From the Stands is a series that profiles comic-book stores around the Twin Cities and talks about their histories, their offerings, and the communities they serve.
Have you ever walked into a comic book store and immediately felt lost? There’s a panoply of colors and titles, different publishers, all-ages and mature-audience titles, graphic novels and back issues, possibly a full-size standee of a Star Trek character or two . . . or a Babylon 5 character, in which case you’re really in trouble.
Let’s not forget the two-dimensional employees, who are there to openly denigrate you or to flat-out ignore you. Or, if you’re a woman, stare unnervingly at you. And there are Yu-Gi-Oh cards . . . an Indiana Jones warehouse of cards and action figures. How did this happen? What did you do in life to deserve being thrust into this dark labyrinth? Why are you holding this ball of string? You’re only here to pick up Saga or maybe Spider-Gwen, not join a cargo cult or kill a minotaur.
Annnnd scene. This stereotypical depiction of a visit to a comic shop is brought to you by archaic (though, sadly, sometimes still accurate) preconceptions about what it’s like to visit your local store. Things are steadily getting better in that world; I honestly have to stretch to remember the last time I felt unwanted in a comic shop or a female friend of mine remarked that things were getting “creepy.” The era of Comic Book Guy is coming to an end. Customers who aren’t dank-smelling men from 18 to 35 years old abound in the Android’s Dungeon. The doors—both real and metaphorical—are open now, and no shop in the Twin Cities embodies that change more than Mind’s Eye Comics in Eagan.
“We get a good mix,” says Andrew Troth, owner and operator. “We get a lot of families, a lot of moms . . . we get a lot of general public, people who aren’t necessarily focused on finding comic books . . . people who are coming here for the Chinese food that’s right next door.”
When you pull up to Mind’s Eye, at
Says Troth, “That was definitely part of my whole concept at the start. I wanted to be the store that, when people came looking for stuff, they would be able to find it.” That consideration for accessibility is clear in the store’s layout, and it makes shopping at Mind’s Eye a satisfying experience. Their new releases (as in most stores) take up their own wall, but the recent back issues, rather than being bagged and boarded and never to be seen again are displayed around the store, well organized by series, company, and title. It’s a boon to customers who are ready to make a purchase of that new Valiant book that looked pretty good on the stand; they can easily consult the Valiant section, pick up any recent back issues they may have missed, and leave happy and without having missed any installments in their new read. Plus, it’s not bad for business, either.
“You [can] go in and pick up 6 issues of something all at once, because they’re all right there,” Troth says.
But, what if you can’t find what you’re looking for? What if you don’t know what you’re looking for? Not a problem, says Troth. “Maybe two or three times a week, we get someone coming in saying, ‘I didn’t even know comic books were still published.’ We try to view that as a good thing.” He laughs. “This is somebody who is now getting exposed to comics.”
The focus for the staff at Mind’s Eye is customer service and their customers appreciate that attention. “We get, I think, reasonably good marks on customer service,” says Troth. “What people are telling us is that they like coming here because they like us, they like the way we help people find things . . . we love it when they ask us, ‘Hey, do you have this somewhere?'”
That’s not something you might expect to hear from a comic store owner, but Troth has built his business around that idea.
Thoth opened the store in 1998, which stands as a year not generally regarded as being “great” for comics (see: Red and Blue Superman). The mostly bankrupt Marvel was being bought by ToyBiz, and the company’s future was uncertain. Wildstorm Studios, founded by superstar Jim Lee, was looking to rejoin the big leagues and did so by selling to DC. Bob Kane, Archie Goodwin, and Joe Orlando all died that year. And, worst of all, Marvel cancelled Daredevil. Who cancels Daredevil?
I remember that standing in Mind’s Eye in that summer of 1998—when they were at their original, smaller location just three doors down (on the other side of the Chinese place). I remember staring at the cover of Daredevil #380, which features the titular hero being thrown like a rag doll from an explosion and thinking, “I know how you feel, guy . . . I’m you right now.” Sure, Marvel Knights would debut in the fall and reinvigorate the character and the entire company. Yes, Blade would premiere that August and start us all on the crazy, immensely profitable journey that comic companies and comic fans are still on. OK, OK, Daredevil as a book had limped horribly to the end and rebooting the book acted as a sort of purge that would bring Bendis, Brubaker, and Waid to a title that had been run into the ground by Chichester and Weeks for years . . . but I didn’t know that then. I only knew that my favorite hero just had his book cancelled.
If I had an original point, it’s that Troth would have understood how I felt. Says Troth, “I had moved around a lot as a child and had always sought out comic-book stores wherever I went. From the time I was a teenager, I had been helping out in stores wherever I could.” When he was a young(er) man and resident of the south suburbs, there wasn’t a comic-book shop in the area—other than the now-defunct newsstand Shinders—and he decided to do something about it. “I’d been doing some work with DreamHaven and Big Brain up in Minneapolis and came to a point in my life where I was looking for something new to do, getting out of what I had been into before. I took a class on writing a business plan and took a chance on doing this, and it worked out well enough to keep going for almost 18 years.”
Troth’s dream of a south-of-the-river comics destination was a successful one, letting him eventually expand to the aforementioned new location and bringing in customers of all stripes (like Mr. “I didn’t know comics were still published!” above, bless him). Soon after opening, his customer base was bolstered when nearby Comic Archives—a shop that, though the owner was friendly enough, may have partly inspired the opening to this article—closed its doors. In a gesture of magnanimity, Comic Archives let its customers know there would still be a shop in the area. “They actually very kindly sent a fairly hefty contingent of their regular customers to us . . . that was a really nice gesture on his part to actually direct people to me.”
Though business has been strong, Troth has had to struggle with the usual trials of running a comic store. Changing trends in the business have frustrated shop owners and customers alike. Publishers push product on store owners that forces them to navigate between running out of potential hits and being stuck with a mountain of unsalable product. “[It] force
me to make exponentially many more decisions every month than I had to make, say, fifteen years ago when I was ordering comics,” says Thoth. “There are hoops to jump through and often different hoops for everyone.” Marquee events by publishers lead to title cancellations, renumberings and relaunches and subsequently lead to customer frustration. “I’d say that confusion is certainly a common feature of my conversations with people these days,” says Troth. “There are people who are very excited [and] also people who are frustrated and fed up at the way things just keep changing. But again, everybody’s got their own attitude . . . their own take on it, and we just try to make sure we’re serving each customer the best we can.”
Mind’s Eye combats that frustration by making sure customers have the support they need, from attentive employees to a computerized inventory system. Troth says, “We love it when [shoppers] ask us ‘Hey, do you have this somewhere?’ . . . we do our best to have the stuff that people are likely to be looking for.”
What are customers looking for these days? “Doctor Strange is the first thing that pops into my head,” reports Troth. “His new series has been very, very popular. There’s a reason Marvel keeps adding more Deadpool books; the character’s continuously popular. Batman is still a very strong seller . . . Mighty Thor is [also] off to a good start.” When asked about his own reading material, he lists Age of Bronze and Saga (and Brian K. Vaughn books in general) as favorites, but says, “I’m behind on that as I’m behind on everything.”
It’s easy to forgive Andrew for falling behind on the reading when he’s created a store that’s so easy to shop at and enjoy. Next time you’re in the southeast suburbs, stop by Mind’s Eye Comics . . . and maybe get some egg rolls on the way back to the car.
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