Comic Shop Focus: OK Comics, Leeds, UK

Categories:  Features, Interviews

I’ve finally achieved one of my New Years resolutions: not being hung over on a Monday. While this meant I crammed a weekend’s worth of binge drinking into Friday night, it paid off, as I’m now in ship-shape and Bristol fashion, looking forward to a field trip to OK Comics in Leeds.

Due to a taste in attractive, but impractical kitchen fittings, and cats that insist on being fed, I’m a bit skint at the moment. This means I can afford neither a Leeds A-to-Z or the printer ink needed to print off from Google Maps. The thought of writing the directions down off of the Internet only occurs to me while waiting for my train. Why are the pretty ones always so dim? I’m now hoping for two things: a. that Leeds has tourist information with free maps and b. that my chosen Dictaphone has a good range on it as I forgot to pack my deodorant in my gym bag this morning.

My visit isn’t solely for The Hatch (my expenses account remains barren [god only knows where Oliver squandered his massive comics blogging paycheck-Ed.]), so I’m taking a batch of my own efforts over. I’m encouraged, having spoken to Jared, OK’s manager, on the phone that he said he takes 30-percent. This is the best I’ve heard of, with most other shops taking as much as 50-percent. The difference might not seem much, but any money earned can go back into making more comics, which is what we’re all here for.

On the train over I read an ‘hourly’ comic by Mark Ellerby, which is perfectly enjoyable for what it is. I think I’m softening my approach to autobiographical stuff as I near my 30th (three weeks, birthday card fans). Same goes for folk music. I’m just getting soft. Shit, maybe it’s the hangovers! No hangovers, no bite, no bile, no intolerance for anyone’s comics but mine. It’s like Samson and his magic hair!

Arriving at Leeds, I procure a free map, dodge the Scientologists on route, and in no time I’m stammering my way through my first interview. You think you don’t like the sound of your own voice. You know n,n,n,n,nothing.

Looks like you’ve got a load of small press stuff in–looks mint. In Manchester we’ve got Traveling Man and they’ve got a small amount of space, but it’s right in the front of the shop. Apart from that, we don’t really have anywhere in Manchester that’s got that good a reputation for taking this kind of stuff.

Jared: Does Magma [art and design book shop in Manchester] do just art books?

They stocked Trains Are…Mint for a while but they’re kind of picky and they take 45 to 50-percent, depending what kind of mood they’re in.

That’s pretty steep.

They don’t just do comics, though. They do art books and books about design and fashion and that, and you’ve got to send a copy off to their London branch and they’ll get back to you in about two months.

That’s a pretty commercial, mass-market way to deal with books really.

Saying that, though, out of all the shops I’ve had the book in, I’ve sold more through Magma than anyone else.

Yeah it might be a ball ache, but it’s worth doing.

People go in there when they wouldn’t go in a comic shop. Fifty-percent is still tight ,though.

You’ve just got to make sure you’re making your money back.

It’s never going to be a money-making exercise anyway, is it? I was pretty chuffed and surprised when you said you take 30-percent actually.

It’s really 33-percent.

Still, pretty nice.

That’s the mark-up we have on all the other comics, so there’s no reason why it should be any different. We don’t stock small press stuff to make money. I mean, I don’t run a comic shop to be a millionaire!

You’ve got, what, three or four shelves dedicated to self-publishers?

What’s there could easily be spaced out better and take up more shelves, but we just can’t afford the space. We sell more Modern Toss stuff because it’s on TV every bloody week.

[Spotting Sturgeon White Moss] That’s the first time I’ve seen that about.

The lass that sort of curates it is sort of a friend of a friend and I got in touch with her. I thought it was an American thing and I was getting it from Last Gasp in San Francisco, but then I found out it’s actually published in London, so I started getting it direct from her. It’s doing all right; I’m looking forward to another issue. It’s been a while.

Have you got any favourites in there that I should know about? I’m going to have to buy something and there are certain creators who stock up every shop available, but there’s others, like myself, who can’t get their arse into gear and only really stock up their home town shops.

Reet comes out really regularly, I really like that

Is Reet a Yorkshire reference? [In the US, you might say, “How are you doing today”? In Yorkshire, biggest county in the UK, you’d say; “reet?”]


Yeah. There’s No Time Like The Present–there’s a new issue of that coming out soon, that’s really good. For me, I think he’s [Paul Rainey] gonna get a proper book deal soon. He’s really good.

I’m going to have to put my hands in my pockets aren’t I? Is there an upstairs as well?

Yeah, come on.

Walking up the stairs, a number of frames show off the result you get when you cover pub tables with brown paper and then hand a load a pens to some drunken monkeys. These are the fruit of various drink and draw events in Leeds.

When we initially opened, we just had one floor. This were the storeroom and it was a right mess–just using it as a bin really. Then we got to a point where we had more graphic novels than we had room for, so I kitted this out and opened up here.

I’ve seen that you’ve had some signings in the past, like Jeffrey Brown and that. How was he?

Quiet. Really timid and quiet. He stayed at our house and we had breakfast together and had a right good natter. He’s a really sound guy. He was on his tour at the time. I think he’d done the Traveling Men, and Page 45, and maybe Gosh as well.

I met him at an expo once but he looked proper stressed, so I just left him to it. Poor guy.

Well, if you’re gonna be a media star…

So do you do any of the comic expos yourself, as the shop?

“Nah, not really. The shops been here for five years now, before that I worked at Forbidden Planet and I had about six months from leaving FP to deciding what I wanted to do with rest of my life, so just to make a bit of money I started to sell my own collection on eBay. But I was still getting requests from old customers asking to get stuff in for them, I think because they weren’t getting the service that I gave them at FP. Because I got on with quite a lot of the customers there I gave them quite a personal service, they wanted me to still be selling them comics. So I opened an account with Diamond, just the bare minimum, and I set up a little website.

From there I moved all my eBay customers over to that and started getting standing orders, doing mail orders; all working from my mum’s dining room table. Did that for a few months and built up enough stock, which became difficult to manage at home, so me and a mate went, “let’s just open a shop.” So we opened up in a low rent area of town and within a year we’d out grown that, so we started looking round and found this perfect location.

What’s the rent like? I don’t really know Leeds, is this a posh bit?

Yeah, if you look around it’s all posh clothes shops, but that’s part of the point really.

I don’t want to get too personal or anything but how do you see yourself doing in the future? Are you going to struggle?

I wouldn’t have thought so. If we were going to struggle it would have been earlier on, but our sales are up and up and up all the time. More people are finding us and that’s because of the location. You can open a comic shop anywhere and comic fans will find you. As long as you advertise in right places, people who want to read a Batman book will come and find your shop.

I’m still kind of learning about comics, but everyone I speak to who knows anything about English comics always says, “you’ve got to go to OK Comics in Leeds.”

Really?

Oh aye, there’s a trilogy of OK, Page 45, and Gosh.

Well, that’s nice to know ‘cos I like both those shops, I know the guys that run them and we get on.

You’ve got to encourage the independents haven’t you?

I think so. When we opened, there were two comics shops in Leeds, both parts of big chains, so it’s good that we can open up in a climate like that and hold our own. I think if I hadn’t worked at FP for so many years, it would have been really hard, just the fact that most people who bought comics in Leeds knew my face [pronounced “fierce” in a Yorkshire accent]. That were a big help. But if I’d have just been a total stranger who opened a shop, people would have been like, “who’s this chump?”

I was a big comics fan as a kid [I pull out my New Mutants 87 story, which you don’t need to hear again], but when I discovered cigarettes and girls I kind of forgot about them. Couldn’t afford fags and comics. I’m trying to pick my way back in now.

Marvel and DC both do some non-superhero stuff.

Really?

Like Punisher

I used to love The Punisher! War Journal and all that!”

Punisher is absolutely awesome at the moment, adults only. It’s absolutely brutal, a horrible crime series.

I don’t want to sound like a boring old fart but I just can’t get past that computer drawn art. I’m not used to it. It all came in my hiatus. The first time I made a conscious effort to get back into caped crusader stuff was with Civil War, but I just couldn’t get into it. I didn’t know who anyone was. [Later on Jared will slip copies of Criminal and Scalped into my bag to help ease me back in.] Is there enough of a self-publishing scene around here to keep you stocked up?

Yeah, we used to stock little bits and then I did a talk at Caption [Expo in Oxford] to small press creators about how to get your comics into comic shops; how to make it easy for the retailers to stock your stuff. After that we just got bombarded. I did a couple of interviews while I was down there, for small-press magazines read by anyone who makes small -ress stuff, and then we were just bombarded from all over the country. That really set us up.

How do you, as a creator, make it easy for retailers? The first time I got in touch with Gosh, they said they don’t accept small-press items in the post. I thought that would make it really easy. I suppose they’ve got to cover their ass so they don’t get stuck with a load of crap comics, but if I said that I don’t mind if they want to throw them out if they’re not moving, because I just want them in their store and that’s a risk I’d have to take.

Tell them that you will do all the chasing up, you’ll keep all the paper work. I mean, if I had to keep on top of all the receipts and invoice for just the small-press things, I’d need a bloody secretary. I just say send us five copies and if they sell send us another five. So we’re always in units of five, keeps it easy.

Back downstairs, I’m on my hands and knees, picking my way through a stuffed shelf of self-published comics, ignoring things I could find in Manchester, which still leaves me with a lot to choose from. This is fun.

I’m hoping to use this column to find out more about local comics and that, because as much as I love self-publishers, I can’t say I’ve seen many I could say were brilliant, in the true sense. I’ve found myself defending comics to art friends of mine and when they ask, “all right then, so what’s a good comic?” I always find myself leaning towards the States.

That’s just like saying what’s a good TV program though isn’t it? Depends what you’re into. There’s such a range of stuff.

I’m finding them though. I’m loving finding out.

The important thing about here is that we’re just trying to get more and more people into it. Not just small-press, but all comics. To take the pressure off of comic-looking.

It’s the personal touches that make independents so warm and cuddly. Jared shows me where he keeps comics aside for his regulars. Each has their name alongside a bunch of comics waiting to be picked up and loved, all stuffed into boxes under the stairs. There are a lot of names. A number of names that will have played no small part in seeing OK Comics through to their fifth birthday, in three days’ time. Jared’s got a keg on order so he can make a bar of the counter and he’s busy filling balloons, and professing admiration for New Think Books [“he’ll make a brilliant book one day”], previously mentioned here, while he fields half-baked questions from this amateur inquisitor. Apparently OK is so popular amongst self-publishers, creators have been known to add there wares to the ever-bulging shelves without the clerks’ knowledge. The first Jared sees of them is when someone brings it to the counter wanting to buy it. That’s a sign that OK’s a good place to be seen and be bought.

My hopes of finding stuff I couldn’t find in Manchester are more than met, and while I leave with a mixed bag in terms of quality, having scanned half of it on the train back, I’ve seen one, Surrender By Force by Leon Sadler, which I’d consider very good, sort of a cross between Andries Neilsen and Brian Chippendale. I also found a meaty comics interview magazine, self-published, called Colouring Outside The Lines, which looks a good read. Reviews to come of the lot, but it was train fare well spent and I won’t mind not drinking this weekend having found the finds I found at my new favourite comics shop.

–Oliver East

4 Comments to “Comic Shop Focus: OK Comics, Leeds, UK”

  1. Marc Ellerby | April 30th, 2008 at 3:20 pm

    Although I’ve never been to OK, Jared is a joy to work with, always takes my stock and with enthusiasm too.
    Dave’s in Brighton only take 25% for small press, when they told me I literally shouted “YOU’RE JOKING?!” at them.
    I can only assume that “…perfectly enjoyable for what it is” is a good thing?
    Marc

  2. Shug | September 14th, 2008 at 9:38 am

    If Marc Ellerby and I (who does REET!) have both commented on this, does it mean we’ve been Googling ourselves?

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