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Wednesday, December 19, 2007 

Graphic novel sales picking up with all ages

The Contra Costa Times says that sales on graphic novels, which I often tend to call trade paperbacks depending on how they're put together, are drawing more than just the teen to 20-something crowd. And yet, one can only wonder if they're jumping the gun over if comics sales are improving:
The graphic novel -- whose secret identity is a lengthy comic book -- has grown up.
I have to question that starting sentence though: have they? Because they seem to confuse readership with storytelling quality.
The appeal of graphic novels now stretches well beyond these books' traditional market of teenagers and twentysomething males.

The popularity has surfaced in movie theaters. Films such as "X-Men," "30 Days of Night," "Sin City" and "The 300" all had their origins in graphic novels, regular comic books or both.

As a result, video games and other hot gifts will have to make room under the Christmas tree for these complex comic books.

"They are not just for kids, they are for all ages," said Mike Cresser, owner of Crush Comics in Castro Valley. "They are for males and females. A graphic novel is something that attracts all readers. Just because it's a comic book or based on a comic doesn't reduce its appeal."

Recent sales trends back up suggestions that graphic novels are more popular than they were a few years ago, according to data released by ICv2, a Madison, Wis.-based company that tracks popular culture.

Graphic novels in 2006 generated $330 million in sales in the United States and Canada. That was up 12 percent from $295 million in graphic novel sales in 2005.

Sales of periodical comic books -- the kind that usually ship once a month and include familiar titles such as "Uncanny X-Men," "Batman," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Witchblade" -- totaled $310 million in 2006, up 15 percent from 2005.

"Do we see more women and more girls getting into comics? Yes, more so than we ever have," said Joe Field, owner of Flying Colors Comics in Concord. "Graphic novels and other comics are driving a lot of fans of all ages into comics shops to get the next dose of their favorite characters."
Are they? Again, this is something to question, since, when I last looked at the latest sales charts for comics themselves, they seldom seem to rise above 150 or 200,000 copies sold. How great is that compared to what they sold years before?

I think a more fairer analysis would be if sales for graphic novels themselves are improving, which the article may not make clear, but pamphlet sales are not.
"Comics have historically been a disparaged art form," said Gene Yang, a Fremont resident who draws and writes graphic novels. "People did not look on comics very highly. They were seen as a disposable medium. But over the last three or four years, comics have really picked up."
And still again, this avoids the bigger, deeper picture, about whether or not the audience will appreciate what today's offerings are like, and whether they're done tastefully or tastelessly. As usual, that's the problem I find with articles like these, when they don't ask just what are any of today's offerings like, from both major and small companies.

Update: as if to prove the point that the claim of better sales may be exaggerated, DC head Paul Levitz tells Newsarama the following (via The Beat):
NRAMA: As you said, DC is seeing good penetration into the bookstore market, but obviously, there’s still room for growth, which you said in regards to the distribution deal DC has signed with Random House. So what’s the next outlet? What’s the next frontier to move into? Is it a big push for mass merchandise retail, or other ways to get them in front of more eyes?

PL: Let’s be serious about what we’ve accomplished and what we haven’t accomplished. Nobody knows exactly the size of the present audience for graphic novels as a category. My suspicion is that there are probably more people reading graphic novels today than there are reading periodical comics. I think that has probably crossed in the last year or two years. That still means that maybe we’re reaching, as an industry, half a percent or one percent of the American population. I think we’ve got a pretty good challenge just increasing that.

When you look at the demographics, behavioral information of the people that are reading comics on a regular basis, comic shops are a good place to sell them, bookstores are a good place to sell them, online is a good place to sell them. I’m not sure that we match that wonderfully to the mass merchandiser. I think you can create comics that can do very well in a mass merchant’s environment, but I’m not sure that the bulk of what we publish as an industry fits that definition.
Levitz is certainly more honest than the Contra Costa Times does when he notes that only a small percentage of the population is likely to be reading, well, anything these days. I think what the newspaper is doing is writing some kind of a "feel-good" approach, to try and encourage people to read more comics as well, but without providing any serious insight into what's good or bad about today's storytelling, the most important part to making things work. And when no serious insight is provided, no serious sales are garunteed either.

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  • I'm Avi Green
  • From Jerusalem, Israel
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