“’Give’ is viral. It’s passed from one person to another person to another person. ‘Free’ is selfish. ‘Give’ is selfless.” – Jud Meyers
In a conversation at the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, some of the winners discussed the most powerful words in retail, sale, industry, and so on. Many of them agreed that the top word would be “free,” but one among them disagreed. Jud Meyers, owner of Blastoff Comics in the NoHo Arts District, continues to argue that the most powerful word is “give.” As a 2007 Eisner Winner himself, it would be hard enough to disagree, but then add on his net profits in the last few years, and it seems impossible. Jud opened Blastoff Comics only about four years ago, but the store is already two years ahead of his original business model. Before he had started the venture, his accountant was shocked and advised him against his plans. Now, after giving away more in the past four years than he ever had in his life, he has also made more in that time than he ever had in the retail business that came before. He embodies capitalist success, but with the foundations more akin to a charity. To learn more about his reasoning behind starting a retail business that is actually a charitable operation, and his huge success in the project, we speak to Jud himself.
Why do choose to donate so much of your profit?
“It’s everything I always wanted to, everything I always wanted to be.” Jud says. He uses an analogy of how a house is built to further describe why he made his business model this way. “You put the floor in first, otherwise you never do it. It’s the same in business; whatever you want it to be, you start with the floor. The foundation.” Surprisingly, he continues by saying, “I am absolutely a selfish person. Absolutely. I want that feeling. I crave it. It’s peace of mind.”
The “feeling” he refers to is a mixture of pride and what he simply calls “good.” Jud uses this model of business because he believes it’s what all stores should do, as well as all people. He thinks of retail as a representative of the community, and claims that it has a responsibility to uphold and promote good values. As a comic book fan, he also relates these ideas of upstanding morals to the deeds of superheroes, and the founding principles of comics themselves.
How do you remain successful when you donate a percentage of each comic you sell?
Here, we come back to his opening statement, “Give is viral.” Jud explains that Blastoff is a profitable company because it is a charitable one. “People don’t come here because I’ve got the best prices. Amazon is 40% off! I get my stuff from Amazon.” He laughs. “People come here because of the difference. It goes somewhere good.”
While you have a link on your website, you do not broadcast your charitable contributions in the store. Why not?
“There’s a fine line between transparency and promoting oneself,” Jud says. This means that ultimately, he wants the donations to be about that: donating. While Jud says he supports promoting an idea, such as Gap’s RED campaign, he is humble and does not emphasize himself on Blastoff Comic’s Charity Projects page. In fact, his yearly excursions to soup kitchens, hospitals, and libraries for the sake of spreading the good of comics, as well that of food, clothes, and other necessities, are mainly discovered through word-of-mouth. Jud happily tells the story of an older man donating comics in a shoebox “because he heard we give them to kids in hospitals.”
What charities do you donate to?
“The Los Angeles Children’s Hospital, the USC Children’s Hospital, the Safe Reading Room, which is part of City of Hope, the Penny Lane Youth Foundation, and tons more. There are 28 total. We also sponsor 12 kids in ten different countries.” Jud connects with several international organizations to donate money to children, as well as to be a pen-pal to them. “I want to send them comics,” Jud laments. “I can’t send product to different countries, because of international waters and regulations. Stuff disappears, it’s held; if it’s plastic, it could be explosive.”
In an effort to get at least some comics to a small town of children abroad, Jud is attempting to send a shipping container full of comics to a township in Kenya. He has experienced incredible difficulties due to the changing hands of the international organization he is working with, and he lost several tens of thousands of dollars over the course of the project. In spite all of these challenges, he still has high hopes and goals. “You have to say ‘yes’ to things like that, as a small business.” He feels that comic book stores have a responsibility to promote the values of comics and to make them more well-known.
What are your future plans for Blastoff Comics?
“Comics have a clear idea of doing good. I’m striving to do that as well.” Jud plans to continue with his current business model, as he foresees great success, and he will likely expand in the future. He has already built up two different stores, made them profitable, and sold them, and Blastoff Comics may see the same fate. But Jud will always be involved in the business, through his love of comics and his passion for helping people.
Jud Meyers | Blastoff Comics, 5118 Lankershim Blvd, North Hollywood, CA, USA, +1 (818) 980-2665
By Summer Powers