Sunday, March 1, 2009
Watchmen is one of the most reprinted comics series in history — but where did Watchmen rank at the time it came out, in its original comic book form? As mentioned when posting Neil Dorsett's essay on Watchmen and Film Techniques a few days back, the number of public inquiries about the series has, as you might guess, gone to Mars — and, unlike Doc Manhattan, shows no signs of coming back. So I hit the circulation database and the shelves of distributor magazines — and what I came up with appears in this essay: "Watchmen Sales Rankings in its Initial Release."
It may surprise newer readers to see that Watchmen never ranked higher than 5th place in unit sales at Capital City, the distributor for which most information is known. Watchmen was up against books with heavy newsstand distribution, and at half its cover price; recall this is 1986-87, when Man of Steel is running, when Marvel is launching a long-awaited ongoing Punisher title, and when DC is starting Superman again with John Byrne's new #1. It's partly because of all of this going on that Watchmen's penetration so high on the direct-market list is remarkable indeed: the early 1990s Image-and-Valiant era found titles with non-franchise characters breaking the Top 10, but it wasn't something you saw in the mid-1980s. Watchmen's dollar sales place it higher still, although Capital wasn't reporting that in those days.
These are obviously partial findings in the piece, but there are some interesting tidbits — like the collapse of Glenwood Distributors right as the series hit the home stretch, resulting in Capital selling more copies of #12 than it did of #1. And you can see very clearly exactly how tied the comics market still was to the adolescent demographic: "Black September," when orders customarily collapsed every year when school started, is very visible in Watchmen's orders at Capital. For this reason, Watchmen #4, of all issues, was Capital's best seller in initial orders.
The chart on the page also attempts to place the release month in connection with the cover date; I do have the resources to find exact shipping dates — hopefully I can get to that at least as it concerns the Glenwood collapse soon.