We’ve been trying to collect our thoughts on Brian Hibbs 2007 Bookscan analysis all week but what with catching up on 500+ emails, work, laundry, getting engaged and all, we have had a hard time finding a moment’s peace.

Anyhoo, the thing to remember about all this — esp. the Brian-vs-Dirk argument — is that everyone has their own horse in this race. Hibbs’ is that the Direct Market is a more efficient market for comics than bookstores. Dirk’s is that anything that isn’t manga or indie sucks and is stupid and doomed to failure and that anyone who attempts to look at such material without this bias is a dingbat. And us? Well, it’s probably that books with wide appeal will sell more but that everyone’s definition of “wide appeal” will differ.

We honestly can’t get our brains working enough to go through all the numbers and statistics and so on, so we’ll just point out some of our own observations, based on our knowledge of the book biz and the occasional leaked Bookscan numbers we get to see.

First of all, by any reasonable measure, the bookstore market for graphic novels is still growing! We’ll use one simplistic snapshot:

The 50th ranked title in 2006 sold 25,527 copies.

The 50th ranked title in 2007 sold 33,496 copies.

The #100 title in 2006 sold 18,060.

The #100 title in 2007 sold 19, 934.

Of course there could be lower numbers at the bottom offsetting gains at the top, but I’m inclined to go with Milton Griepp’s analysis of trends. The rate of growth may have slowed, but it is still growing.

One area of contention between Brian and Dirk is whether these numbers can even be begun to be taken seriously because Bookscan does not represent 100% of book sales. Dirk seems to think they are all hoodoo voodoo because they represent 65% of the market instead of 70-75%. That’s not an insignificant difference, but it’s not hoodoo voodoo, either. Bookscan measures sales at the checkout stand. These are actual books that CONSUMERS purchased. That the numbers often don’t match up with what publishers say sold is because those higher figures measure what bookstores ordered. These books “in print’ may hang around on shelves for a long time, get remaindered or returned.

A lot of people have said that comparing Bookscan bookstore numbers and Diamond GN charts is an “apples and oranges” comparison, but as someone smarter than me said, it’s could actually be “apples and apples.” Both measure guaranteed sales to the end user of the system. The end user of the bookstore channel is the reader. The end user of the Diamond system is the retailer. Until comics shop adapt POS systems in greater number, there is no reliable “sell through” number for the Direct Market.

ASIDE: Some people suggest that Bookscan doesn’t include any comics shops among its reporting stores, but my understanding is that there are a few — indie bookstores in general are under-represented in Bookscan. But to play the game YOU MUST HAVE A POS SYSTEM!

The big joker in the deck is actually library sales which Bookscan does not measure. There are an estimated 117378 or so libraries of all kinds in the US. There are more than 9000 central libraries. That’s more outlets than bookstores OR comics shops. We’re told that, for instance, although Minx sold more books in the DM than bookstores, when you add in library sales, the “bookstore” (ie. stores and libraries) market is far larger.

The reality is that the Kat Kans and Michelle Gormans of the world are just as important as the Brian Hibbses and Chris Powells to the comics industry.

Since I’m incapable of statistical analysis, I’ll add that you can argue Hibbs’ methodology but by leaking the numbers he has he’s given a valuable tool for those who know how to look at the metrics. 5000 books sold on Bookscan doesn’t sound that great, but it means that there are at least twice that in print, and for your average GN that’s in the neighborhood of break even.

That said, there are some pretty horrible numbers out there. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: the bookstore market for graphic novels is pretty much like the market for books with no pictures. Name authors sell books: Moore, Gaiman, Vaughan, Loeb. Adrian Tomine’s 5001 for Shortcomings may seem paltry for a book that has gotten as much press as it has, but it’s about in line with what novels by prose critical darlings sell, according to Bookscan. The metrics of bestselling books are not that high. Sure Nora Roberts and The Secret sell hundreds of thousands of copies, but there are some 172,000 books published in the US each year, and most struggle to sell a few hundred copies.

All that said, it is sobering to see the low numbers on certain books. Hibbs takes this as a repudiation of indie books, while Dirk just sticks his fingers in his ears and goes “la la la!” The truth is that challenging material in any medium will always sell in lesser numbers. The odd breakout, like FUN HOME, proves that a story with REAL resonance to many readers can find its own audience.

I was going to spend more time picking on Dirk here, but it is really useless since he has his mind made up. I’ll take one key example.

Since Hibbs provides exactly zero evidence for his assertion,


BZZZZZZT, no, Hibbs said that only Shortcomings of any “indie comics” title, sold more than 4400 books on Bookscan last year. That’s plenty of evidence right there. Since Dirk cannot input any data that goes against his programming, he goes on to refute the idea that idie comics don’t sell like this:

it’s pretty much pointless to attempt to refute it. Instead, let’s go in the other direction, and assume that both Hibbs and Reynolds are right: Art comics don’t sell in bookstores, and most sell only a quarter of that in comic-book shops. (What exactly does one-forth of nothing look like, I wonder?) Questions then arise: How are companies like Drawn & Quarterly and Fantagraphics managing to afford all those pricey hardcovers that they’ve been releasing lately? And where do they go? Do Chris Oliveros, Brett Warnock, Kim Thompson and Dan Nadel all get together in some hidden forest somewhere, back dumptrucks into a big bonfire and burn copies of Storeyville and Acme Novelty Datebook while they dance around laughing? How long before the credit-card companies and investment bankers who are probably supplying the money for all of this get wise?


As usual, snark is supplied where an actual grasp of facts — library sales, sell-in, a lower-than suspected margin for break even etc. — would suffice. This is why I take very little of what Dirk says about the book market seriously.

In closing, and to back up my own little hobby horse, I’m going to list the top selling non-manga GNs of 2007 in the top 100 sellers.

Frank Miller’s 300
WATCHMEN
MARVEL ENCYCLOPEDIA
BONE ROCK JAW
BONE OUT FROM BONEVILLE
BONE OLD MANS CAVE
BONE THE GREAT COW RACE
BONE DRAGONSLAYER
BONE EYES OF THE STORM
DARK TOWER THE GUNSLINGER BORN
CIVIL WAR
ANITA BLAKE VAMPIRE HUNTER V1
CIVIL WAR ROAD TO CIVIL WAR
PERSEPOLIS: THE STORY OF A CHI
MAUS: A SURVIVOR’S TALE
HEROES


Obviously this list is made up of about half genre and half timeless classic. That’s what most bestseller lists reflect. From where I sit, it’s about right on plan.

(Above: Tomine’s cover to this week’s New Yorker, a comic strip charting the life cycle of the book. Since it’s my sub copy, I had to black out my address label — apologies for disrupting Tomine’s composition. UPDATE: Thanks, Adrian! )

1 COMMENT

  1. I have no horse in this race — I’d cry like a baby if comic book stores went away just as I love the fact that there’s an additional market for many books that I admire — but I still found Brian’s manipulations completely unconvincing for the kind of arguments he was making.

    Broader statements about the nature and shape of the bookstore market, like your own “you know, some books sell super-poorly” above, I think are easily supported by the bookstore numbers.

    I’m even uncomfortable with your making a comparison with a specific example like Shortcomings to other literary books given that depending on who you talk to the number on what you use to compare things can be anywhere from 35 to 90 perecent of the actual number. If Shortcomings sold 14,000 units last year instead of 5000, that’s a lot different than an expectation it sold 5500 instead of 5000. Particularly when you’re comparing them to books that may have the same degree of difference or not or be all over the place.

    Now if someone were to claim that Adrian’s book sold 38,000 copies through FSG, the Bookscan figure could be a pretty convincing piece of counter-evidence. For me, I only find it to be a broad indicator.

  2. >>>I’m even uncomfortable with your making a comparison with a specific example like Shortcomings to other literary books given that depending on who you talk to the number on what you use to compare things can be anywhere from 35 to 90 perecent of the actual number.

    Sure but EVERYTHING — from Tatsumi to Murakami — is subject to the same vagaries, so it’s still a valid comparison of DEGREE.

    Think about this: suppose more comics shops got POS systems and DID report to bookscan? GN numbers would be even more impressive.

    Perhaps, as many have suggested, it’s time to revisit Bookscan’s reporting methods and update that 2004 article.

  3. “Sure but EVERYTHING — from Tatsumi to Murakami — is subject to the same vagaries, so it’s still a valid comparison of DEGREE.”

    Wha? I hope I never have to split a check with you!

  4. Nicely done. Wasn’t sure what side you were going to take on this, but I thought Hibbs brought a lot to the table with his analysis.

    Anyway, you said this…

    ~Sure Nora Roberts and The Secret sell hundreds of thousands of copies, but there are some 172,000 books published in the US each year, and most struggle to sell a few hundred copies. ~

    A few hundred copies? Maybe Steve Jobs was right. No one is reading books anymore.

  5. It was my understanding that Bookscan took the sales figures that they get from participating retailers using POS and then extrapolate that to estimate what those sales would be if 100% of their market reported. It may only be 75% reporting actual sales but bookscan spits out a number that it calls 100%. The accuracy of this number is often debated among publishers.

    Bookscan includes online retailers and some non-traditional channels but I doubt many comic shops are being represented in that number. It’s a good indicator of trends but I would not quote it for sales figures.

  6. Tom: Something that I find a little frustrating is that Diamond numbers are “taken as read”, even though those, too, are under-reported by some, possibly significant, degree as well (See: Brian Wood’s complaints)

    A-Rod: That’s totally not my understanding of how BookScan reports; can you cite any source for that?

    -B

  7. Heidi, thanks so much for your kind words about Michele Gorman and myself! Milton Griepp stated last February, at the ICv2 Graphic Novel Conference, that library sales constituted 10% of the total graphic novel sales for 2006. I think that worked out to roughly $30 million. Doesn’t seem like a whole lot, but it’s still a fairly significant amount. And library sales are increasing, I think. I know that Michele and I are in pretty high demand as speakers; and there are others, too – Robin Brenner (who is the chairperson for the 2008 Great Graphic Novels for Teens Committee) and Mike Pawuk, just to name a couple more librarians. And we’re speaking to school systems, not just public libraries.

    I’m chairing my school’s Scholastic Book Fair this year. The book fair people now have a “graphic novel display module” in the book fair. On top of that, the monthly Scholastic Book Club flyers feature graphic novels on a regular basis.

    I’m seeing heightened interest in graphic novels at almost every grade level in my school, which has happened because I donated a bunch of graphic novels over the past two and a half years. I just purchased hardcover editions of the color Bone editions, because our paperback copies are falling apart after almost constant usage over the past couple of years. They’re almost always checked out. I’m pretty darned sure my little private school is not the only one ordering Bone, The Baby-Sitters Club gns, and such books as Little Lulu and Amelia Rules.

    As for library and school sales, the only percentages I know come from the book distributor for whom I work as the graphic novel selector. Its graphic novel sales went from something like .02% of their total sales to 1.8% of their total sales, from 2002 (when they started carrying gns) through 2006. Again, the numbers seem awfully small, but it’s quite a significant increase. And pretty much in line with publishing as a whole, since a figure quoted at the 2006 ICv2 Graphic Novel Conference was that graphic novels represented about 2% of total book sales in the US in 2005.

  8. Brian, this is exactly why I think you’re ridiculous on this subject.

    You write as if you’re giving us all a statistical factor to counter some anti-Direct Market statistical factor, when all you’re really providing is one more reason the numbers aren’t accurate and therefore shouldn’t be manipulated with any confidence by anyone.

  9. WorldCat is the public database of OCLC, a consortium which provides bibliographic data to libraries for cataloging. They also track which member libraries own a particular book, to facilitate inter-library loan. Searching WorldCat, results are returned with how many libraries own that title. Persepolis and Maus exist in over 2000 library systems. Anything over 100 is good. These member libraries are generally public and university libraries in the US and Canada.

  10. Can someone explain in simple terms why all of this matters? Threads and bloggers are talking about numbers and this whole situation, but to a casual reader it’s confusing.

  11. The problem with Bookspan — and, particularly, with making any big pronouncements based on Bookspan numbers — is that Bookspan isn’t consistently any percentage of retail sales.

    For some books and some publishers, it’s around 65%, for others, 75%. In some cases, it could be close to 100%, but it can also be 25% or less (especially anything that gets into Wal*Mart, which sells huge numbers of a few books and which doesn’t report to Bookscan).

    I work for a publishing line of mostly technical, professional books, and recently did an analysis on one particular product that showed that Bookscan registered about 40% of the sales of that product through the channels that Bookscan covers. (Leaving out all of the other ways those books are sold — directly by the publisher; through organizations, corporations, or governments; by non-book stores; to college students; and so on.) That’s an extreme case…but those cases do exist. And there are probably similar cases in the comics world.

    So when someone who can see Fantagraphics’s real sales figures says that they don’t resemble Bookscan numbers, I believe him. Bookscan is best for parallax; if you know what your books are selling (for real and on Bookscan), and you know what the competition is selling on Bookscan, you can work out, roughly, what the competition is really selling. But without real numbers for comparison in the middle there, Bookscan figures alone are dangerous to rely on.

    And the idea that indy comics are failures because they don’t sell at the level of long-underwear projects is just silly — in “real” publishing, five thousand copies of a 23-dollar book isn’t bad at all for a literary project. Thrillers sell better, yes — in comics and outside of them. This is news?

    A-rod: No, Bookscan reports actual copies sold. There’s no fudge factor involved — for what publishers are paying, they want solid numbers.

  12. 1. “Both [the Bookscan numbers and the Diamond numbers] measure guaranteed sales to the end user of the system. The end user of the bookstore channel is the reader. The end user of the Diamond system is the retailer.”

    Um, no. Book Publishers don’t sell to readers (yes, some are taking steps, blah blah blah). Book Publishers cut their invoices to booksellers, not consumers.

    Thus, the closest “apples to apples” for Diamond shipments to retailers would be publisher shipments to bookstores. The Bookscan (or, alternately, Bookspan?) “apples to apples” would be vs. a similarly representative collection of Direct Market POS numbers (Hello, ComicsPro?).

    2. One of the reasons that some in book publishing disparage the emphasis in forums like this on Bookscan is because, at the end of the day, what matters on the balance sheet are the publisher’s own net sales. There will always be a striking disparity between the annual Bookscan numbers and a publisher’s own annual net sales, given that Bookscan doesn’t measure inventory on hand in stores, let alone public library sales and bookclub sales and school library sales and price club sales and academic library sales and on and on. Bookscan does have great value for publishers in that it shows weekly sales in an aggregate number, which allows them to track sales velocities in a manner that wasn’t possible before. Theoretically, they could examine the direct impact of their selling and marketing strategies and learn what sells books in the mass market. Yeah.

    3. And so, while we all natter on about the inconsistencies in each other’s arguments that are to be expected given the above, the truth lumbers along right there in front of us—the market for comics material is now a multifaceted and rapidly expansive beast—a proverbial elephant that we blind folk are all bent on describing individually.

  13. As an author I’ve pitched book ideas to some publishers who then ask what the book is similar to in the marketplace. I’ve responded with an example and they immediately run to Book Span and decide whether or not to publish my idea based on the figures they find there. I found out later through accurate inside info that some of the Book Span info was grossly wrong on an indie book or two that I cited but my ideas were shit canned because certain publishers are afraid to take their balls in their hands and project beyond Book Span’s lame-o figures. My Arf book blog… http://arflovers.com

  14. “We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: the bookstore market for graphic novels is pretty much like the market for books with no pictures.”

    Thanks for saying it (again). I’ll go a step further: The bookstore market for art-comics is very similar to that for literary novels…and literary novels are the biggest crap shoot in trade publishing. Every once in a while you hit it big, and other times you literally sell fewer than 1,000 copies. It’s not surprising to me that a lot of prestigious gns do very small numbers through that market, and others (PERSEPOLIS, to name a prominent example) do very well. Genre books are smaller but steadier.

    (Insert big disclaimer here regarding gross generalizations, of course.)

  15. Hats off to Tomine for that New Yorker cover– it is a brilliant and funny concept, masterfully executed. He’s really risen high in the ranks of great new Yorker artists– not a small feat by my estimation. Bravo, Adrian!

  16. Hats off to Tomine for that New Yorker cover– it is a brilliant and funny concept, masterfully executed. He’s really risen high in the ranks of great new Yorker artists– not a small feat by my estimation. Bravo, Adrian!

  17. Andrew: “And the idea that indy comics are failures because they don’t sell at the level of long-underwear projects is just silly — in “real” publishing, five thousand copies of a 23-dollar book isn’t bad at all for a literary project. Thrillers sell better, yes — in comics and outside of them. This is news?”

    Well, it’s news if you subscribe to the orthodox wisdom that superhero comics are an obscure little cult genre and that literary/arthouse/indie comics are “the real mainstream”, I suppose.

  18. Paul: Please point to a single example of someone claiming that superhero comics are “an obscure little cult genre and that literary/arthouse/indie comics are ‘the real mainstream.'” Include a link.

  19. I’ll save him the trouble, the origin of the term “real mainstream” is in this article at Wikipedia.

    I also used it in a 2004 article about 10 great graphic novels, but was talking about the real mainstream of bookstores. I even conceded that Marvel and DC GNs were outselling artcomix at the time, but it was 2004…obviously artcomix GNs have made significant gains in mainstream bookstores since then, as I am sure any representative of D&Q, Fantagraphics or Pantheon would verify. Maybe not outselling superhero GNs yet, but certainly getting more and more competitive every year.

    In the meantime, of course, manga is kicking all their asses, for those of us not wearing blinkers and pretending they aren’t comics.

  20. Sure, Dirk. Off the top of my head, here’s Alan Doane, mocking me on a comments thread last autumn for having the nerve to suggest that the Comics Journal might, just might, be a little bit niche in its appeal:

    Me: “The Journal…has little to offer readers with even remotely mainstream tastes.”

    Alan: “Which is hilarious, considering that it was championing true mainstream creators like Crumb, Ware, Clowes and the Hernandez Bros. for decades before the mainstream discovered them through Publisher’s Weekly, NPR and Time Magazine. But keep those superhero=”mainstream” blinkers on, Paul, they bring out the sparkle in your eyes.”

    http://www.haloscan.com/comments/deathgar/6912516430114658846/#373828

    Incidentally, I hadn’t even mentioned superhero comics, or even alluded to one in passing. It was Alan who chose to single them out as being somehow less mainstream than Daniel Clowes – a point he repeated later in the thread.

    Personally, I’ve always regarded Alan as fairly representative of a – how to put this? – a certain breed of comics reader. Nothing about the above quote strikes me as remotely unusual or out of character for him. Blatantly absurd, of course, but that’s another matter.

  21. Conclusion: Alan David Doane = “a certain breed of comics reader.”

    Alan, having been nominated, will you agree to serve as our Designated Strawman? Apparently, you’re very much needed…

  22. It occurs to me that the accuracy and extent of the available sales data – be it on the book market, the direct market or the flea market – may be less of an issue than the ideologies the people who tend to discuss said data are bringing to the table.

  23. Dirk: “Alright, name TWO examples.”

    Alright, then. Now, in fairness, I’ll freely admit that “orthodox wisdom” was a sarcastic exaggeration. But it’s a still a substantial body of opinion which has been around for years. Let’s google!

    Superhero comics have niche commercial appeal, but Andi Watson is “the real mainstream in comics.” http://rhbfictions.blogspot.com/2006/04/andi-watson-real-mainstream-in-comics.html

    “Love and Rockets, Eightball and Johnny the Homicidal Maniac – those are the books which are the true mainstream of comics. Superhero books are now the alternative, serving only a niche market.” http://www.sequentialtart.com/archive/jan03/retailer_0103.shtml

    Rich Johnston back in 1998: Slave Labor and Fantagraphics are “the companies that market ‘true Mainstream’ comics.” http://www.twistandshoutcomics.com/features/columns/rrevs1098.html

    AIT/PlanetLar is “the true mainstream of comics.”
    http://www.popimage.com/content/viewnews.cgi?newsid1095247928,46294,

    “The alternative comics world … are the true mainstream of comics.” http://innocentbystander.typepad.com/innocent_bystander/2005/03/welcome_my_frie.html

    “Marvel is, and always has been, a niche publisher…” Instead, the “true mainstream comics publishers” are apparently Oni and Modern Tales. http://shawnfumo.blogspot.com/2004/03/diversifying-marvel.html (quoting a Sequential Tart column which doesn’t seem to be online any more)

    Kevin Church: superhero comics are irrelevant as a means of attracting the wider audience (“That notion is a ridiculous one”) and “A real gateway comic is something like PERSEPOLIS or FUN HOME.” http://www.beaucoupkevin.com/2007/02/we-need-to-talk.html

    I win. I am dancing my winning dance now. You can’t see it, but I am.

  24. Dirk: “Alright, name TWO examples.”

    *sigh*

    Tried this in a single post, but it was so long that the site ate it, so apparently we’re doing it the hard way.

    Superhero comics have niche commercial appeal, but Andi Watson is “the real mainstream in comics.” http://rhbfictions.blogspot.com/2006/04/andi-watson-real-mainstream-in-comics.html

    “Love and Rockets, Eightball and Johnny the Homicidal Maniac – those are the books which are the true mainstream of comics. Superhero books are now the alternative, serving only a niche market.” http://www.sequentialtart.com/archive/jan03/retailer_0103.shtml

  25. Jamie – No, I don’t regularly see Fantagraphics sales numbers. On the other hand, I trust Eric Reynolds not to lie about such things.

    Incidentally, I realize that I was insufficiently dismissive of Paul O’Brien in an above post. In the link he cites, Doane claims that Crumb, Ware, Clowes and the Hernandez Bros are mainstream, and while I suppose that a case could be made against the Hernandez Brothers — I’m not sure enough of their sales to say one way or the other — the other three artists named are inarguably mainstream artists. All have seen work sold in six-figure numbers (in the case of some of Crumb’s comics, seven-figure numbers). A documentary based upon Crumb’s life won an Oscar. Clowes’ Ghost World was made into a well-received feature film that remains a staple in grocery-store rental kiosks, to say nothing of your local Blockbuster. If you know what This American Life is, you likely know who Chris Ware is, as well. (Going outside the lit set, I’d also include Jeff Smith, Frank Miller, Fred Gallagher and perhaps Stan Sakai as mainstream artists in the larger American sense.)

    What doesn’t Doane say in the above-linked piece? That “literary/arthouse/indie comics are ‘the real mainstream'” per se. Just as your average British drawing-room comedy broadcast on PBS is not going to pull down the same kind of ratings as Lost, so to is your average literary-comics offering going to appeal to a smaller audience as well. If Doane seriously argues otherwise, he’s wrong — but I don’t recall offhand ever hearing him make such an argument.

    As for the first part of the strawman argument that O’Brien places in Doane’s mouth, that one does strike me as true. As evidence, allow me to cite a source already linked on this page: Brian Hibbs.

    “It might also be worth noting that the combined volume of publishers #3-9 doesn’t even come close to matching the volume of Tokyopop alone. Viz and Tokyopop combined represent 486 of the 575 (85%) of all manga titles listed — that’s up from 84% last year, and 83% from the year before. And if you look at it in terms of pieces it is even worse: 2 publishers represent 6.2 million pieces of 6.6 million for the category — that’s 95%! And people say the Direct Market is lopsided!! Seriously folks, Marvel & DC have nothing on Viz and Tokyopop!”

    Finally, Marc-Oliver Frisch’s point is well taken.
    Which is to say: Superhero comics sell in regular bookstores the way that art comics sell in the Direct Market. Mainstream? I don’t think so.

  26. Dirk, you seem to be claiming that the Spirit Awards (GHOST WORLD won two), PBS and film documentaries are “mainstream.” Is that right?

    BTW, CRUMB did not, sad to say, win an Oscar. It was not even NOMINATED for an Oscar, which is even sadder to say. It did win a lot of awards, however, including mainstream arbiters of taste like the New York Film Society awards. Oh and it won an award at Sundance, which, as I’m sure you’re aware, is vaunted every year as the number one showcase of mainstream American films.

    GHOST WORLD was nominated for an Oscar but didn’t win.

    Okay let me turn off the sarcasm. Look, I don’t think superheroes are necessarily mainstream, and I don’t think art/indie/alt comix are necessarily mainstream. I would say that SPIDERMAN and BATMAN are mainstream characters given the fact you can buy sheets and towels with their pictures on them. PBS, film documentaries that are given theatrical release and the Spirit Awards are more “mainstream” in the larger cultural sense than SLAVE LABOR GRAPHICS and ADHOUSE BOOKS, that is for sure, but the average American is blissfully unbothered by thoughts of them, and good old GWB is trying to defund PBS again, as he has for 8 years because it isn’t unbiased enough.

    PERSEPOLIS has broken through to a huge audience but it is not mainstream in exactly the same way. Likewise, GHOST WORLD and the others works of Terry Zwigoff. Or even Michel Gondry.

    Comics really have never developed the “new mainstream” that I predicted many years ago. Unless it’s manga, much of which, truth to tell, is no more accessible to the “mainstream” than the average issue of CIVIL WAR.

    I would much rather live in a world of PERSEPOLIS and GHOST WORLD than GREEN LANTERN and AVENGERS INITIATIVE, for sure, but they both pale besides Terry Brooks and George R. R. Martin.

  27. Just to save confusion, I’ve just rescued posts by Paul O Brien and ADD from moderation, and they appear where Dirk most likely hasn’t seen them even though he seems to be responding.

    All posts with more than two links (including the one I just posted) go into automatic moderation. I’ve relaxed that a bit just for today.

  28. One of those recovered posts is a double post, but oh well.

    This has got “completely unproductive argument” written all over it, so I’ll make a few final comments and (hopefully) leave it there.

    I think it’s reasonably clear from the links above what school of thought I had in mind. You can decide for yourself whether I was caricaturing it unfairly. And I fully agree that the rise of manga has pretty much stamped on the debate by steamrolling both sides.

    Otherwise, I basically agree with Heidi’s reply to Dirk. Besides, if Chris Ware is “inarguably mainstream” because he’s achieved a six-figure audience, why not Mark Millar?

  29. Heidi: You’re correct about Crumb. I misremembered the controversy over the fact that neither it nor Hoop Dreams were nominated in 1994.

    I think the manga market will mature, as the readership gets older and a wider variety of age-appropriate material becomes more saleable. Manga fans aren’t wedded to One True Genre, and therefore the publishers catering to them won’t have to step around the sort of Tiny Nerd Culture War that has hamstrung the North American model. Likewise, I think there’s already plenty of evidence that the same will probably be true of homegrown comics — but only because prose publishers, not encumbered by the podunk, goofy provinciality of said Tiny Nerd Culture War, will be doing most of the heavy lifting. In the end, Jeff Smith and Scholastic will bury us all, and they’ll have God on their side when it happens.

  30. >>>I think the manga market will mature, as the readership gets older and a wider variety of age-appropriate material becomes more saleable.

    well, this is the $640,000 question. As it stands now, publishers who support more challenging, adult manga material get very low returns. Dark Horse couldn’t sell Umezu. Gaijin went tits up immediately, Tezuka sells steadily but not in vast amounts, and most of the stuff in the Viz Signature line sells at the lower end of the Viz spectrum. I’ve talked about this with many manga publishers and everyone hopes it will happen, but we’ll see.

    As for the average Naruto reader suddenly glomming onto Love & Rockets…I think that’s about as likely as the average Hulk reader doing so.

  31. Heidi, I think you meant to say low sales or orders. Low returns is a great thing in the bookstore market.

    And yeah, there is a local manga group in my town. Filled with kids in their mid-late teens for the most part. If you even say the word “comics” to them they immediately tell you they don’t read comic books. They are very much into the Manga/Anime “style” and don’t read much else.

    Although a couple of them knew who Neil Gaiman was and read Sandman and Stardust which surprised me but probably shouldn’t have.

  32. I’m pretty sure Chris Ware’s mainstream, but only because there seems to be a cartoon show on Sunday nights after The Simpsons starring Jimmy Corrigan.

  33. “Just as your average British drawing-room comedy broadcast on PBS is not going to pull down the same kind of ratings as Lost”

    It gets much better ratings than Lost.

    Here at least. 8-)

  34. Overly simplistic, Alan. You’re assuming that sales through bookstores must necessarily be to a mainstream audience. Manga sells through bookstores, therefore it’s selling to the mainstream.

    That doesn’t follow at all. There are plenty of cult, niche and specialist publications in mainstream bookstores. You’re ignoring the possibility that manga also has a niche audience, but happens to sell through a more conventional distribution route.

  35. Alan, I already looked at all the non-manga books in the top 100 above. Out of the top books you list in your analysis, only FRUITS BASKET is not based on a show that’s airing on TV, hence, effectively a TV tie-in. I have no doubt that Naruto would sell well if the anime wasn’t being aired here, but the fact that 5 of the non-manga books are superhero shows they have the same level of mainstream penetration.

    To put it bluntly….Stephen King, Naruto and Heroes are all mainstream…and there’s not a thing we can do about it!

    EDIT: I’ve just read all of your analysis in the post referenced above, and using my metaphor of a horse race, you have just uncovered the biggest pile of road apples I have yet seen in this derby. BONE is artcommix? Really? I guess E. Nesbit is Jean Rhys, too. I would like to see both you AND Dirk try to define what the terms of mainstream and literary/art are.

    People are using these numbers to bolster whatever they want to prove. And it’s ludicrous.

  36. Oops! I stand corrected! I momentarily confused Vampire Knight with some other manga about vampires that has a video game tie-in.

  37. I also think it might be a little unfair to lump in Death Note with the anime tie-ins–it was doing pretty well even before that show appeared on Cartoon Network, wasn’t it?

    And there’s a Batman cartoon on TV right now, isn’t there?

  38. Dick: DEATH NOTE took a HUGE jump once the anime starting being broadcast (like, from total memory, by more than a third), but that’s definitely a piece of comics material still likely to be charting 10 years from now, because it is SUPER AWESOME.

    -B

  39. Paul, to Alan: “You’re assuming that sales through bookstores must necessarily be to a mainstream audience.”

    Nor, I think, is it safe to assume anymore that the direct market exclusively serves typical comics fans.

  40. . I would say that SPIDERMAN and BATMAN are mainstream characters given the fact you can buy sheets and towels with their pictures on them.

    Spider-Man can’t be considered a mainstream character until mainstream media learn to spell his name with the hyphen, let alone professional comics bloggers.

  41. So wait, Heidi: I say that the future of comics in bookstores belongs to Jeff Smith and Scholastic and you chastise me for thinking that it belongs to Love and Rockets? I’d love to know how you reached that conclusion. I bet it would’ve been a fascinating process to watch.

  42. I’ll debate anyone on the original subject, but if there’s anyone who wants to debate whether or not Bone is mainstream/indy/alt or the role of bedsheets in defining mainstream status or who’s stronger, Chris Ware or Mark Millar, I probably couldn’t do that without risk of going bugnuts insane right up there on the podium and smashing my head into the plastic water pitcher until I bled to death.

    Just sayin’.