After yesterday’s gloom parade over the economics of comics, and the small number of people who seem to be making a good wage from making them, writer Kieron Gillen delivered another set of metrics that was far more cheerful. He wrote it in response to a website’s concern trolling over sales of The Wicked + The Divine—a much loved series which Gillen writes and Image publishes—falling to the dangerous level of 22,519 copies, a level so low that the writer wondered if this was the end of the book…before admitting that it probably wasn’t.
As Gillen points out, numbers for a creator owned Image book are a lot different than for a Marvel or DC book, where such a number would be in the danger zone. Actually, that number would indicate that Gillen and his collaborator Jamie McKelvie could possibly buy me a beer at some point.
I’ll give you some really basic rule of thumbs for indie comic commentary:
Anything selling stably over 10k in single issues is a cause for celebration and joy. The creators are almost certainly extremely happy.
If you’re selling over (ooh) 12k, you’re probably making more than either of the big two would pay you, unless you’re one of the very biggest names.
If you’re selling anything near 20k, you probably have to buy drinks for your friends.
And in a real way, if Phonogram settled around 6k back in 2006, I suspect Jamie and I would have settled into doing it for another 40 or 50 issues.
There’s all manner of exceptions to the above, but if you look at the charts and bear that in mind, you’ll be closer to how the industry looks at those numbers.
None of the above includes digital sales.
As he goes on to enumerate, if you’re not including sales of TRADE PAPERBACK COLLECTIONS in the indie equation you are missing a huge income source:
None of the above include trades. You throw trades in, and you change everything entirely. A cursory look at hit indie comic numbers reveals that their trades sell much more than Marvel/DC main universe trades, with a few exceptions (There’s a reason why Matt and David’s Hawkeye was such a big thing, and it wasn’t its monthly sales). Let’s bold another sentence.
You cannot do an industry commentary column on indie books without including the impact of trades.
Jim Zub wrote a lot about all this a while ago, and updated it with numbers similar to Gillen’s. At the breakeven-ish point for an Image comics (let’s say ~5000 copes) the creative team gets 25% of the profits, which on a $3.99 would be about a buck, the ballpark I’ve often heard for Image books. it’s only that, a ballpark, but it does give you some idea. A book selling $10k a month is making money.
And how many Image books are selling that? Well, ICv2’s numbers just came out so let’s take a look!
|WALKING DEAD #141 (MR)||$2.99||IMA||68,931|
|SAGA #28 (MR)||$2.99||IMA||55,239|
|INJECTION #1 (MR)||$2.99||IMA||41,648|
|WYTCHES #6 (MR)||$3.99||IMA||34,259|
|DESCENDER #3 (MR)||$2.99||IMA||29,717|
|MYTHIC #1 [*]||$1.99||IMA||29,361|
|OUTCAST BY KIRKMAN & AZACETA #9 (MR)||$2.99||IMA||28,961|
|CHRONONAUTS #3 (MR)||$3.50||IMA||26,605|
|JUPITERS CIRCLE #2 (MR)||$3.50||IMA||24,499|
|EAST OF WEST #19||$3.50||IMA||22,482|
|FADE OUT #6 (MR)||$3.50||IMA||20,678|
|WICKED & DIVINE #10 (MR)||$3.50||IMA||20,562|
|SONS OF THE DEVIL #1 (MR) [*]||$2.99||IMA||19,392|
|BLACK SCIENCE #14 (MR)||$3.50||IMA||17,090|
|SPAWN #252 (MR)||$2.99||IMA||15,904|
|TREES #9 (MR)||$2.99||IMA||15,821|
|RUNLOVEKILL #2 (MR)||$2.99||IMA||15,669|
|MANTLE #1 (MR)||$3.99||IMA||13,076|
|ODYC #5 (MR)||$3.99||IMA||12,557|
|DEADLY CLASS #13 (MR)||$3.50||IMA||12,299|
|MATERIAL #1 (MR)||$3.50||IMA||11,708|
|NAILBITER #12 (MR)||$2.99||IMA||10,688|
|VALHALLA MAD #1||$3.50||IMA||9,952|
Answer: 27. Okay now you know who can buy you a drink!
On a more serious note, most of the books in the above list sell for $2.99 or $3.50, so there is less to split between writer and artist, letters, colorists and designers have to be paid, etc etc. And also, the ICV2 estimates are just that…estimates, and consistently about 10% low, although there can be other discrepancies, so you shouldn’t take any of these numebrs as gospel, especially the trade sales—total sales are VERY different from the ICv2 numbers, which don’t take bookstores, some online sales, digital, library, book fair or many other numbers into account.
And were still not talking an insane amount of money. Let’s say a book sells 10,000 copies and makes $7500 for the creators. That’s $90,000 a year to be split among the team, so you need another income course for a vacation or retirement.
But still, you CAN make money making comics!!! I suppose I shouldn’t encourage people after yesterday’s dismal reality check; but I think my being in a band analogy stands. It’s better to have made comics or music than never to have tried at all. Most people in every creative endeavor are never going to reach the highest highs, and comics are no exception.
What is concerning is, as I’ve often pointed out, the comics bottom line is a lot lower than in other vocations. There was a pretty lively Twitter conversation yesterday about my piece and especially David Harper’s survey; I’m not sure I have the storify skills to capture it but it came down to people accepting low rates because they are so eager to get into comics and undercutting other creators.
And also, there’s a fairly narrow window in which to make decent money when you do get there. Scott Snyder may make more from Wytches than he does from Batman, but Image is only one publisher, and as hot as they are, they can’t publish everything. (Although we’ll see after this year’s Image Expo.) Image is the best game in town but it has finite resources. Marvel and DC offer good page rates—although Marvel lowered theirs for all but their top creators last year—but the competition is fierce, the politics are daunting and getting established takes a lot of hard work.
Nobody promised you fame and fortune when you got out of cartooning school, but you should have some path forward that doesn’t involve only three publishers or sleeping three hours a night.We need more options, more competition among publishers, and more safety for creators to make decisions that improve their page rates.
More on that later but in the meantime, what do YOU think?
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.