As more than 130,000 pop culture enthusiasts and comics fans flooded downtown San Diego for Comic-Con International, the news was all about lines—literal and literary. At the annual pop culture show, held July 19-23 at the San Diego Convention Center, the lines—the queues—for exclusive releases, signings, screenings and offsite attractions seemed even more immense than usual.
The publishing news involved lines as well—new book lines, imprints, and releases. Comic-Con continues to present a growing awareness of the importance of graphic novels in an evolving comics marketplace.
Nevertheless, Diamond Comics Distributors announced at its retailer breakfast that graphic novel and comics periodical sales were flat or worse for the year thus far. Graphic Novel sales are down 13% and periodical sales are down 4%, so far, in 2017. No one has been able to pinpoint a single reason for the slide, although various theories—from a lack of hot titles to the end of the New York Times Bestseller list for Graphic Novels—have been floated.
While movie and TV announcements can drown out comics news at Comic-Con, there was still plenty of publishing news flowing out of the show. As reported, Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman’s Skybound imprint announced a new deal with Atria Books for a line of prose SF and fantasy books. And manga/graphic novel publisher Yen Press, a joint venture of Hachette and Kadokawa, announced the launch of JY, a middle grade graphic novel line headed by Yen's deputy publisher JuYoun Lee.
DC Comics offered several new lines, including a previously announced Young Readers line, and a 25th anniversary publishing tribute to the Harley Quinn character of Suicide Squad fame. At DC’s “Meet the Publishers” panel featuring DC co-publishers Jim Lee and Dan DiDio, Lee gave some details about an upcoming line of standalone graphic novels by top talent (like Neil Gaiman) with mature themes. The titles in this line will be in the vein of DC superhero epics such as The Dark Knight and Watchmen.
Reinforcing DC’s focus on book format comics, acclaimed writer Grant Morrison made a surprise appearance on the panel to announce two DC graphic novel projects: Wonder Woman Earth One Vol. 2, a sequel to last year’s successful release (with art by Yanick Paquette) that takes a closer look at Princess Diana’s mother, Queen Hippolyta. He also announced Arkham Asylum 2 (with art by Chris Burnham), a sequel to Morrison’s classic Batman tale from 2005.
Marvel Comics had a fairly low profile. Coming this fall in X-Men Grand Design, indie comics star Ed Piskor goes superhero—he’ll give Marvel’s complicated mutant history the same treatment as his Hip Hop Family Tree series, recapping and untangling the history and relations of Marvel’s iconic mutants.
IDW announced a co-publishing deal with French house Glenat that will see the release of new European-created graphic novels aimed at the U.S. market. IDW’s new Black Crown imprint, directed by former Vertigo editor Shelly Bond, firmed up its lineup, announcing Assassinsitas with story by Tini Howerd and art by Gilbert Hernandez.
Over at Dark Horse, noted former Vertigo executive editor Karen Berger (who was Bond’s former boss), is launching a new imprint and she used Comic-Con to announce the titles and creative teams she will publish for the first time. Berger Books will start with four titles, among them a new graphic novel by celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain and novelist Joel Rose.
Despite the early downward trend in overall graphic novel sales, Viz Media reported good news about the manga category. The company's senior director of sales and marketing, Kevin Hamric, said Viz's sales are “up double digits" for the year. (The upswing marks the fourth year in a row the publisher's sales have climbed.) The manga house has been supplying manga to OverDrive, the library digital vendor, and the platform has grown to be Viz’s fifth (out of nine) largest sales channels in one year.
Comic-Con featured the usual dueling mega-panels between Marvel Films and Warner Bros. WB rolled out a triumphant Gal Gadot for November’s Justice League movie, and Jason Momoa's underwater Aquaman was the heavy metal hero, walking out through the crowd brandishing a trident.
Marvel showed new footage for Thor Ragnarok, Black Panther and Avengers Infinity War. But it was Black Panther that brought down the house. The cast, largely made up of people of color, thrilled the crowd. Chadwick Boseman’s T'Challa (the Wakandan identity of the Black Panther) was accompanied by his co-stars Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Gurera.
While veteran con observers noted fewer parties and scaled back offsite events, the show's drawing power was evident. People lined up for as much as five hours, some even camping out overnight, to experience immersive installations for The Tick, Westworld, Legion, Game of Thrones and Blade Runner. Given all the choices available for attendees, it’s hard to see the mad popularity of Comic-Con fading any time soon.