The unthinkable has happened, and an American-produced graphic novel has topped the BookScan chart, ICv2 reports. In fact, in a breathtaking comeback for the home team, no less than 10 — that’s TEN — of the top 20 graphic novels on BookScan for July were Occidental comics, and an additional volume — IN ODD WE TRUST by Dean Koontz and Queenie Chan — was an OEL manga, making the majority of the top 20 non-Japanese manga. Here’s the whole list:

1. WATCHMEN
2. NARUTO VOL. 30
3. FRUITS BASKET VOL. 20
4. BATMAN: THE KILLING JOKE
5. NARUTO VOL. 29
6. Y: THE LAST MAN VOL. 10
7. IN ODD WE TRUST
8. BATMAN: THE LONG HALLOWEEN
9. NARUTO VOL. 28
10. WANTED
11. BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS
12. CHIBI VAMPIRE VOL. 9
13. BATMAN: YEAR ONE
14. BLEACH VOL. 23
15. DEATH NOTE VOL. 1
16. ALL-STAR BATMAN & ROBIN, THE BOY WONDER VOL. 1
17. THE WALKING DEAD VOL. 8
18. KINGDOM HEARTS II VOL. 2
19. DEATH NOTE VOL. 2
20. MARVEL ZOMBIES 2


The list was led by WATCHMEN, of course, but Batman books obviously fared well in the wake of THE DARK KNIGHT juggernaut, and WANTED also charted. Even non-movie related American comics did well.

Truly, a month to be savored.

PS: While we were writing this post, we realized that there is no single word for “non-manga” comics, is there? Calling WATCHMEN American when it was made by two Brits seems wrong. What to call them, then?

UPDATE: In the comments, Marvel’s Jim McCann points out that this is not the first American comic to top the list — last December, Stephen King’s DARK TOWER topped the list.

1 COMMENT

  1. Unfortunately, Shannon, I’m sure most of the people who picked up ASBaR are the film-induced strain of Frank Miller fans, and will think it’s OMG AWESOME.

  2. Let’s make this even more confusing… Is Kingdom Hearts American? If not, what about all the classic Disney comics produced in Europe and Brazil? W.I.T.C.H.?

    #1? Well, DC still says that “The Death of Superman” is still their top seller (although Watchmen is gaining). Is there historical data available to check? How long has PW been tracking GN BS?

    And, given the various permutations of Batman in mainstream media, most readers of All-Star Batman will think nothing of it. I didn’t have any trouble selling Superman: Red Son to non-comicbook readers. (Actually, it was quite easy… “What if Superman’s rocket ship landed in Soviet Russia instead of Kansas?”)

  3. Hey Torsten,

    Kingdom Hearts is a Japanese comic from Kodansha reprinted (in translation) by TokyoPop here in the U.S. (I’m not sure where the video game itself was born, however).

  4. My headline would simply be “DC Comics Triumphant in GN Sales” rather than using national/area/linguistic categories.

  5. “Kingdom Hearts is a Japanese comic from Kodansha reprinted (in translation) by TokyoPop here in the U.S. (I’m not sure where the video game itself was born, however).”

    Japan. It was published by Square Enix, and directed by Tetsuya Nomura, who also did the character designs.

    Now, as for who had the original idea, Square or Disney… that’s a very good question.

  6. Geez, Heidi, xenophobic much? I mean, I want American comics to survive and thrive, but I’m not rooting against any other country’s comics.

    And I think it’s wonderful DC’s 2 top selling books are 20 year old books written by a guy who personally hates Levitz & company. Meanwhile, Masashi Kishimoto still works with Shueisha, so epic fail there, guys!

    Manga is still kicking American ass!

  7. IMO, the nationality of the publisher is more important than the nationality/nationalities of the creators as far as labeling is concerned. An American publisher will be marketing the book primarily to American readers, so one can make some assumptions about the content.

    As for terminology, I believe that “non-manga” is a popular way of referring to non-manga comics.

    SRS

  8. “Unfortunately, Shannon, I’m sure most of the people who picked up ASBaR are the film-induced strain of Frank Miller fans, and will think it’s OMG AWESOME.”

    Well, it is.

  9. Over at an anime news site, I was commenting that it was nice to see an American book sell well in America. I said it was worrying to see imports outselling the domestic. Well, that didn’t go too well. One manga fan said I was a “patriofacist”. Adorable. (Oops. They since deleted the comments, but it was cute while it lasted.)

  10. Kenny, I’m just having some fun. Manga’s domination of the sales charts clearly reflects a need that Occidental comics aren’t meeting.

  11. Actually, to not be glib for a moment (which is difficult for me), why is nationality important at all? Shouldn’t content rule? I’m not sure why it should be worrying that imports are outselling domestics and I’m not sure why it matters the nationality of a publisher vs. the nationality of the creators. Nationalism seems like such an outdated concept (even if its just nationalism as applied to cultural artifacts).

    What I love is Good Comics. I don’t care whether they are black and white or colour, whether they are indie or mainstream or underground, whether they are print or web, whether they are American or Japanese or French. Those are all categories that seem to be in place to prevent me from finding and enjoying Good Comics. Comics are comics are comics. And if comics are Good Comics, then why should I care about something as trivial as from which side of an arbitrary geographical boundary a comic arrives?

  12. Ah… so comics featuring American characters produced for other markets (for example, all new classic Disney stories which are published first in Europe or South America) are not American comics?
    Superman: True Brit was written by an Englishman, drawn by an AngloCanadian, created by a Canadian and an American who were both Jewish, featuring an extraterrestrial humanoid. So…?!
    And there’s that One World manga that theUnited Nations sponsored…
    and as I punch this in on my japanese-made cellphone, a Sudanese athlete will be carrying the United States flag into the Olympic Stadium in Beijing.

  13. “Actually, to not be glib for a moment (which is difficult for me), why is nationality important at all? Shouldn’t content rule?”

    It matters because a country really ought to have its own healthy pop culture. If your local output can’t even compete with imports designed for a different cultural context altogether, then you’re doing something horribly wrong. American comics ought to have a massive advantage of greater cultural resonance with the audience. Their failure to compete effectively with manga has reflected very badly on them.

  14. It’s desirable, as a matter of cultural pride, to have domestic publishers be forces in the comics marketplace. One would think that American publishers would have sufficient business acumen to recruit writers and artists, and market the resulting material sufficiently well, to satisfy the demand. What would one think if most music recordings were produced by foreign labels, or if most movies shown here were produced by foreign studios? If you look at the market for classical music recordings, you’ll find that foreign labels are a large percentage of the U.S. market; there’s also been concern for years about a decline in the audience for classical music, live and recorded (there’s also a decline in the number of music education programs in schools).

    It’s not that manga published and created by foreigners is bad, but that having the comics market dominated by foreign producers indicates that reading comic books is an acquired taste.

    SRS

  15. Well, since the majority of the world is foreign, doesn’t it stand to reason that the majority of valuable cultural produce should, in a perfect world, reflect that? Even if we pare down our viable populace in the discussion to those producing comics, areas like Japan easily out-produce markets like America, so it shouldn’t be that surprising that their product would out-sell American product.

    I’m not sure how much cultural pride has to do with geography. Back in the days before the shrinking of the globe (via the printing press and then radio and then recorded music and then film and then television and then internet), cultures were more defined by locale, by nationality. But isn’t that becoming less and less the case.

    As per our discussion here, my cultural attachment would be comics and I garner cultural pride when I encounter Good Comics. Domesticity has nothing to do with that. I don’t feel any more necessary connection to a work if a creator hails from Orange County (where I live) than if he calls Tibet his home—so long as the work from Tibet is good and translated. And I think the Bookscan numbers demonstrate that this is the case with a growing number of readers. The top five are all foreign creations.

    And it’s not even necessarily a question of marketing—though marketing obviously affects which works will be most readily viewable—but more that people who want Good Comics are able to find them. Still, as we aren’t living in a perfect world, there are those who do create artificial boundaries for themselves, applying filters beyond simply asking for quality. There are those who only purchase “manga.” Or only Big Two. Or only Euro. Or only indie. Or only indie plus non-superhero Big Two. That’s fine in the sense that they certainly have the liberty to construct those barriers for themselves, but how freer would their lives be were they able to remove artificial barriers like genre and nationality and domesticity.

    This, essentially, is why I call manga comics. Because the only thing that manga actually defines is country of origin. And that’s just not a worthwhile distinction in this age. Or it shouldn’t be.

  16. “Well, since the majority of the world is foreign, doesn’t it stand to reason that the majority of valuable cultural produce should, in a perfect world, reflect that?”

    If the only criteria was “is it any good”, then yes. But there is plenty of very good material from around the world that is, quite understandably, of little or no interest to Americans because it deals with local concerns of the place of origin. (Observational comedy, for example, travels particularly badly.) And equally, there is plenty of not-so-good material from America which is understandably interesting to Americans because it deals with issues they care about it.

    The arts don’t (or shouldn’t) exist solely, or even primarily, as a means for people to show off their skill levels. They are part of the way in which a society talks to itself.

  17. @Paul

    However, comics(western and Manga) are all just one part of American arts, entertainment and culture. Movies, Television and Novels in the US are dominated by American products. And I would imagine that American Movies make up a substantial percentage of many foreign movie markets.

    Of course your point still stands where comics are concerned.

  18. Fair enough, Paul. Those examples make sense to me. And I agree that the arts shouldn’t exist even primarily to demonstrate mastery of form, but that intercommunication is probably key. So, in that sense, it’s possible that the very best comic ever written would be of no interest to anyone outside a particularly niched community.

    So maybe what we’re talking about with many of the comics that we import from Japan is that they speak more in universally accessible terms to the human condition than do many American comics. Super heroes certainly render comics inaccessible (in a sense) to many Americans—though I’m not sure that boy ninjas or girls that stay with totemic families are much more accessible). Still, it may be that a larger population might relate to Naruto (despite his being a ninja with essentially super-heroic powers) than with Peter Parker who dresses in colourful long underwear. I don’t know; maybe that’s not the case at all.

    I do think we’re at a kind of a crossroads, where we have the opportunity to either broaden the boundaries of “our” society or entrench into familiar national/sub-national patterns. For all the talk of global society and internationalism, we very much have the opportunity to stem that and to promote locality over universality. I suppose it’s just a matter of which direction we wish to move. I personally prefer universality to locality, but I have friends who deeply mourn the loss of the local scene, believing the loss of that kind of culture detrimental to society broadly.

  19. “I personally prefer universality to locality, but I have friends who deeply mourn the loss of the local scene, believing the loss of that kind of culture detrimental to society broadly.”

    And yet with the advent of the internet and webcasting, the local scene is now “on stage” to the rest of the world to enjoy as well.

  20. I used to love manga, but frankly, I am sick to death of big eyes, panty shots, girly comics about wimps masquerading as GRRRL POWER, sick violence porn, and stupid slash porn. It seems like the quality manga barely sells at all and rarely gets imported.

    For depth, content, and narrative, the best of Western comics interest me more these days. There, I said it aloud. I would rather read Watchmen than Nana. Or I prefer to read anything by Warren Ellis and Los Bros. Hernandez, for that matter. I still love Tezuka, I still love Ikeda, but I want more meat these days. And some narrative density. Maybe I have just outgrown most of the imported manga. I am now reading only two. I used to read dozens. And at ten bucks a pop, to stick with a series to conclusion costs hundreds of bucks just to read ONE STORY! Sorry, I have to pay my health insurance. I do not need every volume of Maison Ikkoku. I pay $20, and I get a far better tale in one shot with Watchmen.

    Kenny will rage about xenophobia in 5-4-3-2…Even when manga doesn’t sell the best, it still RULEZ because Alan Moore doesn’t work at DC anymore!!! ROCK ON!

    The analysis of the sales of comics versus manga rarely takes the direct market into consideration. Do those sales not count? Isn’t it a fact that a monthly X-Men comic moving 100,000 copies per month is pretty much outselling almost every GN on Bookscan? And since most manga are not printed in comic pamphlet form because they don’t sell well in pamphlet form, is this not notable? Do only trade bookstore numbers matter? I realize the post is about Bookscan, but there is a lot those Bookscan numbers do not tell about sales.

  21. Who cares where the art is from so long as it connects with the viewer and inspires her or him to produce something which continues that conversation?
    Cultures influence other cultures. The Romans borrow from the Greeks who borrow from the Egyptians. African tribal rhythms mix with European music which inspire the British Invasion of American Rock ‘n Roll.
    American Industry knows how to innovate,but it also knows how to exploit and to assimilate. Comics especially. Westerns popular? Flood the market. Oh, now romance comics are selling…
    Soon, we’ll figure out the Japanese market and license comics to them. And the world keeps on spinning and wobbling.

  22. I think the real question is being totally overlooked.
    What is wrong with comics produced in America that causes them not to be able to compete with other comics from around the world especially those from Japan?
    It is this question that fuels the relief of knowing that a few graphic novels have snuck into the top ten even though they have done so primarily on the merit of their presence in film.
    Getting a few books to perform allows us to believe that everything is OK with comics in America but deep down we know this is a false sense of security. Just look at the current sales figures of Marvel and DC on a month to month basis. Where have the readers of American, Western, Occidental comics gone? They’ve been chased away by our publishers writers and artists alike that no longer know how to produce comics that relate to the popular market and when they do, have no handle on how to get that product into the hands of consumers. The superhero comic in America has imploded on itself and is so narcissistic in almost every aspect of the medium that it finds itself not only unable to reach the readers of popular culture, but alienating its own national culture to the point that those readers would prefer comics from other cultures.
    There was a time when what made comics vibrant in America was that they “spoke” to the generation they were written to even though they were not considered sophisticated literature by any stretch they always tickled the imagination of readers.
    Young readers have long been intentionally forgotten so comics could finally be detached from the stigma of being “for kids.” With them, a generation of readers of comics has been lost.
    Many of us grew up on those “kid comics” to mature into more sophisticated comic readers. Let’s give todays children that opportunity. They will read it if they like it. Captain Underpants is widely read, has a strong comic book theme, and is sold in almost every school in America but I bet you will not find anything like it in any comic shop. American publishers need to put the Pop! back into comics if they intend to remain vital to Pop Culture.

  23. “What is wrong with comics produced in America that causes them not to be able to compete with other comics from around the world especially those from Japan?”

    There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with them. The TV series Firefly failed in the marketplace. Does that mean there was something wrong with it?

    The history of entertainment is littered with examples of material that is good — absolutely nothing wrong with it — yet fails to gain traction.

    “a country really ought to have its own healthy pop culture. If your local output can’t even compete with imports designed for a different cultural context altogether, then you’re doing something horribly wrong.”

    Well, that’s the whole point of a specialist economy. Countries do what they are good at. Apparently, the Japanese comics industry, and American movie/TV industry, are doing good, and resultantly, they are the exporters in the world’s specialist entertainment economy.

    I’m not sure I think a specialist economy is a bad thing. I don’t see why, say, Abkhazia or Liberia or Ecuador needs to be a comics exporter rather than reading Japanese comics or watching American movies.

  24. “The TV series Firefly failed in the marketplace. Does that mean there was something wrong with it?”

    Bad analogy. We’re not talking about the failure of individual comics. We’re talking about the failure of virtually the entire output of the industry.

  25. Actually, the failure for American made comics is due in large part to the inability to properly promote the books. The manga publishers know how to speak the language of their audience and do a great deal of publicity beyond the normal mechanisms and websites that are preferred by the traditional comics publishers. Look at the reasons why punk rock took over from the stadium rockers. The music was simple and raw. It was fun.
    No doubt the new interest in American or Western-style(no cowboy puns here please) is derived from the movie industry successes of Iron Man, Hellboy, Dark Knight and soon, The Watchmen. Now, you will hear the CEO’s at the major corporations throwing the term Graphic Novel around like they’ve been reading them for years.
    The cool thing about this moment? We have a lot of kids entering college and the general workforce who will be drawing from their influences in manga and western-style books to create the next ‘thing’ in graphic novel publishing. The Cultural Echo is already beginning to show itself in books like Amulet, Slow Storm, Tales from Essex County.
    What a cool time to be here….

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