Movies & TV / Columns

Comics 411: Are There Too Many Comic Book Titles?

September 16, 2021 | Posted by Steve Gustafson
Marvel DC Comic Book

Welcome back! I’m Steve Gustafson and if you enjoy discussing anything comic book related, you’ve come to the right place. Each week we cover something in the industry and I always enjoy your input in the comment section below.

Previously on…

Last time we asked What Are You Tired of Seeing in Comic Books? Here’s what some of you had to say:

Gil: “I hate it when an ongoing series of a character/group “ends”, so that they can launch a brand new series of the same character/group.”

BiggMcLargeHuuge: “1) massive cross-over events
2) yearly relaunches of old titles, putting out more meaningless “1st issue spectaculars” in order to boost sales
3) too much “cartoony” or anime-style art being used on characters that are much better served with traditional comic art
4) not using the “mini-series” description for a title that is planned to be of limited length, essentially deceiving the reader into believing that what they’re reading, with a writer & artist team they really like, will be continuing long-term
5) Marvel’s mutants – I’m just really sick of them and all their non-stop “we’re oppressed!” whining, and I’m genuinely tired of the endless team changes
6) etc etc etc”

Erick Rowan’s Beard: “Yeah, I think the big events stuff needs to be dialed back. I know that in Marvel, it seems that there’s some big companywide crossover event every few months. For one thing, it’s too danged expensive to keep up with every title as comics aren’t cheap anymore and it’d just be nice for the titles to get back to self-contained stories. For instance, I loved reading Wolverine back in the late 80s through the 90s because the stuff he was doing in his titles was all about him; it had little or nothing to do with the X-Men 99% of the time and you almost never saw other heroes coming in.

For me though, the biggest thing I’m tired of seeing involves just about every character being massively overpowered. This has been a regular feature in many comics, especially DC, since they essentially turned Superman into God back in the 50s. The guy had no friggin’ limits at all and even though he’s still not as overpowered as he was, it’s still too much. Guys like the Hulk, Thor or Superman have no strength limits, Wolverine and Lobo can heal from anything and everything, Batman needs to be taken down a few pegs as he ALWAYS finds a way to overcome…well anything.”

George Nolan: “A few things that do irk me with comics:

-Reboots and Alternate Universes: Marvel and DC are big offenders of doing this. Makes it pretty convoluted at times to track which incarnation of specific characters are used and whether they’re supposed to be a hero or villain.
-Death Not Being Permanent: Make a big deal over specific characters dying like Gwen Stacy, Jason Todd, and Superman? Doesn’t matter. Months or years down the line, it gets revealed that through some contrived means, they survived or got resurrected in some way.”

Wheeljack84: “Status quo shattering event after status quo shattering event. And then doing things that will undo the shattering of said status quo.”

Captain Mcgloo: “Stop with the continuity porn, move backwards, not forwards, I don’t need a the origin of Jor-El, I don’t need to revisit Gwen Stacy, or Hal Jordan’s parents. Also, stop killing parents in general, not all superheroes need to be orphans, plenty of people dedicate their lives to helping others and also have fully alive parents.”

About50Girls: “Retconning the 30+ year backstory of beloved characters to something more social media friendly in order to appease Twitter users who don’t even buy the books.

Replacing 30+ year old beloved characters with new, more social media friendly characters in order to appease Twitter users who don’t even buy the books.

Having old white guys write said retcons/replacements and just embarrass themselves with how out of touch they are with reality as they desperately try to show off what noble champions they are for marginalised people.

Bringing in actual marginalised people to write the retcons/replacements, people who have an actual voice and understanding in the delicate subject matter white people so oftenly hamfist, HOWEVER these proper writers are never given a crash course in comic book writing. I’ve seen Marvel hire some of the greatest writers of our era but not even remotely help them adapt their style to sequential storytelling. Thus, the project often fails.”

Some awesome comments last week! Go and check out the rest, if you can. Thanks for the input and keep it coming!

This week we ask…

Are There Too Many Comic Book Titles?
With all that’s going on, a trip to your local comic book shop may not be as much of a regular trip as usual. But all one needs to read is a copy of Previews or the daily press releases from the Big Two and the numerous Independent publishers, to see we have a lot of products to choose from.

Maybe too much?

The total comics and graphic novel sales in the U.S. and Canada were approximately $1.28 billion in 2020, a 6% increase over sales in 2019. You can point and say the increase was due to strong sales of graphic novels online and in mass merchants and strong digital sales, which overcame big declines in comic and book store sales.

“The challenges of retailing in the pandemic had profound impacts on the market, including the acceleration of trends that have been in place for years,”  ICv2’s Milton Griepp said of the 2020 estimates. “The book channel increased its share dramatically vs. comic stores, and graphic novels increased their share vs. periodical comics, while digital sales were turbocharged.”

Covid has thrown the “business as usual” plans out the window and has left publishers scrambling to pivot. 

“The comic periodical market was ahead for the year before the pandemic struck, and the result of production cutbacks was that 30% fewer new comic books were released by the major publishers in 2020,” Comichron’s John Jackson Miller said. “The fact that new comics sales were down by only 20% suggests that retailers did well with what they were able to get.”

Not only was demand high for new comics and graphic novels, the collectible side of the comics business was also strong. “The collector market flourished during the year, allowing comics shops to earn significant revenue from their back-issue inventories,” Miller added. “Many new releases also saw significant levels of markup that our charts would not be able to capture, all of which helped stores offset the lack of new product.”

While that’s nice, let’s talk about the amount of titles we see. It’s no secret that publishers have been grappling with the challenge of sales and engaging new fans. One of the big problems facing the comic industry is “way too many books,” according to Image Comics Publisher Eric Stephenson in an interview last year. 

“Comic book stores can’t keep up with ordering them, there’s just too much to keep track of, and if a specialty market catering to this specific type of content is overwhelmed by the amount of books being published, that’s definitely going to be an issue for other sales channels,” Stephenson said. “Worse, it’s going to trickle down to readers – because at $4 and $5 an issue, that limits the number of comics someone can reasonably afford within a single month. Or every month.”

“Every publisher – and I want to be clear that I absolutely include Image in this – could do a better job of curating their content instead of constantly flooding the market with books that may not have an actual audience,” Stephenson went on to say.

“Over the course of 2019, we’ve launched fewer books. Like a third less,” Stephenson explained. “We’re planning to continue that going into next year, because we saw positive results from thinning the line over the course of this year.”

What do you think? Would fewer titles be a good thing for the industry? Would it allow for a more focused line with higher quality creative teams?

That’s all the time I have. See you next week!