As more Web comics make the jump to print collections, the question has always been whether readers would want to buy something they could get for free on the Internet. In the case of The Trial of Colonel Sweeto, the answer is a resounding yes. While the book won't be out until October 17, it's already one of the fastest selling graphic novels on Amazon, and publisher Dark Horse has had to up the print run to 36,000 to meet demand.
Sweetois the first print collection of Nicholas Gurewitch's The Perry Bible Fellowship, the quirky weekly comic strip that also runs in dozens of papers worldwide—including the Guardian in England—and recently won the 2007 Harvey Award for Best Online Comics. Many of the Amazon sales are due to Gurewitch himself driving readers to the site, but it's receiving attention from many different quarters. According to Dark Horse’s v-p of new business development, Michael Martens, due to its wide exposure in England, the collection got the biggest order from Diamond UK Dark Horse has ever received.
Dark Horse has had previous successes getting several Web comics into print, including Fred Gallagher's Megatokyo, which later moved to DC, where it remains a bestseller. Dark Horse also has published four volumes of what is perhaps the best-known Web comic, Penny Arcade by Tycho and Gabe. Martens said sales on all four volumes have remained strong, with the first book already in its third printing.
In the case of The Perry Bible Fellowship, Martens said some people at Dark Horse were "scratching their heads" when the property was first suggested by editor Dave Land, but it soon became apparent that demand for the book was going to be high. Gurewitch worked closely with Dark Horse on designing the book, which is a full-color hardcover with a ribbon bookmark. Martens anticipates the high-quality edition will drive gift sales over the holidays.
In the past, Dark Horse has had several experiences with shortages of fast-selling books, including film tie-ins Hellboy, Sin City and 300. In these cases the books were printed in China, meaning a delay of weeks when reprints were ordered. With this in mind, Sweeto was printed domestically so that reorders can be swiftly distributed. This is a change Dark Horse is making on several of its hottest sellers, including the upcoming collection of Joss Whedon's Buffy Season 8.
Gurewitch reported that the strip's online traffic is still growing, but he expects to reach a new audience with the print version. "The book will reach a lot of new people. The loveliest people on earth don't surf the Internet."