Over the last few days, quite a few stories have been making the rounds that seemed to foretell the death of the pamphlet as a viable form of storytelling. First there was SLG’s Jennifer De Guzman’s blunt declaration that they are not looking to publish new series:
Another tip, but it’s not on the list since it’s not a particular prejudice of mine, just a reflection of the current state of the market: Don’t tell us about “issues.” We’re just not very interested in series right now. If you take a look at what we are currently publishing, there are only two creator-owned comics still being published as a series–Nightmares and Fairy Tales (which is ending at issue #23) and Rex Libris.
Next came the stunning news that Love and Rockets would no longer be published as a comics periodical, but was becoming a big thick annual for Volume 3.
“This new format will allow the Bros. to present longer stories without having to chop them down into bite-size pieces,” said Fantagraphics publisher Gary Groth. “In today’s graphic novel-oriented world, readers (and cartoonists) are increasingly impatient with this sort of serialization, especially in the case of L&R where, because of the split nature of the book, each artist has only 15 pages.”
Throw in retailer carping about delays in Marvel’s new Spider-man story, general bitching about DC’s Countdown-centric offerings, and you have a picture of the pamphlet in decline, right?
Well, not so fast. This month’s sales numbers from ICv2 showed that pamphlet sales were up 20% from last year at this time.
Based on sales of the Top 300 comics, comic sales by Diamond to comic stores in October were up 20% over October 2006. Graphic novels (based on sales of the Top 100) were up a more modest 6%, bringing the total growth rate for the month to 17% vs. October 2006.
The first link attributed this not to a couple of blockbusters at the top of the chart, but core strength in the middle:
For example, Kong, King of Skull Island #0, the #300 title in October 2007, sold more than twice as many copies as the second month sales of Civil War: X-Men #3, the #300 title in October, 2006. In fact, you had to go up 64 ranks, to the #236 title in 2006, to match the sales of the 2007 title. The growth rate halfway up the list, at #150, was not as rapid, but was still a whopping 63%. The effect did not disappear until around the 25th title, where the 2006 title was above the 2007 title.
What the fuck! Comics have been doing Pilates!
So what’s going on? The usual pundits were flummoxed and floundered to explain what had happened. Dirk rarely has anything good to say about mainstream comics, and this was no exception:
More importantly, though, is the lack of overhyped, universe-spanning miniseries — World War Hulk simply hasn’t inspired the cross-promotional sales boost that Marvel enjoyed during its Civil War campaign this time last year.
Which might be plausible except for all the DC tie-ins and mini series on the list.
Tom went round and round with an approach to detection more reminiscent of Columbo than CSI :
But really, at that point, I’m sort of making stuff up.
[We suggest reading both entries rather than relying on our own interpretations.]
So what’s our floundering answer? We’re as surprised as anyone given that only a few weeks ago we were talking with some respected retailers who assured us that the market was softening, and DC’s future, in particular looks chaotic and unfocused.
The answer is two-fold. #1, as much as a lot of people hate to admit it, all the mid-level stunting at both Marvel and DC has an audience, and all the bitching and whining on message boards is just that — the people who enjoy this stuff tend to buy it, read it and not post on message boards.
#2 — the solid middle ground for genre-oriented pamphlets has been gaining strength in recent years. (Remember, the actual numbers we’re dealing with are a few thousand copies at most — that’s all it take to move up the middle of the charts.) Dark Horse is getting solid numbers on Conan, and Star Wars, spectacular numbers on Buffy. Dynamite has several books staying level, variant covers or no. IDW’s licensed books are doing okay. Even Avatar sold over 10K of a Warren Ellis book. (How much variant covers had to do with that, I’ll let Marc-Oliver explain.) This shift obviously isn’t helping Fantagraphics or SLG sell series, but (and this is going to get some big brackbats thrown at me but I’ll say it any way) their best cartoonists aren’t really interested in regular periodicals any more. Love and Rockets might have been the last indie titan to come out on anything like a regular basis.
But there are other factors. The sales uptick could also be explained by the increase in actual comics shops that’s been taking place over the last couple of years or so, but we’d have to get more hard numbers from Diamond to really back that up.
Our final suspicion is just that the “I want it Wednesday Brigade” has surprising tenacity. New Comic Book Day is a social event for people, a break from the work week. Personally, The Beat is no more caught up in this idea than we are in reading comics in .cbz format, but anyone who denies that it exists is foolish. The very extent of “Wednesday review blogging” is proof of this.
Which doesn’t mean that graphic novels and webcomics aren’t our preferred medium of choice for the future. Maybe this was a one time fluke. Or maybe the market is opening up a bit to genre material that isn’t published by Marvel and DC. Developing.