Hey all! My name’s Jake Shapiro–I work for Fantom Comics in Washington, DC, and every month for the past year or so I’ve been tracking the most-subscribed comics at my shop. It’s by no means totally indicative of worldwide sales trends, but it’s a neat little snapshot into the reading habits of one city’s comics community.
Disclaimer: These are subscription numbers, not total sales, so it represents our regular customers rather than casual walk-ins. It means #1 issues are under-represented, as people tend to pick up the first issue off the rack before they subscribe to it. In addition, this ranking is measured by number of subscribers, not by revenue.
1. Black Panther #5 by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Chris Sprouse
Our greatest revelation of 2016. Four years after Black Panther’s last solo series, his new title outsells everything else in our store by a long shot, with more than twice as many subscribers as the next comic on this list. But why?
It’s the perfect confluence of two major factors. First, the debut of T’Challa in this summer’s huge blockbuster action flick Captain America: Civil War and the anticipation of a Black Panther movie in a couple years.
Second, and more importantly: superstar writer Ta-Nehisi Coates. Fresh off his searing book Between the World and Me and his powerful pieces for The Atlantic, Coates is one of the most important voices in today’s conversation on race in America. We’ve had scores of first-time comics readers come into our shop for Black Panther because of Coates, and the series hasn’t pulled any punches. The first five issues have sold better than any other first five issues in the eleven-year history of Fantom Comics.
2. Saga #37 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Black Panther may be the new hot title, but Saga is our bread and butter–consistently the biggest comic of the last four years. The phenomenon of Fiona Staples and Brian K. Vaughan’s sci-fi fantasy epic is its longevity, that it’s still so huge 37 issues into the series. Comic book sales are a war of attrition, and usually everything trails off after the first dozen issues. Saga, on the other hand, has as many subscribers today as it’s ever had, and it shows no signs of slowing down.
Most comics this popular are adapted for film or television, but Vaughan and Staples have been adamant that they want Saga to remain a comic book only; testament to the strength of the medium as an art form, and keeping the material pure without diluting it with outside interpretations.
Saga builds its fanbase not through a related live-action adaptation, but simply by being a damn good comic book that comes out on time. The increasing popularity of trade paperbacks as a format can hurt the sales of floppy single issues, but Saga leverages the ubiquity of graphic novels to its advantage by scheduling releases so paperback readers can easily jump into the monthly single issues before each story arc.
3. Paper Girls #8 by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang
The second Brian K. Vaughan series on our list! BKV might be the MVP of the North American comics industry over the last decade, filling his bibliography to the gills with celebrated books like Y: The Last Man, Runaways, Ex Machina, and Pride of Baghdad. At our shop, he’s reached all-new heights with his double whammy of Saga and Paper Girls.
While Saga is Vaughan’s sprawling space opera, Paper Girls is a more tightly-focused story about newspaper delivery girls in 1988, inspired by ’80s creepy kid adventure classics like The Goonies and E.T. The other big draw is the evocative neon visuals by artist Cliff Chiang (Wonder Woman) and colorist Matt Wilson (The Wicked + the Divine), pushing this book to near-Saga levels that we never could’ve predicted.
4. Ms. Marvel #10 by G. Willow Wilson, Takeshi Miyazawa, and Adrian Alphona
Ms. Marvel was 2014’s Black Panther–a breakout hit reaching a mainstream audience outside the comics world, in part due to a barrier-breaking story about a Muslim teenage girl from New Jersey, written by Muslim woman G. Willow Wilson. It’s still one of our most popular series and a gateway comic for many readers.
If you’re confused why a two-year-old comic is only on issue #10, Marvel forced the series to renumber last year (it’s a long story). In reality, this is the 29th issue of Wilson’s Ms. Marvel run–only time will tell if Black Panther can make it that far and remain as popular.
DC Comics rebooted their entire line with all-new #1 issues this summer (fully returnable for retailers, a rarity in the comics industry!), and it’s boosted their market share exponentially at our shop. Of course, no comic benefits more than their heaviest hitter, Batman; on top of being the publisher’s biggest name, it’s coming off a five-year run by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo that was one of the most celebrated superhero comics of the twenty-first century.
The wild card here is the new publishing schedule: all DC’s biggest books are hitting shelves not once but twice a month, putting extra pressure on creative teams to pump out product. Hopefully the readers and retailers can keep up, and hopefully the quality of the double-time comics won’t diminish.
When you combine single issues with trade paperback sales, The Wicked + the Divine comes in right behind Saga as our second most popular comic at the store. Issue #22 is the last chapter of the fourth story arc, and standard sales attrition seems to be applying but it still remains one of our biggest titles.
Island is the greatest example of a comic selling well at our shop while floundering globally–it’s a monthly anthology magazine of independent comic artists from around the world, featuring some of the most daring material being published right now. It sells well at Fantom because it’s one of our absolute favorite comics so we push it as hard as we can, and once you can get the book into someone’s hands, the work speaks for itself.
The problem is getting the book in people’s hands in the first place. Because Island is such a weird outlier in modern North American comics, most retailers and readers don’t understand it, and the publisher Image Comics hasn’t done a very good job marketing it, so Island sales lag far behind where they deserve to be.
Marvel’s Star Wars comics have sold like hotcakes, and none better than the first major title based on The Force Awakens, the solo comic focusing on hotshot pilot Poe Dameron. Combined with a high-profile creative team of writer Charles Soule (Daredevil, She-Hulk) and jaw-dropping artist Phil Noto (Black Widow, Chewbacca), it’s no surprise how well this book is doing.
As you can see, Marvel’s new line of Star Wars comics outsells nearly all their standard superhero comics. This namesake series basically sells itself, and although it’s been eclipsed by Poe Dameron, the flagship series is still consistently a book that gets customers in the store on a monthly basis. Although the line has lost a little buzz in recent months, look for it to gain steam all over again with the Rogue One film just around the corner–along with a new series or two based around the upcoming movie.
That’s it for August! How did our sales chart compare to your expectations? Let us know in the comments, and I’ll see you next month!