My Secret Identity: An Interview with Myles Charon

| 1 Comment

Thumbnail image for 2021-11-15 16.jpg

It was a cold Saturday morning as I began to walk to the entrance to Captaine Quebec. I made it to the door before realizing I had left my tea in the car. Having forgotten what parking space number I was, I turned around to check only to recognize a familiar figure. Walking down St-Catherine with a smile on his face was Myles. He was wearing a puffy coat with familiar motif: Spider-Man.

"I saw your cousin the other day" Myles said with a smile.

"Oh?" I replied, knowing fully well that my nearest cousin was a seven hour drive away.

"Yea, the one who looks just like you." He answered laughing.

With that said, we made our way to the store entrance; a large glass door with a stairs leading down. I was immediately comforted by the familiar sights and signs, as much as I was by the heat of the building. We chatted casually as we walked down the stairs, leaving our coats at the cash. Excusing himself for a second, Myles disappeared to the back of the store. Grabbing a quick cup of coffee from his backroom, Myles returned seconds later and ready to begin.

So, to start things off: How long have you been working with comics?

33 years.

Growing up, were comic books a big part of your life?

When I was a kid, say, reading superman, from age 8 or 9 to about age 12. I rediscovered comics when I moved to Toronto when I was around 18 when they put Spider-Man in the newspaper. I was reading the three panels daily and really enjoyed it. So I went to the store looking for comics but you'd only get one or two books a month and I wanted more. Plus, I also wanted to know what was going on behind the store. I found this store, but it was really raw and I was kind of disappointed. It was around then that I found Silver Snail and the rest is history.

We are stopped by a curious customer who asks Myles for his opinion. The two go off around the store for a few minutes before Myles comes back.

What made you want to get involved with them?

Well, when I came back to Montreal, the store that I was going to didn't really want to take on any new customers, which from a business point of view is ridiculous. So I told the guy that I'd be willing to spend a hundred bucks in the store, just let me get my comics but he said "No." So I contacted Silver Snail and they said "Well, you're in business and you know business, why don't you just open a store?" So I did. It was supposed to be a sideline, with someone running it while I took care of my other businesses but they didn't last. In fact, this store outlasted all of my other businesses. I had a coffee shop, I had a bar, an import business ... no two import businesses and this outlasted all of them.

Why do you think the store stayed when your other businesses closed?

The thing is, its retail, but it hasn't been consistent though, it's been a frigging rollercoaster. I've made money, I've lost money; it follows the economy. In 2008, when we had the correction on the market was hard. Before then, from 2000 through 2008 we had a really positive economy. This business is entirely dependent on disposable income - so if the economy is tight, no one's going to want to spend money on comics. If someone's told that their investments have dropped, even if they couldn't touch that money for forty years, it changes their mindsets. All of these things affect your spending habits. I think that the reason the store is still around is that we are constantly trying to reinvent ourselves. I mean, we've recently gone clothing crazy, even though it's not been as successful as I had hoped.

The other thing is that we were affected by the internet, and it took five years or so for people to realize the internet is not the end-all-be-all. In some cases, people have found it not to be preferable when compared to actually having the thing. So I think, if you can make yourself competitive, in some cases we are preferred to the internet.

What would you say has been the largest change in the business since starting?

Well, digital is going to kill us all if it ever catches on (we both laugh). I mean, the largest chain is certainly digital. Price increases have always been a problem. I remember early on, when I just opened prices started to jump way ahead when compared to the cost of living, but really it comes back to digital. But there's also the collectability, which I don't agree with, so people still find it desirable to buy hard copies. Another thing would be that with the digital stuff, is that they have to change the same price as a hard copy.

The main thing I worry about is when they start to do digital only. Digital only will allow companies to work around the cover price, so they can charge you a fraction of the price, and let's be honest, the only reason they aren't doing it already is because they'd be undermining the stand sales.

At this point, Myles sees his employee, Ben with a lineup of customers. He heads over and starts to help out / talk to them while they wait.

What's it like being a retailer that focuses on mostly English products in a French province?

It's not really an issue. I mean, I think I get maybe once a month where a customer will ask "Why don't we carry more products in French?" But I mean, it's an American pop culture store. Not to say that we haven't tried. I mean before it became affordable in English, we carried manga in French but it didn't quite click. Plus, it was pretty generally available. If you look at the totals as well, comics are like fifty - sixty percent of your business and the rest is merchandise. Ultimately, yea, it's American pop culture which is unfortunately really only coming to us in English. Funnily enough, the American companies will provide a small but interesting selection of Spanish product. Like Walking Dead - a couple of volumes are available in Spanish, same as Spider-Man. There's really no gun to their head, so to speak, to do so for the French market, since for them it's a much smaller demographic.

What would you say is your biggest challenge as a smaller scale store when compared to something like Mile High Comics?

You can't really compete, but that's mostly just on back issues. When people go to those kinds of sites, like Denver, it's for those hard to find books. Also, because of the border we're considered international. So, the thing is, when everyone gets excited over these pricing deals, like when a customer wanted something from Midtown, which is in New York, it cost like thirty bucks to get up here. That's also if it doesn't get flagged, had it been marked as a collectible or if the thing were over two hundred dollars that would be like another sixty bucks tacked on. So, we've got them beat in that respect. If a major corporation opened in Canada, though, that would be a problem. It looked like that when Fourth Wall opened up, where they advertised as a giant store, but it turned out differently.

The thing is though, for any of those to happen, like a store or franchise opening up, I'd tell the guy to have his head examined. I mean, it's like opening a video rental store or a DVD store - in what universe would that make sense in this economy?

How do you feel that the recent successful Marvel and DC films have changed the industry? Would you say that it's increased interest in comic books?

Initially they impacted them. When the Batman films, the recent ones, came out you had a spike. Now, you get this second kind of clientele, like my daughter who was in to the films and not the comics. They do like the merchandise, though. The end result is that you have people who are coming out of the Captain America film who aren't necessarily buying Captain America or Avengers comics, but they are looking for Captain America hoodies, hats, t-shirts and toys. I mean, just because the people are watching the film doesn't necessarily mean that they go home and read. Take for instance when an audience watches a television show, like Castle. I'm saying this because I know they make Castle comic books, but if you base that on the numbers who watch the show and compare it to how many comics were sold; you end up with a single digit percentage of the total audience. Millions of people are watching movies and TV shows but tens of thousands are buying any of the literature. It's the same as with the superhero market.

We saw another spike with the recent Guardians of the Galaxy film coming out, because I feel like it was relatively unknown. But as soon as they release the Blu-rays and DVD packages, you'll see a big drop in the momentum.

Do you find that consumers nowadays represent the repeat customers or would you say that they're mostly individuals looking to buy gifts as a one off?

Nah, it's repeat. We need those - in this business you can't afford to lose a single clientele. In that regard, I put up with a lot of nonsense and I'll take back things I really shouldn't, but at the end of the day a customer who comes back represents money that most businesses can't afford to lose. The only comfort I have for people looking for gifts is that usually, when they buy it as a gift, I know it won't be coming back.

Have any of your customers ever had comics or works released?

Well, we had a regular client who went on to write a TV show. The only thing was that by the time he got going with that, he stopped being a client here. Same thing, we had another guy who was in Montreal, who went on to be one of the producers of Stargate but he had to move to do Stargate. So, for me, I think what happens with the Montreal industry they tend to leave. For example, we had this well-known Quebec director come in often, but when his career took off, he started to work in Toronto.

I remember this one time, when one of the guys from Men in Hats ... no, Men without Hats, I think it was the lead singer, anyway, my father was commenting that he looked kind of grungy and then he pulled out this wad of bills. My dad was like: "What is he, some kind of drug dealer?" It was funny but I try not to gush over anybody. For the most part, when it comes to stuff like that, I'll ignore people's life outside the store. You'll get people who will be all over them and I'll have to tell them to leave them alone. They're here to buy comics.

I think the end result is that those who have gone on to be successful don't tend to stick around much. Plus, you also have to think that in the industry, they'll most likely get some of the stuff for free. We knew some artists who said when you sign a contract with DC or Marvel, in many cases they'll have stuff sent to them for references.

What are your thoughts on comic books, action figures and cartoons being considered for kids?

I have no problem with that, but I think there is a problem with the labelling. I think what's really annoying, and I don't blame the industry, is the parents. There's a total disregard for age restriction notices. I remember somebody renting the Spawn cartoon and then complaining because you saw the clown peeing in the alleyway. I mean, it was rated a hard R and most video stores weren't asking. We make the effort, though. I'll flip the book over and check if it's appropriate. I had a client who bought a Hulk novel for a three year old, but what he didn't understand was that the TV Hulk is not the same as the comic Hulk. There's a difference in the presentation and different audiences want different things. You see this when the older kids come in the store. They don't want the comics based on the TV shows because they're kiddy and childish looking. Take for instance how popular Deadpool is on the internet. You'll get kids coming in who read about him online and want to buy his books, but I don't feel like I can just sell it to them. I'll explain to them that it's rated a Teen plus box and that they have to understand that if they still want to buy it I've made my peace. I have to do this because otherwise you get people coming back and saying "Oh, but I didn't know."

I had one time where this father comes in with his kid and asks why we didn't sell him a Spawn comic. Well, we've never carried Spawn and even then, I told him we would only have done it if we had parental consent. The dad told me that he had said it was okay, but my problem was that he wasn't here. He took that as me calling his son a liar, but I explained that he couldn't twist my words. We need to know that it's okay by you in person because it's not appropriate for children. I mean, he chose to make that leap between what I said and calling his son a liar. All I was saying is that I need to hear it from the parents.

It's like how we sell knives and we'll get kids coming in trying to buy them. We don't sell them to anyone under 18, but every so often you'll get a kid who says "But I can buy a pocket knife" but I don't care. These are our rules and usually when the kid comes back with a parent, the parent will see that it's a real blade. They'll usually tell me "I don't want them to have this!" and I'm like "That's what I've been trying to tell him!". (laughs)

That's why I really try to go out of my way to ask about whether or not what they're buying is age appropriate. The problem isn't the products, it's usually the lax parenting. I mean, everyone can tell me that their child is an "old thirteen" but we don't sell it unless the parents are there.

How does having a predominantly male readership affect your business?

That's true, but we try to appeal to everyone. Thankfully, my niece is working here which I think gives us a softer image, but we have always been a female friendly store. We keep the place well-lit and deal with any lecherous clients and staff. Also, some of the new titles have started to be a bit more diverse and female friendly. Comics like Batwoman and Birds of Prey are some examples. We're also seeing it in things in the mainstream where female characters used to just be male fantasies. I mean if you look back at some of the older variations of characters it was different. I remember telling my niece, Joelle, what were Power Girl's powers and she answered "just like Supergirl" but I said, she used to have one distinctive advantage over Supergirl - men cannot look her in the eyes.

Yea, I remember that. They are talking about bringing back her older costume as a publicity move.

Oh, that's interesting. I mean I understand from a selling point but just look at when they tried to put pants on Wonder Woman. They wanted to make her less of a Barbie Doll character. The point is, thankfully, that comics are taking in to account their female readership, slowly. I've noticed our clientele has become a bit more diverse. It also doesn't hurt that there are some attempts to put a stronger female character on the big screen. Black Widow was in Iron Man 2 and Avengers; Wonder Woman will be in the new Superman / Batman movie. But it's hard to say that all the comics appeal to them. If they don't like what's out there though, I'm not sure what to say. I guess there is always manga, but I found when they Americanized it, they really ruined it.

How would you describe the phenomenon of comics going from newsstand items for kids to collector items worth millions of dollars?

I think it comes down to a lot of young people being affluent. There is a one percent, and of them, some of them are millionaires. They used to be old money but with the new dotcom generation there is this new breed of young millionaires. They aren't buying Monet's and bronze horses, that's what old money bought; new money buys their childhood. The new generation is buying up stuff from the 80's, stuff like Transformers and GI Joe. This is especially so if when they were growing up they didn't have those toys. I think that's the main reason - I mean these price jumps aren't being fueled by my clients. It's coming from this New York and California phenomenon, young stockbrokers or showbiz money.

I guess even some actors are responsible as well. You look at Nicholas Cage, who wants to be Superman (whether or not he was tapped for it was debatable) but he decides if he's going to be Superman he should own the first comic. So he just gives a guy a million dollars and says "go buy that for me".

Myles goes off to talk to some customers.

But yea, I don't think that. It makes me think of that recent episode of The Big Bang Theory, you know the one with Billy Bob Thorton?

The one where he likes Penny?

Yea, the one where he's an urologist - you know a pee-pee doctor. He's got the money and space to buy the merchandise. He has the disposable income to have this giant room of collectibles, and that's what you want. It's the people on Big Bang; these people have an enormous amount of disposable income for their hobbies. We used to say years ago: "I don't need to win the lottery; we just need our customers to win the lottery." That's the thing, the psychographic or demographic that are the most rabid interests or the most ravenous fans, usually have the least amount of income.

What would you say is your largest seller comic wise? Action figure wise? Merchandise wise?

I'm going to go with Batman. I won't say it's always been Batman, but right now with the New 52 relaunch from Scott Snyder, I'd say Batman. Just look at how many titles we have that feature Batman or one of his extended characters. His flagship book also has the highest single sale numbers. That's not including Batman trades, which also outsell even Spider-Man and Avengers. I'd say that even if you included all of the Avenger titles; New Avengers, Secret Avengers, Uncanny Avengers, All-New Avengers - all of them together don't pull what Batman does. I mean, it also didn't hurt that the last couple of movies were awesome. I guess the clothing line is a bit wanting, but that's mostly just due to licensing.

Would you say it's difficult for a comic publishing company to break in to the industry now that the majority of comics are published by the larger companies? (ie: DC, Marvel, Image, etc)

Oh absolutely. Just look at Valiant. They've tried to come back and they're just suffering. Then there was Dark Horse losing Star Wars when Disney bought Star Wars. It is very difficult for an independent company to break in to the industry nowadays.

One of Myles regulars, who he is friendly with comes in, Myles tells him he'll be free in a few minutes.

Based on things like the recent scandal of Milo Manara Spider-Woman cover, do you find that there is an inherent sexism in comic books?

What? I didn't see that one. Let me just check it out first.

We go over to his computer. Ben helps us pull up the picture on Google.

Hmm, I can see what they mean but I have to say, it's a variant cover. This won't be on the stands really and if they want we can always black bag it. I think my biggest issue would be that the angle of her head is impossible. I think it is being blown out of proportion. There was a similar title that had a similar pose - I think it was called The Ant?

Ben pulls up the cover on Google.

I mean, I think the cover is suggestive. I already said I don't think the head is anatomically correct but it is art. I think they could have done a lot worse with the angle but there is bigger issues. I think the root of the problem is, if you look at it, all of the female costumes are not spandex. They're basically just airbrushed paint. I mean no realistic person could have a costume like that - that's the biggest problem. I wouldn't really call this a huge controversy since I didn't hear about it and I'm usually aware of all this stuff.

We've had these situations where Americans are more obsessed with sex than violence, whereas Canadians are more obsessed with violence than sex. I think, for example, if she had been strung up or in like bondage, I think that would have been more offensive for us. Okay, I'll say that it's a non-controversy as far as Quebec is concerned.

It makes me think of the DC controversy of the redheaded teacher in one of their comics and the Denver shooting. There were no real parallels but DC immediately went out and said "oh we apologize, we didn't realize and we're going to withdraw the book for two weeks" How does that fix the problem? All it did was draw more attention. The same goes for the recent Harley Quinn suicide. They did it to draw attention to their own controversies, not because they feel apologetic but because they see it as free publicity.

I took more offense to the recent Archie Comics announcement - the gay marriage? They used to be so against what they're trying to promote now, after citing they did so to defend family values. Now? "Oh, oh look at my gay son. I support my gay son." Then they go on to claim that they had the first openly gay character - which I find offensive because they're trying to use it to get people to buy their stuff. It shouldn't be about how accepting they are to their gay son getting married. It should just be about his son getting married. The worst was that when Marvel had their big event where Northstar got married, Archie had to release a statement saying that they were the first. It just staggers me because six years back they were so against the idea. It's just ridiculous.

With the advent of digital comics and the problems of illegally downloading them, do you think the days of printed comics are numbered?

Oh yea. The thing is, only the collectability is maintaining our business versus the digital releases. There's also, like I mentioned the copyright law that says the digital version has to be sold for the same price as the physical copy. I think that the moment that changes or the moment when titles start being digitally exclusive, we're done. I mean the same goes for when they ever manage to get a price change. I also think we're going to start seeing higher standards of security for it. We'll start to see things like with garage door openers that use rolling frequencies. It'll be like 256bit or 512bit encryption that only work with WiFi. There will be nothing on your computer or tablet or whatever, you have to get the software and then view it online. Then it'll be that every time you open the comic or cartoon your code will change. It won't be a problem for the viewer, since the code change is done instantaneously but I think that's how they'll keep their property protected.

We'll see things like we do today, of course. You get people who immediately, as soon as they buy it, go out and crack it to share. But I mean, any company who can spare the time can easily search for torrents and start to track the IP addresses.

I'd say it's only a matter of time before we are put out of business. I mean I think the only reason we're still around is because they just haven't figured out how to apply that business model - but they will.

Moving forward, what do you plan to do to help attract more business from say people buying online?

I don't want to do like a movie release party; because I feel like party events don't make a lot of sense. I want to have more real events. I like the idea of Free Comic Book Day, but that's something that everyone does. I'd like to have some of our own events. I think that would help. They're none internet related experiences. I mean, I talked about this idea I had years ago that was inspired by C-Span TVs. You'd get like an actor who sits in front of a camera in a studio and could interact with someone else doing the same elsewhere. People from all over the country could ask questions and stuff, and then he would answer them. We could easily do the same thing nowadays. You could just get a screen set up.

Myles points to the back of the store.

You could do like Face Time, Skype or whatever and the guy would just do like a Q&A for an hour. I mean the only downside is that they can't sign anything but who knows what will happen with those new 3D printers.

Lastly, what's the best part about owning a comic store?

I'm trying to find a nice thing about (laughs). I've got to admit though, there are some things that when they come out, I get excited to own or sell. I mean, I like the look of One Piece, but I don't buy or sell One Piece, but I get a kick out of seeing those things in the merchandise. Some of the stuff can be cute, and some of the stuff... like the Machete Purse. I just got to laugh and say that it's fun. So, firstly, I'd say the merchandise is fun and secondly, I really enjoy when the customer appreciate the funness of the store. Years ago, when I was young, someone asked me what I wanted to do and I said "I want to own a toy store for adults" Now, there was Boutique Electronique, which was "Toys for Grownups" but that's not quite a toy store. High-tech audio equipment is fun, because you can appreciate it, but it's not quite the same. This stuff, this is toys from grownups. These are actual toys for grownups. I love it when people just come in and their jaws drop and are like "Oh my god".

With that we shook hands and I thanked Myles for his time. I spent a few moments wandering the store I had visited so many times before. It had been a great experience getting to know the mind of the man behind the store.

Capitaine Québec can be reached by Facebook or at (514)-939-9970. The store can be found at:

1837 Rue Sainte-Catherine Ouest

Montréal, Québec H3H 1M2

I would like to thank Myles Charon for his patience and time. I would also like to thank Ben for holding down the fort while I stole Myles away.

1 Comment

This question is problematic: What do you think the store stayed when compared to them?

Very interesting interview!

Also, it would be awesome if you put the scandalous Spider-man cover in since you are talking about it. It will keep the reader focused on what is being talked about.

Leave a comment