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In “By the Numbers,” ROBOT 6 takes a look back at the events of the past five days … in numbers. Our starting point this week is Wednesday’s announcement that retailers ordered a record-breaking number of comics for Free Comic Book Day, an international event that will draw millions of customers into specialty shops on May 4.
However, there was another figure that’s almost as impressive: the print run for the latest volume of the hit manga One Piece.
Retailers ordered more than 4.6 million comic books for the May 4 Free Comic Book Day, a 34-percent increase from last year — and a staggering 70-percent jump from 2011. Needless to say, that’s a record high for the 11-year-old event.
According to Diamond Comic Distributors, this year also will see nearly 2,000 retail accounts participating, still another record. The event coincides with the North America premiere of Marvel Studios’ Iron Man 3.
Gold-level comics include Marvel’s Infinity, by Jonathan Hickman and Jim Cheung, described as “the opening shots of the war that will be heard around the galaxy” — likely to appeal to those Iron Man 3 audiences — and DC’s Superman Special Edition, which boasts a preview of Scott Snyder and Jim Lee’s Superman Unchained.
Other offerings range from The Walking Dead (a new Tyreese story, paired with reprints of Michonne, The Governor and Morgan stories) and Ape Entertainment’s Sesame Street & Strawberry Shortcake to Archaia’s Mouse Guard/Rust flip book and Dark Horse’s Star Wars/Captain Midnight/Avatar sampler.See the complete list on the Free Comic Book Day website.
Comics | The Wall Street Journal takes a look at comics as investments. Interestingly, while the rare, old issues bring in the big money, some more recent comics, like the first issue of Saga, have appreciated quite a bit. There’s also an accompanying video. [The Wall Street Journal]
Retailing | ComicsPRO, the comics retailers’ association, held its annual meeting over the weekend in Atlanta, where the group bestowed its Industry Appreciation Award on Cindy Fournier, vice president of operations for Diamond Comic Distributors. Thomas Gaul, of Corner Store Comics and Beach Ball Comics in Anaheim, California, also was elected as president of the board of directors. [ComicsPRO]
Activate cartwheels. The North American comics industry has crawled out of the hole it’s been in to raise estimated profits of $715 million, the best it’s been since 1993 or 1994, according to cautiously optimistic numbers analyst John Jackson Miller.
But hold on. We haven’t quite recovered from the mid-’90s crash quite yet.
While a number of sites are running with the two-decade comparison, it’s not quite as clear cut, or as celebratory as it might suggest.
Miller himself notes the ’93 and ’94 figures aren’t adjusted for inflation, and he added an update to his original post that went into this more. “The most frequently cited figure for sales in 1993, the market’s all-time peak, is $850 million,” he writes. “That amounts to an inflation-adjusted $1.35 million, nearly double the size of the current market.” Once you add in increased cover prices and other factors, Miller notes, “we’re still quite a lot behind the early 1990s in adjusted dollars.”
Miller also briefly touches on something I’ve long thought, that to truly measure the health of the industry, we should be making more comparisons based on units, not dollars. Sure, it’s awesome to make money, and I realize it’s pretty standard in business to focus on the dollars, but just looking at a stack of money doesn’t really tell the whole story of how that money came to be. How many people are putting money into the industry? The most accurate way to do it would be to know how many eyeballs are reading each issue, but that would probably break some privacy laws or get into 1984 territory. So knowing how many copies are sold is the next best thing. This information is available for more recent sales records, but whenever we get to these year-end analyses or compare year-to-year figures, we usually focus on the dollar amount. But by just considering inflation alone, that’s just not an accurate gauge.
Publishing | This wrap-up of the third annual India Comic Con, which drew an estimated 50,000 attendees (up from 15,000 last year), doubles as a snapshot of that country’s $22 million comics industry. The growth of the market is attributed in large part to the rise of graphic novels, which are luring young-adult readers. [The Times of India]
Comics | Writing for The Atlantic, Noah Berlatsky weighs in on the backlash over DC Comics hiring Orson Scott Card in an article titled “The Real Reason to Fear a Homophobe Writing a Superman Comic”: “It’s disturbing to have Orson Scott Card writing Superman, then, in part because Superman is supergood, and the supergood shouldn’t hate gay people. But it’s also disturbing, perhaps, because Superman is a violent vigilante — and because violent vigilantism in the name of good is often directed not against injustice, but against the powerless.” [The Atlantic]
Taking into account the Bookscan figures supplied last week by CBR columnist Brian Hibbs, numbers-cruncher John Jackson Miller estimates that print sales in North America of comic books and graphic novels reached $715 million in 2012, a high not seen since 1993 or 1994.
Miller breaks down his math, so there’s no great mystery as to how he arrived at that number: Bookscan tracks about 75 percent of bookstore sales. Add to that the rest of the book market, direct market sales of periodicals and graphic novels, and newsstand estimates, and voila. He acknowledges it’s a little rough, and doesn’t take into account graphic novel sales to libraries (or, clearly, the digital and U.K. markets); there’s also the big caveat, the rate of inflation that would put those 1993-1994 sales at about $1.1 billion in 2012.
Stills, it provides a fascinating snapshot of the state of the North American comics market last year, which grew by about $35 million from 2011.
Jackson also singles out another interesting number: “For what I think may be the first time in years, the Direct Market’s graphic novel dollar orders exceeded the value of the Bookscan orders (but not the entire mass market). I attribute it at least in part to the huge traffic in Walking Dead trades: comics shops ordered at least 74,000 copies of the first volume in 2012, versus 38,000 copies through Bookscan’s retailers. That’s a big difference.”
Publishing | Comics sales were up 22 percent in the direct market over January 2012, and graphic novels increased by nearly 38 percent. This good news is tempered a bit by the fact there were five Wednesdays in this January (or 25 percent more Wednesdays, if you want to look at it that way), but that fifth week is usually a quiet one for new releases, so I think we can call this a win. The retail news and analysis site ICv2 credits Marvel NOW! and a strong backlist for the boost. [ICv2]
Publishing | Dark Horse’s video-game art book The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia last week was the No. 1 book in the United States, according to Nielsen BookScan — not merely in the graphic novel category, but in any category. The initial print run was 400,000 copies. (Comic Book Resources interviewed the book’s editor Patrick Thorpe last month.) [ICv2]
Publishing| Marvel Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso talks about bringing more Latino characters — and more diversity in general — to the Marvel lineup: “People out there reading our comic books are of all sizes, creeds and colors and it’s our responsibility to make them feel included. This isn’t some PC initiative, this is capitalism. This is about supply and demand.” [Fox News Latino]
Creators | Grant Morrison discusses winding up his run on Action Comics: “Symbolically I’m not a big fan of dealing with politics in superhero comics because I think it diminishes both sides of the argument, but I do have my own take on things. I’ve got my own politics and so they do tend to find their way in. And really for me, its more symbolic, the way story winds up to tackle all those issues and looks at them through the perspective of Superman and Red Kryptonite and weirdness. So it’s gone underground. I think the early Superman was very much more aligned with the anti-establishment, anti-authoritarian current, because I think when Superman started out that he was what entered into.” [Comics Alliance]
Readers will get their first taste of the much-anticipated new Superman series by Scott Snyder and Jim Lee in DC Comics’ gold-edition offering for Free Comic Book Day.
The special issue also will reprint the first part of “Last Son,” the 2006-2008 Action Comics story arc by Geoff Johns, Superman: The Movie director Richard Donner, and Adam Kubert, described as “a great jumping-on point for fans who can’t wait to see Warner Bros. Pictures’ Man of Steel major motion picture.” The story may seem like an odd choice, given that the issue is more than six years old and was released before DC’s linewide relaunch, but it does reintroduce General Zod, the primary antagonist of Man of Steel, even if that continuity no longer exists.
The preview of the Snyder/Lee series, on the other hand, makes perfect sense, as its launch is timed to coincide with the June 14 opening of Warner Bros.’ franchise reboot. While DC has kept details of the new comic close to its vest — has Man of Steel even been confirmed as the title? — Snyder provided ROBOT 6 with a tease early this month.
“We’re going to be introducing a new villain, and we’re going to be trying to do the biggest and most epic Superman story we can!” he said. “So you’ll see the supporting cast — you’ll see Lana, and Lois, and Lex, and Jimmy and Perry. The story itself is really going to put Superman against a threat that will kind of shake him to his core psychologically and emotionally. We’re really really proud of it, and Jim is doing incredible work on it. So we can’t wait for you guys to see it!”
Free Comic Book Day 2013 is May 4.
Crime | The burglars who broke into Flea Market Comics in Mobile, Alabama, left the cash register alone but stole $10,000 worth of comics, according to owner Stephen Barrington. The thieves cut three locks off Barrington’s storage units and replaced them with a combination lock, presumably so they could come back and get more. “It just left me deflated,” he said of the theft. “People would come in just to look at the covers on them because they were such a various period from the ’30s to the present and like I said anything on a display; they took.” [Fox 10 TV]
Passings | Kiichi Toyoda, the first editor-in-chief of the Japanese manga magazine Shonen Sunday, died Jan. 10 at the age of 87. Shonen Sunday is the home of Rumiko Takahashi’s InuYasha and Ranma 1/2 and Mitsuru Adachi’s Cross Game. [Anime News Network]
Publishing | The Amazing Spider-Man #700 led the pack in the December comics numbers with 200,000 copies selling to comics shops, and with a cover price if $7.99, it racked up a cool $1.6 million in sales. Avengers #1 sold 186,000 copies but at a more reasonable price, so the dollars didn’t pile up as high for that one. ICv2 also has the December charts for the Top 300 comics and graphic novels in the direct market. John Jackson Miller takes it to the next level with sales estimates for the top 1,000 comics and trades of 2012. [ICv2]
Publishing | At the other end of the scale, Rob Clough talks to Chuck Forsman, the guy behind micropublisher Oily Comics. [The Comics Journal]
Just in case there were any lingering doubt, Diamond Comic Distributors has made it official: The landmark 100th issue of The Walking Dead was the top-selling comic in the direct market in 2012.
As we noted in August, the issue by Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn set a new record for highest orders for a comic in a single month with an estimated 366,000 copies copies, beating The Amazing Spider-Man #583 (the Barack Obama issue, with 352,800 copies), the previous top seller for the 21st century, and The Darkness #11 (357,000), Image’s previous all-time top seller.
According to the distributor, comics book sales finished the year up nearly 15 percent over 2011, and graphic novels up more than 14 percent. Marvel was the top publisher, with a 34.06 percent dollar market share and a 37.59 percent unit market share. DC Comics followed at No. 2 with a 31.94 percent dollar market share and a 36.75 unit market share. Marvel also published nine of the Top 10 comics of 2012: Uncanny Avengers #1, Avengers vs. X-Men #1-6, The Amazing Spider-Man #700 and Avengers #1.
The Walking Dead, meanwhile, dominated the graphic novels chart, claiming seven of the Top 10 spots.
“2012 was a terrific year for comic books and graphic novels,” Diamond CEO Steve Geppi said in a statement. “Our publishers did a tremendous job of creating compelling storylines that comic book fans wanted to see – from Marvel’s Avengers vs. X-Men followed by its Marvel NOW! titles later in the year to DC’s powerful New 52 ongoing titles. Add in Dark Horse Comics’ horror line-up, IDW’s My Little Pony and Image Comics’ creator-driven hits and it was quite a year. In addition, I would like to mention what a wonderful job comic shop retailers did in 2012, by continuing to establish a great environment that readers and fans want to come and visit.”
Digital comics | Comics by comiXology was the third-highest grossing app on the iPad in 2012. Last year Comics made No. 10 on the charts, and two other comiXology apps, their Marvel and DC apps, also made the Top 20. [Inside Mobile Apps]
Manga | Black Lagoon creator Rei Hiroe has announced that after a nearly two-year hiatus, he’ll resume his hit manga in January or February. The violent action/black comedy series, which centers on a team of pirates/mercenaries, is published in North America by Viz Media. [Crunchyroll]
Moulsinart S.A., the company established to promote and protect the works of Hergé, has signed a deal for Diamond Comic Distributors to exclusively distribute The Adventures of Tintin merchandise in specialty stores in North America and the Philippines.
The announcement is characterized as “a key step in Moulinsart’s first ongoing and comprehensive program of Tintin collectibles, comics, and limited availability products in North America.” A primary goal of the initiative is to expand the sales and brand awareness of Tintin in North America.
Hergé’s beloved series, which chronicles the adventures of a globe-trotting young Belgian reporter and his faithful dog Snowy, has been been translated into more than 50 languages and sold more than 200 million copies worldwide. Although the books have experienced limited popularity in the United States, Steven Spielberg’s 2011 motion-capture film adaptation raised awareness of the character.
Tintin merchandise has been listed in Diamond’s Previews catalog since June, and will be spotlighted in dedicated pages.
“Although many U.S. fans became aware of Tintin with the Steven Spielberg/Peter Jackson film released in 2011, the international Adventures of Tintin have been known worldwide for many years,” John Parker, Diamond’s vice president of business development, said in a statement. “We at Diamond are ecstatic to be involved in the expanded introduction of Tintin’s stories and awesome collectible and novelty products to the thousands of stores in our network.”
News of the Moulsinart deal comes just a week after Diamond announced it had inked a deal with Tezuka Productions to distribute Osamu Tezuka comics, toys and other products outside of Japan.
Manga | Tezuka Productions, which handles the works of Osamu Tezuka, has signed a deal for Diamond Comic Distributors to distribute its comics, toys, T-shirts and other products outside of Japan. [Previews World]
Comics | Sean Howe, author of Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, discusses the clash between the creative drive and the corporate interest, as it played out at the House of Ideas: “There’s certainly a cautionary tale in there, but I think it’s inevitable — because Marvel Comics is a really rich example of the way that pop culture works and that the Marvel story really gets to the way that art and commerce are always going to be battling it out in pop culture. If you’re trying to have mass appeal and artistic expression at the same time, there are going to be compromises. And when you bring powerful corporate interests into the equation, it’s pretty predictable what will happen.” [The Phoenix]