September graphic novels power second consecutive growth quarter; Return of Wolverine, Saga lead charts

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The recovery in the comics shop market gained steam in the third quarter of 2018. September comics and graphic novel orders rose 4% over the previous year, allowing the three-month period to close up 6%. Significantly better than the second quarter’s 1% win, the $137.5 million quarter was the best in dollar terms since the fourth quarter of 2016. In all, orders during the past six months were up $9 million over the same period in 2017. Click to visit our page for September 2018 comics sales estimates; the figures will be posted there on Monday.

Last winter, my reports that the rate of decline was decreasing may have seemed like an exercise in excess optimism. That wasn’t the intention: rather, signs of what might be a market bottom were becoming detectable, and that seemed worth sharing. I tried not to overstate the possible case, as I did in 1998 when I had much less history to look back upon — but it does now appear that the change in trajectory starting last winter was real, and is continuing.

The $45.18 million month of September was up $1.6 million, meaning that the year-to-year loss piled up this winter was cut in half for the third month in a row. Year-to-date sales now stand at $389 million, off just a little more than $2 million.

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I had some concern in late September after a couple of weekly reorder charts came in with very few comic books charting; one week, no comic books at all charted. But comics share the reorder charts with graphic novels, and those charts are measured in dollars — so a dearth of comics entries in a month with many high-profile graphic novels on sale isn’t necessarily a negative indicator. Graphic novels were indeed a big winner in the month, up 12% year-over-year thanks to the Image trifecta of new editions of Saga, Walking Dead, and Monstress, which finished 1-2-3 in the unit sales charts.

Marvel‘s Return of Wolverine #1 led new comics sales, with DC‘s Heroes in Crisis #1 placing second; the controversial Batman: Damned #1 placed fifth in units and second in dollars. (See auctions for the issue on eBay.) Comics unit sales for the month stood at 7.19 million units, down half a million copies against the previous September, which was fueled by Marvel Legacy #1 — and the category is down 4.6 million copies year-to-date.

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As noted here all year, of course, unit sales comparisons with 2017 are distorted due to that year’s inclusion of many overshipped and 25¢ titles (and the lack of inclusion of this year’s million-copy DC Nation #0). And there’s something else in play. Through September, 4,206 new comic books have been released this year. In the same period last year, the figure was 4,446. That’s 240 fewer comics released this year, a drop of 5.5%.

Marvel released 10 more comics this September than last September; DC, 10 fewer. Perhaps consequently, Marvel’s overall dollar sales were up 9% year-over-year for the month, while DC’s were unchanged. (Both Marvel and DC’s dollar sales are up, year-to-date.) Image’s graphic novels joined with a larger new comics slate to send the publisher up 10%; Image had the same number of new comics as DC, 66. It’s the first time Image’s slate has been as large as DC’s since September 2015. Dark Horse‘s dollar sales were up substantially, though we can’t tell why from the Top 10s. (Update: It turns out to be right in Diamond’s press release: Stranger Things #1 debuted in 20th place, very high for a Dark Horse launch.)

See our explanatory video, here:

The comparative sales statistics are up first. Remember, August had an extra week, so the month-to-month changes aren’t that important:

Dollars Units
September 2018 vs. August 2018
Comics -4.51% -0.16%
Graphic Novels -7.07% -3.86%
Total Comics/GNs -5.30% -0.48%
Toys -29.36% -9.02%
September 2018 vs. September 2017
Comics +0.75% -6.58%
Graphic Novels +11.74% +15.36%
Total Comics/GNs +3.84% -5.09%
Toys -1.58% +11.95%
Third Quarter 2018 vs. Second Quarter 2018
Comics +0.23% -0.05%
Graphic Novels +0.83% +1.89%
Total Comics/GNs +0.40% +0.10%
Toys +41.66% +28.44%
Third Quarter 2018 vs. Third Quarter 2017
Comics +7.44% -0.82%
Graphic Novels +1.95% +3.85%
Total Comics/GNs +5.81% -0.47%
Toys +9.23% +6.96%
Year-To-Date 2018 vs. Year-To-Date 2017
Comics +1.25% -6.78%
Graphic Novels -4.80% -6.37%
Total Comics/GNs -0.55% -6.75%
Toys -4.74% -6.11%

The market shares:

Publisher Dollar Share Unit Share
Marvel 39.86% 43.24%
DC 29.06% 32.76%
Image 10.13% 8.74%
Dark Horse 3.62% 2.91%
IDW 3.14% 2.84%
Boom 2.12% 1.65%
Dynamite 1.55% 1.38%
Viz 1.11% 0.43%
Oni 0.99% 0.69%
Titan 0.80% 0.47%
Other 7.63% 4.88%

The top-selling comics by units:

TOP COMIC BOOKS (by units) PRICE PUBLISHER
1 Return of Wolverine #1 $4.99 Marvel
2 Heroes in Crisis #1 $3.99 DC
3 Doomsday Clock #7 $4.99 DC
4 Batman #55 $3.99 DC
5 Batman: Damned #1 $6.99 DC
6 Batman #54 $3.99 DC
7 Thanos Legacy #1 $4.99 Marvel
8 Fantastic Four #2 $3.99 Marvel
9 Amazing Spider-Man #6 $3.99 Marvel
10 Amazing Spider-Man #5 $3.99 Marvel

The top-selling comics by dollars:

TOP COMIC BOOKS (by dollars) PRICE PUBLISHER
1 Return of Wolverine #1 $4.99 Marvel
2 Batman: Damned #1 $6.99 DC
3 Doomsday Clock #7 $4.99 DC
4 Heroes in Crisis #1 $3.99 DC
5 Thanos Legacy #1 $4.99 Marvel
6 Batman #55 $3.99 DC
7 Spider-Geddon #0 $4.99 Marvel
8 Batman #54 $3.99 DC
9 Amazing Spider-Man #6 $3.99 Marvel
10 Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1 $4.99 Marvel

The top-selling graphic novels by units:

TOP GRAPHIC NOVELS (by units) PRICE PUBLISHER
1 Saga Vol. 9 $14.99 Image
2 Walking Dead Vol. 30: New World Order $16.99 Image
3 Monstress Vol. 3 $16.99 Image
4 Oblivion Song By Kirkman & De Felici Vol. 1 $9.99 Image
5 Batman/Catwoman: The Wedding Album HC $17.99 DC
6 Franklin Richards: A Fantastic Year #1 $7.99 Marvel
7 DC Super Hero Girls: The Search For Atlantis $9.99 DC
8 Descender Vol. 6: War Machine $16.99 Image
9 Star Wars: Darth Vader Vol. 3: Burning Seas $19.99 Marvel
10 Action Comics #1000: The Deluxe Edition HC $19.99 DC

The top-selling graphic novels by dollars:

TOP GRAPHIC NOVELS (by dollars) PRICE PUBLISHER
1 Saga Vol. 9 $14.99 Image
2 Walking Dead Vol. 30: New World Order $16.99 Image
3 Monstress Vol. 3 $16.99 Image
4 Batman by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale Omnibus HC $125.00 DC
5 Spider-Man Vs. Venom Omnibus HC $125.00 Marvel
6 Absolute Batman: The Killing Joke HC $49.99 DC
7 Earth X Trilogy Omnibus Alpha HC $125.00 Marvel
8 Batman/Catwoman: The Wedding Album HC $17.99 DC
9 Dark Knight III: The Master Race $24.99 DC
10 Marvel Masterworks: Killraven Vol. 1 HC $100.00 Marvel

Finally, the number of new items offered. This September saw 2% fewer comics released and 6% more graphic novels released than last September:

Publisher Comics
shipped
Graphic Novels
shipped
Magazines
shipped
Total
shipped
Marvel 99 44 0 143
DC 66 35 0 101
Image 66 27 0 93
Dark Horse 25 21 0 46
IDW 29 10 0 39
Boom 25 10 0 35
Titan 11 7 3 21
Viz 0 21 0 21
Oni 9 7 0 16
Dynamite 12 3 0 15
Other 135 202 14 351
TOTAL SHIPPED 477 387 17 881

It is worth noting that, almost no matter what, October 2018 is likely to be a growth month, as well. It has five shipping weeks, versus four in last October. We give that week back in November — but historically, it’s been better to get the extra week in October rather than November due to reduced slates the week of the Thanksgiving holiday.

A likely scenario is that October will put the year-to-date slightly ahead and that November will return it slightly behind — leaving December as the deciding factor. December 2017 was a horrible month, which we beat this September by 17% — so it would take a fairly significant change in direction to keep the year below break-even. Click to see what we know about October sales so far.

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