The Surprising State of Marvel Graphic Novels and the Diamond 2011 List

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By Todd Allen

Over at Publisher’s Weekly, I was writing about how Marvel has trouble keeping their books in print and had some retailers tell me how Marvel’s sales suffer for it.  Now with Diamond’s 2011 year-end sales charts coming out, WOW, do things look odd.

Of course, a comic shop doesn’t have to order graphic novels from Diamond.  A lot of them are now ordering from book distributors like Baker & Taylor.  You’d see Hark! A Vagrant in Diamond’s top 500 books and Habibi much higher than #240 if all of the DM were buying their graphic novels through Diamond.

Marvel’s best selling title was Kick-Ass! at #49.  Yes, there were 48 graphic novels that sold better through Diamond than anything Marvel put out in 2011.  Does that startle you?  Here’s a list of Marvel’s Top 20 Sellers and their 2011 rank for Diamond:

Marvel Rank Diamond Rank
Graphic Novel
1. 49 KICK-ASS TP (MR)
2. 54 WOLVERINE OLD MAN LOGAN TP
3. 64 CIVIL WAR TP
4. 71 CASTLE PREM HC RICHARD CASTLES DEADLY STORM
5. 75 NEMESIS PREM HC (MR)
6. 87 UNCANNY X-FORCE TP VOL 01 APOCALYPSE SOLUTION
7. 106 DARK TOWER GUNSLINGER JOURNEY BEGINS PREM HC
8. 113 X-MEN SECOND COMING TP
9. 116 INCOGNITO TP VOL 02 BAD INFLUENCES (MR)
10. 135 TAKIO GN HC
11. 152 DEADPOOL TP VOL 05 WHAT HAPPENED IN VEGAS
12. 155 OZ WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ TP
13. 170 DARK TOWER GUNSLINGER LITTLE SISTERS OF ELURIA PREM HC
14. 171 FANTASTIC FOUR BY JONATHAN HICKMAN TP VOL 03
15. 181 INVINCIBLE IRON MAN TP VOL 04 STARK DISASSEMBLED
16. 186 THOR BY J MICHAEL STRACZYNSKI TP VOL 01
17. 193 CRIMINAL TP VOL 06 LAST OF INNOCENT (MR)
18 198 DEADPOOL CLASSIC TP VOL 04
19. 213 CASANOVA TP LUXURIA VOL 01 (MR)
20 218 FF BY JONATHAN HICKMAN PREM HC VOL 01

What do we really have here?

detail The Surprising State of Marvel Graphic Novels and the Diamond 2011 List

Kick Ass - Marvel's Best Selling Graphic Novel?

An Icon title by Millar, followed by a 2010 release by Millar (that’s something of a one-off “What If” book), followed by a 2006 release also by Millar (and again a one-off, not part of a continuing series).  Then Castle, a licensed original graphic novel.  By now we’re down to #71 overall.  Then Nemesis, another Icon title by Millar.  Finally, Marvel’s 6th bestselling book, #87 overall is the first volume of Uncanny X-Force and we finally have a collection of an ongoing Marvel universe title  charting.

Contrast that with Marvel’s sales in monthly comics and it’s a stark difference.

What’s the composition of Marvel’s top 20 graphic novel titles?

Icon = 6
Licensed = 4
Marvel Universe = 10

Half of Marvel’s top 10 books aren’t in the Marvel Universe.  Of those 616 titles, 2 are Deadpool and 2 are Jonathon Hickman’s Fantastic Four run.  Did you have Deadpool pegged as one of Marvel’s most important graphic novel properties?  Me either, but it appears to be up there.

Similarly, the Ultimate comics line, which used to be a big seller, first charts all the way down at #21 for Marvel / #220 for Diamond with the second volume of Ultimate Comics Spider-Man.

Are the traditional book distributors moving a lot more Marvel books than I think they are?  How different are Marvel’s graphic novel readers from their monthly readers?  Is the prominence of the Icon titles in Marvel’s Diamond rankings indicative of a different reader demographic or indicative of the Icon books being kept in print, as opposed to Marvel’s tendency to let volumes fall out of availability?

I don’t have concrete answers to those questions (though I look forward to the annual leaking of the BookScan report and getting a better handle on Marvel’s bookstore fortunes).  All I know is, Marvel’s taking a back seat to all sorts of publishers, when it comes to graphic novels.  Dark Horse, DC, Dynamite, Image, Legendary, Oni and Top Shelf all had at least one title that sold better through Diamond than anything than Marvel.  That just seems a little odd.

Comments

  1. Can it be that readers care so little about Marvel’s current output that they only buy the floppies?

    (Assuming even those are not left unsold in the LCS:s)

  2. uthur says:

    Marvel is in disastrous shape.

    The second half of 2011 showed enormous erosion in their periodical business.

    They have no GN strategy to speak of.

    This ain’t good, folks…

  3. comicsatemybrain says:

    To say that Marvel “has trouble keeping their books in print” implies (to my ears, anyway) that they are trying to keep their books in print but other forces are working against that.
    This isn’t true at all. As reported here on The Beat, Marvel’s GN strategy is to treat their tpb’s and hc’s as much like periodicals as possible. Many of us may not agree with that approach and believe that it is short-sighted to a fault, but it *is* a deliberate strategy on Marvel’s part.
    Is it any surprise that this strategy — while admittedly reducing warehousing costs — makes it difficult to develop certain titles or series as “evergreen” sellers in collected formats?

  4. “Are the traditional book distributors moving a lot more Marvel books than I think they are?”

    Based on my analysis of the Amazon Comics bestseller lists, I’d say the answer to that is ‘No.’ They placed only one title in the Amazon Top 50 for 2011, which was the Castle OGN way down at #48.

  5. PreacherCain says:

    Marvel might do well to publish larger trades collecting 12 issues (or more!) of an ongoing at a time and keeping those in print, with a consistent numbering scheme. Spider-Man from OMD onwards for example, or Bendis’ Avengers run. I’m liking those BPRD hardcovers (collecting 3 trades in one at an afforable price) and new 100 Bullets omnibi.

    Brubaker’s Captain America run and Garth Ennis’ Punisher/Punisher Max are both titles that could do strong and steady business, like some of Vertigo or Image’s best-selling titles. This seems like a no-brainer, particularly when some of these properties have huge, successful films coming out and there are potential readers out there looking for the best place to start.

  6. MBunge says:

    I’m a Marvel Zombie that was finally shot through the head by Quesada and company. However, I’ll give them all the credit in the world for keying in to the existing, weekly comic shop fanbase and giving them what they want. The trade/OGN reader, both in the Direct Market and especially in bookstores, is a very different animal and I don’t know why anyone would be surprised that they struggle reaching it.

    I mean, what normal person is really going to want to read CIVIL WAR?

    Mike

  7. John Warren says:

    @MBunge–And even if they wanted to read CIVIL WAR, it would be extremely difficult to read all the individual parts of it in the correct order (assuming someone wanted to read more than just the core LS).

  8. Snikt Snakt says:

    Maybe Marvel just really wants people to buy the Digital versions instead? :-P

  9. It would be nice if they actually paid the creators whose work they are reprinting. A year after their Warrior’s Three collection which featured a cover and over 100 pages of my work I received one (!!) comp copy and no word of any sort of reprint or royalty fee. Of course it might not have sold very well. Now I see that they are cobbling together 3 or 4 Spider-Man GNs into one enormous, hideously produced, hardcover. My long ago GN ‘Spirits of the Earth’ which I wrote/drew/painted is one of them. We’ll see what they do about that one. In contrast, DC provides 25 comp copies and a royalty check sent ever 4 months. Hmmm… now who would you work for?

  10. MBunge says:

    “In contrast, DC provides 25 comp copies and a royalty check sent ever 4 months.”

    And somehow, somewhere, someone is blaming Jim Shooter for that.

    Mike

  11. Chris Hero says:

    If Charles Vess isn’t getting paid, that’s just wrong. He’s one of the best artists to ever dip a toe in the comic waters.

    Marvel’s a weird company. They only care about making money, but they seem to be extremely short sighted. I’m curious how Disney will treat them once diminishing returns set in on the movies.

  12. Why would someone buy a trade in the DM? Amazon sales most likely would reflect a much different story.

    Regarding the product, Marvel is producing HCs of 4 issues at $25. Before the trade prices were such that the consumer could save a few bucks; now you pay more for the TPB than you would have if you bought the monthlies. More money for less product, that’s Marvel’s MO right now.

    And Uncanny X-Force is being criminally underordered right now. It’s silly that my LCS is consistently out of that book. Weird that Marvel wants to lose sales by not publishing the trades in a timely manner, and that my LCS wants to lose sales by not ordering enough copies. Don’t understand.

  13. @Micah: I don’t know how much Uncanny X-Force is being underordered by the stores. My LCS was low on (or out of) that first GN, so they went about ordering more. There was only one copy available to them at that time, so they snapped it up, figuring they could sell it without much problem. (They were right. Overhearing the conversation, I put it on hold immediately. I can’t say this would be my last opportunity to get a copy easily, but with Marvel, you never know.)

  14. For all the years I’ve been working in comic shops, Marvel trades have *never* sold well. Our top 100 selling graphic novels of 2011 (http://www.comicsconspiracy.biz/index.php/2012/01/top-graphic-novel-sales-for-2011/), there’s two Marvel books. The Cap Winter Soldier Ultimate Edition, and the new Casanova tpb.

  15. Dusty says:

    Marvel is all about Joey’s boys club. They don’t care about anyone else. They have made Marvel all about them. Shooter also wasn’t getting royalties for collected work as of a few months ago. Until Simonson was announced to be drawing the last Bendis Avengers arc, practically nobody over 20 years experience could get any work. And how much of the decision was due to mounting pressure about how NuMarvel slammed the door in every classic creator’s face in favor of their friends? The terrible sales and collapse of Marvel’s entire line of books speaks volumes. At least Brevoort can no longer use the economy as his excuse.

  16. Micah:

    Go look upthread and you’ll find a link that shows that no absolutely not the case that sales are over on Amazon (and, more broadly while it is “possible” that Amazon might be selling more copies of books than DM stores, it’s still very likely to be in the SAME GENERAL PROPORTIONS relative to other publishers. That is to say that if people aren’t ordering MARVEL books through the DM [though they are] why would they be ordering DC/Image/Whoever books then?)

    Here’s a link to last year’s BookScan piece — Amazon is said to report to BookScan, and there’s also no evidence of some massive Marvel surge over there — http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=30752

    Finally, Uncanny X-Force IS OUT OF PRINT (in two formats) from Marvel, and has been since, ur, I want to say 2 weeks of release date? (but I’m not at work, and can’t confirm that one) Can’t reorder books the publisher don’t reprint in timely fashion.

    -B

  17. Torsten Adair says:

    Scanning BN.com periodically, Marvel doesn’t chart much. When they do, it’s usually licensed properties or non-616 titles, such as Castle, Dark Tower, or Oz.

    Why do the Icon books sell? Probably because Marvel is contractually required to keep them in print, or they pass on the costs of storage to the creators.

    The top Marvel seller over on BN.com? Fear Itself. #60 among graphic novels.

    Marvel did a decent job of keeping the original Ultimate books in print (and numbered!). Marvel Zombies sold well in my bookstore, as did the Civil War and House of M events. The ongoing series? ZILCH. Because, surprise, Marvel didn’t keep the previous volumes in print. House of M went out of print while we were still selling the trades, which meant that eventually we took that Swiss-cheesed line and returned it completely.

    If they had kept entire series in print, then they could have replicated their Ultimates sales. Perhaps even approached the continual sales of the self-contained Vertigo series (like Doom Patrol!)

    Marvel doesn’t number most of their books, because titles go out of print quickly. Even the perennial seller Runaways got lost in the confusion… yeah, they had, what, three different comics series, but the bookstore reader doesn’t care… just number each volume so they can read it in sequence! It’s like selling box sets of Lost, without telling the buyer which season is in each box!

  18. From what I can tell, X-Force has quietly emerged as one of Marvel’s best performing books. That’s really sad it should almost instantly disappear.

  19. Horatio Weisfeld says:

    I’m not sure why Vess thinks he would get royalties when it says (as far as I know) in Marvel’s contract (I assume he signed such) that they pay no royalties for most reprints.

    It’s like he imagines he living in some sort of fantasy realm (full of nice guys who appreciate him).

  20. Richard Adler says:

    Old, old news, I’m afraid.

    Back when I was buying GNs for Borders (the 1990s), I begged–BEGGED–the Marvel reps to keep their titles in print. In nearly every case, the rep would shrug sadly and assure there was no hope of that happening. The fact that sales with DC were steady and growing didn’t seem to make the slightest difference.

    Over a decade later, it seems nothing has changed.

    It’s one thing to treat excess inventory as a problem. But the business sense in treating *all* inventory as a problem escapes me.

  21. It’s uniquely soul-deadening to watch people attack an artist for wanting to be paid for his work, citing contractual language like holy writ. It’s like we exist in a fandom whose members got to the end of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and were like “You tell ‘em, Wonka! Shoulda read the fine print, Bucket, you naive fool! You DO lose! Good DAY sir!”

  22. A corporation can not be creative. It can not write. It can not draw.
    It owes its existence to those that can and should pay them for the use of their talents.

  23. Maybe the Marvel rep knew what Marvel was doing,as Marvel is still in business while Borders is out of business. Use don`t get it Marvel is not Marvel anymore they are owned by one of the biggest corporations in existence Disney! Disney is all about animation and movies,as the comic books are just a farm team.

  24. Perhaps the moral-economic response to the Disney acquisition is related to the drop in Marvel sales through Diamond?

    I think you’re simplifying the issue Stam. If all it boils down to though is a farm team, how does that make them any different from Marvel?

    It’s a good time to support the independent creator.

  25. So does that mean the secondary back-issue market is going crazy? Anybody want to buy some of my old comics? No? Weird…

  26. I suspect the shift from Essentials to more color TPBs for older material in the last few years has been driven by:

    1. The decreased cost of doing color books – it used to add much more to the cost of production than it does now; and

    2. Complaints from retailers about the Essentials. Those things take up a ton of shelf space at a relatively low cost. It was getting REALLY hard for retailers to keep stocking them.

    Personally I like the color books better.

  27. PreacherCain says:

    Why not have a Marvel ‘Classics’ (or some such title) that cherrypicks certain series and keeps those in print, while continuing with the short-term printing of middle-low tier stuff.

    Having stuff like Morrison’s X-Men and Ennis’ Punisher – two creators whose names are recognisable to both comics and trades customers – not in print is just silly.

  28. Rob Messick says:

    I once handed the newer Marvel oversized collection of Dark Phoenix saga to Chris Claremont, and he almost handed it back to me because he didn’t recognize it. He didn’t even know Marvel was putting out a new HC. He was both pissed, and laughing because “that’s Marvel”.

  29. Tom Brevoort says:

    Charles,

    If you haven’t been paid for work of yours that’s been reprinted, that’s an error–and one that we can fix.

    Drop me a line at tbrevoor@marvel.com and I can see about getting this taken care of.

    Tom B

  30. Tom – you’ve got a typo on your e-mail address.

    Charles – add that final T, and it should go through fine.

    Horatio – you don’t know why Charles is complaining, because of what you imagine is in his contracts? Rather than accuse him of living in a fantasy world over something you’re guessing at, try assuming he knows better than you do what deals he made.

    As Tom notes, if Charles didn’t get paid, it’s an error, not some bit of contract boilerplate that exists because you think it does. And I say that as someone who’s signed a lot of Marvel contracts, and actually knows what they say.

  31. It’s nice to see Brevoort’s attempt at damage control on the payment issue, but what about the other complaint expressed by Vess?

    “Now I see that they are cobbling together 3 or 4 Spider-Man GNs into one enormous, hideously produced, hardcover”

    Isn’t that also an “error–and one that we can fix”?

    Can’t Marvel consult Vess (and Wrightson) on the design of the book and maybe even get their cooperation for the book’s extras?

    And while you’re at it, let BWS do the complete, definitive book version of Weapon-X he always wanted to do?

  32. I can’t say this with any certainty, but Amazon may not serve at all well as a barometer for book trade sales. They consistently have trades on sale on the direct market’s release dates, which are always before when I’ve been able to get Marvel and DC titles from their book trade distributors, Random House and Hachette. So it seems entirely possible that Amazon is buying its trades through Diamond… or they’re getting yet another special deal from the major pubs.

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