Archive for September, 2011
Looking at sales trends in Part 2 (Part 1 here), we saw that virtually every comic has a month-to-month sales drop between 1.5 – 3.0%, which over the course of a year can mean 10 – 25% of your total sales. That figure holds true across the entire comic industry, but particularly among “The Big Two” (Marvel and DC Comics – which account for 70% of all North American comic sales).
The number of comics they’ve released in the last decade that have actually gone UP in sales, I could probably count on one hand. And while the same diminishing sales trend happens for indie comic publishers (basically everyone NOT Marvel or DC — Image, Dark Horse, IDW, Top Shelf, Oni, Dynamite, BOOM! etc.) you can find dozens of examples where their sales actually ROSE over time.
When you think about it, a new series from Marvel or DC has the maximum visibility possible for a comic before its release. Whether it’s a new title from one of their big franchises, like the new Wolverine and the X-Men #1 (coming in Oct), or a less well-known mid-list series like Marvel’s new Legion of Monsters #1 (coming this month), by virtue of them being Big Two books, every single retailer is going to SEE them in the previews catalog and at least CONSIDER ordering them for their customers.
And that’s not something that most books outside the big two can say. Many retailers only pay attention to the Big Two, or if they’re lucky, they go through Diamond’s “Premier Publishers” (Marvel, DC, Image, Dark Horse and IDW get preferred status in the catalog and have their work listed before all the other publishers every month). So the vast majority of comics outside Marvel and DC are never even considered for purchasing by a great many comic shops.
But no retailer is going to say to his customers, “Oh, I didn’t know that new X-Force series was coming out from Marvel, sorry I didn’t order any for you guys.” That’s their bread and butter. Selling those Big Two comics is what they make their living off of, so they’re not gonna miss a single opportunity.
Since books from the Big Two have maximum visibility when they’re solicited — virtually everyone who might want it, knows it’s coming out — the book launches with the highest sales figure the series is EVER going to have. There is really no audience out there for it to find a few months down the road that doesn’t already know about it.
Sales have nowhere to go but down.
And I’ll freely admit this a pretty simplified view. The Big Two publish so many comics nowadays (if you include the ICON line, Marvel solicited an even 100 comics and DC 84 for November 2011) that it’s impossible to keep up on ALL of them. So some readers are bound to miss a new book they might be interested in and pick it up a couple issues down the road. But I think the numbers clearly show, these late-comers are so small a percentage, that they don’t counterbalance all the people dropping the book that account for the standard monthly sales drop.
On the other hand, since we established that many retailers don’t pay as much attention to publishers outside of the Big Two, a new indy comic launch is really only reaching a fraction of its potential audience. The vast majority of fans and retailers have NO CLUE the book even exists. And to be fair to retailers, these indie books almost always have up-and-coming, unproven creators on them, which makes it more of a risk to order the books.
So if it’s a quality book and buzz starts to build around it, you often see the numbers on the book rise over a period of time. They’ll climb pretty steadily while the book find’s its audience, but at a certain point, they all pretty much level out — Walking Dead, Invincible, Kick-Ass, Nemesis, Scarlet, Casanova, Locke and Key, Morning Glories and Chew (some of the more popular indie books right now) have all followed that pattern.
I often wonder whether another contributing factor to this standard monthly sales drop is the very nature of what Marvel and DC do. As creators like Warren Ellis and Jonathan Hickman have pointed out, the Big Two are in the trademark servicing business. Trying to maintain and increase the value of their existing trademarks/intellectual property to take maximum advantage of them in business world. And I have no doubt you can service a trademark and still tell exciting, entertaining and meaningful stories. But part of servicing that trademark is perpetuating it over the years and thus there are certain things that the creative teams are just not going to be allowed to do — like, say some of the gender-bending stuff Matt Fraction did in the second Casanova story arc. So in a certain sense, a story from the Big Two is only allowed to be SO unpredictable.
The fact that ANYTHING can happen (and often does) is one of the most entertaining aspects of comics like Walking Dead, Invincible, Savage Dragon or properties like Game of Thrones and The Venture Bros. Both the Big Two and the indie guys are trying to tell entertaining stories, but only one group is really worried about maintaining their trademark’s value. Hell, Kirkman and George R.R. Martin can’t kill their characters fast enough!
In closing, I guess when it comes right down to it, there are really only a handful of reasons why the sales on a series go up or down.
Why do sales on a series drop one issue to the next — say issue #43 to #44?
1.Reader decided they just don’t’ like the book anymore
2. Reader missed an issue and decide to drop series or wait for trade
3. Reader couldn’t afford comics that week/month
4. Book has a fill-in artist they don’t care for.
Why do sales on a series rise?
1. The story itself took some massive twists and turns that got people talking about its plot, creating a buzz
2. The book slipped in under the radar upon release and fans of the book have been championing its quality or premise, creating a buzz.
Chime in if you’ve got any differing points of view. I’d love to hear you guy’s thoughts on the subject.
Thought it might be cool to take a look at all the development work I did for a new character in my Happy Samurais comic. I compiled all the drawings I did for it in the images below.
In the past, I’ve almost always designed characters with pencil and paper and I still did most of the “daydreaming”, “what if…” type of stuff that way. But when it came time to try out all the subtle variations on the designs (what if these lines go up instead of down, or what if I make that part fat instead of skinny…) I started using Photoshop. When drawing on paper and I’d want to compare design variations against each other, I’d just bust out another drawing — which invariably would be slightly off (proportions, shape, silhouette) from the original. I gotta say, I really loved being able to just keep tweaking the same image over and over and end up with dozens of variations to chose from. Admittedly, I went a little overboard (60 + variations!) but the process also helped me arrive at what I think is one of the coolest character design I’ve ever done.
Is all this a little much for one character design? I guess that all depends on your point of view. Monthly comic book guys would NEVER spend this much time on a character design. They just don’t have the luxury to work on something this long that’s NOT a page. And I get that. Monthly comics gotta get out the door. But I also think that’s one of the reasons most comic book character designs are so average. Seriously, character design skills among comic artists are way inferior to our brothers in video games, animation and film. Hell, half the time, comic artists are designing characters on the page. There’s no way you’re going to come up with a strong fundamental design that way.
I’m also trying to make a different type of comic than most. One that’s developed more like a film than a comic — where tons of time and effort is placed on character design, prop design, location design and special effects, etc.
Yes, that’s a lot of work for one character design, but badass shit isn’t made overnight.
Will it all be worth it in the end? Only one way to find out.
And I know I’m being a tease by not showing the final design, but I’m still trying to figure out how much to hint at and how much to show in this making-of process stuff. After all, I don’t want to ruin any of the comic reading experience.
In Indie Comic Sales part 2 (part 1 here), we’re going to look at what sales on an average comic book do on a monthly and yearly basis. Before we start, time for the usual credit and disclaimer. All the numbers for these examples come from ICv2. For the acknowledged inaccuracies and why the numbers are still valuable, see part 1.
On a month-to-month basis, sales on the average comic book series generally fall -1.5% to -3.0%. That number is pretty consistent across the industry, even with the top-selling superhero books from “The Big Two” (Marvel & DC). While that’s not a huge drop in sales from one month to the next, if you multiply that by 12 months, you usually end up with a -10% to -25% drop in sales over the course of a year.
To illustrate, here’s some numbers for Brian Wood’s DMZ series from DC/Vertigo and the consistent top-ten selling Avengers by Brian Bendis and John Romita Jr from Marvel. In the DMZ numbers, you can see the standard monthly sales drop in effect. On Avengers, if you compare sales on #1 to the most recent issue, #16, you’d see sales have fallen -66%. That’s not an entirely fair measurement though, as first issues are always ordered much higher than subsequent ones. If we look at a twelve month period, from September, 2010 to August, 2011, we’d see a drop of -28%. Which is about standard.
#51 $2.99 6,840 Mar 10
#52 $2.99 6,826 Apr 10 (-.0.2%)
#53 $2.99 6,759 May10 (-1.0%)
#54 $2.99 6,661 Jun 10 (-1.5%)
#55 $2.99 6,581 Jul 10 (-1.2%)
#1 $3.99 163,867 May 10
#2 $3.99 98,788 June 10
#3 $3.99 87,410 Jul 10
#4 $3.99 87,333 Aug 10
#5 $3.99 82,411 Sep 10
#6 $3.99 73,409 Oct 10
#7 $3.99 89,758 Nov 10
#8 $3.99 67,840 Dec 10
#9 $3.99 64,867 Jan 11
#10 $3.99 63,924 Feb 11
#11 $3.99 66,618 Mar 11
#12 $3.99 63,441 Apr 11
#13 $3.99 68.086 May 11
#14 $3.99 64,057 June 11
#15 $3.99 62,580 July 11
#16 $3.99 60,295 Aug 11
Even the most well crafted story-arcs see their sales decline. Generally there are two cases that will cause a book’s sales to stay the same, or actually rise: the story itself took some MASSIVE twists and turns that got people talking, creating a buzz about the story – or – the book slipped in under the radar on release and the fans of the book have been championing it’s quality, creating a buzz about the book.
If sales drop 25% over the first year, you can imagine what kind of trouble your book will be in by the end of the second — down 50% overall. To counter this sales decline and reset the starting point the numbers are going to fall from, the Big Two do something like this:
1. Relaunch book with a new #1
2. Sales drop off
3. Change roster of characters in book
4. Sales drop off
5. New creative team takes over book
6. Sales drop off
7. Kill character
8. Sales drop off
9. Bring a character back from the dead.
10. Sales drop off
11. Start cycle over (possibly mixing up the order)
Obviously with the new DC Comics relaunch, many of these things apply to their books, but think about how many also apply to Marvel at the moment — Ultimate Spider-Man (kill character, new #1, change roster), Daredevil (new #1, new creative team) Fantastic Four (kill character, new #1), Wolverine and the X-Men (new creative team, new #1, new roster), Avengers (new roster, new artist) and Captain America, which has done every one of these in the last few years (brought Bucky back from dead, killed Captain America, changed roster with Bucky being lead during Cap’s death, brought Cap back from dead, killed Bucky and relaunched a new #1).
Again, that’s no knock on those stories or the creators telling them, just an observation on tactics used to keep sales high. And I can’t say I really fault the companies for this strategy. As far as sales trends seem to show, it’s virtually inevitable that sales will drop and you’ll have to take action to raise them up.
Expect at least another two or three parts in these series. More next week.
Was going through the Star Wars films the other day to get some screen-cap reference. Thought I’d post a few random shots from the original trilogy. Some really cool shots and compositions in these, particularly from A New Hope. I was honestly a little surprised. Didn’t think George had that good of an eye for compositions, but maybe I was wrong. Coolest screen-caps though are the electrified Darth Vader from Jedi (last 3 caps below). Love the mechanical robot parts in his x-ray. That also would’ve made awesome reference for that Happy Samurais‘ poster I did last year.
As a someone who is looking to launch a creator-owned book and obviously wants it to be as successful as possible, I think it’s absolutely essential to know as much about not only the craft of creating amazing comic books, but the marketing, distribution, sales, etc. You have to have realistic expectations and know what you’re getting yourself into, or you’re doomed to failure. A huge part of knowing what you’re getting into is how many copies can you expect to sell. Along those lines, I track independent comic book sales to better understand the landscape of the marketplace and where my book, The Happy Samurais, might fit in.
In future posts, I’ll talk about some of the recent creator-owned comics that have launched to strong sales — books like Morning Glories, Chew, Nonplayer, Witch Doctor and Red Wing — but today, I’m gonna start at the very top, with the biggest creator-owned success story of the last decade, Robert Kirkman’s Walking Dead.
Years before Kirkman became a best-selling creator and partner at Image Comics, he published comics through his company, Funk-O-Tron. He met Tony Moore in the 7th grade and together they went on to create Battle Pope in 2000 for Funk-O-Tron (which lasted 14 issues). Kirkman self-financed all his early work, racking up $40,000 in credit card debt at one point. He started doing work for Image Comics in 2002 with Tech Jacket and Super Patriot: America’s Fighting Force and later launched Invincible #1 in January of 2003 with sales of 9,975 and Walking Dead (again with Tony Moore) in October of 2003 with sales of 7,266.
As of August 2011, each issue of Invincible sells about 16,000 and Walking Dead about 34,000. Digital issues of both comics have been available day-and-date (meaning the digital copies are released the same day as the print copies) since July, 2010. According to Kirkman, each digital issue of Walking Dead sells about 3,000 copies the day of release and then additional sales over the following months. How has the digital day-and-date affected print sales? They haven’t dropped one bit. Since the Walking Dead tv show came out on AMC last fall, there’s been a nice boost of 5,000 extra print copies a month sold. Not bad, but not a game-changer either. The real impact of the tv show seems to have been in sales of trade paperbacks, which sell at a staggering rate.
Before we look at the Walking Dead sales figures I’ve compiled below, I want to take a second and talk about the source for these numbers. Diamond Comics, the sole distributor for all new comics released in the US, doesn’t release exact sales figures. Instead, they release a “sales index”. They assign Batman (a book chosen at random) an index of 100.00 every month. All other sales figures are given in relation to that Batman index. If you know the sales for any one book on the list, you should be able to plug it into the index and calculate the sales for the Diamond Top 300 that month. So if Batman #712 has an index of 100.00 and Uncanny X-Men #540 has an index of 111.33, and we know the sales for either book, we can figure out that Batman sold 51,385 and X-Men sold 57,206.
This is what websites like ICv2 do every month when they list their sales figures for issues and trade paperbacks. They do their best to get the numbers as accurate as possible, but creators (who are privy to the ACTUAL sales on their books) complain that they’re constantly off. Apparently, the numbers that Diamond puts out don’t include all last minute orders, or maybe reorders of a book placed the following week and really only reflect the North American comics sales.
That said, they are usually CONSISTENT in how far off they are. In the infamous “Bendis vs. Kirkman” panel at the 2008 Baltimore Comic-Con (this was after the “Kirkman Manifesto” video and the two sat down to debate aspects of creator-owned work), Kirkman put together some slides to show his sales figures. One of those slides (seen below) showed the “actual” vs. “internet” sales figures (top set of lines relate to actual vs. internet on a Bendis related Marvel book, bottom lines relate to Walking Dead). You can see that numbers are definitely off, but they’re off by the same ratio every month, so the overall shape of the graph (the trend) is still the same.
Another important thing to take note of is that the Diamond/ICv2 sales figures for trade paperbacks ONLY show sales to the direct market (comic shops). They don’t take into account sales to bookstores, Amazon etc. So the trade charts only represent a fraction of the actual sales on that book.
Point being, all my numbers below are close, but definitely not 100% accurate. Without further adieu…
Walking Dead Sales
October 2003 – Walking Dead #1 7,266
August 2011 – Walking Dead 34,000 (average copies per month)
March 2011 Walking Dead books:
Walking Dead #82 31,174
Walking Dead #83 33,686
Walking Dead Weekly #9 5,773
Walking Dead Weekly #10 5,614
Walking Dead Weekly #11 5,325
Walking Dead Weekly #12 5,359
Walking Dead Weekly #13 5,261
March total sales = 92,192
- The Walking Dead Weekly books are new reprintings of the original issues, released, as the name implies, one issue per week. No new content or extras. It is reprints of existing material, not a spin-off book or new mini-series and is selling 5,000 copies a month.
- When you factor in how the ICv2 numbers are always a bit lower than the actual numbers, I would say the cumulative Walking Dead probably did reach 100,000 copies in March!
- For March, 2011, only ONE book sold over 100,000 copies. Fantastic Four #1 with 114,472.
- I know a SINGLE issue of Walking Dead didn’t actually sell 100,000 copies, but however you slice it, those are amazing numbers.
April 2011 Walking Dead books:
Walking Dead #84 31,930
Walking Dead #83 reorders 6,252
Walking Dead Weekly #14 5,003
Walking Dead Weekly #15 4,922
Walking Dead Weekly #16 4,956
Walking Dead Weekly #17 4,388
Walking Dead Survivors Guide#1 16,158
April total sales = 73,609
May 2011 Walking Dead books:
Walking Dead #85 37,552
Walking Dead Weekly #18 4,708
Walking Dead Weekly #19 4,619
Walking Dead Weekly #20 4,547
Walking Dead Weekly #21 4,507
Walking Dead Survivor Guide #2 13,419
May total sales = 69,352
June 2011 Walking Dead books:
Walking Dead #86 31,325
Walking Dead Survivor’s Guide #3 11,479
Walking Dead TPB v14 20,397
Walking Dead Weekly #22 4,000 (approximate)
Walking Dead Weekly #23 4,000 (approximate)
Walking Dead Weekly #24 4,000 (approximate)
Walking Dead Weekly #25 4,000 (approximate)
Walking Dead Weekly #26 4,000 (approximate)
June total sales = 83,201
- Diamond only lists sales figures for the top 300 books every month.
- The #300 book for June sold 4,427 copies.
- So I don’t think Walking Dead Weekly #22-26 made the cut, but based on their May/July numbers, all probably sold in the neighborhood of 4,000 copies.
June 2011 Walking Dead trade paperbacks:
Walking Dead volume 1 3,131
Walking Dead volume 2 1,735
Walking Dead volume 3 1,335
Walking Dead volume 4 1,123
Walking Dead volume 5 1,080
Walking Dead volume 6 1,001
Walking Dead volume 7 967
Walking Dead volume 8 877
Walking Dead volume 9 1,094
Walking Dead volume 10 999
Walking Dead volume 11 1,000
Walking Dead volume 12 1,131
Walking Dead volume 13 1,525
Walking Dead volume 14 20,397
Walking Dead Compendium v1 499 ($59.99)
Walking Dead volume volume 1 Hardcover 496 ($34.99)
June 2011 sales of backstock (not counting new volume 14) = 17,993
June 2011 total trade sales = 38,390
- In June 2011, all 14 of the Walking Dead trade paperbacks were in Diamond’s top 300 Graphic Novel sales chart.
- As mentioned previously, these trade numbers only reflect sales to comic shops, not book stores, amazon etc., so don’t be unimpressed by the apparent small number for the backstock.
- The number for volume 14 trade sales is MASSIVE though. It’s actually the biggest trade debut sales I can find for the last few years. Numbers below for it and a few other big releases to give some context:
- average sales for top #1-5 trades per month = 2,000-3,000
- #1 trade for June was Walking Dead v14 = 20,397
- #2 trade for June was Buffy Season 8 v8 = 6,804
- Walking Dead v 13 = 19,324 (November 2010)
- Walking Dead v12 = 16,627 (July 2010)
- Superman: Earth One = 16,260 (Oct 2010)
- Scott Pilgrim v5 = 10,959 (May 2009)
- Scott Pilgrim v6 = 21,305 (July 2010)
- Yes, new Walking Dead trades sell phenomenal, but I’m more impressed with how amazing the backstock sells month in, month out.
- I’ve tracked Walking Dead volume 1 sales since its initial release and it sells 1,500-2,000 copies a month in the direct market, without fail.
Walking Dead volume 1 sales:
May 2004 5,374
May 2005 2,079
May 2006 1,630
May 2007 1,803
May 2008 1,324
May 2009 1,461
May 2010 2,303
Oct 2010 10,263 (launch of tv show)
Dec 2010 6,410 (xmas spike)
May 2011 2,155
The vast majority of the information in this post came from interviews with Kirkman on iFanboy and WordBallon with John Siuntres podcast. Both are highly entertaining and informative, so definitely check them out. And here is a link to the video of the Bendis vs. Kirkman panel at the 2008 Baltimore Comic-Con. A must see.
You come up with a ridiculous idea that you think MIGHT be brilliant. You IMMEDIATELY want to call a friend so they can pass judgement on the idea and confirm (or deny) its quality. It’s AGONIZING wondering if an idea is genius or utter shit — and that line is much finer than you’d imagine.
“If an idea is any good, it’s on the verge of being stupid.” – Michel Gondry
That’s probably my favorite quote on creativity, ever. Seriously. That’s basically my litmus test for an idea. When I think back on their conception, all my best ideas made me laugh out loud. Because they were ridiculous and they were awesome. And that’s how I’d hope that people would describe my work. Ridiculously awesome. Which in my mind, ridiculously awesome = fun.
Truth is, you’ve got to let your “brilliant” idea rattle around in your head (and subconscious) for a few days. I like to print a cliffs-note version of my idea out on a piece of a paper and leave it around everywhere (in the studio, bedroom, copy in the car) so it’s constantly confronting me (not even making that up). Be patient and sleep on the idea for a couple days. Come to your own conclusions, THEN call your consigliere (in my case, Ben Dale) and bounce the idea off them.
Opinions of your inner-circle are invaluable, but if you call on them too soon, the idea (and your ego) are too fragile to get true assessment of the idea’s worth.
So, Ben, expect a call in couple days, cause this one just might be brilliant.
Here are the character designs for The Happy Samurai’s rival band, Pink Dragon Dirt Bike. The overall design theme was “sci-fi glam”. Darth Vader meets David Bowie. We’ve got Red Nozaki, the brilliant guitarist, vocalist and songwriter. Goken (literally translates to strong fist) on drums. Fastest guitar player in Tokyo, Uzi Suzuki plays lead. And Lady Blitzkrieg locks down the low end on bass.