6504 400X600Two years ago I wrote a piece called “It Takes a Nation of 10,000 Dopes to Hold Us Back,” looking back on the comics industry in 2004, and the trends that emerged and are still, to a great degreee, shaping the business. The title was based on the phenomenon of POWERS by Brian Bendis and Mike Oeming going up 10K in sales when moving from Image to Marvel. I implied that blind brand loyalty was still the weakness of the direct sales market, even as new products became available for new audiences.

I’ve been trying to put together my 2006 in review piece for a while now — last year I didn’t even manage one, pathetically — but my schedule and the plethora of funny things to link blog has conspired to keep my attention span a bit too fragmented. I’m going to force myself to do it over the next few days, but I’m going to break it up into a few discrete parts so as not to be too daunting — to both author and audience.

First up, I’ll look at the return of the “10,000 Dopes” phenomenon. This time we have the most perfect lab specimen ever in Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson’s THE BOYS. Booted from Wildstorm for its wildly tasteless contents, the book was nevertheless a strong seller for DC. As the figures Marc posted the other day revealed, sales were ACTUALLY GOING UP, an almost unheard-of miracle.

08/2006: The Boys #1 — 31,636 [36,173]
08/2006: The Boys #2 — 26,165 (-17.3%) [32,075]
09/2006: –
10/2006: The Boys #3 — 26,415 (+ 1.0%)
10/2006: The Boys #4 — 24,848 (- 5.9%) [28,452]
11/2006: The Boys #5 — 26,842 (+ 8.0%)
12/2006: The Boys #6 — 27,039 (+ 0.7%)

DC (most likely Paul Levitz) put principle before profits in canceling the book but has graciously allowed Ennis and Robertson to shop it to other publishers, while freeing Robertson from his DC exclusive just for that book. While one assumes DC wouldn’t be too happy about the book going to Icon, Marvel’s creator-owned boutique line, both Ennis and Robertson report they have been flooded with offers from publishers.

Over on the private retailers forum, there was much complaining about DC for cancelling thebook, which everyone agreed was selling briskly — the trade was eagerly awaited, and all systems appeared to be go, even before a hamster crawled from a dead man’s ass. However, the move to another publisher was greeted with gloomy predictions of diminished sales, as stated by Dan Wallace of Impulse Creations when I asked WHY the book would have to sell less from another publisher when the quality was the same. (All quotes are given with permission.)

There are always going to be some readers who will pass on a book because of the publisher simply because they read only or mostly books from a single publisher or (more commonly) only read books from the big publishers. The bigger issue though is that there are retailers who will order fewer copies of the same book (or not stock it at all) if it moves from DC to anywhere other than Marvel and won’t give it the same shelf presence. It may not be logical but it happens.

The Dabel Brothers books are a good example of the difference in sales a publisher can make even though promotional efforts certainly played a part in the increase in sales on those books.

The Boys may very well be successful at another publisher and may even increase its readership over time but, initially, there’s sure to be a drop in sales with the transition unless the “buzz” of it’s cancellation is played up to generate hype of it’s return.

I’d just want to clear that the situation I describe is NOT representative of Impulse Creations as a store. Unless there are other circumstances that change with a change in publisher (such as a creator change or a price change that’s likely to affect sales) I don’t expect to order the book differently wherever it ends up.

I won’t stock it any differently and I’ll make sure previous buyers know about the change to try and avert any dropoff there.

However, I can still virtually guarantee that sales at the publisher level will decrease with the change due to the ordering habits of some other retailers and the loss of fans who don’t look at anything outside of the big two or four and will just miss it if it isn’t pointed out to them.

Over time though, sales will likely rebound as retailers order to meet the real demand and fans of the book who weren’t aware of the publisher change eventually find out about it.

I’m profoundly saddened by the idea that a book that specialized in dark, gross out humor — a popular genre among many readers — which all agreed should never be published by DC would nevertheless be penalized for appearing from a more receptive publisher. It’s as if people were looking at the newspaper ads and saw HELLBOY 2 coming out and said “Oh no! It’s not from Revolution! I just won’t see it!”

Several retailers told me that yes, studios did have some kind of branding, but another factor might well be a new publishers having a lower discount than DC, which would mean lower initial orders (see the item on Virgin’s discounts going up the other day.) I can certainly understand that, as well as indie publishers tendency not to ship on a monthly schedule. Ennis and Robertson would seem to be beyond this level of reproach, however.

But still, the idea that ANY publisher’s branding could trump Garth Ennis’s branding seems ludicrous to me, just as Guillermo del Toro and Mike Mignola would trump any studio branding. The initial motto for THE BOYS was “The book that out-Preachers Preacher” and if that isn’t based on Ennis and Robertson, I don’t know what it.

Paul Stock at Astro Books also responded to my question, but with the idea that blind brand awareness and Marvel Zombiedom may be loosening their grip.

I feel the market’s changing a bit, thanks to the success of stuff like Hellboy, Sin City, and especially books like Walking Dead, and Persepolis.

I feel a certain …perception(?) that a publisher’s solid as long as they have a library of TPBs- or at least one solid title in their library.

As far as singles go, moving to anyone who’s not a big two IS a step down in volume- pretty sure of that, but the shifting of titles like Transformers, GI Joe, Angel and so on, the “classic Marvels” Red Sonja to Dynamic, and Conan to Dark Horse… It’s not quite the old days of “original publisher or failure”. It’s become a fairly mundane thing, and consumers aren’t all that disturbed by it anymore.

As long as a title goes to a stable publisher I don’t see the resistance that I once did. With all the publishing failures in recent years, customers ARE leery of start-ups, but if a book goes to an IDW or Devil’s Due, customers are pretty confident they can get involved without too much concern.

Retailers are a different story. We have huge discount drops to consider. We’ve seen the same faces float from this masthead to that, and we’ve been left with the trail of broken promises and unsold inventory. We’re VERY cautious.

But consumers? I think the “Marvel guy” and “DC guy” are going the way of the Chevvy or Ford guy. Consumers are starting to think “try a Datsun” (or a Dark Horse). I see branding losing its grip.

Someone else put together numbers comparisons of books that have shifted publishers, with some interesting results.

IMAGE (MARCH 2001) #75 AT 23,387
MARVEL (APRIL 2005) #74 AT 28,360

IMAGE (APRIL 2001) #64 AT 24,977
MARVEL (JUNE 2005) #88 AT 27,703


IMAGE (JUNE 2001) #65 AT 27,002
MARVEL (OCTOBER 2005) #73 AT 26,535

POWERS #37 (MARCH 2004) #89 AT 25,028

POWERS #1 (JULY 2004) #39 AT 40,387

DC (FEBRUARY 2004) #135 AT 11,435
IDW (AUGUST 2006) #177 AT 8,168

DC (MARCH 2004) #167 AT 11,163
IDW (OCTOBER 2006) #161 AT 7,954

DC (APRIL 2004) #154 AT 10,930
IDW (NOVEMBER 2006 #214 AT 7,718

FALLEN ANGEL #20 (MAY 2005) #144 AT 10,283

FALLEN ANGEL #1 (DECEMBER 2005) #151 AT 12,176

There may actually be fewer than 10,000 dopes — perhaps there are only 3 or 4 thousand. And yes, I do mean they are dopes. People who think individual creators as professional and individual as Peter David and Brian Bendis and Garth Ennis change when they change publishers are not well-informed. I can see them preferring to read Bendis’s writing on well-known characters like SPIDER-MAN and DAREDEVIL — sure. But all of these books are new, creator-owned characters.

Throw in the top-heavy weighting of the pamphlet system to order the event books from Marvel and DC (a topic we’ll look at tomorrow) and you can see how books below the Infinite Civil Crisis tie-in level get left behind, let alone new characters from non Marvel or DC characters. I suppose I don’t blame retailers for having to lower the bar for their dumbest, most reactionary customers, since those may be the most steady. But it is still stifling the marketplace.

Maybe the world is ready for THE BOYS coming from a non-DC company. Maybe Paul Stock is right. I sure hope so. If you can’t sell jokes about blow jobs and anal trauma, what can you sell?


  1. Sales going up isn’t an almost unheard-of miracle; just indicative of a good book finding its audience. The sales patterns of DEMO and THE WALKING DEAD spring immediately to mind… :)

  2. I have to sadly say that, as a consumer, I sometimes visit comic shops that almost exclusively carry Marvel and DC, with (if you’re lucky) a trinkle Dark Horse and Image; and don’t bother with the rest.
    In that scenario I can see those shops dropping The Boys regardless of Ennis and Roberston if it ends up sollicited in the “Comics” section in Previews.

  3. Books from Marvel and DC are sold at lower percentages of retail to retailers, so a retailer will make more money per $ of sales of a Marvel/DC book than they will of, say, an Avatar book. So it makes more sense for retailers to promote Marvel/DC titles, since they will see more profits. That can be relected in sales.

  4. I think a lot of this can be blamed on the retailers that only order Marvel & DC. Whether they do that out of laziness/ignorance or economics is up for grabs. I rarely realize how lucky I am to have an LCS (in the far south-Chicago-suburbs) that pretty much carries everything and supports small press. The one thing is, I just don’t think that The Boys would have a long shelf-life other than coming from Ennis/Robertson, it seemed to be a one-trick pony after three issues to me. It was far from Preacher quality. I’ll pick up the trade whenever it comes out to get a better idea.

  5. This is one of the reasons why I no longer buy corporate owned titles. With “The Boys” being creator owned, there is at least a chance for more issues in the future. Had “The Boys” been a DC owned property, there would have been no chance at all.

  6. That not to say the The Boys is Nazi propaganda. It’s just a little more then bad taste. But if it finds another publisher, more power to them. It is still a free country (no matter what they tell you) and I support peoples right to write and draw whatever they want, no matter how wrong to do so it may be. Is it wrong? Who am I to say? I just feel that Preacher was bad. Do you think Karen Burger would have put up with a vertigo book called Rabbi of Death, or something like that?

  7. Is it brand recognition, or is it the fact that Marvel and DC have more sway than any other comics publisher? Would the boys reach as many LCS’ if it hav been published by any indie publisher? No way!

    I think that it’s good, still that DC dropped the book. It got the book some attention and now it’s going to find a place where it belongs.

  8. “Would the boys reach as many LCS’ if it hav been published by any indie publisher? No way!”

    Ever hear of Wanted?

  9. Apples and oranges. Powers and Fallen Angel.

    I argue that Bendis was certainly more famous and popular in 2005 than 2001. Also, the market was in much better shape in 2005 than 2001.

    In the case of Fallen Angel, it now costs $3.99 versus $2.99 when published by DC. At $3.99 per issue, many people decided to wait for the trade. Trades usually sell for less than the sum of the individual issues. (Not so with Fallen Angel.)

  10. While I fully agree with regard to the dopes, in their defense they might say that the editing is more professional at DC/Marvel and if pressed point to e.g. Warren Ellis as living proof that even the top creators need good editing or else it shows in their work. Not that people who stop buying because it isn’t coming from M-DC would notice something as subtle as better editing.

  11. I wonder if the market would notice if every regular DC/Marvel reader would give up one title from their pull list and try something new from the “Comics” section of Previews.

  12. A few notes on methodology:

    The issue numbers are not reprints of the same issues, at least not in the case of FALLEN ANGEL.

    There was also an artist change when FALLEN ANGEL went to IDW. And most importantly, there was a price change as well.