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Party of Five: October 2005
Posted October 2, 2005

In each round of Party of Five, Bookshelf Comics editor James W. Powell poses a question to five members of the comic book community — a creator, a publisher, a retailer, a critic, and a fan — to get a variety of perspectives on the current subject.
Previously on
Party of Five:

 
Party of Five features a rotating panel of guests, so if you would like to participate in future editions, please email the editor.
 
 
The Question
Party of Five logo

ICv2 recently reported that graphic novel sales in comicshops rose 33% in the first half of 2005. How do you explain thisdramatic increase? Do you think the trend will continue?

The Creator

Rob Osborne
That graphic novels continue to gain readership is not really surprising. This is the continuation of a trend toward longer, complete stories that come with a spine and can stand on a bookshelf. Consumers are slowly but surely changing their reading habits and expectations.

Ultimately, it is the consumer who is evolving into a graphic novel reader, tossing his floppy, serialized comic book tales into the trash heap. The comic book isn't dead, but the fact remains that bookstores are growing their graphic novel sections, where the comic book has become all but extinct. The comic book store is the last bastion of the comic book. As graphic novels gain a foothold in comic book stores, you will see these bigger, thicker comic books push aside their floppy, spineless brethren. Readers will find the novel-length tale to be a far more satisfying entertainment experience, and the graphic novel can then be proudly perched on a shelf with the other fine literature.

Many of the publishers are compiling the serialized comic book tales into books, and the audience is slowly shifting towards this style of consumption and away from the monthly format. According to the ICV2 article, Tokyo Pop has seen the greatest leap in its sales. This material being available exclusively in novel form would explain the Tokyo Pop success.

As the sales of graphic novels grow, and I think they will, you will see more and more original material produced for graphic novelization. This is a healthy, expansive growth trend that will open up the comic book market to a larger, more diverse audience. Long live the graphic novelist. Long live the graphic novel.

Rob Osborne is the award-winning writer/artist of 1000 Steps to World Domination, and his latest graphic novel Sunset City: For Active Senior Living debuts in October. To learn more about this maniacal would-be tyrant, please visit his website.

The Publisher

Josh Fialkov

I'd guess that it has a lot to do with Marvel and DC finally getting on board with the TPB movement. It's always baffled me why they resisted for so long, considering that forcing people to hunt and peck for back issues doesn't give them the second chance at money that's inherent in trade collections. Sure, there's nothing better than finding a stack of Mavel Two in Ones and filling in your gaps, but, I'd much rather have it in a few fat volumes where I can actually read it.

The other big factor is that us indie folk have had to come to terms with the reality of the direct market. We have benchmarks and figures to meet, which means that we're more or less stuck searching for a more cost-effective way to deliver our material initially, as well as a more 'reader friendly format' for the 'endgame' of the product. It somewhat breaks my heart that the industry has shifted to readers being more willing to shell out fifteen bucks for a graphic novel than three bucks to try the thing first, but that's just how things are now.

As long as the market stays the way it is, where everyone is fighting to at least break even, I think the trend is here to stay.

Joshua Hale Fialkov is the creator of the cult hit Western Tales of Terror, critically acclaimed Elk's Run, and is the Editor-in-Chief of Hoarse and Buggy Productions.

The Retailer

John Riley

This phenomenal growth can probably be contributed to a couple of factors. Obviously the majority of this growth has come from TokyoPop, and I think that there are a large number of stores that jumped on the manga trend which has been sweeping the industry the past few years. Tokyopop has a massive release schedule so a single store picking up this line is a significant investment and impact on the numbers.

This past year many fans also made the switch to reading certain titles in trade format as Marvel and DC clearly established their publishing pattern in this format during 2004. For example, fans have no doubt that Ex-Machina will be released in trade format on a consistent and timely basis. As a result, more and more stores now bring in new trades for people who read their titles "in trade" rather than in monthly comics.

I don't think that this growth will continue long term at this pace for a few reasons. First of all, manga is the tribbles of the comic industry. With literally thousands of volumes to keep in stock, and over a thousand new volumes a year, this will most likely be an area that some stores will specialize in while others will only be able to support on a limited basis. Fans are having trouble keeping up with it all, and that will filter back to store's stocking decisions. And while Marvel and DC have each shown solid growth, Marvel's policy of reprinting almost everything has resulted in reprinting material that really doesn't deserve it, the backlash against which is already beginning. We'll see growth continue as more and more stores move toward the bookstore model, but most of the truly dramatic growth may have already happened.

John Riley is the owner of Grasshopper's Comics, an award-winning comic shop since '92 in Long Island, NY. He is also the former Eisner-nominated writer of Lost Stories.

The Critic

Eric Lindberg
I think there are several factors at work in the recent increase in graphic novel sales. On the one hand, we have a growing number of people subscribing to the “wait-for-the-trade” mentality, buying almost solely trade paperbacks and graphic novels. Some fans simply lose interest in monthly series and are content to wait until a whole story is collected or they can get feedback on its quality. Others are frustrated by slowly paced stories that read better in one sitting. Still others simply prefer the graphic novel format with its uninterrupted story and lack of ads. Then there’s the issue of price. Comics are getting ridiculously expensive these days. Many trades and graphic novels offer a better overall deal than buying the same story in single issue installments. Suffice it to say, this is a developing market among comics fans.

Then there are the casual readers who might be drawn to comics for whatever reason (increased profile from comics movies or reviews in entertainment magazines or what have you). To avoid the geek stigma that still unfortunately surrounds this hobby, the casual/mainstream readers flock to graphic novels rather than comic books. I believe Neil Gaiman once said that claiming to read graphic novels instead of comics is like being called a lady-of-the-evening instead of a hooker. There’s an illusion of respectability for something that is looked down upon.

I think this trend of increased graphic novel sales is likely to continue, especially as prices go higher and more people start to wait for the trade. Personally, I’m a little leery of the trend. There’s certainly room for both formats but the more people wait for the trade, the more the sales of monthlies will suffer, leading to cancellation of series, loss of work for creators, increased graphic novel prices, and all sorts of problems. I would hope that the two formats can coexist without shifting completely to one or the other.

By day, Eric Lindberg is a mild-mannered clerk at local food store in Oak Park, Illinois. But by night, the criminal underworld has come to know and fear him as the Review Editor and frequent contributor for the comics news site Broken Frontier. A recent graduate of Dominican University, Eric aspires to be a writer, professional editor, or some other vocation connected to his life-long love of storytelling and art.

The Fan

Jake Stuiver

Although I haven’t seen specific sales figures other than these, I have been under the impression for some time that graphic novels have been garnering more interest, both among longtime comics fans and those who are new to the genre. I have heard many a collector of major Marvel and DC titles say that in today’s age of the so-called “decompressed storyline,” with clearly defined and specially titled story arcs literally written for the trade-paperback format, the individual monthly issues almost seem like a formality. The stories are more fun, more engaging and more coherent when read in the TPB format, without having to go digging through back issues to refresh oneself of certain details from two or three months ago.

What’s more, both Marvel and DC seem, in many cases, to have made their trades more cost efficient. For example, the recent Daredevil: Golden Age book, which compiled five issues of Daredevil that undoubtedly flow better in one volume as a singular, outstanding tale, costs $13.99. The issues were $2.99 each -- $14.95 for the five. So, a dollar off and a better read. DC offers even more value. The recent Y: The Last Man anthology, “Ring of Truth,” lists for $14.99. It compiles eight issues, which sold individually for $2.99 each. In trade format, those issues are now $1.87 -- nearly half off. Fans are going for it, at the small expense of having to restrain themselves from impatiently caving in and buying the issues as the come out.

The collector also benefits from a much more compact and manageable format that sits nicely on bookshelves and is easy to keep track of and go back to sort through -- a sharp contrast from bagged, boarded and taped issues in clumsy cardboard long-boxes that are awkward to store and cumbersome to sift through.

Finally, graphic novels have been getting a significant boost in exposure in the mass media over the past couple of years. Numerous major publications, including The New York Times Magazine, have run prominent articles touting the quality of graphic novels as literature, and some, including The Onion’s AV Club and Salon, are running regular comics features and reviews of graphic novels. This has gotten the idea out to more than a few avid readers who have not yet explored the genre that for those who are tiring of a mainstream publishing world that takes fewer and fewer chances on anything truly imaginative, there is a whole other publishing world they ought to check out. The ongoing wave of major motion pictures based on comics and graphic novels has further exposed the genre to new readers, many of whom have no interest in going to comic stores each Wednesday and fighting their way to the new-issues rack, but who are perfectly open to browsing the graphic-novel section at Barnes & Noble or ordering trades from Amazon.

Jake Stuiver is a writer living in Hoboken, N.J. In addition to the financial newsletter for which he works full-time writing about business, Jake has written for a variety of newspapers and online publications, about music, politics and literature. He is also a local organizer for a number of social-action initiatives.

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