Publishing | Calvin Reid looks at Archie Comics’ growing book-market presence, which has exploded since the publisher signed Random House as its distributor in 2010. [Publishers Weekly]
Creators | Matt Kindt, author of Red-Handed, writes about how becoming a comics creator has made it impossible for him to enjoy reading comics for their own sake. [The Huffington Post]
Awards | Animal Land, by Zatch Bell creator Makoto Raiku, took the Best Children’s Manga honors in Kodansha’s 37th annual manga awards. The sports manga Gurazeni won the overall award for best manga. [Anime News Network]
Two to three years ago, it seemed inevitable: Single issue comic books, derisively called “floppies,” were on the way out. Graphic novels were the future for most publishers, and floppies weren’t even working as loss-leaders. But over the past year, the single issue is on the rebound and flourishing.
While I love graphic novels, the episodic consumption of comics is one of its unique strengths. Comics can excel in either form, but they aren’t interchangeable. Just as TV shows and movies present stories differently, so too do comic book series and original graphic novels. For a time, it seemed like The Walking Dead was the last great monthly comic book because it knew how to grab with the first issue, it knew how to use the monthly cliffhanger, it knew how to utilize those 30-some odd pages, it knew how to keep the status quo shifting. It still does, and now it’s being joined by more and more comics that are embracing the episodic nature of the format. It wasn’t always that way, though, in part due to creative patterns and economic changes in the industry.
In 2010, only an estimated 69 million comic books were ordered by North American specialty stores, the lowest quantity in nearly a decade. For publishers not backed by large entertainment corporations (i.e., not Marvel and DC), single issues were starting to look like the next horse and buggy, something from a soon-to-be bygone era.
Digital comics | Moulinsart, the company that holds the rights to Herge’s works, has released the complete Tintin comics in digital form. The iOS app is free, and it looks like the comics are $5.99 each, which is pretty reasonable. The catch is that they are all in the original French; it doesn’t appear as if translations are available yet. [Idboox]
Passings | Filipino komiks creator Jesse Santos died April 27 at the age of 83. Santos began his career in 1946 as an artist for the first serialized comic in the Philippines, Halakhak, and moved to the U.S. in the 1960s. He drew the sword-and-sorcery character Dragar the Invincible and took over from Dan Spiegle as artist for The Occult Files of Doctor Spektor. [Komikero Dot Com]
Comics sales | Is Mark Millar on to something after all? The first issue of Jupiter’s Legacy sold more than 105,000 copies to direct market stores in April; the only other Image comic to reach those numbers in recent years is The Walking Dead. ICv2 runs the numbers and also posts the Top 300 comics and graphic novels for April. [ICv2]
Passings | Matt Groening’s mother has died at the age of 94. Although she always went by Margaret, Groening borrowed her name for Marge Simpson in his animated series The Simpsons. [Comic Riffs]
Retailing | Amanda Emmert has resigned after nine years as executive director of ComicsPRO, the direct-market trade organization. [ComicsPRO]
Conventions | Last week’s Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo drew 53,000 attendees, the largest crowd yet for the Chicago-based show, which is in its fourth year. Reed Exhibitions Group Vice President Lance Fensterman talks about the high points of the show and plans for the next couple of years. [ICv2]
Graphic novels | Heidi MacDonald tracks the rise in popularity of graphic novels among librarians, whose support has been integral to the growth of the industry. Her well-researched article includes interviews with public librarians, school librarians, and academic librarians, as well as publishers and others in the field. It’s a comprehensive overview of one of the most important, and least reported-on, areas of our world. [Publishers Weekly]
Comics | Alex Hern looks at three comics that have long been out of print but are now back, or possibly on their way back: Flex Mentallo, Marvelman and Zenith. [The New Statesman]
Retailing | The direct market is looking good, with first-quarter sales up 29 percent over last year, according to figures released at the Diamond Retailer Summit. Heidi MacDonald reports, “There was no single element which seemed to be behind to surge, although sales of The Walking Dead comics and graphic novels were frequently mentioned. The general interest in “nerd culture” seems to be driving much of the merchandise and publishing growth, with more offerings in the housewares category a standout: Diamond is now offering their own line of such things as bottle openers and ice cube trays, such as a Walking Dead themed ice cube tray in the shape of body parts.” [Publishers Weekly]
Conventions | CBR and Robot 6 are covering C2E2 in depth, but for a quick overview, check out Christopher Borrelli’s recap and photo gallery. [Chicago Tribune]
Conventions | Kandrix Foong, founder of Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo, cautions latecomers that all 56,000 tickets for this weekend’s event are sold out. “We tell everybody now: ‘There are no on-site ticket sales,’” he said. “So they say: ‘OK, I’ll just try my luck when I get there.’ ‘No, no, no, you don’t understand. There are no on-site ticket sales. The end. If you show up you will be turned away. Sorry, but that’s the way it’s going to be.’” [Calgary Herald]
Conventions | Wizard World has released its annual report for 2012, and while its convention business was way up, from $3.8 million to $6.7 million, the company still finished the year with a net loss of $1 million. [The Beat]
Publishing | Image Comics provided the retail news and analysis website ICv2 with worldwide pre-order figures for 15 of its March titles, allowing for comparison with estimates of Diamond Comic Distributors sales to U.S. direct market stores. [ICv2.com]
Creators | Mark Waid pens a tribute to the late Carmine Infantino. [Hero Complex]
Creators | Gilbert Hernandez distinguishes between autobiography and art in his new graphic novel, Marble Season, which takes on a 1960s suburban childhood not unlike his own. [Chicago Reader]
Is the goal for comics to become a mainstream form of entertainment an unattainable goal? That seemed to be the angle Tom Spurgeon took on Monday’s Deconstructing Comics podcast and in his additional commentary at The Comics Reporter. He feels the industry is better served by regaining a few hundred thousand more devoted readers to restore unit sales to mid-six-figure levels. While comics have shown there is longevity in niche markets, that doesn’t eliminate the possibility of also attaining a larger readership.
With March’s estimated direct market sales figures showing yet another double-digit month of growth, manga publishers giving anecdotal reports of the manga market stabilizing, and something of a convention boom going on, there’s no better time than now to re-examine how comics can secure a healthy and vibrant future. Taking advantage of this growth is tricky because, as Spurgeon mentions, no one is exactly sure why the turnaround happened. Although people complain about DC Comics’ New 52 being a mess and Marvel crossovers not having the punch of the Civil War days, overall sales are rebounding. Was it digital comics? Was it the mainstream press for the New 52 or Marvel NOW, or some other stunt? Is it the Hollywood movies?
Passings | The New Yorker cartoonist Ed Fisher has died at the age of 86. Mike Lynch has a nice appreciation, with a sampling of cartoons and links to other obituaries. Fisher was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2000, Lynch says, but even so, he often came to the New Yorker offices on “look day”: “He would be sitting on the couch, in the cartoonists’ waiting room, with his portfolio, ready to chat. I introduced myself and was really glad to meet him. More than once he pulled out his roughs and showed them to me. Ed treated me like an equal.” [Mike Lynch Cartoons]
Legal | Palestinian cartoonist Muhammad Saba’aneh, who was detained by Israeli authorities in early March, has been sentenced to five months in jail and must pay a fine of 10,000 shekels. Saba’aneh was charged with contacting “enemy entities,” according to his lawyer. He was originally arrested and held without specific charges, raising fears that he would be detained indefinitely. [FARS News Agency]
Conventions | The Orange County Register previews WonderCon, which returns this weekend to Anaheim, California, and selects some of the highlights from the programming schedule, including panels dedicated to “Batman: The Zero Year,” The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, and Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing. [Orange County Register]
Conventions | The Detroit News runs down the upcoming slate of Michigan conventions dedicated to comics, anime, fantasy/sci-fi, horror and collectibles, ranging from Shuto Con to Kids Read Comics! to Detroit FanFare. [The Detroit News]
Crime | Comix Experience in San Francisco was robbed at gunpoint Friday afternoon, with two young men demanding that owner Brian Hibbs empty the cash register containing about $75 and turn over an iPhone used for credit card transactions. A Lower Haight neighborhood blog interviewed Hibbs about the incident: “Divis [Divisadero Street] is generally pretty safe these days, so I was a LITTLE shocked at, y’know, a ‘brazen daylight armed robbery’ of it — but I am kind of more shocked that anyone thought that a comic book store was a high value target about an hour after they opened. Hell, life is like 85% credit cards these days, so even at our fattest there’s seldom enough to risk that kind of jail time, in my opinion …” [Haighteration]
History | Scholar Carol Tilley gives a first-person account of her research on Fredric Wertham, the super-villain of comics history, and how looking through his papers led her to an unexpected conclusion: His published works misrepresented what his research subjects had told him: “For many hard-to-articulate reasons, I didn’t want to write the scholarly paper on Wertham and the problems I found in his evidence, but not to write it seemed a disservice to the young people whose words and experiences Wertham distorted to help make his case against comics.” [Boing Boing]
Digital comics | The manga publisher Viz Media has signed on to iVerse’s digital comics app for libraries; this is big news, because manga, especially Viz’s teen-friendly line, is still very popular in libraries. [press release]
Publishing | In his address last weekend to the ComicsPRO annual meeting in Atlanta, Image Comics Publisher Eric Stephenson urged the audience to continue asking “What’s next?” [Comics Alliance]
Retailing | Journalist and retailer Matthew Price wraps up the ComicsPRO meeting, noting Diamond’s report of a healthy year for comics retailers, with comics sales up 16 percent, graphic novels up 13 percent, and merchandise up 9 percent from last year. [The Oklahoman]
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.
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.”