Q: There has been an onslaught of superhero movies based on comic books. Which character is the most popular in the U.S.? Which magazine sells the best? Which characters have been around the longest? Have the movies improved sales? Are they censored or banned in other countries? How big is the industry? What age group buys the most?
W.C., of Edwardsville
A: No matter how you slice it, it is a simply Marvel-ous time for comic book lovers, the folks at Fantasy Books in Belleville tell me.
And that goes for DC, Archie, Image and all of the other independent labels as well.
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That’s not just hype. Since 2010, estimated sales of the top 300 comic titles have soared nearly 30 percent from 69.2 million copies to 89.4 million in 2016, the latest year for which data is available, according to figures from Diamond Comic Distributors.
In revenue, that has brought a jump from $322 million to $437 million as the average price of a comic climbed from $3.55 to $3.85. When you add digital sales and an even stronger demand for graphic novels, you’re talking about a $1.085-billion industry in 2016, a $55 million increase over 2015, according to Comichron.com, which compiles comic book sales and trends.
Obviously, with an average price hovering at $4, adults are likely to buy more. I shudder to think that in my own comic-crazed years, I was buying 10 to 12 Marvel titles a month. At that time, I could easily set aside $1.50 a month for those 12-cent treasures. But even if my allowance had kept pace with inflation, I doubt if I could come close to the $40 to $50 bill today. As a result, a survey of comic book retailers last February on Newsarama.com found the average age of customers had increased into the mid- to late-30s.
But that doesn’t mean the industry will fade as millennials die out. The explosion of superhero movies apparently has resuscitated the popularity of comics among the younger set. And, of course, they now can access them on their phones, tablets or whatever gadget is handy.
“The average age of our customers is usually 20 to 30,” Bret Parks, owner of Ssalefish Comics in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, told Newsarama. “However, somewhere after the first ‘Avengers’ film came out, I did notice a sharp increase in children reading. Absolutely there is hope in the rising number of kids reading comics, especially with their knowledge of comic characters growing in relation to the amount of information and media like movies and superhero shows out there.”
Locally, sales remain strong across all age groups, Fantasy says. There’s still Archie and similar titles for youngsters, Image, Dark Horse and other indies for adult tastes and an explosion of DC and Marvel titles for all ages. The big seller now is the “Dark Nights: Metal” series, in which Batman battles a half-dozen evil versions of himself after opening up a dark multiverse. But if you’re longing for the more innocent days of the ’60s, Marvel last year began its Legacy series, which focuses on the label’s classic heroes.
Even I couldn’t resist a return to my teens Thursday. In August 1967, Marvel debuted a title called “Not Brand Echh,” a satire starring Forbush Man decked out in his red long johns and a cooking pot with eyeholes for a helmet. (His secret identity was the mythical Marvel office gofer, Irving Forbush.) With appearances by Gnatman and Rotten, Superduperman and Ironed Man (among others), it ran for 13 issues (and I have all 13). Now, after a 49-year hiatus, Marvel published No. 14 this month as part of its Legacy series, and I had to have it. As it once boasted, “Who says a comic book has to be good?”
Now some final rapid-fire answers:
Most popular character: Depending on which poll you believe, Batman and Superman are neck and neck. In sheer numbers, Batman has appeared in 14,358 issues followed by Superman (13,164), Wolverine (12,912), Spider-Man (12,164) and Captain America (9,139). See the other 95 at ranker.com.
Best seller: In November, the top seller was Doomsday Clock, DC’s sequel to Watchmen, with sales of approximately 240,000. Various Batman titles held down the next five spots, followed by Captain America, the Batman annual and Star Wars. For all 413, go to www.comichron.com.
Oldest character: While characters like Doctor Occult predated him, there’s little doubt that the debut of Superman in Action Comics No. 1 in June 1938 fueled the birth of the superhero craze. Among names you would recognize, he was followed in short order by Batman (March 1939), Prince Namor the Sub-Mariner (April 1939), the original Human Torch (September 1939) and Flash and Hawkman (January 1940). Marvel started to roll with the Fantastic Four in November 1961. For more, see Wikipedia’s list of superhero debuts.
Banned books: You don’t have to live in Iran or North Korea to have comic books banned. There’s a group called the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund that fights banned and challenged comic books in North America all the time. If you’d like to read dozens of case histories — including some involving Spider-Man, Batman and Maus, go to cbldf.org.
According to Comichron, what single comic holds the world record for most sales?
Answer to Sunday’s trivia: When Johnny Cash suggested that he write a song about blue suede shoes, Carl Perkins was skeptical. Then, while playing a dance on Dec. 4, 1955, Perkins heard a boy admonish his girlfriend for stepping on his “suedes.” Two weeks later (Dec. 19), Perkins recorded his “Blue Suede Shoes” in just two takes in the Sun Records studio. By Feb. 18, it had taken over the top spot on the Memphis charts, where it stayed for three months.