Comics are Exploding. But Where are the Comics?

It isn’t just manga. Everything is short these days, and retailers are feeling the crunch.

At this point, two things are widely known about the state of manga: that sales are through the roof, and that everyone’s ability to capitalize on that is greatly limited by the fact that almost no one can find inventory of it. It’s a famous subject these days, or maybe even infamous if you’re in the business of selling manga. I mean…why wouldn’t the bookstores and comic shops in that business want more inventory?

This subject was covered at length in my recent retailer feature, as it has proven to be one of the most significant issues comic shops in the direct market are facing these days. But an underrated part of the conversation, and one that isn’t quite as visible as others, is how it isn’t just manga. In my discussions with comic shops, it became apparent that while manga may be leading the way, many of them were having issues tracking down all kinds of inventory.

Trade paperbacks.

Graphic novels.

Bags and boards.

You name it. Some shops are feeling the crunch at times on nearly every key comic product they sell outside of single issues. And with this subject popping up on the heels of retailer Steve Anderson of Maryland and Virginia’s Third Eye Comics touting this as the most concerning theme of 2020 for comics retail – an idea I originally scoffed about when he suggested that as the topic he wanted to highlight – it became one I knew I needed to follow up on, both to figure out how widespread it is but also to examine what’s causing the issue.

After all, how are you supposed to sell comics if there are no comics to sell?

Before we get into what’s causing this struggle, let’s look at how problematic it really is. We’ll start with manga, as that’s the obvious hot button topic. Retailers from around the globe have told me that this is consistently a pain point for them. They want to sell manga. Desperately so, as customers are clamoring for it. It’s just rarely an option, as Bruno Batista from Dublin’s Big Bang Comics told me.

“Unfortunately, our hands are sort of tied because basically every manga series is out of print, due to a baffling sequence of events that meant that massively popular series that we could easily sell hundreds of copies of have been and will be out of print for months.”

The last note wasn’t hyperbole either. Kevin Hamric, the Vice President of Publishing Sales for VIZ Media, recently told Brigid Alverson at ICv2 that, “VIZ Media is working with all of our supply chain partners to get out from under this as quickly as possible but it is going to take some time – probably into early next year.” They’re not alone in that regard. Other comic products lack a short path to resolution as well.

Take BCW Supplies as an example. BCW is one of the leading suppliers of bags and boards in the comic industry. If you’re a collector of any variety, or if you just prefer your comics to be taken care of, you’ve probably bought a BCW product. And all it takes to see how much they are feeling the squeeze is visiting their website. When you click on the “Comic Bags” submenu item, you’re quickly met by nearly every product being backordered at least until October, with some not being available until January. Boards aren’t much better, as those are often out of stock until September at a minimum.

When I talked to shops about this subject before, some noted that it’s created a secondary market for this kind of product, with prices soaring above the standard retail price. Some are paying it, though, as the demand is there and the path to traditional resolution is unclear. The issue only appears to be accelerating too. When I first looked several weeks ago, zero of the products were out of stock until 2022. As of this writing, a full quarter of comic bags are. 7

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  1. A recent anecdote in that vein: one retailer told me that his March order from BCW was just shipping. That’s wild.

  2. Some of the disappearing inventory for them could be related to stock transitioning from a Diamond warehouse to a Lunar one, for example.

  3. That is for about a week, as ICv2 dropped a piece a week and a half after this went up highlighting a missive DC sent to retailers about delays.

  4. That’s my dad, who has struggled to find the very materials necessary to bring water to quite literally thirsty Alaskans.

  5. That’s roughly three times as long, although that multiplier varies project to project, I imagine.

  6. Very, very heavy emphasis on “should.”

  7. A recent anecdote in that vein: one retailer told me that his March order from BCW was just shipping. That’s wild.