×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Comic Book Sales Fly on the Capes of Hit Movies, TV Shows

In the movies, Batman is a loner with a dark demeanor, Iron Man is a wealthy industrialist and Captain America is a superhero stalwart, using his mighty shield to defend justice. In the comic books, Batman just proposed to Catwoman, Iron Man’s armor is worn by a black teenage girl and Captain America’s a traitor.

As the box office-busting success of Marvel and DC’s screen franchises has brought unprecedented levels of awareness to even the most obscure superheroes, the market for the comics that inspired them has been rejuvenated. Rebounding after a long period of decline, the overall revenue for comics broke $1 billion in 2015 and in 2016 grew 5% to nearly $1.1 billion, according to the latest report from ICv2 and Comichron, two prominent observers of the comics industry. Though not as high as the industry’s pre-crash peak in 1993 (inflation-adjusted to $1.4 billion, according to Comichron), those figures still represent a return to health.

One big contributing factor are those blockbuster film adventures, which serve as advertisements of sorts for their print forebears. But moviegoers inspired to make their first visit to a comic-book store might be surprised to discover that the monthly adventures of Bats, Cap and other cinema headliners don’t look at all like what they’ve seen in the theaters. “It’s not that we don’t produce stories that directly tie into the movies,” says Jim Lee, co-publisher of Time Warner’s DC Comics. But the company focuses on “the stories that generally inspire elements of the movies that consumers and fans want to find and collect.”

Other factors in the industry’s resurgence: a demographic-widening shift since the early aughts spurred by the American popularity of Japanese manga, embraced by younger-skewing female readers, and the concomitant growth of graphic novels aimed at young-adult readers.

It all adds up to an increased appetite, in a broader range of people, for the four-color fare that has been Marvel’s and DC’s bread and butter for more than 75 years. Comic-book companies have worked to harness the publicity and attention of the movies to capture new fans with graphic novels, merchandise and other products that might turn a casual fan into a monthly reader.

“We don’t march in lockstep with the studios, but whenever a movie comes out it has a halo effect on us,” notes Axel Alonso, editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics. “Interest in that character will spike for two to three months, and we always try to take advantage of that and have something available for readers that approximates the flavor.” As an example he cites the new monthly book “Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man,” launched in June with a lighter, more humorous tone that aligns with the ebullient spirit of “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” which opened in early July.

Super Year
Overall revenue for comics grew 5% in 2016.
$1.0b 2015 revenue
$1.1b 2016 revenue
$1.4b 1993 pre-crash peak (adjusted for inflation)

As the movies have become financial drivers of big media conglomerates like Walt Disney and Time Warner, Marvel and DC have shifted some of their business operations to capitalize on the multitude of TV and movie projects making headlines with their comic creations. Because screen adaptations generate attention for a cinema superhero’s best-known comic-book stories, publishers have placed new emphasis on graphic novels collecting seminal storylines, sold at bookstores and other outlets beyond local comic-book stores. “The closer the source material is to whatever the adaptation is, the better the source material sells,” says Dan DiDio, DC’s co-publisher.

At comics stores, a new movie or TV show will always bring in a tide of curious fans eager for advice on what to read. “‘Wonder Woman’ was an outstanding trigger to bring in brand-new people, as well as lapsed readers,” says Gerry Gladston, co-owner and marketing chairman of Manhattan’s Midtown Comics. “A lot of women have come in, and they’re looking for recommendations.”

As readership expands beyond the aging white male quadrant that was the industry’s target demo at its lowest ebb, publishers have aimed to grab more diverse readers with an increasingly inclusive lineup. Marvel, for instance, has 16 titles with female leads and another half a dozen in development. Fewer than 10 years ago, there were none. In another sign of the shifting demographics of its fan base, the publisher’s buzziest heroes include not only Black Panther but newer successes like the Muslim-American Ms. Marvel. Over at DC, the Justice League includes a Muslim-American Green Lantern, and female characters Wonder Woman and Harley Quinn rival Batman and Superman in popularity.

The enhanced profile of marquee characters can prove a double-edged sword for publishers — as it was last year, when a comic-book twist revealed that reality-warping shenanigans with a Cosmic Cube had turned Captain America into a double agent for the evil organization Hydra. The fury the narrative provoked on social media, including death threats directed at the storyline’s writer, could only have happened in the age of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which has turned the once relatively obscure Captain America into a pop culture icon.

But Alonso notes that even that PR setback meant that comics, long thought to be fading into irrelevance, have gone wide. “Long term,” he says, “that’s a good thing, isn’t it?”

More TV

  • R. Kelly

    R. Kelly Accusers Detail Abuse, Reveal Evidence on 'Dateline'

    The continuing controversy surrounding R. Kelly, including allegations of sexual abuse by a number of women over three decades, was the focus of Friday’s episode of “Dateline.” Speaking to accusers Sparkle, Jerhonda Pace and parents Tim and Jonjelyn Savage, among others, NBC’s Andrea Canning heard more harrowing tales of abduction and sexual misconduct on the part [...]

  • Kenan Thompson

    NBC Orders Comedy Pilots 'Saving Kenan' and 'Like Magic'

    NBC has ordered comedies “Saving Kenan” and “Like Magic” to pilot. “Saving Kenan” is a single-camera comedy starring “Saturday Night Live” veteran Kenan Thompson as a “newly widowed dad determined to be everything for his kids while begrudgingly letting his persistent father-in-law become more involved in their lives.” Jackie Clarke will serve as writer and [...]

  • The First -- "The Choice" -

    'The First' Canceled at Hulu After One Season

    Hulu has grounded the space exploration drama “The First” after one season, Variety has confirmed. The series hailed from Beau Willimon and starred Sean Penn and Natascha McElhone in Penn’s first regular television role. “The First” was set in the near future and followed the first human mission to Mars. Hulu gave the show a straight-to-series order in [...]

  • Nicole Maines Supergirl Trans Hollywood Portrait

    TV Roundup: 'Supergirl' Drops First Look at Nicole Maines as TV's First Trans Superhero

    In today’s TV News Roundup, The CW releases a first look at Nicole Maines on “Supergirl” and Variety unveils an exclusive look at Gabriel Iglesias’ new comedy special.  FIRST LOOKS truTV has released the first trailer for season 2 of Emmy-nominated series “At Home with Amy Sedaris.” The variety sketch comedy returns Tuesday, Feb. 19 at [...]

  • The Beatles Eight Days a Week

    Imagine's Documentary Arm Sets First-Look Pact With Apple (EXCLUSIVE)

    Brian Grazer and Ron Howard’s Imagine Documentaries has set a first-look pact with Apple to develop non-fiction features and series. The deal comes as Imagine is investing heavily in the premium non-fiction arena. The company in June recruited RadicalMedia veteran Justin Wilkes to head Imagine Documentaries as president. The deal suggests that Apple sees docu [...]

  • Fyre Festival Documentaries: The 10 Most

    Fyre Festival Documentaries: The 10 Most Outrageous Moments

    It is perhaps only fitting that two documentaries about the disastrous Fyre Festival, one of the most high-profile fraudulent failures in history, would arrive during the same week — a fitting cap on a tragicomedy of errors that, as both films outline in excruciating detail, unfolded like a slow-motion plane crash in the spring of [...]

  • Walt Disney HQ LA

    Disney Unveils Financial Data for DTC Unit, Sets April 11 for Investor Presentation

    Disney has rejiggered its business segments for earnings reporting to make room for the new unit housing its global streaming operations. Disney on Friday released restated earnings for fiscal 2018, 2017 and 2016 to give investors and financial analysts better visibility into its spending on the launch of the Disney Plus, ESPN Plus and other [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content