After a day of rest, we’re back to everyone’s favorite topic. Sales Charts! Crazy ass mofo that we are, we prefer to get nuts with actual data as opposed to making snide remarks to back up our own biases, so let’s begin! We had actually meant to dig up Diamond’s graphic novel bestseller list from 2006, but one of our correspondents helpfully dug it up for us. We’ve taken the top 25 books and highlighted the superhero titles, as before. (Click for larger version.)
8 of the top 25 books are superhero. (V for Vendetta is in a grey area, but we’re going with dystopic sci-fi.) The rest are genre heavy, but basically dominated by popular writers: Brian K. Vaughan, Robert Kirkman, Joss Whedon, Alan Moore. People can’t get enough of these guys! Sign them up! The complete lack of manga speaks for itself, of course, but that’s an entirely different matter.

We linked to a post on Tom Brevoort’s blog a while ago where he looked at Marvel sales charts from 1990 (when the average comic sold a more than they do now in the direct sales market) and was surprised to see the diversity in titles. John Jackson Miller’s Comichron site has US mail sales figures and other data for comics, and CBG has more data, but but regrettably sales from the 70s and 80s are still not readily available.

Not here’s where we speculate to back up our own biases: It’s a given that comics sales dipped to all time lows in the period of about 1996-1999 following the distributor war debacle. This is also the period in which sueprhero comics dominated the market as never before.

It would be interesting to plot comics sales against the diversity of the titles available for the last few decades, if such a thing could be done. We think a decent case could be made that years when the comics industry becomes superhero centric are the years in which the fewest comics sell, and the sales and diversity graph would coincide vairly closely.

To us it seems like a no brainer…but what do YOU think?


  1. I guess it makes sense that if comics disappear from the pubic eye, then all that is left is the hardcore superhero fans that will always be there. Thus superhero comics are the majority of sales.

    But you are saying that it’s more like when the publishers focus too much on superheroes, the market drops overall from the loss of the fans of other genres, right?

    Did the publishers or stores or whatever get away from non-superhero comics in 1996 because they weren’t selling or did put all of their energy into superhero stuff? I only started reading in 2001 or so :)

  2. As Andy says, cart, horse. The only way you could prove causality is if the Diversity graph consistently fell before Sales. And even if it were true, I don’t think you would be able to show it, due to the effects of pre-ordering and retailer inertia. Even before we get to things like statistical error and dmeasures of “diversity” (which can’t even be agreed upon by professional Ecologists).

  3. I don’t think the rise or fall of superhero titles can be so easily linked to market diversity in the way you suggest, Heidi.

    The ups and downs that took place throughout the 70s-90s involve way too many outside factors to point to any one pebble that started or stopped any given avalanche.

    The markets, marketing schemes, collectors, and readers have been constantly changing and couldn’t be easily reflected in a graph, much less interpreted as repeatable trends.

  4. “This is also the period in which sueprhero comics dominated the market as never before.”

    I don’t know. Not enough information.

    I just can’t really get into this superhero vs non-superhero mindset.

    It sounds as though the assertion is being made that superheroes are bad for the comics industry.

    Sure I’m interested in the numbers but I’m content to let it be what it is without demonizing folk for reading Archie, Y the Last Man, X-Men, whatever.

  5. Is there any business venture or product that doesn’t perform better though diversity? And just thinking back to the titles of the late 90s, well, they weren’t great, Spawn was the best comic out there that anyone (me) knew about, people still shuddered to think about NFL Superpro. The Invisibles were being published, but in my small town I never got wind of it. If Wizard spoke of it, I never payed attention because none of my shops (read grocery store rack) carried it. Sandman I remember seeing t-shirts for, but again, couldn’t find an issue to save myself.

    I started reading comics young, like 5, and I was reading New Mutants with art by Jon Muth. The rest of my stuff was also really wild things my mom picked up for me, so a lot of Sienkiewicz as well, but look what happened, New Mutants was taken over by Liefeld and then turned into X-force.

    The comics think tank last night touched somewhat on this idea that superhero comics aren’t appealing, or rather “dim the market”, and I think that’s taking the conclusions too far. If the superhero comics are being well written, and the stories are engaging, then they’ll do well. Enough to support an industry, not so much.

    Thankfully, we live in a time when it is not just the elite who facilitate art. Technology allows myself and numerous other aspiring creators to generate a physical product at a low cost. Anyone can put comics out now if they choose to do so, and that gives rise to diversity. Diversity in turn will lead to exploration, as people find inroads to the medium through those genres which appeal to them, and that exploration should, we hope, lead to a broader appreciation, and boundless riches.

  6. Not a single children’s title, no manga, and only a few more titles that fall outside the Wednesday crowd’s comfort zones (Pride of Baghdad, maybe Family Guy) than the last list. I’ll grant the addition of more Fables and Y the Last Man as positives, since they’re original takes on genre that could have sprung up in other markets and media*, and have potential appeal to new customers entering the Direct Market for the first time. I don’t think they’re by and large selling to new customers entering the Direct Market for the first time, mind you, but at least they could.

    Still: This is a list for comics-shop geeks. Excellent intentions, wrong benchmark. “Diversity” would need to include more books that appeal to people other than the Usual Suspects (i.e. 25/35-year-old he-nerds). And seriously, the lack of material for the under-18 set? That’s just depressing. I’m not seeing too much here to reassure me that comics shops are connecting back into American mainstream culture. Or that they’d even know how.

    * By contrast, the only thing Walking Dead proves is that zombie thrillers are an even more conservative genre than mainstream country music. Why isn’t George Romero getting royalties for this series, anyway?

  7. DC and Marvel do offer comics for younger readers.

    The point that is made over and over again is that the comic shops do not attract younger readers.

    Why? I don’t have a comprehensive answer for this but here’s a few obvious points. Young folk have to be able to get to the comic shop. If they can’t get there they can’t buy.

    The parents have to be interested in their kids reading comics. The parents could bring the kids to the comic shop. Or the parents could buy comics and bring them to the kids. If the parents aren’t interested it likely creates a barrier.

    It would not surprise me if price were also a barrier both for parents and kids.

    And then of course there is the content in comics.

  8. I agree with Dirk. By my count, that’s eight superhero books, three film tie-ins, two licensed properties, three volumes each of FABLES and Y: THE LAST MAN, a whopping five volumes of WALKING DEAD, and poor old PRIDE OF BAGHDAD hanging in there as a non-genre oddity. It would be a more convincing display of diversity if the same three books didn’t account for almost two thirds of the non-superhero list.

  9. This Blog is hosted by Publishers Weekly, which has been publishing bestseller lists for about 100 years. What data do they have regarding graphic novels and comicstrip collections? They publish subject specific lists (religion, audio books, children). Can they do the same for GNs?
    Also, Nielsen BookScan has this data. Any chance of getting a general top 50 list, sans numbers if necessary?
    I’m on my cell, so I can’t surf to see what’s selling now. Anyone want to check?

  10. I almost want to cry with happiness that V For Vendetta is at the top of this list (and above Marvel Zombies, which was fun for what it is). Sure it’s sad that movies seem to be the beacon that it takes for a lot of people to pick up a comic book like V or From Hell or League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, etc., but I’m always happy for however people end up reading books like V.

  11. I’ve been reading a lot of DC Digests, you know, the biggest little buy in comics. Every year, DC published a ‘Best of’ featuring the cream of the crop for all of their titles.

    It’s astounding to see horror, sci-fi, westerns and war comics represented there.

    Across the street, Marvel was at one time experimenting with Epic Illustrated, a line of darker edgier sci fi comics by writers like Peter B. Gillis in an attempt to hold onto the sophisticated readers that were outgrowing Daredevil and Uncanny X-Men where they cut their teeth on good storytelling.

    While I yearn for the pre-Crisis days of DC Comics, and the early Jim Shooter days of Marvel, the current landscape just does not support such comics, or else editorial doesn’t want them.

    There are indie monthlies that have enjoyed long years of success (Bone), it’s just that many of the creators behind them are now working for the big two on franchise projects (Shazam). And who can blame them?

    While I do miss the diversity of genre comic books, as long as superhero comics are well-written, I don’t really see a problem. The main flaw with 93-99 was how poorly the books were put together. It was an age of almost unreadable comics.

    Oh and the books listed above are almost entirely trade paperback or hardcover collections of monthly comic books, not graphic novels.

    It’s okay to call them comic books.

  12. I’d also like to second Bill’s excellent point that readers are turning into creators… which is ironically one of the best messages in the last issue of the Invisibles.

    The bit where kids are dancing in shoes that make music.

    Even better is that the new breed of creators don’t even have to think about Diamond or any distributer for that matter.

  13. Yes but he found solace in RASL.

    IN case anyone doens’t know it, Smith has started a NEW creator own and published book, called Rasl. He debuted a preview in SD.

  14. “Oh and the books listed above are almost entirely trade paperback or hardcover collections of monthly comic books, not graphic novels.”

    The terms aren’t mutually inconsistent, as long as they form a unified whole and aren’t simply a collection of several unrelated short stories. Charles Dickens’ stories were first published as serials, but I don’t think anyone would seriously dispute that Oliver Twist is a novel.

  15. “I’m sure glad DC was there to pick up Jeff Smith when his indie title Bone collapsed. ”

    Well, Marvel could have given him Captain Marvel :)

    But that’s the choice he made…

  16. Daily POP said: “While I yearn for the pre-Crisis days of DC Comics, and the early Jim Shooter days of Marvel, the current landscape just does not support such comics, or else editorial doesn’t want them.”

    Editorial doesn’t want them. Marvel and DC only want properties they can own and try to make movies out of.

  17. I’d like to think there’s a way to option non-superhero stuff from the big two. I mean, I wouldn’t mind someone taking a try at a Jonah Hex or Batlash or House of Mystery picture. (I’ll just pretend like Constantine didn’t actually happen.)

  18. Well these are all trades. Would manga be able to make it to the top 10 of this list?

    I don’t know, does Diamond handle distribution of manga? Is this the list of just companies they handle, or just a sales list?

  19. V, yes Diamond handles manga, which in the bookstore environment crushes everything on this chart except maybe V FOR VENDETTA and 300.

  20. “Editorial doesn’t want them. Marvel and DC only want properties they can own and try to make movies out of.”

    Exactly what Marvel Editorial has said and I heard it from Grant Morrison about DC Comics as well. It’s ‘dusty’ with the legacies of old characters and franchises.

    And while I’ve heard nothing but good things about the new Jonah Hex, I’d like to see new projects and ideas from the big two rather than revivals of old projects.

    It’s not my thing, but maybe the Minx books are a step in the right direction?

    Even so, self published comics can do as they please and are free to pursue any genre or material they like. Taking a walk through the aisles of MoCCA is truly inspiring.

  21. “I’d like to think there’s a way to option non-superhero stuff from the big two. I mean, I wouldn’t mind someone taking a try at a Jonah Hex or Batlash or House of Mystery picture. (I’ll just pretend like Constantine didn’t actually happen.)”

    Actually, both Sgt. Rock and Jonah Hex are currently being developed as movies (covered in my blog).

  22. I’ve been steadily growing a manga selection in my store since opening. The variety and diversity of titles is far, far better than that of the big box bookstores. While I have less linear feet devoted to manga, I also don’t carry multiple copies of any titles, so our section is smaller, but our SELECTION is bigger.

    However, as of the August order form, I am only ordering manga that has been pre-ordered or special ordered, no more copies for the shelves. Why? Because the big boxes have trained the manga-reading customers to shop ONLY there, and several very vocal members of the American comics community stand fast in their belief that “Manga aren’t comics” and are quite vocal* about it.

    I’ve done several things to get the community aware of our manga selection, including a *very* profitable booth at the local FSU Anime Club’s annual convention, where every purchaser (nearly 100) got a business card AND a bounce-back coupon. ONE coupon came back, and that was used on American comics products. That’s despite hearing over and over again, “I didn’t know this was out!”, “You have stuff I’ve never seen before!”, and the like. My sales from the section are tiny, and I can’t afford to buy what I can’t sell.

    The manga audience is entrenched in the bookstore chains, and most of the sales are going to be there, for the foreseeable future. Manga will never be on the Diamond sales charts unless this changes.

    *Is there a web-equivalent of “vocal”? “Prolific” doesn’t seem to cover it for me.

  23. Brian, that’s an interesting example. Can I ask you a question? Do you think that the bookstore strangehold on Manga could have been averted if Diamond and DM had been a bit more proactive about educating retailers about how to stock, rack and sell Manga a few years ago?

  24. I would speculate that the Manga buyers are by and large a different group of folk. In other words the comic shop didn’t drive them off they simply never had them in the first place.

  25. I don’t think they were driven off, I’m just wondering if they should have been courted sooner.

  26. “Editorial doesn’t want them. Marvel and DC only want properties they can own and try to make movies out of.”

    Is this really a bad thing? That’s a huge source of profit for both companies. Hell, if I was a stockholder, I’d feel the same way.

    I’m not particularly surprised that they are still mining the past. It’s hard to convince creators to develop properties and surrender them to Marvel or DC. Unfortunately, neither company has developed a new model to deal with a more savvy creator.

  27. Please don’t tell me I’m imagining Ed Brubaker comics that really don’t exist. That would just be sad.

  28. Eric,


    Back in the 80’s when the only manga available in the US was imported Japanese versions, a handful of companies in the US put out English translations, in American comics format. Where were they available? ONLY in comics stores.

    Crying Freeman, Robotech, Xenon, Mai the Psychic Girl, Akira, Star Blazers and others were available from publishers as diverse as Eclipse, Marvel, a new company, Viz (whatever happened to them?), and one or two others I may be forgetting. While manga didn’t catch on immediately outside of a niche market, it seems to me as though the transition to the manga-style paperbacks was mostly ignored by Diamond and many comics stores* when they started coming out in the mid-90’s.

    It was (and still is, to many) viewed as a different *product* than comics, instead of a different *delivery system* for comics.

    At the time manga started to appear in small doses around the country, I was running a store for Waldenbooks. One of my goals there was to have the best selection of graphic novels** in town. I achieved this goal, partly because of aggressively ordering everything that was available to me from the company warehouse and Ingram, and partly because I ended up having pretty much the *only* manga section in town.

    I think there’s HUGE potential for manga readers to become US comics readers, and vice versa. I just don’t know how to DO it.

    *I am speaking anecdotally here. None of the comics stores I visited in the mid to late 90’s carried any manga, and much of the recent discussion about it by retailers (and customers) online has indicated that few retailers carry significant quantities of manga currently.

    **Also, RPGs, and Sci-fi/ fantasy novels.