Darkness on the Edge of Town

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Several weeks ago, in my epic-length Gwen Stacy post, I lamented the current state of the comics business, with its creative emphasis on darkness and death and its over reliance on cheap stunts to push sales. As fate would have it, almost immediately afterward, we had announcements from Marvel that a woman would assume the role of Thor, and that the Falcon/Sam Wilson would become the new Captain America. Shortly after that, Archie died in the pages of Life with Archie. Then I stumbled across this solicitation for DC’s new Earth-2 series, Earth-2: World’s End, which included this immortal line of sales pitch:

“Death and destruction will follow each week, and you’ll never know who will live and who will die! It all begins with this extra-sized debut issue!”

It was enough to make me want to crawl into a hole and then pull the hole in after me. But of course it didn’t end there—it got worse when the New York Times published an article on comic sales. Apparently business is booming. Now I wanted to cry. Could people actually like this garbage?

As it turns out, maybe not so much. (A ray of hope! Good taste may yet still exist amongst comics fandom!) As the article states, overall sales were $870 mil in 2013, as compared to $635 mil in 2012 (an increase of $235 mil; about 37%). Digital sales, specifically, went from $70 mil to $90 mil over that same span (an increase of $20 mil; about 29%). The overall number, however, includes sales of “single issues, collected editions or digital downloads.” There is no breakdown of new comics compared to trade collections/ reprints.

I would suspect reprint material is likely spiking while the sales numbers on single issues/ new material remain relatively flat. My suspicions are backed up by this little nugget revealed later in the same article: “In June, according to estimates by ICv2, an online trade publication that covers pop culture for retailers, only two comics series—one starring Batman and the other starring Spider-Man—sold more than 100,000 copies in comic book stores.” I’m assuming that by “comics series” they mean one of the new issues of the regularly-published Spider-Man & Batman titles. As I mentioned back in that Gwen Stacy post, back in the 70s and 80s, single issues of any title routinely sold in six figures; now only two of them do.

With all of the success of comics properties in television and film, the comics should be booming like crazy—and I suppose technically it is. But as I said, I’d bet that its classic reprint material pushing those numbers more than anything else. Anyone with more information, please feel free to chime in.

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