Robot 6

Dark Horse rides again

Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Rift Part One

Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Rift Pt. 1

With April sales numbers released from Diamond Comic Distributors, a subtle pattern has revealed itself: Dark Horse has reclaimed its position as fourth-largest publisher from IDW Publishing for three months straight. It’s a streak of growth in market and dollar share that hasn’t happened for Dark Horse since fall 2011.

It’s great news for an industry mainstay that seemed to be getting eclipsed by the younger IDW at its own game of mixing licensed properties with creator-owned titles. Whether it’s temporary or not, digging into the sales charts, it’s clear there’s more stability in Dark Horse’s catalog than there might first seem.

Obviously Star Wars is the property many know the company for, and when it was announced the license would move at the end of this year to Marvel, some worried how Dark Horse would carry on. However, most publishers realize that no license is forever, so Dark Horse has built a diverse library that seems to be lifting it up now. Despite such diversifying, Star Wars is still the big seller at comic shops, but it’s only the beginning. The back-to-back launch of The Star Wars, a comics adaptation of an early draft of George Lucas’ screenplay, and a back-to-basics Star Wars by Brian Wood provided two accessible titles; if you’d ever seen the original Star Wars trilogy, you’re all set. The last issue of The Star Wars comes out later this month, with a collection in both hardcover and softcover to follow in July.

However, Dark Horse doesn’t begin and end with Star Wars. In fact, those two titles have been eclipsed in sales by Serenity: Leaves on the Wind. Not only did Issue 4 outsell The Star Wars, but the reorders on the previous three issues have been adding about 3,000 to 4,000 in sales for each issue each month. It’s also propelled sales on the collections of Dark Horse’s previous Serenity comics, moving about 500 copies each of the two pricier hardcover collections for the past couple of months. Of course the other Joss Whedon properties, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel and Faith, are also successful, but they’re not having that same kind of trickle-down effect.

That kind of steady longtail, where it rises all of the boats of related titles, might actually be one of the secrets to Dark Horse’s stealthy growth. The best example is the line of Avatar: The Last Airbender graphic novels by Gene Luen Yang, Gurihiru and the show’s creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko. Since 2011, seven books have been released at $10.99 a pop, preceded by a $14.99 Lost Adventures graphic novel. There’s also a hardcover that collects The Search trilogy; an eighth book is due in July. The art duo of Gurihiru masterfully recaptures the feel of the animated series, and Yang nails the characters and their world. Every month or so, the entire set moves another 500 to 600 copies. It’s a strong performance that may not tear up the top of the charts, but it bubbles steadily along. Everyone loves to top the charts, but those kinds of evergreen sellers are the real victories — and the bean counters love these kind of dependable sources of income.

And speaking of evergreen, the 2004 edition of Hellboy, Vol. 1: Seed of Destruction still shows up, moving 500 copies here, 1,000 there. Other random trade paperbacks will emerge with another 400 or so, like Hellboy, Vol. 7: The Troll Witch and Others, originally released in 2007. Twenty years on, and the entire Hellboy universe is going strong. In fact, speaking of that anniversary, the art book Hellboy: The First 20 Years looks like it might have legs. The first collection of Hellboy in Hell comes out today, marking the return of creator Mike Mignola as artist. It received a fair amount of press when the individual issues came out, so this is bound to do well too. Spinoffs seldom perform quite as well, but B.P.R.D. is a steady-seller. Even a divergent take on the character, like the kid-friendly Itty Bitty Hellboy by Art Baltazar and Franco, does a not-too-shabby 2,000 copies in the direct market, a number that was once unheard of for a trade paperback aimed at kids. Hellboy is Dark Horse’s rock: It seems like it’s always been there, and it’s hard to imagine it not being around.

The graphic novel The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story, by Vivek J. Tiwary, Andrew C. Robinson and Kyle Baker, has the potential to be a similar evergreen seller, too, although of a different pedigree. The acclaim it’s already received puts the book more in line with something you might expect from First Second Books (in fact, that imprint released its own Beatles graphic novel Baby’s in Black in 2012), so it probably has a stronger life in the bookstore market. Amazon’s bestseller charts put it in the top 50 of three different categories, so there could be some truth to that. 47 Ronin has some potential to do the same, but it sadly doesn’t seem to have gotten the early traction or buzz that I would’ve thought.

Another title that seems steady but I thought would be doing better is Conan. The once-hit Conan the Barbarian was relaunched as Conan: The Avenger by Fred Van Lente and Brian Ching, and it appears only to have rewound the slowly dwindling sales clock by a three or four months. Still, more than 10,000 copies for Conan is pretty consistent with how the property has been performing, and the Chronicles of Conan collections reprinting the old Marvel comics still do quite well, even at 26 volumes. In fact, every Conan collection steadily sells about 1,000 copies or more through Diamond.

Dark Horse has established a deep back catalog while continuing to bring in properties like Matt Kindt’s Mind MGMT, Greg Rucka’s Veil and its revived superhero line under the Project Black Sky umbrella.

It’s not always high-fives and champagne, of course, but Dark Horse has a long-term, slow-and-steady strategy that appears to serve it well, serves the publisher well.

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Comments

15 Comments

I only read Buffy and Angel & Faith, but I hope they will publish more creator-owned stuff. I have always like them as a publisher. The return of Aliens has me excited, as does Pop.

The loss of Doctor Who probaby didn’t help IDW either.

I really wish they’d do a Kindle App, since I only do digital now.

Loving loads of DH books recently – all the Mignola-verse, Bloodhound, Dream Thief, Buzzkill, Criminal Macabre, Black Beetle

Everyone should be reading Fred Van Lente’s “Conan the Avenger”, it’s really good. If Brian Wood’s terminally boring run on Conan drove you away, come back Conan is great again

Andrew Collins

May 14, 2014 at 10:03 pm

Between the Hellboy titles, Mind Mgmt, the various Conan books, Sergio Aragones’ upcoming Groo work, Usagi Yojimbo, Blade Of The Immortal, Oh My Goddess!, Empowered, the various Tarzan reprints, Concrete, Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, Francavilla’s Black Beetle, the Avatar: The Last Airbender comics and art books, and the various new Mister X, Mr. Monster and Nexus projects, Dark Horse makes up a HUGE chunk of my buying list. The only thing I have bought lately from IDW are the Russ Manning Tarzan reprints and the Lil Abner reprints. IDW’s a fine company, but Dark Horse publishes a catalog of titles that I am waaayyy more interested in…

Swierczynski’s run on X is pretty invigorating. KSD’s GHOST was up and down (and behind schedule a few times), and she’s off it now, but I’m sticking close to X, which has proved intelligent and progressive in dunking readers into the mind of a hero that isn’t afraid to kill.

The KING CONAN mini-series are distinctly under-rated. The writing by Tim Truman is a nearly pitch perfect capturing of the feel of Conan creator Robert E Howard’s work. And Tomas Giorello’s art and Jose Villarrubia’s coloring are stunning and richly atmospheric. Anyone who’s missed out on the comics should go get the trades.

Have a look — and see what I mean — at the previews at
http://www.darkhorse.com/Search/Browse/%22Timothy+Truman%22/PpwNwkt8

Doug Glassman

May 18, 2014 at 6:45 am

Dark Horse also has the Aliens, Predator, AVP and Prometheus titles launching later this year, which will only help them out.

IDW still produces some of the best Transformers books of all time and they’ve gotten even better post-Dark Cybertron, so there’s definitely room for everyone.

TMNT and Transformers are good IDW books but I like Dark Horse better. I am a huge Conan fan and I think Brian Wood’s run was amazing. Fred Van Lente is an equally talented writer so Conan the Avenger is very promising. Some other top notch comics from them are King Conan, Mind Mgmt, the Hellboy books and the best Dark Horse comic: Veil!!!

Just read 47 Ronin. Man, this stuff is so good and totally better than watching the dreadful movie version. Long live Dark Horse!

No love for The Massive? I have found that to be an interesting and compelling book. And I would agree with the comment above above Wood’s run on Conan, I thought it was really interesting. I think the art let him down a few times, but I found the story to be very compelling. I’m curious if anyone can answer the following: it appears from a recent note in Dark Horse that when the license expires all of their old Star Wars books go out the window. Is that true, or am I reading that wrong? Hard to believe that someone’s creative work basically gets thrown away, but my guess is if it’s up to Marvel, these book will never see daylight again.

Any insights would be appreciate.

@Dean: I believe the Star Wars will merely go out of print, until Marvel decides to publish their own volumes. Marvel, Lucasfilm, and/or Disney cannot stop retailers from selling the DH volumes if they still have them in stock. That goes for folks on eBay wishing to sell them. Similar to the MOEBIUS works throughout the years… long out of print, but still attainable if you can find them. Unfortunately, I feel Marvel will not publish much of the DH stuff, save for possibly some of the OT-related stuff. I hope I’m wrong for the sake of future fans, as well as current still interested in new volumes of past works.

subhuman_superman

May 18, 2014 at 3:31 pm

My favourite is most definitely The Massive. Each arc is just fantastic, and each issue reads better and engages me more than most weekly tv shows. With the exception of Batman by Snyder all of the books I pick up are coming out of Image or Dark Horse, all of which are creator-owned. Glad to see hat DH is still doing well sales-wise. The industry needs these kinds of publishers to offer alternative books for those who are burned out on superheroes.

as long as they keep up with the good licensed stufff, enuff of the sueprheros already………..

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