Comics 2002: 1980s comeback, promos galore

With the aid of research assistant par excellence T.M. Haley, we now have all the months of 2002 online here at The Comics Chronicles, as well as, for the first time, Diamond’s end of year list for the Top 100 Comic Books and Trade Paperbacks for the year, which differs some from the monthly reports in that it includes reorders. 2002 was the last year that Diamond only reported preorder sales.

We can see one difference right away, in that the #1 comic book for the year was not actually the market leader in any individual month. Ultimates #1 from Marvel came in third place in January 2002 behind the last issue of Wolverine: The Origin and the second issue of The Dark Knight Strikes Again —but it only trailed by less than 20,000 copies, and as Ultimates was considerably less expensive than the other two books, it’s not hard to see it surpassing them in eleven months of reorders. (The final total for the issue would likely be in the 200,000-copy neighborhood.)

2002 saw some very big things going on in the comics industry. Most memorably, May saw the release of the first Spider-Man movie and the staging of the first Free Comic Book Day, the origin of which discussed in detail here. In 2001, the industry had begun to mount a recovery from its seven-year recession, and these elements helped keep the fire going. “The industry is hitting on all cylinders,” I had written at the time, noting that every major publisher had something big going on. Marvel had Spider-Man and the success of the Ultimates line; DC had Batman events at either end of the year, with Dark Knight Strikes Again and “Hush.” Dark Horse had Star Wars Episode II — and Image and several other publishers had a piece of the year’s most memorable direct-market phenomenon, the 1980s toy comic revival.

Beginning in earnest with a Transformers relaunch that put a company other than Marvel or DC atop the charts for the first time since the early 1990s, the wave included revivals for G.I. Joe, Thundercats, Masters of the Universe, and more. Many of the properties weren’t very big in comics the first time around in the 1980s — but in 2002, it put Dreamwave solidly on the map, its market share rivaling that of Crossgen, which had built its share out of a larger line of titles. By early 2003, the fad had largely played out, but it gave the industry one more sales story for 2002 and helped the market finish ahead for the year.

Another phenomenon — and one of the reasons that 2002 took so long to post here — was the release of many giveaway and near-giveaway comics from the major publishers. There were the comics ordered for Free Comic Book Day, of course, but there was also Batman: The 10-Cent Adventure, and Marvel’s answer, the nine-cent Fantastic Four issue. (There was also a 13-cent Gen13.) At the time, Diamond placed all of these in its Top 300 sales charts; while that practice later changed, it did leave some distortions in the unit sales market shares. For the listings here on Comichron, these promotionally priced items have been moved to the top of the list with asterisks, so they’re not ranked; they have also been pulled from the aggregate unit sales counts, where the odd 700,000 copies really can throw things off.

With these additions, the number of sales estimates on the site has exceeded the 50,000 mark. Tables from 1998 and 2000-01 remain to be placed online in the next few weeks, at which point the entire Diamond exclusive era will be represented here. We also have more Diamond end-of-year lists to post. Coming soon!

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