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Graphic Novels in a Post-Direct Market World

This is the final installment of a look at the world of print comics in a world where the direct market implodes.  Previous installments were the actual “Doomsday Scenario” and a look at formats that print comics might adopt online.  This installment will look at graphic novels as more of an independent product than just collections of monthly printed comics.

We all know graphic novels and collected editions of monthly comics (we’ll just refer to them as TPBs for short) are a rapidly expanding category.  As we look at a world where the direct market might cease to exist in the capacity we currently know it, the roles of graphic novels would also change.

First, let’s take a look at sales trends in graphic novels.  Over in The Beat, Heidi MacDonald took a look at Diamond’s backlist for TPB’s.  What do we find?  Here’s the breakdown (throwing out Red Prophet, which was an incentive bonus):

Non-shared universe titles:  17 of 24 (We’ll ignore Sandman’s early involvement with the DCU here. And treat Watchmen as its own universe.)

Shared universe titles that aren’t a crossover:  6 – all Batman-related (popular movies do help)

Vertigo titles:  7… 9 if you count Watchmen as Vertigo

Independent titles: 8: all Walking Dead, except for one “The Boys” and one “Buffy The Vampire Slayer

Shared universe crossover titles: 1, Civil War

Now let’s look at the first week of the New York Times having “Graphic Stories” lists, some odd amalgam of comic shops and bookstore sales.  With a top 10 for both hardcover and softcover, we find:

Non-shared universe titles: 7 of 20

Shared universe titles that aren’t a crossover:  9 of 20

Vertigo titles: 2 if you count editions of Watchmen, otherwise none.

Independent titles: 5, but only 1 Walking Dead (in hardcover, no less)

Shared universe crossover titles: 2, both Secret Invasion-related softcovers

What does this tell us?  The NY Times list is going to be quick-hitters that are more recently released.  Diamond’s going to be staying power.  Be it long term or short term, crossovers aren’t dominating the charts like they do in the monthly books.  You see a lot more action with the self-contained titles or shared universe titles that aren’t crossing over into several other monthly titles.  You see a more level playing field between independents and DC and Marvel, especially if your name happens to be Robert Kirkman.  Does this hold with BookScan?  To a certain extent, yes.  More so if you count something like 52 as a mostly self-contained series.  The cross-over books pull in a little more traction as you drop lower on the chart, but Civil War is the only one that’s really dominant.

This does raise a question as to how well the monthly publishers are handling their crossover events, when it comes to collected editions.  It used to be, the multi-title crossover TPBs were from 1990s Batman events.  Knight Fall, Contagion, No Man’s Land and so forth.  They’d go across Batman, Detective Comics, Shadow of the Bat and so forth.  You’d have several volumes and you’d follow the chapters in sequence.

Somewhere along the line all this changed.  Around the time that the massive crossover titles made their comeback, to be specific.  DC recently owned up to a massive lapse in judgment by not including the Superman: Beyond mini-series in their Final Crisis hardcover.  That mini-series only introduced the main (previously hidden) villain from the story’s closing pages.  It will be reprinted in the TPB edition, but there are still a couple issues of Batman left out that would be useful to readers.  Oh, and you can buy some other Final Crisis companion titled TPBs that may or may not enhance the story.  Main author Grant Morrison has stated what’s considered cannon, and all except for the Batman bits will be in the TPB.  It’s in not one TPB.  No, it is in one TPB and the other TPBs don’t count.  Is anybody thinking about the reader?

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  1. “How will people react, not being able to get their monthly does of Green Lantern or Hulk?”

    Make that dose. People will find other things if what they want isn’t there.

    All will survive. The market is moving more product now than it was 20-25 years ago, more than 15 years ago and more than 5 yeas ago. The overall numbers are still growing are they not? The death of the pamphlet and print has been cried for more years than anyone cares to count yet it manages to survive. Little to nothing was done in my 30 plus years in comics to grow or nuture readership, yet somehow it manages to grow overall. Yes, numbers are no longer as high as they used to be on single titles, thre may be fewer shops, few distirbutors and such, but somehow it all survives and will continue to survive and adapt.

    There are plenty of great works for people to seek out, strong back catalogs that continue to generate revenue and many projects made possible by their success on the horizon. Let’s enjoy it and maybe spend some time touting the positive vs. the constant cries of the end is nigh.


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