been in 1989.
After I left college, I got a job at Space Odyssey (formerly Odyssey 7) and a year later I became the manager there.
I had six or seven really great years there, I absolutely loved it. It had became part of the Forbidden Planet group, and we started stocking less comics and books, and more toys and merchandise. I guess I was losing enthusiasm.
Can you tell us a bit about your store? How and when you got started, demographics etc.
After leaving Forbidden Planet, I had no intention of staying in comic retail, but within a few months I felt that Leeds needed a dedicated, focused comic and graphic novel shop.
Things started slow, working mail order from home, but we eventually opened a tiny shop in Market Street Arcade (now Central Arcade) in Leeds. After a year, we moved to our current location at 19 Thornton’s Arcade, just off Briggate right in the heart of Leeds shopping district.
Our approach is to present comics and graphic novels in a smart, tidy, well lit environment much like you’d expect from any other type of high street book shop. It’s becoming more and more accepted that there are comics for everyone, and we do our best to make sure people know it.
What effect has the pandemic had on your store, from day to day to long term? Has there been a rise or fall or both in sales in certain items etc?
The weeks leading up to the first lockdown were quite hectic for us. At first people were aware that a lockdown was coming and they descended on us, panic buying books. And then, in the week before lockdown, people had already started working from home and self isolating, so mail order requests went through the roof.
The staff here were quite welcoming of a some time off after this busy period. But after a short while it felt like time to get back to work. One of the most important things that comic shops can offer their customers is continuity of service so, lockdown or not, cutting our regulars off from their monthly comics seemed like retail suicide to me.
Through each lockdown, sales of comics were down, and sales of graphic novels were strong.
Has your store ever had to deal with anything as disruptive as the pandemic before?
There’s never been anything like this. In the past we’ve had power cuts, floods, recently a fire in the shop, and once the arcade where we’re based appeared to be closed because of maintenance for a few months, that was tough; but we’ve never had anything that presented such a prolonged barrier between us and our customers.
How have you yourself and the store adapted to the pandemic?
At first there were no regular comic deliveries, but we were still receiving graphic novels. Danielle here took it upon herself to reinvent our website so the webshop became more customer focused and made it easy for people to stock up, and bulk buy books from us. That was a huge game changer. Social media helped too.
Through the subsequent lockdowns we’d got processing mail order down to a fine art. We rearranged the layout of the shop so we had more room for packing up deliveries. We would rely on social media to inform our customers of new releases. It was hard work for all of us, and quite frustrating at times. We struggled to connect with a sizable portion of our usual customer base. Running a mail order is less fun, and far, far less lucrative than regular retail, but I’d consider what we did to be a success and I’m really proud of the staff here. Above all, the customers who stuck with us were great.
What can you see for your store in the future, short to long term and coming out of the pandemic?
We’ve just reopened. Day one was really busy, mostly with tourists just in the city centre because it was the first time it had been allowed for a while. We’re a few days now and it feels like we’re settling into a groove, a lot of regular customers we haven’t heard from through the lockdown have been back in. Mail order still continues. I’m optimistic about our future here.
What has been getting you through the pandemic and lockdowns? Comics, TV, movies, video games etc.
Personally, I’ve worked most of the pandemic, and through the lockdowns. But having a bit of extra time off occasionally to spend with my wife and dog has been great. I’ve watched a lot of rubbish TV, but highlights have been Devs, The Trip to Greece, and re-watching Treme. It’s been good to be able to keep on top of my reading pile too.
What were your top comics of 2020, personally and for your store?
Pulp was by far the best selling book here last year. Brubaker and Phillips always do well at OK Comics. My personal favourite books recently have been Snapdragon, Batman: Creature of the Night, Paul at Home, Blue in Green and Altitude. I tend to like books that are socially relevant and say something about what’s going on in the world around us. Seeds, Department of Truth, Authorised Happiness, The Garden, and The Fall are all great examples of this.
We’ve recently stepped up our signed bookplate programme here. We’re trying to provide mini-prints, signed by the writers and artists, often exclusive to OK Comics, for as many good books as possible. If you see that an upcoming or recently released graphic novel comes with a bookplate, it’s a sign that it’s a book that we’re excited about and want to get behind. We have some great ones coming up.
The pandemic and the lockdowns have been a bump in the road for a lot of people (much more than that for many) and we’re not through the other side yet. I’m confident that with the continued hard work of the staff here, and the ongoing support from our loyal customers, OK Comics will remain a permanent fixture in Leeds city centre.
Thank you so much to Jared who took the time to participate in this interview. I can personally vouch for the service and exclusives that OK Comics provide, having purchased signed book plate editions of Reckless, Orphan and the Five Beats #1 and Red Room #1. If I ever find myself in Leeds I will paying Jared and his store a visit, as should you!
It is a crazy and unstable work we all live I right now, and I am so happy that Jared is optimistic for the store’s future. It is in these times that we need to support small businesses, their services can never be understated. You can find OK Comics on the below links:
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