Comics Disassembled: Ten Things of Note from the Past Week in Comics, Led by Comics Keeping It 100 (and Nine)

There once was going to be a different lead article in this week’s edition of Comics Disassembled, my look at ten things I liked or didn’t like from the week of comics. But then…very good news arrived! So very good news will be the lead! I like good news! Let’s get to it.

1. Graphic Novels, Doing Well!

We knew 2021 was a good year for the wider world of comics. Honestly, the biggest problem for the year seemed to mostly be built around the fact it was difficult to keep things in stock, particularly manga. When that’s the biggest issue, that tells you an important fact: comics keep selling out! So odds are, the news would be good when it started to drop about the year that was. And, sure enough, it was! Real good, in fact!

Per a tweet from Heidi MacDonald about an article Publisher’s Weekly ran about NPD BookScan’s numbers for the year, graphic novel sales – already at a high because of continuing (and building) interest – saw a unit sales lift of 109.3%. 109.3%! So it didn’t just double, but more than doubled. Now, for those that don’t know, NPD BookScan’s purview is the book market, so this isn’t a comprehensive number. But given that the book market had taken over as the dominant force in the industry already, that’s pretty, pretty good!

What drove it? Well, I don’t have specifics, but I’d wager it’s a combination of manga and Dav Pilkey, particularly the former. Again, the issue for manga has primarily been shops of all varieties can’t get enough supply to fulfill demand. That suggests to me the potential for a wee bit of a rise on that side of things. More to come, as later this year I am certain retailer Brian Hibbs will do his annual deep dive into the BookScan numbers to see what and who led the way. Regardless of specifics, that’s a hell of a thing, and a terribly exciting bit of news for the health and performance of the broader comics industry.

2. Retail Numbers, Being Seen

Speaking of Hibbs, the owner and operator of San Francisco’s Comix Experience comic shop shared how things went for his once main and now only store for the year of 2021. In this one case – it’s not comprehensive like the BookScan numbers – the comic shop world was also rosy, as Hibbs’ store saw an improvement of 33% over 2020. Now, there’s a massive caveat to be noted there. San Francisco was shut down to in-store shopping for much of 2020, so that was a down year for Comix Experience – 33% down from 2019, in fact. So 2021 was 33% up on a down year, with it ultimately proving to be down 12% from 2019 (got that?). So it was good news, but measured good news. It’s even better when you consider Hibbs noting that it was the sixth best year ever for the store, which is a very good thing indeed.

The whole post is worth a read, and it’s interesting to browse the list of what performed well for him too. His book club entries are the clear drivers, even when you exclude book club specific sales, as area of effect from its selection as a member of the Adult Graphic Novel of the Month Club and Pornsak Pichetshote’s appearance at the store to sign books led The Good Asian’s first volume to be the shop’s top seller. That’s great, and it emphasizes the impact events and a little guidance from shops can have on good books like that one.

Lots more to come on the retail front here on SKTCHD. I’m in the midst of putting together my year in review feature for the direct market, at least from the perspective of shops I talk to. Should be dropping in a couple weeks, and hopefully, it’s filled with more good news like this.

One other curiosity I wanted to mention: I’ve started receiving a lot of Comix Experience ads for their varying graphic novel clubs on Instagram. That makes them the first shop I’ve ever received social media ads from. Good! I’m glad someone is doing it, and I wish them the best of luck with those. It’s delightful to see them, and they’re well done too. Can’t ask for much more than that.

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