By The Numbers: January 2015
Welcome readers for the first article in a new series at Graphics Policy! Like in any industry, comic books and their companies listen most to one thing and that’s your money! What does your money tell them? What does it tell us as fans? What series do people say they adore but can’t seem to catch a break and what books to people hate that sell out? What are the trends? What looks good? What looks rough?
All these questions and more will be answered here, every month in ‘By The Numbers’ by comic writers, editors and fans, Glenn Matchett and Ray Goldfield.
Glenn Matchett is a comic writer and editor. He’s worked in the industry for 5 years but grew up reading comics. He loves the format deeply and spends way too much time concerned that his favorite books will be cancelled. He intends to use these articles to help as therapy for his OCD. He also releases comics now and then and has a weekly column right here at Graphics Policy where he talks about whatever takes his fancy.
Ray Goldfield is a fan of comic books for going on 25 years, starting with the Death of Superman. He is a writer and editor for GrayHaven Comics, in addition to his day job. He started out as a DC Zombie, but has broadened his tastes to Marvel and indie books in recent years. He follows the comic sales charts obsessively, primarily to cheer on Magneto’s steady hold each month.
All sales figures retrieved from ICv2.com
What Went Well
Glenn: Well obviously the big debut and the big story this month is Marvel new Star Wars title which sold just over an astounding 985 thousand copies. I don’t recall a Marvel book selling that well since the Obama, Amazing issue and I don’t think it did those kind of numbers right away.
This property is obviously back at Marvel who had in initially in the 70’s after being a solid backbone of Dark Horse for 20 years or so. I don’t think the Dark Horse versions of the Star Wars comics ever broke 6 figures. Why do you think that is here?
Ray: I agree, this is just incredible. I think the Obama issue sold something in the 350K range, and that was a cultural event. This is probably the highest sales for any comic since the 90s. The big question, of course, is how it holds up from here, but the early rumors is that #2 sold over 200K. That would put it in a position to regularly be the top selling comic on the stands.
I think the big x-factor here is probably the sense of a new beginning. This is no longer expanded universe stuff, catering to an audience of die-hards following the complex continuity of the books and comics. This is the start of a new era, where the story of the original characters will continue in the movies. I think it felt much more important to the larger Star Wars fandom at large. I think the comic benefitted from that a lot, as well as the huge creative team and glut of variant covers, of course. It’s pretty much a perfect storm for massive success.
Another big success story for Marvel is Thor. This seems to be a rare case of a new status quo actually delivering a lasting sales change. The combination of buzz for the new female Thor and the continued excellence of the Aaron run has turned this into the second-highest selling Marvel Universe series, only behind Amazing Spider-man.
It’s a smaller-scale success, of course, but I feel like the debut of Jonathan Hickman’s The Dying and the Dead is noteworthy as well. Launching with 32K for a creator-owned book is pretty impressive in the superhero-dominated top 100.
I feel like the news is a bit more mixed for this month’s other four big Marvel debuts, though.
Glenn: Yeah, it seems the big media push they gave the new Thor paid off. This is likely why they have also decided to do a whole team of female Avenger’s.
It doesn’t seem like it’s paid off as well on the new Captain America but we’ll get there.
It seems like Hickman has now become a name that sells on its own. I mean he’s been one of Marvel’s big names the last few years now, he actually made the Fantastic Four sell better than it has for like…years. I’m not surprised his creator owned stuff would do well, he’s on the same level as Snyder who seemingly will get a big debut with Wytches.
Batman, Amazing and Walking Dead seem to be the reliable sellers for their respective companies. It seems that concerns that Superior sales wouldn’t carry over to a Peter Parker led book but it seems those fears at least have been quelled but I’m sure Spider-Verse has helped there.
I think it should be noted that currently, Walking Dead is the cheapest book in the top ten and two of those books in the top ten were 4.99, which to me, could be a scary sign of things to come.
A new launch this month was Ant Man which debuted at number 7 with just over 70 thousand copies sold. I’m not expected this to last up there, to be honest. Even with the movie coming out.
Ray: All-New Captain America did fall pretty hard right off the bat. I don’t think Remender’s style is really clicking with what the public expects a Cap comic to be, but this did make up for some of the slipping sales of the previous run. I think the timing of this run, with Sam Wilson debuting as Cap and then promptly being inverted to be evil, took a lot of the wind out of its sales.
Ant-Man debuted impressively for what it was, for sure. I think the critical acclaim might help it to keep some of its momentum, at least a bit longer than some books. It’s interesting that it debuted roughly in the same level as Uncanny Avengers, another big launch this month. I expect both of them to drop a good deal next month, just based on the pattern for Marvel relaunches lately.
One of Marvel’s most significant debuts this month was the weekly series “Wolverines“. This is their first foray into weeklies, as well as the first weekly comic priced at $3.99 besides the unconventional “Wednesday Comics“. It debuts in the top ten – and then promptly slips hard the same month, with #2 landing at #25 and out of the top 30 by #4. By the end of its first month – all ordered at the same time – it’s selling well below Batman: Eternal, which is almost a year in. If I was Marvel, I’d be pretty worried about what this looks like once orders get adjusted for the following months.
Glenn: Well to me, since Brubaker left and really since Bucky stopped being Captain America, the book has struggled. When you had Death Of Cap, obviously that was a big thing but then the book sold continuously well. It just seems to be one of those nuts that overall are hard to crack, like Fantastic Four or Superman. By all intents and purposes, those books SHOULD sell but for some reason or another they’re (at best) middle of the road.
Yeah no doubt. I kind of made the joke that by killing Wolverine, Marvel have only made him stronger. Overall they’re still coming out because instead of one Wolverine book that sells like 50-70 k or whatever, you have 4 so overall they’re ahead.
Squirrel Girl seems to have had a solid launch too for a D list (being generous) character. Maybe because of her exposure on Bendis Avenger’s run but I think that’ll be short lived too.
One of the big surprises is having the Star Trek/Planet Of The Apes mini do so well. I can’t remember what the Doctor Who crossover sold but I think this is a pretty solid debut.
Ray: Squirrel Girl is a big question mark. I wouldn’t be surprised if this one is closer to the mark in terms of demand than some of the other debuts, and so it starts lower but might hold better. I assume Marvel is trying for the same audience that is buying Ms. Marvel, and it’s not a bad idea. Of course, next month will tell the tale.
I’m pretty sure that is a very impressive debut for a licensed comic. One factor that might have helped it is that it’s one of the seven books that were sold on New Year’s Eve. Those tend to be ordered heavily because casual readers might take a chance on them during an unusually small week.
Steady books/books in the middle
Ray: The first thing I notice is that comedy is still doing well. Harley Quinn, of course, is probably the most surprising big hit out of DC in years, and is still hanging around just below the top ten. Not a surprise this creative team is getting a new book and a spin-off in June. And Rocket Raccoon is hanging around in the upper 30s, about 40 spots before the other Guardians spin-offs. I expect to see more of this type of book from the companies.
Wonder Woman had a brief peak when the Finches landed on the title, but now it’s selling at about the same level as the end of the Azzarello run with far weaker response. DC has to be a bit worried about that one.
I’m surprised SHIELD fell this far with its second issue, from a top ten debut. I’m less surprised by the drops for Angela and Spider-man & the X-men, as those two seemed like they were dropped with relatively little fanfare. It’s a bit surreal to see an Angela comic in the top 50 again, heh.
Glenn: I actually thought that they might be looking at the people buying Harley Quinn, the success of that book may be the oddest thing to happen in years.
Wonder Woman will be definitely one to watch, I think. I mean the Azzarello run wasn’t a best seller but it was extremely stable. Putting Finch on will definitely keep those sales but like you said, the critical response has been less than generous. If Finch can stay on schedule, it may be fine but its likely to face a creative overall after Convergence I’d say.
SHIELD is kind of something with a specific hook. It’s a kind of fringe book that don’t tend to stay stable long at the big two. It kind of makes you wonder that if the same premise and writer had been done at Image how it would have performed in the current market.
I think a lot of the success of ‘Wolverine and the X-Men’ has to attributed to Jason Aaron, now he’s gone and they’re trying to shoe horn Spider-Man in, I think this is the kind of response the current comic market will give you. I’m as big a Spidey fan as anyone but I’m not picking up this book, it seems to be a bit of a hail Mary to me.
A lot of indie/creator owned books seem to stabilize very quickly. They might not do as big number as say Amazing or Batman but the audience seems more dedicated. No one can overlook the success of Star Wars this month but as you said, its set to lose like 700 thousand sales in one issue. It seems like most Image or Dark Horse or whoever books obviously launch a lot lower but suffer less of a drop.
Green Lantern and Green Arrow have both seen better days at DC but both are stable sellers. Of course, we’ve found out recently that Green Arrow is set for another creative change which I believe is the 5th since the new 52 launch 3 years ago.
Ray: I think it’s actually six creative changes. All but one of them (the acclaimed Lemire/Sorrentino run) have only lasted one arc. And that’s not counting Judd Winick’s one-off. This title has been in creative flux since moment one. With Green Lantern, I think this is sort of course correction after they lost their A-list creator in Johns. The line will be paring back to only three books come June, which seems like a smart move.
Looking at the other weeklies for DC, it’s a world between Eternal and these books. Futures End is sort of a mid-level performer, but World’s End is really sinking fast. It probably doesn’t help that the title lost its chief architect right before the weekly began, with Tom Taylor leaving the line.
I must say, I’m sad to see three of my favorite Bat-books, Gotham Academy, Gotham By Midnight, and the short-lived Arkham Manor sinking out of the top 100 so quickly. These are clever, unique books, but they don’t seem to be reaping the benefit that Bat-titles seem to get.
This is where we start to see a lot of lower-tier books from Marvel and DC that just aren’t finding their footing, unfortunately. And I think the fact that Hulk’s main title is selling scarcely 1K more than Magneto’s solo book is testament to the diminishing returns we’re seeing with Marvel’s frequent relaunches. I’m interested to see if Secret Wars and the likely relaunch that follows will turn this around, or if we’ll continue to see the huge starts and huge drops. Marvel has developed a strategy of using tons of variant covers and mainstream press to launch huge, but it doesn’t seem to be carrying over past the first month or two.
Glenn: This to me presents two very big problems in this market at the moment. Firstly, people say they want something a little different/off-beat but when they deliver, it doesn’t seem that the market indicates the demand.
The second problem is like you mentioned, diminishing returns. Back in the day, a relaunch was a big, big deal but 30’s-50’s, especially in terms of Marvel are rare. It just seems to be relaunch, boom, sink, relaunch and so on and so on.
The Danger Zone
Glenn: This may sound a bit random but I noticed Halo on the charts, near the bottom. I remember when this property was a big deal at Marvel, it seems to have fallen in a major way.
Then again, outside of the monster hit that it was Star Wars, it seems a very bad time for properties in the industry. A lot of them are scarping around the low end of 5 figures. Most of them are even being outsold by creator owned. It doesn’t seem that properties like Star Trek, Doctor Who, Tomb Raider and more have a place in today’s market.
It also looks to me that Constantine is now down to the level ‘Hellblazer’ was at during its Vertigo days. It’s due for a rebranding following Convergence though.
I would think that Bucky would be performing better given the fact that this title is essentially a follow on from ‘Original Sin’ and he was in a movie a lot of people went to see.
Ray: I also forgot Marvel was even putting out Halo comics, to be honest. And outside of Star Wars, as you said, it seems very hard for licensed comics to get any traction. Besides that and the Star Trek/Apes crossover, the next one down is My Little Pony all the way at 119, and that’s clearly an unconventional mix of fanbases driving it. Even Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the TMNT/Ghostbusters crossover are hanging around the mid-130s. It seems like there’s a lot of problems getting a significant portion of the original fan base to check out the comic.
Constantine fell to earth rather quickly. I’m not surprised they’re relaunching it – it was the lowest-selling un-cancelled DC book for a while, before the Earth 2 tie-in briefly boosted its sales. While the relaunch should help, I wonder if the character is just a bit too unconventional to sell to a wide superhero audience.
With Bucky’s book, I think this is just a mismatch of property and comic. Original Sin was rather poorly received, and it has an odd concept with Bucky in space fighting aliens. I think if they launched a spy comic starring the Winter Soldier that resembled the movie more, they might have done better.
Two comics that jump out at me are Klarion at 225 and Star-Spangled War Stories at 245. For main-line DC comics only a few issues in, that’s shocking. It’s interesting that DC’s experiments in unconventional, non-superhero comics like these are landing with such a thud, but they seem to be doubling down on this type of book with the June relaunch. What is their plan to make things like Prez, Doomed, Bizarro, and Omega Men succeed, when they’ve had such trouble recently?
Glenn: I think they’re going to be looking to replicate the success they’ve had with Harley but to me, that might be lightning in a bottle.
Again, at least they’re trying new things, which is fans say they want but sales prove different.
It’ll be an interesting summer at both companies, for sure.
Coming up next month
Ray: Looking ahead to next month, it’s sort of the calm before the storm. Next month’s chart will have a few interesting points, though. We’ve got the launch of Grant Morrison’s first Image ongoing, The Nameless. Marvel is bringing us the next Star Wars launch in Darth Vader, plus the internet phenomenon of Spider-Gwen makes its ongoing debut. Those will probably be dueling for #1. There’s also the launch of Silk, a more controversial character that Marvel has a lot of faith in. It’ll be interesting to see how those books shake up the charts.
Glenn: It should be the debut of Wytches on the sales chart, I believe. I think this one might be one of the big winners from the company. You’re right though, the majority of books will be treading water sales wise until we get our annual huge shake up. Most of the ones to watch next month will be the indie books. I’m personally hoping that Nailbiter can gain a stronger following over time. Once upon a time, Walking Dead was down that part of the charts too.
Enjoyed what you read? Let us know and follow us on Twitter @glenn_matchett & @raygoldfield