Yes, much like the annual tradition of looking at last year’s sales lists, it’s time for another annual tradition: scratching your head and wondering why Marvel does so well selling monthly comics but is a failure in the graphic novel/trade paperback category (relative to their monthly sales).
Diamond released its list of the 500 top selling graphic novels. I pulled out Marvel’s top 25. Honestly, it’s debatable whether or not their best selling (through Diamond, anyway) graphic novel is actually a graphic novel. At $7.99, Thanos Quest is the same price as Amazing Spider-Man #700. But here’s Marvel’s top 25 for the Direct Market/Diamond. The number preceding the title is the sales rank for the year in the Diamond sales hierarchy.
31 THANOS QUEST #1
47 KICK-ASS 2 PREM HC (MR)
48 CIVIL WAR TP
53 INFINITY GAUNTLET TP
72 DEADPOOL KILLS MARVEL UNIVERSE TP
80 FEAR ITSELF PREM HC
87 UNCANNY X-FORCE TP VOL 02 DEATHLOK NATION
91 DAREDEVIL BY MARK WAID TP VOL 01
94 AVENGERS VS X-MEN HC
101 WOLVERINE OLD MAN LOGAN TP
111 UNCANNY X-FORCE TP VOL 01 APOCALYPSE SOLUTION
119 UNCANNY X-FORCE TP VOL 03 DARK ANGEL SAGA BOOK 01
131 SECRET INVASION TP
134 VENOM BY RICK REMENDER TP VOL 01
143 X-MEN SEASON ONE PREM HC WITH DIG CDE
147 AVENGERS VS X-MEN ITS COMING TP
155 FEAR ITSELF TP
156 FANTASTIC FOUR SEASON ONE PREM HC WITH FR DIG CDE
165 SPIDER-MAN SEASON ONE PREM HC WITH DIG CDE
166 UNCANNY X-FORCE TP VOL 04 DARK ANGEL SAGA BOOK 2
172 HULK SEASON ONE PREM HC
182 ULT COMICS SPIDER-MAN BY BENDIS TP VOL 01
186 KICK-ASS TP (MR)
196 DEADPOOL TP VOL 08 OPERATION ANNIHILATION
200 AVENGERS CHILDRENS CRUSADE HC
What’s the trend here? Three things.
1) Mark Millar comics. His Icon, creator-owned Kick-Ass and Kick-Ass 2. Civil War still sells better than any Marvel universe graphic novel with current material and Kick-Ass 2 sold better than Civil War. Old Man Logan was the #10 Marvel tpb in 2012, so Millar may be Marvel’s answer to Alan Moore when it comes to the book market. In terms of annual sales, Civil War seems to be Marvel’s equivalent of Watchmen.
2) Self-contained titles. That is to say, collections of comics that weren’t part of an Event cross-over. There are 3 volumes of X-Force, one of Daredevil, Old Man Logan is self-contained. The “Season one” line shows up high.
3) Core “event” titles. Civil War. Secret Invasion. Fear Itself. Avengers Vs. X-Men. I’m not sure whether you’d call Children’s Crusade a self-contained book (it was… to an extent) or a core event book (as unannounced lead-in to AVX… although it’s interesting that the official lead-in, Avengers X-Sanction, is all the way down at #354 on the list).
What are we not seeing? The collections supporting the Events. Where are Iron Man: Fear Itself and all those titles? Where are all the Avengers and X-Men titles that are so integral to the “universe” part of all the cross-overs? They’re not there.
It seems clear that readers will show up for the big events, but could care less about the supporting crossovers in book form. Can you really blame them? The supporting issues of Avengers, Spider-Man and so forth take place between the issues of the actual Event, so either you need to integrate them into the collected edition or the reading experience is going to be drastically different. (Here’s how convoluted the Secret Invasion experience is when you try and read the expanded universe in book form, for an example.)
Marvel might be taking a break from the approach with Marvel Now. We’ll have to see how that plays out the rest of the year. If they keep the new book editions as independent story units, things may improve.
Rick Remender seems to be Millar junior on this list, with the first volume of his Venom series (and that volume is better than you might expect for a Venom comic) joining those X-Force volumes. Speaking of those X-Force volumes, there might be more of them if they were consistently in print. Marvel’s making more of an effort these days, but things still fall out of print.
Finally, there’s Deadpool again. Two titles in Marvel’s top 25 for the books. Deadpool Kills the Marvel Universe is their best seller, in terms of current/new content (that isn’t an Icon title), coming in at #72 overall. IIRC, Deadpool will also show up on the Bookscan lists, so there’s a reason Marvel has so many Deadpool comics, despite what the monthly numbers look like.
That’s the state of Marvel’s Diamond accounts as Diamond reports them, so unless a lot of retailers have been using Baker & Taylor for their Marvel graphic novels, that’s how it was in 2012.
Todd Allen wears a lot of hats. At various times he’s been (alphabetically), a bouncer, college professor, humor columnist, Internet producer and an NBA/WNBA Beat Writer, among other things. He’s the author of Economics of Digital Comics. You should probably read it.