I’ve recently had a few conversations about what kind of comics sell at Image and more specifically WHO sells at Image.  I think we’ve all heard the narrative of Image -> Marvel -> Image and then you start really making some money at Image after doing some work at Marvel.  So I took the Comichron sales estimates for Images titles in June and annotated them with which publisher(s) the creators are considered best known for.  If they started out at Image, or only did 1 or 2 things before Image, I labelled them “homegrown.” If they only did a small amount of work for a publisher, particularly on b-list titles, I put “minor” in front of the publisher.  If they did other notable work at Image, but didn’t really start there, I list it as “Image.” There may be some minor quibbles here and there, but if you’re reading this on The Beat, you’ll know who the BIG names are already and this will at least provide some context for the rest.

First, the list:

  • Walking Dead 168        $2.99     Image    82,970
    Robert Kirkman – homegrown/minor Marvel; Charlie Adlard2000 AD, minor DC/Wildstorm/Marvel
  • Saga 44           $2.99     Image    43,028
    Bryan K. Vaughan – Vertigo/Wildstorm/Marvel; Fiona Staples – minor Wildstorm/Vertigo, effectively homegrown
  • Reborn 6             $5.99     Image    29,554
    Mark Millar – Marvel/Icon/DC; Greg CapulloBatman/Spawn/X-Force
  • Paper Girls 15           $2.99     Image    26,654
    Brian K. Vaughan – Vertigo/Wildstorm/Marvel; Cliff Chiang – DC/Vertigo
  • Redneck 3             $3.99     Image    22,048
    Donny Cates – homegrown, minor Dark Horse, soon-to-be Marvel; Lisandro Estherren – homegrown
  • Crosswind 1             $3.99     Image    21,305
    Gail Simone – DC/Marvel/Vertigo/Dynamite; Cat Staggs – minor DC
  • Spawn 275        $2.99     Image    19,251
    Todd McFarlane – Image founder/Marvel; Szymon Kudranski – Marvel/DC
  • Shirtless Bear-Fighter 1             $3.99     Image    18,794
    Jody LeHeup – Marvel (editor only); homegrown as writer; Sebastian Girner – Marvel (editor only), homegrown as writer; Nil Vendrell – homegrown
  • I Hate Fairyland 13           $3.99     Image    17,630
    Skottie Young – Marvel
  • Outcast 28           $2.99     Image    17,031
    Robert Kirkman – homegrown, minor Marvel; Paul Azaceta – Marvel, BOOM!
  • Divided States of Hysteria 1             $3.99     Image    16,021
    Howard Chaykin – First Comics; DC; Marvel
  • Spawn 274        $2.99     Image    15,927
    Todd McFarlane – Image founder/Marvel; Szymon Kudranski – Marvel/DC
  • Bitch Planet Triple Feature 1             $3.99     Image    15,528
    Anthology fronted by original creators Kelly Sue DeConnick – Marvel; Valentine De Landro – Marvel
  • God Country 6             $3.99     Image    15,389
    Donny Cates – homegrown, minor Dark Horse, soon-to-be Marvel; Geoff Shaw – homegrown, minor Dark Horse
  • Old Guard 5             $3.99     Image    15,016
    Greg Rucka – DC/Marvel/Oni; Leandro Fernández – Marvel/Wildstorm/Vertigo
  • Black Monday Murders 6             $3.99     Image    14,458
    Jonathan Hickman – Image homegrown -> Marvel -> back; Tomm Coker – minor Wildstorm/Vertigo/Marvel
  • Black Magick 6             $3.99     Image    13,243
    Greg Rucka – DC/Marvel/Oni; Nicola Scott – DC
  • Kill The Minotaur 1             $3.99     Image    12,117
    Chris Pasetto – homegrown; Christian Cantamessa – homegrown; Lukas Ketner (homegrown
  • Invincible 137        $2.99     Image    11,856
    Robert Kirkman – homegrown/minor Marvel; Ryan Ottley – homegrown
  • Winnebago Graveyard 1             $3.99     Image    11,600
    Steve Niles – IDW/Image/minor DC; Alison Sampson – homegrown, minor DH
  • Rose 3             $3.99     Image    10,789
    Meredith Finch – DC/Zenescope; Ig Guara– DC/Marvel
  • Injection 13           $3.99     Image    10,723
    Warren Ellis – Vertigo/Wildstorm/Marvel; Declan Shalvey – Marvel
  • Royal City 4             $3.99     Image    10,544
    Jeff Lemire – DC/Vertigo/Top Shelf/Marvel/Valiant
  • Youngblood 2             $3.99     Image    10,315
    Chad Bowers – minor Marvel; Jim Towe – homegrown
  • Extremity 4             $3.99     Image    10,063
    Daniel Warren Johnson – minor Dark Horse/minor DC
  • Regression 2             $3.99     Image    9,701
    Cullen Bunn – Oni/Marvel/DC; Danny Luckert– minor Red 5/possible homegrown candidate
  • Manifest Destiny 29           $2.99     Image    9,413
    Chris Dingess – homegrown;  Matthew Roberts – homegrown
  • Plastic 3             $3.99     Image    9,331
    Doug Wagner – minor DC/12-Gauge; Daniel Hillyard – 12-Gauge
  • Grrl Scouts Magic Socks 2             $3.99     Image    7,966
    Jim Mahfood – Oni/Marvel… Mahfood’s always been around and doing his own thing.
  • Black Cloud 3             $3.99     Image    7,092
    Jason Latour – Image homegrown -> Marvel -> back; Ivan Brandon – DC/Vertigo/homegrown; Greg Hinkle – homegrown
  • Green Valley 9             $3.99     Image    6,790
    Max Landis – DC/TV/Movies; Giuseppe Camuncoli – Marvel/DC
  • Birthright 25           $2.99     Image    6,759
    Joshua Williamson – DC/homegrown/Dark Horse/minor Marvel; Andrei Bressan – DC
  • Head Lopper 6             $5.99     Image    6,626
    Andrew MacLean – Dark Horse/self-published
  • Eternal Empire 2             $3.99     Image    6,563
    Jonathan Luna – homegrown/minor Marvel; Sarah Vaughn – homegrown/minor DC
  • September Mourning 1 0             $4.99     Image    6,359
    Emily Lazar – homegrown/musician; Mariah McCourt – IDW (editor)/Vertigo (editor); Sumeyye Kesgin – homegrown
  • Spawn 25th Anniversary Foil Encore Ed 1             $4.99     Image    6,343
    Todd McFarlane – Image Founder/Marvel
  • Copperhead 14           $3.99     Image    5,013
    Jay Faerber – DC/Marvel/Image; Drew Moss – IDW/Oni
  • Renato Jones Season Two 2             $3.99     Image    4,995
    Kaare Andrews – Marvel
  • Paklis 2             $5.99     Image    4,882
    D.J. Bryant – homegrown; Dustin Weaver – Marvel, Dark Horse
  • Cannibal 6             $3.99     Image    4,831
    Brian Buccellato – DC; Jennifer Young – homegrown; Matias Bergara – BOOM!, minor DC

And then the rest of the June Image titles didn’t make the top 300, so assume those are below 4,739 for the U.S. Direct Market estimates.

Disclaimers off the bat: Sales are not necessarily an indication of quality. Many Image titles take breaks around when the trade paperbacks come out, so we’re not seeing the full creative roster.  (Notably including two Image > Marvel > Image success stories in Rick Remender and Nick Spencer.)  Those trade paperbacks are also a major source of income for many, if not most, Image titles and we’re not looking at those here. Just the single issue periodicals.

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I’m sure you’ll draw some conclusions from the list.  Here are some of mine:

  • It’s a writer dominated list. Particularly up top.
  • You can see how dominated the list is top through middle by writers with a Marvel pedigree. Particularly alum of A-list Marvel books.  If you’re selling over 10K in June at Image, at least one of the creators probably had a good Marvel profile or a very good DC profile.
  • There isn’t a huge percentage of homegrown Image creators on that last, particularly at the top. Kirkman is Kirkman and you can’t expect anyone else to match him.  Donny Cates just exploded after a small amount of work elsewhere (and Marvel didn’t waste a lot of time scooping him up).  You get much further down the list, you’re seeing the homegrown folks as writers who used to be editors or worked in video games or TV/film.  If you’re truly starting out at Image, the June numbers say you’re probably not going to hit the top 300 sales slots at Diamond unless you’re paired with someone a bit more established.
  • Women with some DC/Marvel experience are doing pretty well. It’s possible Kelly Sue does better with Bitch Planet than she’d be selling on Captain Marvel if she’d stayed over there, judging by the way Marvel’s bottom third has been performing.  Gail Simone had a pretty strong launch, too.
  • With the notable exception of Kelly Sue, if you weren’t a frontline Marvel title or had a really high profile at DC, you’re probably not going to see the big sales bump. The smaller profile creators with Big 2 experience are mostly falling below the 10K line, which is roughly where you start pulling in the equivalent of base page rates at DC and Marvel.  You need to sell a little higher to replace premium rates.  Again, that’s not factoring in tpb sales, but cash flow is cash flow.
  • Just because there aren’t a lot of big name DC/Marvel artists on this chart doesn’t mean they’re not a draw. Greg Capullo and Cliff Chiang are right at the top.  Gee, a top writer/artist pairing selling… how not unusual.
  • Image’s gain is very frequently Marvel’s and DC’s loss.
  • While the bigger names selling more isn’t exactly a shock, it does raise the question of whether it’s because those bigger names have bigger social follower counts and email lists or are better able to promote their work on their own in other ways? Image has a relatively small staff, especially when you consider the number of books they publish each month across all formats.  There aren’t enough hours in the day for everyone to get a big push each month.

So it seems there’s some truth to the Marvel to Image = good sales story that’s floating around, but it depends a bit on what you were doing at Marvel.

But those are the numbers, so let the informed discussion begin.

Want to learn more about how comics publishing and digital comics work?  Try Todd’s book, Economics of Digital Comics or have a look at his horror detective series on Patreon.

17 COMMENTS

  1. It should be no surprise that big-name-writer + big-name-artist = sales.

    There seems to be a reluctance at the Big 2 to do this, unless it’s a big event book or a guaranteed seller (Batman…) For those pairings, the book has to sell a lot to justify the top page rates, and in many cases those Image sales levels wouldn’t cover that and the book would lose money.

    This is where Image’s economic model is a plus: If two top creators want to work together, they assume the risk, foregoing their Big 2 page rates for the potential of an equal (or better) payout if the book sells just relatively well. Plus they keep all of the ancillary rights, for which the payday can be even better should a movie or TV deal come along.

  2. I don’t know anything about the continuing conversations about this, but if people are saying “go do some work for Marvel or DC if you can, then go to Image with projects you’re really passionate about”, I don’t see how anyone can dispute that. Paying your dues with superhero work has been the way to go for decades. Compare Grant Morrison and Peter Milligan, who were both successful in the early days when DC’s more experimental direct market material was morphing into Vertigo. In fact, you could argue that Milligan, with Shade, was more successful than Morrison. But then Morrison did JLA and became a superstar (deservedly so). And while I love Peter Milligan, superhero work is not his strong suit (with the notable exception of X-Statix, which is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea).

    Similarly, while we can count Kirkman as an Image homegrown success, I sincerely doubt that his profile would have risen quite so high without the attention Marvel Zombies drew for him. This is not to say that the Walking Dead wouldn’t have become a huge success on its’ own, but certainly having another zombie comic out there raised his profile above most of the other horror comics starting up at the time.

    I think guys like Hickman and Remender have the right idea when it comes to corporate comics: get in, make your mark, and get out.

  3. So it seems the comic book business now consists almost entirely of auditioning. Small press indie writers create their indie books as auditions to get Marvel and D.C. to notice and hire them. Writers at Marvel and D.C. are auditioning for a chance to take fans of the established superhero properties along with them to their post-big 2 Image titles. And ex-Marvel/DC writers are auditioning their ideas for movie and TV studios, presumably so they can stop grinding out a living in comics. No wonder artists who don’t write aren’t moving the needle. Their creative partners are always running off to pursue what they imagine to be greener pastures. The sad thing is the comic book sales charts suggest that readers have begun to notice that they keep paying for auditions and never getting performances.

  4. What I read here should be so obvious to the bigger companies…want to keep your creators , offer them a Image type deal, but since that will not happen any time soon, we will continue to see creators from the big 2 bringing their best to Image and I am happy for that. As a creator you can only do so much with other peoples characters so I am very happy Image is there to bring personal projects to. That all said, you have to also understand that these creators are used to a certain amount of pay for their work, so the books HAVE to sell pretty well for them to stay there. The biggest thing for some is that they can control the rights of the characters and the Intellectual Properties after the publishing with Image and if we look at the list again, a lot of these properties will probably be developed at some point. The big 2 do everything they can to keep the creators away from that part of the business…and that will also keep creators going elsewhere with their projects until that changes. I don’t see the big 2 involving their talent much when developing their creator shared properties and that is a huge mistake on their part…but again, it makes it that much easier for Image to attract talent because of it.

    That all said, if your idea is a brilliant one, you can find an audience with Image, but yeah, the store owners order books and follow names and want a guaranteed sale -so it gets harder and harder to give new talent a shot, which is sad…but that is the nature of the business…you do your best and hope to get noticed and hopefully you get the attention the work deserves.

  5. My takeaway is the top guys in comics on this list, especially Kirkman, hustled their ever living asses off in self publishing to get those Marvel gigs before their image gigs. the word “homegrown” appears a bunch, and it’s saying a lot that the top person is “homegrown”- we need NEW things from
    New homegrown creators and new readers. I think Robert put out a major call for that years back, and you can see it translated in these numbers. Need it now more than ever.

    All of these numbers are a really sad for comics as a whole. This direct market system is failing the creators of these books.

  6. Good overview.

    One point of comment on Image social media interactions is that they are severely lacking.
    Their digital newsletter appears irregularly and does absolutely nothing to push their comics which is the sole intent of such a newsletter I would say.
    The FB account consists mostly of previews of books without focusing on the UPS of each specific book and the copy is just a copy/paste from previews with almost no enticing original copy.
    And the Twitter account is a bit better but is mostly retweets and previews.

    The creators would really benefit from a solid, targeted approach to their digital communication since Image Comics accounts reach more followers than a single creator account can ever reach.

  7. I’m not sure “minor” truly describes Kirkman’s work at Marvel. He was there for four or five years, wrote multiple titles (including a high profile book like Ultimate X-Men), and his tenure there came in the early years of his career when he really needed the attention and the paychecks.

    Kirkman has far outstripped his Marvel days, of course, but if “Walking Dead” had petered out after five or six years with no TV show in the offing, does anyone doubt he would have likely sought out more work from the Big 2? My point is that Marvel and DC offer creators the opportunities to have careers in between starving artist and superstar, opportunities that may only be appreciated after they are gone.

    Mike

  8. I hope this doesn’t come off as confrontational, because I think there’s an interesting discussion to be had… but everyone who extrapolates big truths from these lists (including the monthly DM analysis) are just spinning there wheels, aren’t they? Yes… you qualify the numbers are only ‘copies sold to retailers in North America’… they don’t include TPB… and we’ll never even sniff a conversation about IP generation and transmedia value… but I don’t think very many of these conclusions (and here I’m including the various articles’ content as well as comments) are on firm ground.

    When these reports post the first angle is always the title. Second is the publisher. Now third it’s by creator. But the underlying data is a terribly flawed predictor of quality or profitability or popularity. These numbers a best a predictor of store health. Why can/can’t the DM sell certain product that the mass market can/can’t? These sales numbers give a picture of what local comic stores, en masse, are. That’s pretty much the only thing these numbers are good for… but it’s not a sexy topic so people start talking about “what DC should do is…”. And if we’re honest, it’s not really that complete a picture of the retailer–because in that channel sales of TPB are going up while single issues are going down. These numbers simply don’t give any kind of usable picture for publishing or creative realities–those are far too complex these days. Maybe 10+ years ago you could extrapolate something useful, but that’s silly today.

  9. As pointed out in the article, without the TPB sales, the list is only a glimpse. Look at March and Fanta’s hip-hop line, those books are successes because they have huge hooks outside the direct market (and they’re quality books, too).

    Palmiotti’s right on all counts – M/DC have long done P&L on books with top talent vs newbies and determined the IP is the priority, and the pay for top talent is outweighed by the result sales-wise. The royalty schemes in place (is the DC one even a thing anymore?) are scaled against creators.

    As much as you may want to write/draw a new twist on Batman, you’d be a fool to do it at DC. Change the character into something similar and make it yours – after all, Frank fucking Miller did it – and put it out yourself.

    If it’s really great, it’ll find an audience.

    Because who wouldn’t love to read a GREAT NEW TAKE ON BATMAN story? Are you listening Jim Steranko?

  10. I’m with whoever’s talking about the Marvel/DC model going the way of most labor these days. The trickle down economy is finding new ways to dam up and pool things much higher up the mountain than the likes of comicbook writers it seems.

    Vertigo was the canary in the coal mine. The Bigs all over are dictating terms and if someone won’t meet them then they find somebody who will.

    Nevermind that it makes for some of the most anemic commercial offerings available, we’ve been marinating in remakes, sequels, prequels, reunions and reimaginings for what feels like a decade straight now.

    Fortunately you can’t kill art.

  11. there’s a large portion of the indie creator community who are trying to go the Marvel/DC>Image path, and the work looks like a blatant attempt at auditioning. Instead of risk taking, and being unique voice there is a bigger focus on emulating “pro” style. Break in by blending in. I think as a result we see the indie/kickstarter market flooded with Big 2 Minor League stuff as people hold themselves back from doing truly interesting stuff.

    Which is funny because A LOT of the big names from the big 2 who came from marvel broke in by being odd ducks in indie comics, doing weird stuff that set them apart.

  12. I would say that Kirkman put in his dues more than a lot of these guys, He was $36,000 in credit card debt doing his image comics to keep it going and that was when Marvel called him to write and he took every job to pay off the debt and that was when the trades of his properties started selling.

    Kirkman had a great interview with Marc Maron on his WTF Podcast he talks all about it staying up at night worrying about how he’d pay off the debt. Maron asked him if he could, would he do it all over again and Kirkman said he’d rather go work for a bank.

    Worth a listen. I think it’s on YouTube now as it was several years ago he did it.

  13. I was going to write a long response to all that is wrong with the USA view of comic books but it’s not worth my time/aggravation. I will say is this. Look at other countries like France, Italy, and Japan. They read way more comics then the USA will ever read and they don’t funnel everything through TWO corporations. This model is on it’s way out. It will break eventually.

    Imagine any other profession where you must go through one of TWO corporations in order to be successful. The only thing close, that I can think of, is a career in the US military.

    Every actor/director/writer/sound designer/concept artist/etc.. MUST work for Disney or Warner Bros.? No, not true.
    Every artist/writer MUST work for the “big 2” also not true.

    Flawed numbers be damned. All this article does is discourage indie artist/writers/creators. Please stop perpetuating this outdated model of success.

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