New York Times Bestsellers: What People Are Reading Isn’t What You Think They’re Reading

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One of the first graphic novels to make the New York Times Bestseller list.

The New York Times has been running weekly bestseller lists for graphic novel hardcovers, paperbacks, and manga (the latter segregated out to keep them from overwhelming the domestic titles) since March 2009.  Comics journalists rarely mention it, and aside from authors using it as an honorific (“New York Times Bestselling Author”) just like prose authors, most people don’t even know it exists.  Comics shops don’t merchandise bestsellers like Barnes & Noble, and publishers rarely issue press releases about their titles hitting the charts.

But, there’s something interesting happening, a shift in what people are buying and reading.

Here’s the graphic novel trade paperback list for September 30, 2012, the latest.

Let me run the covers for you, since comics are a visual medium, and a list of titles is boring.  (I should know… hardly anyone remarks about my Coming Attractions lists.)

In order:

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#1  Now, you might think that Nightfall is a given, what with the international blockbuster movie currently screening.   But here’s the interesting thing… Since June, it didn’t chart six weeks this summer.  There were two weeks where it came in second, to Smile.  Before this week, it last charted on September 9th, at #8.

#2  Twice again, Drama charts at #2 for the second week of publication.  Last week, it was number two to Raina Telgemeier’s other book, Smile.   (How often has any author had a #1 and #2 on the same bestseller chart?  Or on the Billboard singles?  Yeah, she’s a rockstar.)

#3  This is a new release in trade paperback.   DC rolled out their trade New 52 collections back in May, and will continue through November.

#4  The big, thick 48-issue paperback of the Walking Dead, selling consistently ever since the second season of the television show.  Actually, before that… this marks the 59th week on the NYTBS list.  Not bad for a $60 paperback!  Volume Two pubs in a few weeks.

#5  27 weeks on the list, Maus makes its semi-annual appearance.  This is a favorite of college professors, so expect to see it again on the charts in January.  Persepolis and Fun Home also charted in September.

#6  Ah, Zita… This is the second volume about a girl who accidentally loses her best friend into a wormhole, and thus must follow him to save him.  Lots of weird aliens, lots of adventure, and highly recommended for any age or gender! It’s the first week, and if this is Ben Hatke’s first time, congratulations!  He’s a nice, friendly creator, and deserves great success!

#7  When I was a kid, I would have sold my blood for Lego comics!  We didn’t have any of these “storytelling” lines in my day… we had to take the normal mini-figs and make our own fun!  This is part of the Ninjago line… martial arts roleplaying.  (Not just the typical make-believe… these sets come with cards, spinners, and backstory!)  It’s published by Papercutz, which has a great line of kids’ comics, both licensed and original!  (And if you think this is big, wait until you see the books for Lego Friends!)

#8  Amulet, Book 5.  One of three books from Scholastic on the charts this week, and a series which has been selling steadily.  I won’t compare it to Bone, aside from the fact that it’s fantasy, from Scholastic, bestselling, it’s a series, and that Kazu Kibuishi is as talented and influential as Jeff Smith.

#9  Smile!  Geez… In print since 2010, selling hundreds of thousands of copies.  Is this the “Maus” for kids’ graphic novels, a perennial seller which will serve as an introduction to comics?  Why not?  It’s a memoir and has all sorts of stuff teachers can teach.  Heck, it’s the sort of title that would be excellent for a “One City, One Book” program for kids and adolescents.   Oh, and as I said above, it’s been #1 multiple weeks, and this week marks #32 for the title.  And it all started with a webcomic

#10  Another brand-new New 52 trade paperback from DC Comics.

So, to review:  3 superhero titles (DC Comics), 5 titles for young readers (3 from Scholastic, 2 from Macmillan), 2 mature (memoir, mass media)

Think that’s amazing?  The week before: 5 kids’ titles, 4 mature (including one on economics!), 1 superhero (The Dark Knight Returns)

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So what’s happening on the hardcover list?

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#1  The first week for the first hardcover volume of the New 52 Aquaman.  Another gold star for DC’s re-whatever.

#2  Twenty weeks on the hardcover list!   Fun Home also continues to chart occasionally.

#3  64 weeks on the list, as a hardcover!  Even more amazing… the paperback volumes are available, yet people prefer a hardcover volume.

#4  Marvel has some success with an original graphic novel based on a mid-list Marvel character!  Marvel has been aggressive with this new line, issuing numerous “Season One” volumes this year, drinking DC’s “Earth One” milkshake.  (Seven titles so far, two more scheduled!)

#5  A #1 bestseller, 18 weeks on the list, collecting the first seven issues of Batman.  Another gold star to add to the New 52 bulletin board.

#6  90 weeks on the list.  Riding the coattails of The Dark Knight Rises.

#7  The second week for this second edition of Serenity.  Will it last three weeks, or have all the fans bought their copies?

#8  The fifth week for the colorized Scott Pilgrim.  It will most likely chart again during the Holidays, as many retailers had success with the boxed set, and will probably feature this online.

#9  Six weeks and counting for Kick-Ass 2.

#10  Another #1 bestseller for DC/Vertigo, which is even more amazing given that this is a $150 volume!  The third week on the charts, last week it was #3.

So, to summarize: 5 superhero titles, 5 indie/mature.  Last week?  Only 3 superhero titles (Justice League, Batman Owls, Batman Earth One).  Blacksad, Jerusalem, and a second Serenity volume made the list, all with multiple-week placements.

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The manga list seems even more volatile…  only one title has charted more than two weeks.  Six titles by Viz, two by Kodansha, one each for Yen and Seven Seas.  Last week, ALL titles were new to the list!

It could be that manga is even more fan-driven than American comics, with fans buying the titles as soon as they are released (possibly even pre-ordering them online).  This is seen periodically over in the prose bestseller lists,  where fan favorites chart explosively, then quickly disappear into the backlist.  (Sandman: Endless Nights did so, before the creation of a GN list.)

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So, is this a radical departure?  Let’s take a look at previous years’ lists.

September 25, 2011 Hardcover

Eclectic.  4 DC titles (omnibus, Earth One, new and old Vertigo),  1 Marvel (Thor), 2 non-fiction (Feynman and Gladstone), 3 from other media (True Blood, Baltimore, Hollows).  Five titles have charted more than four weeks, with Superman: Earth One charting 36 weeks.

September 25, 2011 TP

Remember Amulet?  Volume 4 charts #1 this week.  Followed by Christopher Moore, crossing over from the prose lists.  Two Walking Dead volumes (#12 and #13),  Maus, Thor, Cowboys and Aliens, Kite Runner, Smile (making its debut!) and Ook and Gluk (kung fu cavemen, aimed at kids).  Three titles from Scholastic, two from Image.  Six titles have charted more than four weeks.

September 25, 2011 manga

10 titles, all from Viz.  Only one is repeat: BLUE EXORCIST, VOL. 1, by Kazue Kato, which marks a 14th week on the list.  It is possible the multiple weeks are due to it being a new series, and word-of-mouth causing it to chart for three months.

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September 26, 2010 HC

Hey, it’s Ook and Glook at #1!  Kung-fu kicking Darkest Blackest Night (two volumes), Kick-Ass, Dark Tower, Twilight, Siege, Walking Dead, Killing Joke, and Locke and Key.  All titles have been on the list for four weeks or longer.

September 26, 2010 TP

Scott Pilgrim.  Walking Dead.  And Watchmen.

No.  Really.  In that order.  Go check.

Bryan Lee O’Malley takes the first six slots, Robert Kirkman takes the next three (the compendium charts for the first time), and Watchmen marks week number seventy-eight.  The next week is pretty much the same.  I guess media blitzes can obliterate sales charts.  (The last volume of SP has been on the charts, at this point, for two months.)

September 26, 2010 manga

Eight titles from Viz (with Yen at #2, Tokyopop at #3).  Five titles are brand new to the list.  Only Naruto Volume 48 charts long, with fifteen weeks on the list.

September 27, 2009 HC

DC has seven titles (Batman, Moore, Superman), but the first three spots are claimed by Stitches, Mercy Thompson, and Achewood.  The bottom six titles have charted repeatedly, but only Killing Joke and Joker continue to sell in hardcover.

September 27, 2009 TP

Watchmen tops the list (no surprise, it has dominated the list since it started in May).  DC has six titles.  Maus debuts on the list.  Walking Dead, Conan, and X-Men (written by Raina Telgemeier and Dave Roman) fill out the other four spots.

September 27, 2009 manga

Wow.  Seven titles have been on the list for more than a month!  8 Viz, 2 Tokyopop (#4 and #9).  Two titles premiere.

So, manga bestsellers have more churn, most likely caused by more online ordering (and possibly piracy).  Non-comics publishers chart well, due to media tie-ins and effective marketing departments funded by deep budgets.  Comics shop fans, like manga readers, can drive quick sales, but it takes mainstream sales via other markets to guarantee any lasting success.  (Savvy comics retailers then siphon off these neophyte readers by offering greater depth and better customer service.)

Some comics shops do actively market to parents and children, but it seems that most of those sales occur online and in bookstores.  Some are fan driven, as kids have disposable income, and a $10 paperback is not roadblock to reading.  (Also, what parent will discourage their child from reading a book?)  Even if a child can’t buy a book, libraries will offer them for free, since book circulation is one of the key metrics used to justify budgets, and graphic novels rarely stay on the shelf for long.  (Note to authors: libraries base the initial purchasing decision on reviews.  After that, it’s circulation.  So write good books!)

Hmm… I just realized.  Wimpy Kid is not on this list.

Ah… it’s over on the Juvenile Series list.  One could argue for “mainstreaming” juvenile graphic novels into the regular list, but which one?  Novels? Series? Picture books?  Would they be buried under the backlist bestsellers?

The USA Today Bestseller list integrates all titles, so let’s see what shows up on the latest list

Nothing on the list.  Do they tabulate them? Yes, just not this week, as “Ook and Gluk” charted as high as #16 during August 2010.  Naruto charted repeatedly! There are about eighty titles which have charted.  USA Today does not seem to tabulate sales from comics shops (which the New York Times does).

And… just to cover all the bases, here is the latest monthly Top 300 graphic novel list for August from ICV2 and Diamond:

1

BATMAN EARTH ONE HC

$22.99

     7,320

2

WALKING DEAD TP VOL 01 DAYS GONE BYE

$9.99

     5,586

3

SWAMP THING TP VOL 01 RAISE THEM BONES TP

$14.99

     5,030

4

SUPERMAN ACTION COMICS HC VOL 01 SUPERMAN MEN OF STEEL

$24.99

     5,015

5

BATMAN HC VOL 01 THE COURT OF OWLS

$24.99

     4,441

6

HULK SEASON ONE PREM HC

$24.99

     4,079

7

SCOTT PILGRIM COLOR HC VOL 01

$24.99

     3,914

8

STAR WARS THE CLONE WARS SITH HUNTERS TP

$7.99

     3,446

9

WALKING DEAD TP VOL 02 MILES BEHIND US

$14.99

     3,422

10

FEAR ITSELF TP

$29.99

     3,417

Of course, these are sales to stores, not customers.  Also, some titles may ship early to comics shops, affecting sales reporting to bestseller lists, as comics sales may not synchronize with bookstore or website sales.

These are all sales charts, open to interpretation, even more so than the monthly comics charts from Diamond, as everything is relative to every other title.  However, it does list everything together (if by format) so that one can judge titles and trends.  Right now, it seems that diversity is the zeitgeist, as non-fiction, non-comics publishers are selling well to the general public, and that kids’ books are a growing market. That might change as The Walking Dead starts a third season next month on AMC, and as Holiday sales kick in during November and December.

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Comments

  1. “The second week for this second edition of Serenity. Will it last three weeks, or have all the fans bought their copies?”

    Last week was the 10th anniversary of Firefly and the Science Channel has started promoting it’s Firefly Reunion show that was filmed this past summer at ComicCon when the cast & Whedon got together. I imagine this has helped push sales of the Serenity hardcover.

  2. Pogo is definitely not a GN as it’s a collection of the strips than ran — just because it has text and graphics does not mean it’s always a GN.

    There’s a hardcover edition of through the Wide Blue Wonder that covers the first year of this wonderful strip.

  3. Torsten Adair says:

    Cat, read that book. The strip panels were cut and arranged into a comic book narrative, much like the initial Superman comic strips were pasted onto pages and sold to DC.

    It is not a comic strip reprint volume.

  4. Chris Hero says:

    “New York Times Bestselling Author” seems to mean to Dave Sim that Fantagraphics has published a book. Funny then that none of the above books were published by Fantagraphics (that I know of).

    Amulet is the best comics currently being made. The only possible competition to that would be Snarked, but that’s over now.

    The Lego comics are huge with kids, too. Plus, Ninjago is pretty awesome.

    I wish comic stores stocked these books and gave a crap about them. It seems the young adult and kids sections are always treated like a radioactive wasteland no one wants to touch, but they sell. They’re excellent comics, too.

  5. “I wish comic stores stocked these books and gave a crap about them. ”

    Oh, c’mon Chris Hero, add a “More” in there!!! Some comic shops do very very very well with kids/YA titles

    -B

  6. “Kazu Kibuishi is as talented and influential as Jeff Smith.”

    You are out of your flipping mind.

  7. Chris Hero says:

    @Brian Hibbs

    You know I don’t mean your store. But fair enough: I wish more direct market stores paid attention to the all ages books. I’ve personally only ever been to two comic stores that do: Laughing Ogre in Columbus, OH and one in the middle of NJ.

  8. @Chris — Speaking from the publishing end, we do sell a lot of Ninjago books through the Direct Market. Stores that have run any kind of Ninjago promotion to let kids and parents know they’re there tend to sell through dozens of copies.

    And I think you’ll find that most comics shops have some semblance of a children’s section/children’s shelf/something. It just makes sense to devote more shelf space to the books that are for your biggest audience — all businesses struggle with that balance between catering to the customers you have and reaching out to the ones you don’t yet.

  9. NYT has it right re: Wimpy Kid. That’s not comics, it’s illustrated prose. Juvenile Series is exactly where it belongs. I’ve never understood why so many people label it comics, unless the comics world is just trying to hitch its star to a successful prose series that happens to include the occasional comic panel.

    Not that I have anything against the books – hey, my kid sure loves ‘em – but they certainly don’t pass the McCloud test.

  10. Eric H. says:

    Swamp Thing and Teen Titans should be reversed if quality were any measure. I just couldn’t bond with this iteration of Teen Titans. Was sad to have to let it go having been reading a book of that title for most of my life. I’m not reading a comic starring Tim Drake for the first time in almost 20 years.

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