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John Jackson Miller and other pop culture archaeologists interested in comics history.


Friday, May 3, 2013

April 2013 Comics Flashbacks: Superman returns from the dead, 20 years later

by John Jackson Miller

With April 2013 comics sales data just posted, let's take a look at comics sales in previous Aprils. Again, I've added a snapshot of what one major retailer is charging for the top-sellers; Comichron isn't a price guide site, but it's interesting to see how once-popular titles held up.

As always, this reflects what Diamond Comic Distributors (and, in earlier times, other distributors) sold to retailers, not what the retailers themselves sold. In recent times, retail inventory is much more tightly controlled, so the numbers are more representative of actual sales. In the distant past, not so much.


April 2012 sales figures were reported the same weekend that the Avengers movie opened to a record $200.3 million in the United States. So there was already a lot of buzz about the good fortunes of the comics industry at the time. Retailer orders for comic books and graphic novels in April 2012 rose 15% in North America versus the year prior, and several titles pushed past the 100,000 copy mark.

Marvel's Avengers Vs. X-Men #2 led the market with orders of nearly 159,000 copies. By the end of the year, those orders were up to 200,300 copies, making it the 5th best-selling title of the year. (Click to see the full list.)

As of this posting, the main version of Avengers vs. X-Men #2 had an aftermarket price of $18 in Near Mint at

Image's Walking Dead trade collections completely dominated their category, giving Image an 8.6% market share, its highest since February 2003.
Click to read the original Comichron analysis for the month. And check out the sales chart for the month here.


April 2008 saw Marvel’s Secret Invasion #1 leading the pack with 250,000 copies ordered in its initial month to kick off the summer event season. Later orders brought it up to at least 263,000 copies, making it the 12th best-selling comic book of the decade of the 2000s. (See the whole list here.)

As of this posting, the main version of Secret Invasion #1 had an aftermarket price of $2.70 in Near Mint at

The Marvel trade Secret Invasion Infiltration had orders of approximately 7,250 copies in its first month to lead the trade paperbacks list.

Click to read the original Comichron analysis for the month. And check out the sales chart for the month here.


April 2003 was Diamond's third month of reporting final orders rather than preorders, and in that month, Jim Lee’s "Hush" phenomenon continued to roll on. Batman #614 topped the charts with 153,600 copies sold to retailers in its first month; it would continue to pile up reorders afterward. Later orders brought it up to at least 165,200 copies, making it the 66th best-selling comic book of the decade of the 2000s. (See the whole list here.) 

It was only one of three titles to sell more than 100,000 copies. The 10,000-copy mark was at 180th place; the 300th place comic sold only 1,600 copies.

At the time of this posting, Batman #614 had an aftermarket price of $2 in Near Mint at

Diamond only published reports for its Top 50 trades in 2003 — so to compare apples to apples, the 2008 numbers have been pared back to the Top 50 to show a clear comparison.

The Batman: Hush hardcover had first-month orders of 7,300 copies, slightly eclipsing the more expensive Orbiter hardcover with its 7,200 ordered copies. A bigger dollar performer than either was the third-place item, the $49.95 Hellboy: Art of Mike Mignola.

Check out the sales chart for the month here.


The month of April 1998 saw Uncanny X-Men #356 as the market leader at Diamond, topping the charts with 149,500 copies preordered. Eight comics had preorders in the six figures, while the 10,000-copy mark was at 178th place.

At the time of this posting, Uncanny X-Men #258 had an aftermarket price of $3.30 in Near Mint at

Significant for tracking purposes is that April 1998 was the first month in which Diamond reported indexed preorder figures for its Top 25 trade paperbacks, permitting us our first ten-year comparisons this month.

Interestingly, dollar sales for the same grouping of items more than doubled in the following decade — although part of the comparison is skewed because in April 1998, Diamond was still working out what belonged on the trade paperback list and what belonged with the comics. The top item, for example, was the $6.95 Verotik Illustrated #3, with its preorders of 8,600 copies; where the top traditional trade was probably Image’s $9.95 Kabuki: Skin Deep, with preorders of approximately 4,200 copies. Diamond even included a $4 Vampirella ashcan in the April 1998 list. In later tables, Diamond would tend to move such items into the comics listing.

DC bested Marvel 25.25% to 23.31% in dollar shares at Diamond, the second time it had done so since Diamond began its “final order” share reporting in October 1997. DC had 71 comics in the Top 300, to the bankruptcy-limited Marvel’s 51.

Check out the sales chart for the month here.


Twenty years ago, April 1993 saw the peak of the early 1990s comics boom — and what was likely the single most financially lucrative month in the history of the industry. When Superman “died” in November 1992, the result was a $30 million dollar day in the business — quite comparable to blockbuster movie openings at the time. With Superman set to return in April 1993, retailers ordered big in an attempt not to be caught short of copies.

The result, according to one internal publisher estimate made available to Comichron, was direct market preorders of 48.18 million copies. The biggest single month of the 1990s comics boom — and more than 13 million copies more than the totals for the two months on either side of it.

Was April 1993 the biggest month in comics history? Going back to 1952, the peak year in the pre-Silver Age period for the number of copies offered, we find an average of about 250 new comic books coming out each month. Just comparing with that direct-market figure, those 1952 comic books would need to average 180,000 copies to match the April 1993 total. That’s very possible; the average circulation for comic books publishing Statements of Ownership in 1960 was around 315,000 copies. Not all titles had sales like Superman, but it’s a safe bet that, by units sold, quite a number of months in the 1950s would have topped April 1993.

Dollarwise, however, April 1993 is almost certainly the peak — both adjusted for inflation and not. With all the premium covers around, Capital City Distribution found the average cost of the 630 new titles it offered to be $2.65. That figure is certainly higher than the weighted average, but even at that, a direct-market total of $100 million is not out of the realm of possibility for the month. According to one inflation calculator, that equates to $18 million in 1952 dollars — which would require a mind-boggling 180 million 10-cent copies to be sold, or a per-title average of 720,000 copies. While there were likely quite a few titles above that average, there were considerable distribution-related disparities between the performances of publishers in the 1950s that make that average seem high. And, again, we’re not counting the newsstand for April 1993 — or the aftermarket, next to nonexistent so long ago. (On the other hand, we have no way of knowing what sell-through was in 1993, either, so the real dollar total would be lower to some degree.)

Adventures of Superman #500 was the #1 comic book both at Diamond and at Capital City. Capital sold 717,800 copies of the $2.95 collector’s cover and 161,250 copies of the newsstand cover; Diamond also saw the newsstand cover enter the Top 10. One existing calculation suggests a direct-market total of 3.45 million copies for the collector’s version; that’s a huge number, but not out of line with what else was on the charts. Diamond sold 8.6 times as many Adventures #500s as it sold Amazing Spider-Man #378s — a book that had sold 400,000 direct-market copies several times in the previous year.

At the time of this posting, Adventures of Superman #500 had an aftermarket price of $1.10 in Near Mint at

At both publishers, the Superman titles took all five Top 5 spots. That performance helped DC to top the market shares at Diamond for only the second time in the distributor’s history, with 33.07% of dollars preordered; at Capital, where DC generally sold disproportionately fewer copies, the 27.55% share was still enough for first place.

The top trade paperback was likely Image’s WildC.A.T.S. Collection, priced at $9.95.

Check out the sales rankings for the the overall year here.

Capital City reported that Uncanny X-Men #232 was its top-selling comic book of April 1988. Marvel sold 420,100 copies of the issue through all channels, including 261,200 direct-market copies and 111,100 newsstand copies, and copies in subscription, foreign, and other special markets sales. Capital preorders for the issue were 66,600 copies, meaning it was responsible for just over a quarter of the issue’s direct market sales.

At the time of this posting, Uncanny X-Men #232 had an aftermarket price of $2.60 in Very Fine at

Marvel led DC in Capital’s dollar market shares, 41.25% to 32.38% — although, again, Capital is believed to have sold disproportionately fewer DC comics relative to Diamond.

The average cost of the 352 items on Capital City’s sales charts was $2.30 — a consequence of the combining of comic books with larger items, like Fantagraphics’ $49 Mars Attacks Mini Comics Box. That said, Marvel had recently gone from 75¢ to $1 on its most popular titles, so if the average comic offered wasn’t above $1 before, it certainly was in 1998.

The top-selling trade paperback item was likely the Crash: Iron Man Graphic Novel, which at $12.95 nonetheless placed 97th among units sold at Capital.

30 YEARS AGO ... and more

We're back before the Direct Market distributor charts — the ones I have from Capital start running data in 1984 — but April 1983's leader was Uncanny X-Men #172. Statements of Ownership put that as the likely top-seller for the month, averaging 336,824 copies across all channels for the year, including newsstand and subs.

At the time of this posting, Uncanny X-Men #172 had an aftermarket price of $4.80 in Very Fine at

Once we get to 35 years ago, the data is spare, and it becomes trickier to judge what items came out in the same month. (I'm not looking at cover dates here, but likely ship dates, to keep things squared up with present practice.) The known information is incomplete enough that most of what follows is conjecture. A good guess for March 1978 would be Marvel's Star Wars #13, which between newsstand and Whitman bagged editions would have likely sold between 350,000 and 400,000 copies. The issue has an aftermarket price of $3.80 in Very Fine- at

Back 40 years ago, the top-selling issue was likely Archie #226. The title's average monthly issue that year sold 345,087 copies.

And again, relying on the Postal Statements, for 45 years ago we're likely looking at Superman #207 (636,000 copies average in the year).

And 50 years ago we don't have DC data, because the publisher didn't publish any. It was a skip month for Superman, so Superboy #105, likely to have shipped that month, would probably have led the market at around 600,000 copies. The issue has an aftermarket price of $48 in Very Fine at

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