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Comichron Presents: Top 300 Comics of the Decade in comics shops

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

by John Jackson Miller


The Barack Obama commemorative issue of Amazing Spider-Man was the comic book ordered most by comics shops in North America in the decade of the 2000s, according to analysis by The Comics Chronicles.

Comichron looked back at 119 months of comic-book orders reported by Diamond Comic Distributors, the exclusive retail agent for the largest publishers in the industry. Sales from these months are posted individually at the site (except for a few remaining to be posted from the early years of the decade); it's not 120 months because the December 2009 figures have not been released yet by Diamond. The tables report Diamond's Top 300 comics from each month, as well as the number of copies ordered by its approximately 3,000 retail accounts; the figures represent final orders beginning in February 2003, and preorders before that. Since many comics reappear on the list several times due to reorders; all reorders for the same comics were combined to form a listing of the 300 comic books most ordered by retailers in the 2000s.

The ten comic books with the most comics shop orders in the decade are as follows:

1) Amazing Spider-Man #583
    Jan-09 • Marvel • at least 524,914 copies ordered

2) Civil War #2
    Jun-06 • Marvel • at least 341,856 copies ordered

3) Civil War #3
    Jul-06 • Marvel • at least 337,025 copies ordered

4) Civil War #1
    May-06 • Marvel • at least 328,524 copies ordered

5) Captain America #25
    Mar-07 • Marvel • at least 317,713 copies ordered

6) Civil War #4
    Sep-06 • Marvel • at least 290,994 copies ordered

7) Civil War #5
    Nov-06 • Marvel • at least 283,863 copies ordered

8) All Star Batman & Robin #1
    Jul-05 • DC • at least 276,017 copies ordered

9) Civil War #7
    Feb-07 • Marvel • at least 274,451 copies ordered

10) Infinite Crisis #1
    Oct-05 • DC • at least 269,991 copies ordered


These figures are for the comic book direct market only — the network of comic book stores that sell the lion's share of comic books in periodical form in North America. Sales of these comics on newsstands or by subscription are not included. But quite a lot of information is revealed in this data. All the Top 10 comics of the decade topped the quarter-million copy mark, and all the Top 300 of the decade topped the 100,000-copy mark. Notably, all ten top comic books come from the second half of the decade, underlining the degree to which the industry recovered from its turn-of-the-century nadir.

Apart from the inauguration day commemorative issue of Spider-Man which set off a collecble frenzy early in 2009 with its multiple variants and reprintings (you can see some of the versions, and what they're going for, here), the top of the list is dominated by Marvel's Civil War, a limited series that served as the anchor for the decade's most popular linewide cross-over event. (Civil War #6 is the only issue not to make the Top 10, and that placed 11th.) Civil War #2 and #3 nudged past Civil War #1, reflecting that retailers had seen demand on the series' first issue and had time to boost their orders for later issues. Reorders and reprintings of Civil War #1 continued to sell throughout the year, however, and the issue made Diamond's Top 300 chart in seven consecutive months. The same thing happened with DC's Infinite Crisis #1.


It's possible that Civil War #1 did indeed surpass the later issues, because the figures cited above only account for the sales of issues in the months in which they made Diamond's Top 300 list. The bottom item on the list varied throughout the decade, as seen here, so sometimes it took several thousand copies sold for an item to reappear on the list. As noted, much of Civil War #1's sales life cycle is represented on the table, but there are bound to be months for all titles where reorders for them were "bubbling under" the Top 300 and thus out of sight for tracking purposes.

Only five publishers are represented in the Top 300 list for the decade. Marvel had the most entries, 186; DC had 102 comics on the list. Dreamwave had seven entries, all Transformers issues from that company's brief time on the shelves. Transformers: Armada #1 placed highest, at 128th. Dark Horse had three issues on the list, all from Buffy: The Vampire Slayer Season 8. #1 was Dark Horse's top performer on the chart, at 111th place. Image had two issue on the chart, led by Spawn #100 in 137th place. No other publisher pops up until Dynamite, with Red Sonja #1 landing around the 1,200th place mark. Archie shows up with its 600th issue landing around 3,000th place, and IDW also makes its first appearance in the 3,000s.

Note that since December 2009 isn't in yet, these rankings could change slightly; certainly, Blackest Night issues will move further up the list. The first issue is already up to 29th with reorders reported by Diamond to date. Looking at what we have, though, we can easily see where the strength is in the decade by looking at the number of Decade Top 300 entries by year:

2000: 5
2001: 22
2002: 16
2003: 23
2004: 40
2005: 41
2006: 63
2007: 58
2008: 19
2009: 13


Not unexpectedly, the hits cluster right around the Big Event heyday, the period that gave us Civil War and Infinite Crisis. There was also the weekly 52 phenomenon, which added many entries.

One reason comics from the early decade are less represented is that before January 2003, Diamond did not report reorders, so those issues are at a disadvantage. However, looking at known reorder rates from when Diamond did begin publishing the data, reorders are unlikely to shuffle the list dramatically. The industry was still coming out of the seven-year recession of the 1990s, and few titles were selling over 100,000 copies.

Items on the table are listed in the months in which they first made the Diamond chart — following the links to the individual months' pages shows what those comics sold initially, since later reorders pop up in the months that follow. It's interesting to see what months had the most hits:

January: 20
February: 17
March: 20
April: 23
May: 36
June: 34
July: 34
August: 29
September: 25
October: 17
November: 20
December: 25


Comic books have historically been a summer-dominated business, and while that is reflected here, there's a more even distribution than we might have found in previous decades. Hits, increasingly, can happen in any season, providing strong enough material is slated for it.

A few more words about what's on the list — and what isn't. Orders for variant editions and reprintings of comic books were combined if those versions were essentially the same product — that is, same physical configuration, same interior, and same cover price. This rolls up most of the snap-reprintings into the same entry, but disallows items like "Director's Cuts" or the Marvel Must-Have editions, which are in many respects distinct products.

And, importantly, the list above focuses on comic books sold at full, and not promotional, prices. The Diamond lists have, in the past, included a number of comic books offered below publisher cost: Fantastic Four Vol. 3 #60, priced at 9¢, had preorders of 752,700 copies in August 2002. There are many such examples of free or promotionally priced comics; Diamond made the decision a few years ago to no longer list low-priced comics, and that move has been followed with this list to guarantee comparisons of like items.


Since comics shops are the focus of this list, it also does not include a number of other highly circulated comics. Gears of War #1 didn't make the Top 10,000 comics of the decade in comics shops, but it garnered attention for its strong circulation through game stores in 2008. Unfortunately, as with newsstand sales, not a lot of specific numbers are available from the video game trade; and much circulation in outside channels is promotional, rather than sold. (In the Gears case, Gamestop managers reported offering it as a giveaway to customers preordering video games, but it's unclear what portion of circulation free or "bonus" copies represented.) The game market is a new channel with comics circulating in a number of different manners (for disclosure purposes, I note my own Mass Effect: Redemption #1 has a variant in January's Mass Effect 2 Collector's Edition) but it is as yet unclear how to integrate this sector's information for purposes of comparison, were it to become available.

Again, this is only for the comics shops — and because not all reorders make the list every month, any decade ranking released by Diamond would differ somewhat. And as this is a periodical ranking, it doesn't get into the sector that brought the most new money into the business in the 2000s, bound collected editions and graphic novels. But it's an interesting snapshot. How do the 2000s compare with other decades for comics? Probably not spectacularly — only a handful of the charting issues would make a similar chart for the speculator-mad 1990s. But, as just noted, comics are not just about periodical sales any more, with stories reaching readers in more ways than ever.

2 comments:

Christopher Butcher January 5, 2010 at 12:51 AM  

John,

Thanks for posting this. I don't know how ICv2 verifies their data, but this report from November 2003 has Shonen Jump #9 hitting 540,000 copies in sales:

http://www.icv2.com/articles/news/3867.html

And Shonen Jump averages 200,000+ sales every month. It's not "just through direct market comic shops", but those are verified numbers.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shonen_Jump_(magazine)

John Jackson Miller January 5, 2010 at 10:07 AM  

Hi Christopher. Yes, you're correct that these figures are not direct market comics shops -- most of Shonen Jump's sales are on newsstands and through subscriptions, which places the majority of its sales outside the purview of this list. There's no easy way to confirm the additional sales on any individual issue of most comics through newsstands and subscriptions, though we can see them in averages for the entire year through Statements of Ownership.

Shonen Jump did file a Statement in 2003, which reported average monthly sales at 150,961 copies; the average figure in 2004, which possibly could have included the figures for 2003's September issue with the Yu-Gi-Oh Power of Chaos CD-ROM, was 193,921 copies.

It's not clear to me where Milton at ICV2 got the 540,000 copy figure, but it wouldn't have been the final number, as returns probably wouldn't have all come back from the newsstand outlets by then. (That's why we always look at the average figures for the year, rather than single-issue ones on the Statements of Ownership.) The publisher itself wouldn't have known final sales by the time the story ran; the real figure would have been lower, although probably not a whole lot lower.

In any event, you're correct that while Shonen Jump is not to be found on a list of the decade's top-sellers where most comic books in North America are sold, its newsstand and subscription sales would place it highly on a list of sellers that included all single-copy markets. How highly? I think the CD-ROM issue would likely be very highly ranked indeed -- though probably not #1, since the Obama Spider-Man had newsstand sales of its own, including at least one additional printing for the newsstand. We don't have a good way of knowing what that figure is, but I would imagine it takes the book north of 600,000 copies.

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