Comics Creators

Do comic books sell so little????


Taken from the article of the Guardian

“The first issue of writer Brian K Vaughan’s suburban sci-fi story Paper Girls sold approximately 75,000 copies on Vaughan’s name alone; the fifth collected volume of his space opera Saga sold more than 29,000 copies in its first month.”

Is that true? Honestly I was expecting a lot more.


I don’t think those numbers ever include foreign or digital sales, just US (or North American) direct market.


Nowadays, books selling around 30K+ are considered successful.

For comparison: Before the market crashed in the mid-90s, it was typical that a book selling less than 70K/month would be cancelled.


It’s crazy if you compare it to mangas.


Those look like great sales for BKV. What am I missing?


I get the feeling that Pedro is used to seeing manga and BD sales numbers.


The lower overheads of Image means that a creator-owned book can survive nicely on much lower sales than a Big Two book. Kieron Gillen was saying on Twitter a couple of months ago that the Wicked and the Divine is suitably profitable on a sales level below Marvel’s cancellation line.

So, 75k for Paper Girls is actually a decent sized hit, I would say.


My aim would be 14-16,000 per issue to pay for expenses and then advertising within the book to pay for the promotion and advertising of the book itself.

Those numbers are without paying myself, but it would mean any amount over that brings me personal profit (though numbers higher than that are extremely difficult for an unknown like me).

I would hope to make a more substantial amount on collected editions and merchandise further down the line.

The big money is in building an IP that will transfer to other media.


We’re living in a golden age of superheroic media—Marvel dominates the Hollywood blockbuster scene, while The Flash, Arrow, and Supergirl lead a ton of new comic book TV shows. And that leads to people writing off comics as just a source of raw material. But comics themselves are on a roll right now.

John Jackson Miller has been archiving comic sales statistics for years over at Comichron, and in his latest analysis for sales in January 2016 he paints a great picture of the current industry. Despite factors like big sales on graphic novels and a usual trend of smaller sales in January as fewer comics issues are released, the Top 300 comics of the month sold about 6.49 million copies in total.

That number might sound quite small next to the amount of people who’ll stand in line to see Captain America: Civil War in a few months. And in fact, it’s down a bit from last January—mainly thanks to the fact that last January saw the release of Star Wars #1, which was hugely boosted by being placed as a free item in the January 2015 LootCrate subscription bundle. But it’s actually amazing to see how far the comic book industry has come in just five years.


These numbers are only for Japan


Not always. You tend to give away alot to get a property adapted, particularly if it’s one of your first. And very few creators have really made a big splash in other media, sometimes it hasn’t done much for them at all (I don’t think there’s a direct correlation between being adapted and selling more books, particularly if the adaptation isn’t very good which is at least a 50-50 chance).

Honestly I think it’s like waiting for the lottery to hit. Creators would be far better served if they just focused on selling their books. The problem is too many of them create weird quirky properties that aren’t going to have mainstream appeal. Some creators can rise above the high concept and still make it a hit, but if anyone other than BKV had launched Paper Girls for example I doubt if it’d have sold 10k units. And we forget that Walking Dead sold peanuts for years. It was the trade strategy that really helped it out (that and it was staggeringly good for the first 40-60 issues).


There are a few things to look at:

  1. Martin is right that digital and sales outside the US and Canada are not counted in those estimates. Vaughan says he has 30% digital sales on Saga in that interview and it’s commonly held from creators that the overseas sales are also worth 30% extra too. So when it shows Saga is selling around 50k a month it’s closer to 80,000 in reality.

  2. Some context, when comics commonly sold 150,000-500,000 like they did in the 80s they were very cheap and disposable, they made less than 10c off them. Around 20-30% of those issues were not sold and pulped.

  3. Having a writer and a publisher as a mother I can tell you prose book sales aren’t as high as you think. Kieran Gillen recently said that his first two volumes of Wicked and Divine sold 50k each. The Guardian revealed that the latest volume of TV presenter and actor Stephen Fry’s memoirs sold 60k in the calendar year, so Gillen and McKelvie sold more.

  4. Robert is right, 29,000 copies of a book on launch is really really good numbers in any part of publishing outside of your Stephen King and JK Rowling territory (and she has more money than the Queen of England).


Let me ask this then: why do mangas sell so much more than comics?


A few factors - first, probably, diversity - Manga has a huge variety of titles and appeals fairly equally to girls and boys in Japan (and the US as far as I can tell). Second, you can get a lot more story for your money in Manga. Also, they really know their audience and provide reliable satisfaction of audience demand.

Finally, adaptation to Anime is a big factor. In the United States, if they make a Spider-Man cartoon or movie, it will sell more toys, clothes and merchandise than it will lead people to buy Marvel comics. Part of this is due to the fact that the movies and television shows are really unrelated to the comics. However, an Anime series usually looks like and follows the plot of the Manga - so if the series ends or you want to see parts of the story it leaves out, you can go to the Manga.

Personally, I also think Manga stories that are like superhero stories (you can say that Hunter x Hunter or Naruto are comparable to the X-Men, for example) develop better in comparison and often have a better sense of finality. When characters die, they usually die for good, and the protagonists develop and change without facing the same villains over and over (though sometimes it does feel that the structure of the plot is repetitive).


Well, that’s my thing if I’m honest. I’ve taken a long time trying to create stories and worlds that have strong crossover potential (for the most part). If I’m able to get that right and then I go put my business hat on (for those series and properties I think have that wider appeal), it’s up to me to try and guarantee I get the right deals for the property and nurse them into other media, as opposed to selling the rights and seeing them in limbo or unused or getting the worst possible deal just because it’s the first one that comes along. There’s never been a better time for a comic book to get optioned for TV or film.

I certainly don’t expect any of that to happen overnight though. It’s a long, expensive and hard road. And patience is needed too. But I know that if I work hard in both areas - creatively and business wise - I can get to the point where I can get strong deals with reliable outcomes for adaptations and merch.

Alot of creators, especially within comic books, barely even think about anything more than putting the book together every month, then the business learning curve is so steep that they don’t have a strong plan for the IP itself. Creative are generally crap at business.


Patience can also be a double edge sword.

Without naming any names: I know a person that wanted to adapt a book into a movie. The creator said he had big deals waiting for him (huge studios) and only wanted to provide rights in other languages than English.

Anyway, 8 years later, book never adapted by any “huge studios” and now is just another forgotten book in a pile of millions of books.


That’s true, but the time in which you have to actually show patience differs greatly depending on how the property is being released and its format.

Many books now end up optioned before they even hit the shelves because the publishers want in on the act. Word is that Vertigo only want to put out new comics that would have an ‘on-screen’ budget they can potentially option for TV series early on.

Personally, I aim to try building each IP’s popularity over a long period of time, which means I shoot myself in the foot if I upsale in any area before having a really strong, core fan base and a recognizable brand.

It helps that I tend to world-build a great deal for any story I write, which means the property itself is not just a one-trick pony in terms of story, but one that can be extended or built-on in in spin-off material.