Comics market strong prior to COVID-19 impact, with February sales up 7%; Wolverine #1 dominates

Over the last 80+ years, the comics industry has been subject to a variety of shocks that were external in nature. The ones that had the greatest lasting effects were the ones that struck directly at how publishers did business: the juvenile delinquency panic of the 1950s winnowed out their numbers, while the inflation crises of the 1970s made the newsstand untenable as a delivery system.

Meanwhile, some external shocks that related more generally to the U.S. economy have had less impact. The comics industry didn’t slow down until well after 2008 financial crisis was past, for example, and the 1990-91 recession ended up being no impediment to the record early 1990s comics market at all. The month of 9/11 was, in fact, a turning point in the industry’s fortunes, as the comic book that kickstarted the post-1990s recovery, Wolverine: The Origin #1, had already hit shelves on Sept. 5, 2001.

Historians always want to look at the “before” and “after” situation in the market to see how things were doing just before the shock took place. When it comes to the COVID-19 or Coronavirus pandemic, we can say that the “before” situation in comics looked excellent in the book channel, and relatively strong (as winters go) in the Direct Market, according to data just released by Diamond Comic Distributors. Retailers bought $37.27 million in comic books, graphic novels, and magazines from Diamond in February 2020, an increase of $2.4 million or 7% over the same month the year before. Every subcategory was positive. Look for our estimated sales charts here next week.

 Find this comic at TFAWMarvel and DC‘s dollar sales were both up for the month, year-over-year, and both by more than the market was overall, 12% and 8% respectively. February 2020 marks the seventh growth month in nine, and is the best February performance in three years. With these results, the Direct Market’s first two months are up 1.35% in dollars over the same period in 2019.

Orders of individual comic books were also up: orders rose year-over-year by 3%, or around 167,000 copies, to 5.94 million units. Wolverine #1, a $7.99 comic, led the periodical charts. Marvel had eight of the Top 10 comics, including the top seven. Gwen Stacy #1 debuted in fourth.

A major part of the difference in sales is that February 2019 saw DC still amid its new-title austerity initiative; it only released 59 new comic books that month. This February, Diamond says DC released 102, which is probably more like 86 when the cardstock covers are merged. Publishers outside the Top 10 also significantly boosted their offerings, leading to a slate that was about 18% larger.

 Find this book at TFAW

The greatest jump, however, was in the number of graphic novel units sold: that’s because Marvel had a major sale on Star Wars collected editions in February, resulting in the unusual situation that no less than six titles from 2015 and 2016 made the Top 10 Graphic Novels list.

There have been many other months over the years where discounted titles impacted the charts, but never have so many made the Top 10. The dollar rankings chart is thus probably worth more attention this time around. Both charts were led by the Harleen hardcover. It doesn’t appear that the sale added overmuch to Marvel’s market share — dollars are computed against what retailers paid in, and individual graphic novels sell many fewer copies than comic books do.

Batman #88 and #89 both had cardstock variants; look for them to possibly move from their eighth- and tenth-place showings when the cardstock and regular variants are merged.

The comparative sales statistics are here:

Dollars Units
February 2020 vs. January 2020
Comics -8.25% -7.75%
Graphic Novels -27.16% -13.89%
Total Comics/Graphic Novels -14.25% -8.26%
Toys -22.37% -34.10%
February 2020 vs. February 2019
Comics +8.78% +2.90%
Graphic Novels +3.56% +15.46%
Total Comics/Graphic Novels +7.32% +3.77%
Toys +0.83% -14.97%
Year-To-Date 2020 vs. Year-To-Date 2019
Comics +0.12% -3.45%
Graphic Novels +4.44% +6.60%
Total Comics/Graphic Novels +1.35% -2.72%
Toys +2.59% -15.75%

The February-to-January slide is not worth too much attention, as January had one more New Comic Book Day, if only one with a partial release schedule.

The market shares:

Publisher Dollar Share Unit Share
Marvel 41.85% 47.30%
DC 29.00% 30.16%
Image 6.02% 5.41%
IDW 3.47% 3.14%
Dark Horse 2.93% 2.06%
Boom 2.58% 2.64%
Viz 2.24% 0.87%
Dynamite 2.11% 2.04%
Random House 0.62% 0.18%
Titan 0.56% 0.45%
Other 8.61% 5.74%

The top-selling comics by units:

TOP COMIC BOOKS (by units) PRICE PUBLISHER
1 Wolverine #1 $7.99 Marvel
2 X-Men #6 $3.99 Marvel
3 X-Men #7 $4.99 Marvel
4 Gwen Stacy #1 $4.99 Marvel
5 Giant Size X-Men: Jean Grey & Emma Frost #1 $4.99 Marvel
6 Amazing Spider-Man #39 $3.99 Marvel
7 Star Wars: Darth Vader #1 $4.99 Marvel
8 Batman #88 $3.99 DC
9 X-Men/Fantastic Four #1 $4.99 Marvel
10 Batman #89 $3.99 DC

The top-selling comics by dollars:

TOP COMIC BOOKS (by dollars) PRICE PUBLISHER
1 Wolverine #1 $7.99 Marvel
2 X-Men #7 $4.99 Marvel
3 X-Men #6 $3.99 Marvel
4 Gwen Stacy #1 $4.99 Marvel
5 Giant Size X-Men: Jean Grey & Emma Frost #1 $4.99 Marvel
6 Star Wars: Darth Vader #1 $4.99 Marvel
7 X-Men/Fantastic Four #1 $4.99 Marvel
8 Batman: Curse of the White Knight #7 $4.99 DC
9 The Joker: Killer Smile #3 $5.99 DC
10 DC Crimes of Passion #1 $9.99 DC

The top-selling graphic novels by units. Fourth through ninth are all older editions which sold big in Marvel’s sale:

TOP GRAPHIC NOVELS (by units) PRICE PUBLISHER
1 Harleen HC $29.99 DC
2 Die Vol. 2: Split The Party $16.99 Image
3 Batman Tales: Once Upon A Crime $9.99 DC
4 Star Wars: Darth Vader Vol. 4: End Of Games $19.99 Marvel
5 Star Wars: Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Shattered Empire HC $24.99 Marvel
6 Star Wars: Vader Down $19.99 Marvel
7 Star Wars: Chewbacca $16.99 Marvel
8 Star Wars Volume 2: Showdown on the Smuggler’s Moon $19.99 Marvel
9 Star Wars Volume 3: Rebel Jail $19.99 Marvel
10 My Hero Academia Vol. 23 $9.99 Viz

The top-selling graphic novels by dollars:

TOP GRAPHIC NOVELS (by dollars) PRICE PUBLISHER
1 Harleen HC $29.99 DC
2 X-Men Vs. Apocalypse: The Twelve Omnibus HC $125.00 Marvel
3 Spider-Man: Miles Morales Omnibus HC $100.00 Marvel
4 Marvel Masterworks: Uncanny X-Men Vol. 12 HC $100.00 Marvel
5 Daredevil By Bendis & Maleev Omnibus Vol. 2 HC $100.00 Marvel
6 Die Vol. 2: Split The Party $16.99 Image
7 Marvel Masters Of Suspense: Stan Lee & Steve Ditko Omnibus Vol. 2 HC $100.00 Marvel
8 Ultimates By Mark Millar & Bryan Hitch Omnibus HC $100.00 Marvel
9 Berserk Deluxe Edition Volume 4 HC $49.99 Dark Horse
10 Metabarons Box Set HC $149.95 Humanoids

Finally, the number of new items offered:

Publisher Comics
shipped
Graphic
Novels
shipped
Magazines
shipped
Total
shipped
Marvel 92 47 0 139
DC 102 27 1 130
Image 39 8 0 47
Viz 0 40 0 40
IDW 28 10 0 38
Dark Horse 20 17 0 37
Dynamite 29 4 0 33
Boom 17 8 0 25
Yen 0 18 0 18
Titan 7 4 2 13
Other 141 134 24 299
TOTAL SHIPPED 475 317 27 819

With this data, we can say that the comics shop market’s year had begun on a positive note, prior to the widening of the outbreak in North America in March. Many conventions have been canceled or postponed due to the pandemic as of this writing, and Diamond has cancelled its retailer summit, originally slated for April.

We of course don’t know what the ultimate impact of the virus will be, but it’s difficult to find a historical equivalent even if we limit the question just to what has happened so far. Many years have seen winter weather disrupt shipments and store visits to parts of North America, but this crisis affects more areas and comes with an additional economic component in the roiled financial markets. The mechanism of the Direct Market itself tends toward stability — because of subscription files, one month’s orders usually look a lot like the previous month’s. But it’s unclear how that functions if customer visit frequency is disrupted.

Remember, too, that since orders are already placed, it could be some time before the charts reflect any external events. Reorders for March and April are already charting. Follow Comichron on Twitter and Facebook and support our Patreon to be alerted as more data comes in.

Support research by Comichron on Patreon!