Monday, October 25, 2004

The Graphic Novel Mainstream

Kevin over at Thought Balloons has blogged about the new Publishers Weekly Graphic Novel Supplement. He's reproduced a sidebar that "lists this year's Top 25 graphic novels, based on combined sales from bookstores, comics shops and online retailers." Go take a look; I'll wait...

So, notice anything strange? Yes, it's dominated by manga titles, but at this point that should be expected. No, it's the almost total lack of any titles from the Big Two (DC & Marvel), save for Marvel's 1602, which sneaks in at #25.

Remember, this isn't a list of top sales from just bookstores, it's a combined listing from pretty much all outlets that sell graphic novels in the U.S.

This leads me to some observations:

  • Yes, since it covers GN sales for the calendar year, it's going to be weighted towards titles that appeared earlier in the year. 1602 just came out a couple of weeks ago, so its performance so far is quite good, and I fully expect that it will rapidly climb up the charts.


  • Given Neil Gaiman's following as prose author (mostly in genre circles, though he also gets a good deal of attention from the 'mainstream'), 1602's appearance on this chart is more likely due to his name than to the Marvel characters in the book.


  • Even though this is a combined sales chart, it looks almost exactly like you'd expect a chart that tracked only bookstores, and looks almost nothing like the charts we see from Diamond for comic shops. From this, we can deduce that the sales of GN's in bookstores is much greater than in comic shops; and that manga & other non-super-hero titles probably have a long shelf life (or at least the most popular ones do).


  • Interestingly, sales to libraries don't appear to be covered by this chart. However, given what I know about the ordering practices of public libraries with graphic novel collections--that they focus on a teen audience and are heavily weighted towards manga--I doubt that their inclusion would change much.


  • DC, despite having what is probably the most diverse GN backlist in the industry, has no titles on the list at all. (But with their new manga line, that may be about to change...)


  • Pantheon, a mainstream publisher, has slots 1 and 4, with Art Spiegelman & Marjane Satrapi respectively. These two titles got a lot of mainstream press attention, which has translated into sales.


  • Weighing in at #13 is something called The Book of Bunny Suicides by Andy Riley; before looking at this chart I'd never heard of it. Now after looking it up on Amazon, I want to read it. What are chances that my LCS will have it in stock, or even be able to get it if I ordered it?


  • In addition to some of their manga titles, Dark Horse also has a couple of Hellboy collections on the chart. Apparently by having a good stock of GN's ready and in stores, Dark Horse was able to capitalize on the Hellboy movie. Note the complete absence of Spider-Man titles on this list...


  • There's no accounting for the taste of the mainstream manga audience. There are a lot of great manga titles, but those that appear on this list have little or no attraction to me. Actually, there is accounting for the taste: it's the taste of 14-year-olds. It would seem that the tastes and interests of these consumers will dominate, which is bad news for those of us who want more sophistication in our GN's.


  • In fact, with the exception of Fruits Basket (and maybe Inuyasha) all the manga titles on the list are targeted at teenage boys. So despite the great attention being paid to teenage girls reading manga, there's a huge audience of teenage boys reading manga geared towards them.


  • All of this leads me to the conclusion that the 'mainstream' GN market and the 'direct' comic book market are far apart. Given that the mainstream market seemingly outsizes the direct market, the demise of the direct market, should it someday come, will not mean the deminse of the comic book as a form of entertainment or art in America. But it may mean the demise of super-heroes and other types of genres that are traditionally thought of as comic books, in favor of manga and artsy/literary comics.



Those are just some observations of mine; your milage may vary...

7 comments:

Kevin Melrose said...

You make some good observations. A couple of follow-ups:

On Gaiman/1602: This week's PW reviews 1602, describing it as a "glorious adventure" (my opinion of it isn't nearly as high, but that's neither here nor there). In its "forecast," the magazine writes: "Gaiman’s dedicated following will flock to this; script pages and detailed notes and sketches in the back make it an even more attractive package." I imagine you and PW are right: 1602 will inch up the list, particularly with holiday sales.

DC's CMX line: I'm not sure that will make much difference in DC's presence on the list. I just don't see those titles burning up the charts -- at least among the teen-age boys, who, as you point out, seem to be driving sales.

Dave said...

My experience with 1602 is that while comics fans were lukewarm to mildly entertained by it, Gaiman fans with just a passing knowledge of Marvel super-heroes adore it. Of course, my sample size here is relatively small and vastly unscientific.

You're probably right about CMX; they do seem to be going after the shojo audience as opposed to the Shonen Jump crowd.

On further reflection, one possibility may be that the shojo audience is spread out more; that is, while the boys buy many copies of a few titles, the girls are buying just as much, but spreading their purchases out over more titles.

Kevin Melrose said...

"On further reflection, one possibility may be that the shojo audience is spread out more; that is, while the boys buy many copies of a few titles, the girls are buying just as much, but spreading their purchases out over more titles."

I was going to write something about shojo vs. shonen in my first post, but I think I lost my train of thought (no surprise there).

I'd love to see a study -- I imagine one exists somewhere -- of the manga-buying habits of girls and boys. *Do* they differ? Are boys, as you suggest, dedicated to a handful of titles, while girls are sampling new series? Or is there something else?

Pata said...

Well, until those 14-year-old boys grow up and get into the likes of Taiyo Matsumoto and Mohiro Kitoh, we're stuck with countless reprints of Rurouni Kenshin for now. The fact is, "sophisticated GNs" are just as marginalized in Japan as indycomix and "new mainstream" are here. For all the talk about the diversity of manga, the only real shift in the comics market these days is that guys-with-swords (or cards, or Go stones) is the new guys-in-tights.

As for the thing about manga buying habits of boys vs. girls, I've gone to ask the ANN forums since they have a pretty big population of mainstream manga fans.

Anonymous said...

I have the Book of Bunny Suicides - all I can say about it is that it's wrong - just completely wrong (but in a funny way). Don't show it to anyone that will get upset over little furry critters doing horrible, horrible things to themselves...

Dorian said...

I can tell you from first-hand experience that your theory on the buying habits of boys vs. girls regarding manga is mostly correct. Boys who buy manga tend to buy only one or two titles at our store, and they are completely unwilling to go beyond those titles until they have all of them. Girls, on the other hand, will routinely buy three or four different titles at a time and seem much more inclined to stick to particular genres rather than titles.

Plus, don't discount the fact that girls are far more likely to buy a boys comic than boys are to buy a girls comic. Lots of little girls will read a currently popular action manga in addition to shojo titles. Boys won't go near anything that doesn't involve fighting in some way.

Kevin Melrose said...

"Plus, don't discount the fact that girls are far more likely to buy a boys comic than boys are to buy a girls comic. Lots of little girls will read a currently popular action manga in addition to shojo titles. Boys won't go near anything that doesn't involve fighting in some way."

Ah, excellent point, Dorian.