Sales in the comics specialty market are still growing, according to figures released at the 2013 Diamond Retailer Summit in Chicago. First quarter sales were up 27% in periodical sales, 21% in graphic novel sales and 47% in merchandise, for a total growth of 29% over last year, according to Diamond’s figures.

Diamond Comic Distributors is the biggest distributor to comics specialty stores, and publishers, retailers and even Diamond personnel in attendance continued to express surprise over the booming sales, which goes against other publishing trends.

There was no single element which seemed to be behind to surge, although sales of The Walking Dead comics and graphic novels were frequently mentioned. The general interest in “nerd culture” seems to be driving much of the merchandise and publishing growth, with more offerings in the housewares category a standout: Diamond is now offering their own line of such things as bottle openers and ice cube trays, such as a Walking Dead themed ice cube tray in the shape of body parts.

While official figures for attendance weren’t available, turnout was up from last year’s retailer meeting; at least a few stores reported that they were finally making enough money to attend the conference.

Diamond’s annual retailer meeting kicked off a day ahead of C2E2, ReedPOP’s Chicago pop culture fest. The show, now in its fourth year, has struggled with fan attendance in the past but show runner Lance Fensterman reported that both presale tickets and the exhibit floor were up from last year’s event. He told PW that while nerd culture enthusiasts often congregate using social media, “this is a chance to come out and actually come face to face with other nerds.”

The day was filled with roundtables and workshops where publishers showed off their upcoming wares. Dark Horse had several announcements, adding three new franchises to their line: the popular video game Halo; cult artist Geoff Darrow’s Shaolin Cowboy series and the venerable Elfquest fantasy series, which will have a series of reprints and a new storyline, called “The Final Quest.”

IDW also announced several new series, including a Mars Attacks/Judge Dredd crossover, the return of Zombie War, a series by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles co-creator Kevin Eastman, and a new alliance with Classic Media to produce comics based on the classic Jay Ward properties Rocky and Bullwinkle and Mr. Peabody and Sherman.

Continuing the strong interest in kids comics, IDW also confirmed the fall launch of a new series of comics based on Cartoon Networks properties, including new Powerpuff Girls stories by indie creator Troy Little, followed by Samurai Jack and Ben 10.

Marvel showed off their new Infinity mini-series, which stars the villainous Thanos, who was glimpsed at the end of the Avengers movie and is expected to play a major role in the Guardians of the Galaxy film. Infinity will also feature a major role for The Inhumans, a quirky band of superheroes who are rumored to have their own film in the works.

Image publisher Eric Stephenson made a presentation which stressed the need for independent comics, but also annoucned the Image Expo 2013 for July 2nd in San Francisco, a one day media event open to fans organized by Image Comics and celebrating creator-owned comics, that will feature Robert Kirkman, Ed Brubaker and more Image creators to be announced.

DC, still riding high on the New 52 relaunch, pushed a variety of incentives for their Superman line, leading up to the Man of Steel film which opens in June, and a push for The Wake, a SF/horror tale by acclaimed writer Scott Snyder and artist Sean Murphy.

Even as the bookstore market continues to wobble, comics specialty stores seem to be holding their own, to the point that Diamond v-p of business development Chris Powell held a seminar on opening a new store or expanding existing stores. His presentation stressed planning for such things as moving and remodeling costs but also presented a strong belief in the future. “You have to ask yourself where your business will be in five years,” he told attendees. While privately many fret that the current boom in nerd-centric books and merchandise is a bubble, the enthusiasm on display seemed to be enough to encourage shops to think that far ahead.