the state of comics today

If I start talking about comics for any length of time I tend to get quite animated about it. That’s because – for me – it’s an exciting medium that I believe is going through one of its most vibrant periods at the moment. At events and on panels I’ve heard people talk about falling sales of comics, and harken back to a golden era where comics sold in their millions: why yes they did, during a pre-Internet, pre-video game, pre-DVD/Blu-ray period.

Pretty DeadlyIt’s unfair to compare the sales of comics in the 1950s – when radio was King, and television was a upstart prince – to the sales made for the always-on, always-entertained generation. Considering the plethora of distractions available to people today comics are holding their own very well.

Creators (especially in the Small Press/Indie Press) have to be realistic about the reach of their audience, but there are some fantastic sales happening. Consider that Kelly Sue DeConnick reported in October that the first issue of her comic with Emma Ríos, called Pretty Deadly, had to go into a second printing after its 57,000 print run sold out… There are plenty of novelists would be be delighted to sell over 57,000 copies of a book within a few days.

Plus, the graphic novel market is often where the sales really ratchet up. I’ve heard that some comics with low monthly sales are not being cancelled because their collected editions as graphic novels have sold so well (graphic novel sales are up 6% this October). And this is not even factoring in digital sales of comics: ComiXology reports that it recently hit 200 million downloads, and of that 100 million occurred in the past year. Back in July of this year the industry was reporting solid sales across the board. You can examine a comprehensive breakdown of monthly sales (via Diamond Comic Distributors only) on Comichron.

And let’s not get too Western-centric. In Japan the top selling manga is One Piece:

“Eiichiro Oda’s One Piece took the first place in the manga sales ranking again selling 18,151,599 copies in total. The manga has taken the top spot in 5 years in a row since 2009. It had 300 million copies in print with the 72nd volume which was released in Japan on November 1. The second best selling manga series is Hajime Isayama’s Attack on Titan. Thanks to the high-quality TV anime series, it sold 15,933,801 copies, 6 times more than last year (2,683,000 copies).”

What’s winning through is good storytelling combined with exciting artwork. Look at the runaway success of the likes of Saga (Fiona Staples and Brian K Vaughan) and Hawkeye (Matt Faction & David Aja) – new titles that have fired up fans over the last two years because of their imagination and scope.

And if you think I’m focusing too much on the bigger name comics, then check out the short-lists and winners of the recent British Comic Awards, which showcased an array of excellent talent making comics in the UK market alone. This is a market that continues to produce the weekly sf anthology 2000AD, and children’s weeklys The Beano and The Phoenix.

This year Thought Bubble in Leeds sold all their dealer’s tables in the space of a couple of hours, and had to put on a third hall. Anyone who attended this year will know that it was a huge success, with an estimated 8,000 fans going through the doors. This is impressive when you consider that this event focuses strictly on comic books – the really big UK events that cater to fans of cross platform entertainment, such as MCM Expo London, pull in 60k+ regularly.

So, as far as I can tell, looking at the huge range of comics that are selling on diverse platforms to a public that is soaked with choices for entertainment, comics are doing very well.

That is not to say that everything is rosy in every garden. Not everyone is going to be pulling in strong numbers, and as usual those with a lower profile and less publicity are going to struggle to be seen. No market can sustain growth forever (a lesson most countries in Europe learned the hard way), and it’s unreasonable to expect it will. That is not the nature of the world. However, there is a upswing at the moment, and the best thing to do is to work hard, produce good work, and network with your peers and colleagues.

And be ready to change when everything shifts again.