We’re living in a golden age of superheroic media—Marvel dominates the Hollywood blockbuster scene, while The Flash, Arrow, and Supergirl lead a ton of new comic book TV shows. And that leads to people writing off comics as just a source of raw material. But comics themselves are on a roll right now.
John Jackson Miller has been archiving comic sales statistics for years over at Comichron, and in his latest analysis for sales in January 2016 he paints a great picture of the current industry. Despite factors like big sales on graphic novels and a usual trend of smaller sales in January as fewer comics issues are released, the Top 300 comics of the month sold about 6.49 million copies in total.
That number might sound quite small next to the amount of people who’ll stand in line to see Captain America: Civil War in a few months. And in fact, it’s down a bit from last January—mainly thanks to the fact that last January saw the release of Star Wars #1, which was hugely boosted by being placed as a free item in the January 2015 LootCrate subscription bundle. But it’s actually amazing to see how far the comic book industry has come in just five years.
January 2011 was a very different time for comic books—sales were at an all-time low as DC prepared for its controversial New 52 reboot, and the comic book media was still on the cusp of exploding, with the release of The Avengers a year out and The Walking Dead only just shambling onto TV. Writes Miller:
On the other hand, some perspective: Five years ago, January 2011 was the pits. The Top 300 comics sold 4.4 million copies, likely the lowest sum since the 1930s. There were a couple of reasons: it was the bottom of the comics slump pre-DC reboot, but it was also a month where publishers shipped extremely few titles to market. The market ordered more than 2 million more comics this January, and publishers are releasing more, now, too: 719 new comics and graphic novels versus 555 five years ago. That shows a market with more breadth.
Not only have sales hugely improved in the past five years—a healthy and obvious sign of growth—but the industry itself is developing a wider range of comic books, to cater to a growing group of people enticed by these characters thanks to their presence in games, movies, and TV shows.
Sure, the reach of a comic book, even the most successful comic books, will never be able to dwarf the reach of a blockbuster like Batman v Superman or even a TV show like Agents of SHIELD. But it’s amazing to see the impact the rise of comic book media in pop culture has had over the last few years—it’s bolstered the comics industry, and ultimately rescued it from a pretty dire place.
Image: Avengers Assemble #1 variant cover, by Marc Silvestri