Cinema Pop-Ups as Comics Outreach

Spider-Man Homecoming poster, Marvel Films, 2017

Comic book sales professionals are stepping into the bleed. Pop-up shops have been mushrooming at cinemas in tandem with the release of comic book adaptations. Taking place on the weekend following release, shops have been taking their products to what should be huge prospective audiences.

Orbital Comics in London and Proud Lion Comics in Cheltenham (whose weekly newsletter alerted me to this extremely sensible-sounding practice) both plan to offer pop-up comics retail at cinemas showing Spider-Man Homecoming this Saturday, July 8th. Proud Lion will be repeating their event the Sunday after, in the neighbouring city of Gloucester.

Proud Lion shared the following when I inquired about the history of their partnership with the local–in their case very local, standing only a couple of hundred yards away–cinema:

We’ve been running pop-up shops at the local Cineworld when a compatible film opens for a little over a year now. We were invited to join them in April last year when Captain America: Civil War opened and we jumped at the chance.

Since then we’ve run pop-up shops for Suicide Squad, Doctor Strange, Rogue One, Cineworld’s IMAX Film Fest earlier this year and Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol 2. In the run up to GotGVol2, the Gloucester Cineworld also invited us to join them, so now we are popping up more than ever!

It’s a great way to showcase a focused selection of what we can offer to new customers and give our existing patrons a chance to chat with us after the movie, and possibly pick up a bargain. These time round we intend to offer reduced comics on a couple of recent key titles, plus a promotional offer (TBC) on Spidey graphic novels and two for £20 on Spidey POP! Vinyl. These offers will be announced [elsewhere] later this week.

We’ve also become a Cineworld Unlimited partner since doing these stalls, and now we offer Cineworld Unlimited cardholders a 10% discount on most items in store.

This is an intriguing thought. Screen adaptation of comic book material should largely reinforce the relevance and interest in the latter; an interest in comic book material should do the same, subsequently, for the continuing screen-viewer audience (this being the popular explanation for a dampening of the X-Men brand in Marvel’s comic output, a disinclination to effectively advertise the X-Men films, a Fox product).
Sharon Kinsella’s 2000 study of the manga market’s evolution creates a diagram of how screen realisation and page realisation can co-exist, be almost symbiotic. Manga and television, each providing adaptations of the other, hogged such a large percentage of the entertainment audience in the latter half of the twentieth century that the Japanese film industry was, economically and audience-wise, strangled. American film does not appear to be similarly endangered, but the point is that cooperative mediums are likely to do better than non-cooperative. Making comics a notable presence at cinematic events seems as sensible a marketing strategy as any I can think of; making comic shops, brick and mortar small businesses, present and even a little glamorous is a similarly attractive idea.

Pop-up team-ups between comic shop and film shop seem well trodden into the American retail scene, but this is the first I’ve heard of it in Britain.
Valerian and Laureline, by writer Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Mézières
Valerian and Laureline, by writer Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Mézières

But what is a “comic book film” then? What gets and what should get the framing of relevant to the graphic novel, the monthly issue, the comic book culture? “Not Rogue One,” you might think for a second, but you’d be wrong of course.

Unfortunately, unsurprisingly, economics rule this roost. Whilst Proud Lion pop-ups can be expected at Thor Ragnarok, Justice League, and Star Wars: The Last Jedi, they’re unlikely to be seen offering crowds keen to see Delevingne’s star turn in Valerian big stacks of Valérian and Laureline collections on the first weekend of August. And they won’t be out for Kingsman 2. Why? Because, in the squattest explanation possible, all there is is comics. Or, in the words of Proud Lion, “It tends to depend on the variety of crossover product we can offer for sale.”

Cinebook have put out some gorgeous Valérian and Laureline books (there was a Free Comic Book Day excerpt released as marketing for the Besson film, as well), both in individual arcs and in nice hefty compendiums, but beyond that there just isn’t much to gamble on. Funko promised vinyl POP! figures for the cinematic versions of these characters back in April, with a release scheduled for June; it’s July and none of these appear on the shop website. Kingsman, likewise, is unfunk’d. A figure is a much easier sell than a comic, to the viewer who loved the film but is afraid of failing with the unfamiliar format. Funkos, disturbing as they are, are a necessary bridging agent between the sensed “them” and “us” of comic book readers and comic book neophytes. And I suspect quite a number of comic shops regard their creepy, stare-filled cuboid packaging as reliable bricks in an unreliable wall. No slight to the business that knows its limits and judges its chances to market itself and its products to best effect– it’s simply a shame to see how impactful a Funko gap can be on a property’s ability to build itself a well-connected media web.
However, discussing how one business can help or hinder another, it’s encouraging to see that Cineworld seem to be doing their best to feed the proliferation of comic book events at their cinemas. Both Orbital and Proud Lion’s partnerships are with Cineworld destinations; as Cineworld is the second largest cinema operator in Europe it’s easy to imagine the idea taking off and making changes, actually starting to actively funnel readership into comics every time a new “comic book film” comes out. Is this a coincidental thing, two (now three) local cinemas deciding to stage events with local businesses? Or is Cineworld Corporate aiming for the pan-media cooperative utopia we all dream of? I’m trying to find out. I’m also thinking things like “wouldn’t it be smart for studios to release Free Comic Book Day style give-away issues specifically for events like this one?” Could that be on the cards in the near future? Let’s hope so.
In the meanwhile, enjoy your weekend, and if Spider-Man Homecoming isn’t accompanied by a comic book pop-up, ask the manager how come. Maybe you’ll change things, who knows?
Claire Napier

Claire Napier

Critic, ex-Editor in Chief at WWAC, independent comics editor; the rock that drops on your head. Find me at and give me lots of money