The comic book industry just had its best-selling month in nearly two decades.
According to The Comichron, a blog that covers comic book sales figures, June 2016 was the best-selling month for the industry since December of 1997. These figures aren’t perfect, since the only way to track sales is to record the number of orders retailers are making rather than individual purchases, but they paint a pretty good picture. Retailers ordered about 8.53 million copies of the top 300 comics last month.
In December 1997 they ordered just a hair under 9 million copies. The June 2016 figure is 14% higher than it was the previous year, and 56% higher than it was 15 years ago.
Don’t expect next month’s sales numbers to be better than these, however. June was a bit of a special case.
Just as summer means blockbuster season for the cinema, it’s event season for comics books — the part of the year when Marvel and DC publish limited-run series with huge stakes.
For Marvel it’s “Civil War II” the spiritual sequel to an event from a decade ago that splits the superhero world in two when they come to blows over the ethical implications of a new character who can predict the future. Two heroes — War Machine and She-Hulk (probably) — have already been killed, and the Hulk was murdered by his fellow Avenger Hawkeye in the third issue.
Marvel also turned Captain America into a secret Nazi last month, which was kind of a big deal.
DC’s is a little more complicated, but they relaunched their line in an event called “Rebirth” that’s caused major changes to the status quo. Superman died and was replaced with an older Dad-Superman from a parallel universe, and the characters from “Watchmen” have joined continuity. All the major series had new first issues to help introduce the changes.
These blockbuster comic events started in June, and sales of the first issues were big because fans were curious. Chances are the sales numbers will drop as the series continue. That’s normal.
But this is still a good sign for comics. Months that are driven by sales of a major relaunch or event are fairly common, so it’s encouraging that June outdid them all.
So, the natural question is: Why are comics books doing better recently, if this trend is to be believed?
Part of it, for sure, is the movies — but they superhero movies have been around for a while now, and event then the books weren’t exactly cool. “X-Men,” the movie that arguably launched the modern superhero movie craze, came out in 2000. While comics plot lines were convoluted and the costumes colourful, the first of these superhero movies were fairly accessible, and the costumes muted enough that they didn’t deter viewers who thought that comics were too childish.
But, as the movie franchises got bigger, introducing terms like “cinematic universe” to viewers’ lexicons, they got more colourful too, and introduced deep-cut characters and more complex stories that assumed a decent amount of knowledge on theatergoers’ parts.
Viewers had learned to “read” superhero movies. Were they ready to read the comics they were based on? It sure seems like it.
As the movie business was subtly making comics seem more alluring, new technology was making it easier than ever to read them — and obsess about them.
Twitter and Tumblr provided new places where fans could talk about comics that weren’t the dark message boards of yore. Webcomics could act as a possible free gateway to professional comic books.
Websites like Comixology make reading comics as simple as a click of the mouse — and keep in mind that sales through this site aren’t even counted in the main figures we cited earlier.
Perhaps the most important change, though, is the real (if imperfect) efforts the two biggest comic companies are taking to try to make their books more representative and inclusive.
Books like “Miss Marvel,” a lighthearted though still complex series about a teen-aged Pakistani-American heroine, are reaching out to an audience that was largely ignored in past decades. Independent comic companies tend to be even better at reaching out to minority or otherwise under-served audiences, even if they don’t always sell as much as the big two.
Of course, there are a ton of behind-the-scenes business reasons that comics are doing better. Marvel went Bankrupt in 1996, so that certainly didn’t help, but the company — which was bought by Disney a few years ago — is doing well these days.
Whatever the reason, it’s been a bumpy road for comic books, but these recent sales numbers and a series of encouraging developments suggest that maybe there’s a bright future for comics after some darker times.
You know, cause nobody ever really stays dead in superhero comics.
The tl:dr is that comics finally have the prominence and the network to support a new wave of fandom, and they’re well on their way to being more popular than they have been in a long, long time.
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