In the minds of most Americans, Portland, Oregon is just a quirky little city in the middle of nowhere. But, in the modern comics scene, only New York and Los Angeles are able to match the sheer number of titles released by our humble city. Portland is home to a vast number of publishing houses, including three of the largest in the world: Dark Horse Comics, Top Shelf Comics, and Oni Press...
All of these publishers are flourishing, but one member of the industry that has been struggling ever since the introduction of digitally distributed comics is the actual comic book store. Yes, contrary to popular belief, some people do still buy comic books (“mags”) or graphic novels on a regular basis, but due to paper costing more than digital download and the relative inaccessibility of comic book stores versus instant downloads, the comic book store is dying a slow death.
Despite this morbid future, North Portland retailer Bridge City Comics in North Portland has a bright outlook on the future. Bridge City was nominated for an Eisner Spirit Award (a national award given to a comic retail store each year) in 2011. Owner and operator Michael Ring came to visit his brother in Portland in the mid-90’s and never left. After a distinguished career in web design for Dark Horse Comics, Michael opened Bridge City in 2005 as a place for comic fans to gather together and purchase all sorts of comic book and other “nerd” products (I myself bought a button emblazoned with the Rebel Alliance insignia from the original Star Wars trilogy.) When I sat down to talk to Michael, he shared with me his thoughts about the future of paper comics. “Comics are tied to the print medium,” he said with a look of solemnity, “and people will always want printed comics.” He elaborated that no matter how many files a person has on their computer or iPad, they will always keep coming back to paper for two very important reasons: the community associated with comics and comics stores, and the physical factor of comics. “People want something they can hold in their hands” Michael continued, “something they can feel, that they can keep forever.” Later, Michael mentioned the community aspect of comics again. “Digital [comics],” he claims, “[are] a good entry point to the genre.” Digital distribution has a good selection, and is much faster. But to get to know the store workers, and to have them know what you want? That’s unique in and of itself, just like Portland.
Bridge City Comics: http://www.bridgecitycomics.com