Dark Horse Comics’ Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 is a rare commodity. It’s consistently one of the top-selling periodical comic books since release of the first issue in month TK, despite not being based on a decades-old superhero property or published by Marvel or DC Comics. But it may not be so rare for long. Other publishers are also banking that comics with famous authors or with TV tie-ins will find a sizable audience beyond the hardcore comics fan.
The success of this television show-turned-comic can largely be attributed to the direct involvement of the property’s creator, Joss Whedon, who wrote the initial five issues of the series and has a heavy hand in plotting out the rest. And Buffy Season 8 follows a story line initiated in the television show’s final season, sending off many more of TV show’s rabid fanbase—who are still hungry for more Buffy adventures—to bookstores and comic book shops.
“It’s definitely drawn in outside people that don’t normally frequent comic shops,” said David Webster, a buyer for Midtown Comics in New York City. Gahl Buslov, another buyer and a co-owner of Midtown, said this Buffy series sells four times as much as previous Buffy comics for them.
“It’s almost up there with my X-Men numbers right now,” said Buslov. “It sells almost as much as my Grant Morrison Batman. It’s certainly by far our highest-selling Dark Horse title and might be our highest-selling Dark Horse title ever.”
In November, DC Comics is publishing Heroes: Volume One, a trade paperback collection of the online comics based on the first season of the Emmy award-winning NBC TV show. The book features comics written and illustrated by a host of big-time comics name, such as Phil Jimenez, Michael Turner and Tim Sale as well as covers by comics legends Jim Lee and Alex Ross.
Marvel Comics also recently found success using a similar model with The Dark Tower, a comic book that fleshed out the world of novelist Stephen King’s fantasy prose series of the same name. While King didn’t directly write the comics, as Whedon did, he was involved in the process and that was enough for his fans—each of the series’ seven periodical issues consistently placed in the top five most-ordered comics, according to industry-watcher Web site ICv2.com. A hardcover collection, entitled The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born, is due in November.
California-based comic book publisher IDW, which puts out comics based on Buffy characters Angel and Spike, is following suit in November by relaunching its Angel series in a model similar to the way Dark Horse is handling Buffy Season 8. The new 12-issue series, Angel: After the Fall, will directly follow the last season of the Angel TV show, and Whedon will oversee the story, though in a less direct manner than with Buffy. He won’t, for instance, be writing any of the comics; rather, he will be working with writer Brian Lynch, who will handle the actual scripting duties.
“Joss set Brian up as kind of a show runner, and they’re planning it out together and working on it together, so it’ll be a collaborative effort on both their parts,” said IDW’s editor-in-chief, Chris Ryall. “The Angel [TV] series ended on such a cliffhanger, where they’re all fighting presumably to their death in this alley—I think it left a lot of people really curious about what was going to happen next, so now we finally have a chance to show them what actually happened.”
Buslov points to the success of continuing Whedon’s TV shows as comics and said it was the shape of things to come.
“I think Joss physically opened up the idea that fan-favorite TV shows can have a renewed life if done the right way by the original creators,” explained Buslov. “He’s basically become the gateway for other [creators of] TV properties or even novels to realize, ‘I can’t continue this in its original form—maybe there’s something [to be done] in the comics format.’ ”
Looking to capitalize on this Buffy/Whedon heat, Dark Horse is publishing a hardcover edition of another one of Whedon’s TV-to-comics properties, Serenity, in November. Originally a short-lived TV show called Firefly and then a 2005 film titled Serenity, the hardcover collects the 2005 miniseries Serenity: Those Left Behind that Whedon co-wrote with Brett Matthews.
It was with this miniseries that the comics industry began to see Whedon’s ability to boost sales. Orders for each of the three issues went up, when it’s practically a rule that miniseries sales go down with each issue. The trade paperback collection debuted in January 2006 as the #1-ordered graphic novel in the comic shop market, according to estimates compiled by ICv2.com. Dark Horse said that the trade book has sold over 85,000 copies, 76,000 of those through Diamond Comic Distributors (to book stores, comic stores and libraries) and 9,000 sold internationally and directly from Dark Horse. In 2006, 64,150 copies were sold, and 20,875 in 2007. Initial orders for the hardcover are at 12,000 copies.
“Until Buffy [Season 8] #1, Serenity #1 held our 21st century [sales] record, I believe,” Dark Horse editor Scott Allie said. “We knew it would be a hit, but we couldn’t have expected it to be as big as it was. We didn’t have anything else selling as much at the time.”
Whedon and his properties have always enjoyed a cult following. Theaters across the country regularly host sing-alongs to a musical episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer à la The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and fans have held fund-raising campaigns to try to prevent cancellation of the Angel TV show. Serenity diehards, dubbed “browncoats” after the jackets worn by the characters on the science fiction-meets-western property, also organize charity screenings of the Serenity movie to benefit Equality Now, a human rights organization Whedon champions.
Combine that kind of following with the traditional comic book fans Whedon has accumulated during his top-selling run on Marvel’s Astonishing X-Men title, and the success of Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8 is no surprise. A second Serenity miniseries, co-written by Whedon, is due early next year. And initial orders for the first graphic novel collection of Buffy Season 8, released earlier this month and entitled The Long Way Home, are over 35,000, according to Dark Horse. Much like her frequent foe, Dracula, Buffy has risen again, and this time she’s brought new comic book readers with her.
“There is a very big fan base for Buffy, and it overlaps with the comic book fan base. But I’ve had so many people who say they have never read a comic book in their lives say they’re picking up Buffy,” said Whedon, who dryly added, “As for all the people who haven’t seen the show or read the comic book, they’re not helping me out. Honestly. They’ve got to get with it.”