Comics sales have held steady in the first half of 2012, led by periodicals and digital, while graphic novels are still recovering from the Borders implosion but should be up by the end of the year. These were among the industry trends covered at the ICv2 Comics and Digital conference held as a lead in to New York Comic Con. Organized by ICv2's Milton Griepp and co-sponsored by Publishers Weekly, the conference covered trends in children's comics, digital and overall publishing in a series of panel discussions.
Griepp led off with his annual "White Paper" covering sales in comics and graphic novels over the past 18 months. Industry sales are down from a peak in 2008—owing to some malaise with the product, according to Griepp—but overall sales have held relatively steady in the last two years. In 2011, graphic novel sales were estimated at $340 million, and periodical comics at $300 million. For the first half of 2012, graphic novels are down 8%, while periodicals are up 20%, led by DC's New 52 initiative. Sales are up 5% total for both segments.
Analyzing sales by channel, graphic novels are up 13% in the comics specialty market, and down 18% in bookstores, still recovering from the loss of Borders.
Digital is showing growth all the way, however. Griepp estimates digital sales as $25 million in 2011 and at least three times that for 2012. "It's a time of profound change for all three channels," he said, noting the growth of digital platforms, the rise of Amazon, the emergence of a worldwide market for comics via digital and the evolving bookstore situation. However, he expects bookstores sales to rise in the second half of the year, as numbers stabilize from 2011's Borders liquidation and DC's strong backlist recovering from its removal from B&N last year following a scuffle with Amazon.
For periodicals, DC's New 52 has been the blockbuster, followed by Marvel's Avengers vs X-men series. DC continues to perform at a high level, while outside of big events Marvel has been less sure. In graphic novels, Image's The Walking Dead franchise is a blockbuster in all channels, however mid-sized companies outside the big two—Image, Dynamite, IDW, Dark Horse and Boom—have all contributed to sales.
The manga market continues to slide, led by a decline in innovation in Japan—the top franchises remain such warhorses as One Piece and Naruto—and Japanese publishers slow reaction to the digital revolution.
The Children's Panel
The children's panel saw editors Carol Burrell, Jim Salicrup and Francoise Mouly, creator Jimmy Gownley, Diamond's Mark Manaszak and Scholastic Book Fair's Ed Masessa talking about what works and what doesn't. Masessa noted that Raina Telgemeier's Smile is the best selling graphic novel ever at book fairs. He noted that often it's the simplest most direct comics that sell the best. "The art can't be too quirky; it has to be mainstream." He noted creator Doug TenNapel's books, including his recent Cardboard, as strong titles with wide appeal. Books for very young readers are still struggling.
Burrell noted that at Lerner, where she edits the Graphic Universe line, sometimes projects start out as something positioned for a specific market, such as a book on monetary literacy about the mystery of a vanishing $100, but develop into something more. She noted that some publishers who had entered the children's market had thought that presentation and subpar art wouldn't matter, but "they've stepped away or stepped up their game and realized their books have to appeal to kids on a visceral and tactile level."
The panelists noted that strong characters are what capture reader's attention. "[Toon Books] Silly Lilly is a great character," noted Gownley. "As is Jennifer Holm's Babymouse."
Salicrup and Mouly discussed studies showing how children read comics. Mouly mentioned a recent study that showed that kids retain information from printed books much better than they do from digital. "And when there is a pop up of extra facts, they retain it least of all," she cautioned.
The next panel covered digital developments, and was moderated by the writer of this article. DC Entertainment svp digital Hank Kanalz, Comixology co-founder John Roberts, and creators Brian Haberlin, Mark Waid and Dave Gibbons engaged in a lively conversation over how storytelling is being affected by such developments as "moving elements" and augmented reality. The veteran Waid mentioned that with his digital Thrillbent line, he's literally rethinking everything he puts down. "It used to be page one, panel one but even that has changed," he said. Gibbons, who drew the seminal Watchmen, is finding all the new toys an inspiration, while Haberlin notes that as new technologies emerge they can be used to augment the existing work, in this case his gigantic SF epic Anomaly.
Kanalz said that they are seeing new readers emerge from DC's Digital First line of comics. Robert noted that Comixology's Guided View technology, which was developed to fit large comics panels onto small phone screens, is now being used as a storytelling device by creators such as Reilly Brown.
The publishing panel saw Marvel president and publisher Dan Buckley, Viz's evp publishing Alvin Lu, iVerse CEO Michael Murphey, Comixology's CTO Marc Goldberg, Nerdist ceo Peter Levin and JManga's Masaaki Shimizu in a freewheeling discussion of current issues from the importance of using social media to build a community to how the crowdfunding aspects of Kickstarter is here to stay.
Buckley said that Deadpool has been a strong seller in digital—"casual readers like humor"—and books featuring the villain Thanos "sold through the roof" after he was revealed at the end of The Avengers movie. He discussed how Marvel has moved aggressively into digital with their Infinite Comics and Marvel AR programs.
Lu and Shimizu noted that digital manga efforts have mostly reached core readers, and need to break out to new audiences, however there is still a worldwide audience for manga due to the strong storytelling techniques that reaches across cultural lines. Buckley actually pointed out that manga storytelling makes the story easy to follow whether you can read it or not, while North American comics "there's a lot more posing and panels with a lot of words. It can be hard to pick up our books."
The day ended with a "fireside chat" between Nerdist's Chris Hardwick and Frederator Studio's Fred Seibert, who chatted about everything from how new video channels differ from TV to the creative spark itself. Hardwick advanced his theory that since the emergence of smart phones people find time passing very swiftly since they are always engaged. "People say time flies by. Go sit in a cabin and you'll see how time passes." Seibert discussed how the disappearance of gatekeepers allows innovation with such Things as "Simon's Cat"— a series of youtubeYouTube cartoons with millions of views. "I would have passed on that," he said, while continuing on to say that the Cartoon Network hit Adventure Time, which he produces, was passed on many times, but emerged as a YouTube sensation. It's the first property he's seen that emerges from and engages with an audience that grew up on video games. "The storytelling reflects that feeling of exploration," he said.