Comics Disassembled: Ten Things of Note from the Past Week in Comics, Led by the Timing Being Right

It’s another week of comics, and while it’s been a weird one, it also resulted in an interesting mix for me to dive into. I suspect you’ll enjoy this one. Let’s get to it in another edition of Comics Disassembled, a look at ten things I liked or didn’t like from the week of comics, led by the parallel that had to happen.

1. The Guardians, Ramping Up

When Guardians of the Galaxy #1 arrives on April 12, just three or so weeks ahead of the release of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, it will have been 567 days since a Guardians of the Galaxy comic had been published by Marvel. That was the excellent finale writer Al Ewing and artist Juan Frigeri collaborated on to the excellent run Ewing and friends like Juann Cabal had put together. Since then, it’s been silence. No Guardians for anyone, despite some very active space happenings in the Marvel universe (especially in Ewing’s books). But Marvel’s not one to leave behind a good chance to tie a comic’s launch in with a movie on, as it will indeed return with that issue in April, with writers Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly teaming up with artist Kev Walker and colorist Matt Hollingsworth on this new series starring a rather movie-centric roster for the gang.

Initially, my excitement was limited. The art team of Walker and Hollingsworth is elite, with Walker rooted in the history of space Marvel thanks to his work on Annihilation: Nova, but Lanzing and Kelly are a team I have little experience with. For that reason, expectations were muted on that front. At least, they were, until I saw Lanzing describe this run on Twitter as “Unforgiven meets Nextwave,” which is the type of elevator pitch that makes me stand up and pay attention. Pair that with the announcement’s emphasis on pushing the Guardians out to new worlds where they’ll meet new species, and I start feeling a little frisky about this book all of a sudden. It starts feeling like a fresh angle on a squad that could always use one. I’ll put it this way: I’m intrigued. Very intrigued, even though the Grootfall premise (and teaser campaign that preceded this announcement) is too vague to move the needle for me quite yet.

Marvel’s not satisfied with just one Guardians related title launching in April, though. One of Groot’s several modern dads, Dan Abnett, is returning to the character for a miniseries that tells his origins beyond his Marvel Monster introduction, exploring his time on his home planet and once team-up with Mar-Vell, of all characters. It’s Abnett and artist Damian Couceiro, and I’ll be honest: this is more exciting based on the creative team rather than because of the concept. I love Abnett, and the prospect of him heading back to space is appealing. But a miniseries that tells the origin story of a character that famously largely only says three words over and over isn’t the biggest draw for me, even if Abnett will likely maximize the idea and it has an obvious route to connecting to that larger Guardians series.

Maybe it’ll surprise me like Lanzing already did with the Guardians idea. Maybe this isn’t it and we’ll see Marvel announce another Star-Lord mini from Chip Zdarsky, Kris Anka, and Matthew Wilson just in time for the movie’s release. Maybe, maybe, maybe. I’m here for the return of the Guardians, though. They had been out of the mix for too long, in my opinion. It’s weird to not have a Guardians book all the time, even if it’s strange to say that relative to where they came from.

2. Sales Charts, In the News!

Following up on last week’s note on sales charts, The Beat’s Heidi MacDonald has been digging into the disappearance of sales charts, and what she’s found is that…they are gone and people miss them. There’s more to it, but that’s the gist. MacDonald has done a wonderful job of covering a lot of different angles and perspective (including ones from SKTCHD several times) within the piece. I highly recommend reading them, but I did want to touch on a couple things.

One was something Heidi said in relation to one of my pieces. This is the line. “Harper points out that some publishers don’t want sales charts – I think this is because some just don’t want their bad numbers to get out there, and others aren’t that interested in sell-through to readers.” I’m not saying she’s completely wrong, but I do disagree with the former idea, if only because there’s one thing we know about the past few years of absent sales charts: sales were great! We know that! I’m sure if BOOM! and Image could have shown their titles in the Top 10 right alongside Marvel and DC, they’d have been thrilled. And in regards to the publishers that don’t want that data out there, it’s kind of the opposite of what I’ve heard about them.

It isn’t because sales are low, it’s that some houses just don’t want it out there and, more than that, there are just too many disparate parts now. Getting sales charts that were actually meaningful — and by that, I mean full direct market sell-in (meaning sales to shops) numbers, not snapshots that represent a fraction of sell-through (meaning to customers in shops) like ICv2’s Comichub numbers — would require (at least) four distributors (for now) and an enormous number of publishers to agree to play along and let everyone see how their competition is doing. Can we really imagine Penguin Random House and Lunar or Marvel and DC doing that? Nope! More than that, if it was just because sales were bad, we probably would have seen sales charts go away several times throughout the extensive period they were available. In regards to the sell-through line, though, I suspect we’ll never see comprehensive numbers on that front, if only because a) that would be incredibly difficult, b) publishers probably don’t want to see those numbers, and c) a lot of publishers don’t really care about those numbers?

Earlier this week, I had a creator suggest that it seemed like I really wanted sales charts back. That’s not necessarily the case! I’d personally love it, both for me as someone who likes to analyze sales and just to satisfy my personal curiosity. But while there are clear pros to them returning, there are cons as well. It isn’t a clear cut yes or no. The case for them returning is it might energize the market, help some titles becomes bigger successes, and stimulate conversation amongst readers. The case against it is it gives bad actors the ability to use this information as a cudgel about why certain comics work or not — not that they need it, of course, because the people who do that are more than happy to just make things up to prove they’re right — and because the last couple years proved that sales charts are unnecessary for sales to thrive (see: 2021 being the biggest year for…well, all the comic markets in recent memory).

As much as we want to say charts stimulate sales, the strongest sales year of the past couple decades or so put up those numbers without them. I suspect the real answer is we want sales charts back because of that very word: we just want them! That’s fine! It’d be really cool to have them again! But sales charts wouldn’t be a cure-all for what ails the direct market right now, even if I’d really like to look at them. That’s going to take something else entirely.

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