Comics Open Forum: Why Doesn’t Marvel’s Movie Success Translate to Comic Book Sales? written by Robert Reineke July 21, 2014 Amidst the announcements of shakeups to Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man and the subsequent analysis, I did something I seldom do these days. I looked at the June 2014 sales chart. And beyond the Original Sins event, I was surprised at just how low sales were for the titles featuring the cinematic Avengers. You’d think it would be a top 10 book, but The Avengers sits all the way down at #25 on the monthly sales chart with a mere 54,000 copies sold. Wonder Woman, Batgirl, and Earth Two aren’t far behind, and they don’t have movies that grossed over a billion dollars a few years back supporting them. It’s worse for the individual members. Hulk has a new #1 issue on the stands in June with Savage Hulk which ranked #40 on the chart, and it sold 44,000 copies, behind Aquaman. Thor, God of Thunder sold 37,000 copies ranking #55 on the chart. Captain America ranked #71 on the chart with 30,000 copies right after one of the biggest hits of the year. Iron Man, easily the most popular individual Avenger, sold 27,000 copies ranking #75 on the chart. Put another way, Harley Quinn sold 93,000 copies and outsold any two of the individual Avenger titles combined. That certainly explains why Marvel is shaking up those titles with headline grabbing changes in the status quo. Which isn’t to suggest that Marvel is in any real trouble. The Amazing Spider-Man (Sony), The All New X-Men (Fox), Deadpool (Fox), and yes Guardians of the Galaxy, in addition to the Original Sins event, are all selling well. But, Marvel’s cinematic success isn’t translating to comic book sales. And I thought it would be a good idea to ask the readers to see what their ideas are for it on the verge of SDCC. Feel free to sound off below if you have any explanation. I don’t have any real explanation, but a couple of possible explanations that may be part of the issue. Marvel’s done a slow build on their universe and while they put out teasers and Easter Eggs for their next film, there’s never been much suggestion that the characters are all that busy having adventures between their films. In particular, none of Marvel’s films, to date, end on a “call to further adventure” such as Batman standing atop a building looking upon the Batsignal. Perhaps Marvel is sending the signal that fans only need to check out the next movie. Perhaps Marvel is paying the price for their lack of sustained success on television in the 1990s and 2000s. Batman the Animated Series and Justice League were big hits and I’d be surprised if anybody reading Harley Quinn didn’t also watch BTAS when they were younger and became fans of the world and the character of Harley Quinn. Maybe the payoff for movie success will come in 10 to 20 years. Perhaps DC is also reaping the success of all the characters that have wandered through Smallville and Arrow. Is hinting at Graviton and Blizzard going to create the same buzz for comics as Green Arrow battling Deathstroke or Superman teaming up with the Justice Society? We can all point to the storytelling sins of Smallville, but it certainly was a platform to introducing people to a lot of characters. Perhaps it’s just that what Marvel is bringing cinematically just doesn’t translate to comics. RDJ’s charm and twinkle in his eye just can’t be captured in comic books and I think everyone knows it. Perhaps Marvel’s idea of their superhero world being just like the world outside your door just isn’t an interesting idea for world building. If I want to know what the world is like outside my door, I just need to open it. If I want to get a more in depth look at the world of, say, Westeros I have to purchase a series of books. Perhaps I’m missing something, which is likely, but I’m curious as our readers are a smart bunch. What’s your explanation? Open Forum: Why Doesn’t Marvel’s Movie Success Translate to Comic Book Sales? was last modified: July 21st, 2014 by Robert Reineke Related HulkIron ManMarvel 19 comments 0 Facebook Twitter Google + Pinterest Robert Reineke previous post Lucy Lawless Joining Marvel’s AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. next post GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY Stars Shine On The Red Carpet You may also like Comikaze 2013 Photos: A Family Affair November 3, 2013 SUPERIOR IRON MAN Takes His Talents To... July 18, 2014 Coming Soon To The MMM Podcast: The... February 9, 2015 Death by Editorial: The Great Action Comics... April 3, 2013 JOE KUBERT – IN MEMORIAM August 13, 2012 Tickets On Sale for Stan Lee’s Comikaze... June 4, 2013 Marvel Assembles The A-FORCE! February 6, 2015 Review- FOSTER #2 February 22, 2012 Comic Book Review: SAGA #18 February 1, 2014 Marvel Deems CM Punk Worthy Of THOR November 10, 2014 SuperheroEnthusiast I’m not quite sure where to begin here, because DC’s success in adapted media hasn’t translated to increased comics sales either, so I think the framing of this discussion is just wrong right off the bat. First off: the idea that Marvel lacked some kind of “sustained success” in the ’90s and ’00s with animated offerings is largely false as shows like X:Men: TAS, Spider-Man: TAS, Spectacular Spider-Man and Avengers: EMH are all as beloved by fans as the DC Animated Universe is, and speaking as someone who grew up in that era, I was equally exposed to both companies’ characters. Personal taste aside, I’m as likely to pick up a Harley Quinn comic as I am an Iron Man comic for that very reason. As far as Marvel Studios is concerned, it had to build its cinematic universe out of second-tier characters because they didn’t own the film rights to their most popular characters in the comics (Spider-Man and X-Men), so it’s not surprising that books that have never sold well are still not selling well. And while I haven’t done due diligence and sat down and analyzed all the sales numbers, I’m certain that if you factored in the sales of books Marvel doesn’t own the film rights to (or conversely removed the sales from all the Batman and Superman titles at DC) you wouldn’t find any significant difference between the companies. The success of The Dark Knight trilogy didn’t cause an uptick in Batman sales (Batman’s always sold well, but there was no increase) and the success of The Avengers didn’t cause an uptick in Avengers sales (Avengers has never sold as well outside of events). Similarly, the failure of Green Lantern didn’t lead to a decrease in sales of that monthly title, nor did the mixed reaction to the last two Superman movies affect the sales of Superman comics. My point being: the success of individual books at each company has absolutely no correlation with movie sales. It’s not Marvel that has a problem, it’s *both* companies that have a problem: success in adapted media is not translating to sales of the source material. I don’t know that I have any kind of definitive answer to why that’s the case, but I think it boils down two (seemingly simple) big things: 1) The ‘general audience’ is not interested in reading comics. The reasons why are myriad, but (I think) largely irrelevant because… 2) Neither company has worked hard to try and change that. The former is only going to change when the latter, so what’s my solution? Advertise the comics *with* the movies. – There’s not an ad to download the Marvel app in front of (and/or after) every film. – There’s not a QR code on every poster that you can scan and get yourself a free digital comic. – There’s no obvious “This film was inspired by [insert comic titles here]. Use the code _________ to get a 10% discount when you download from the Marvel app.” There’s no any of that. If they don’t offer any invitations into the world of comics they can’t be surprised that nobody shows up. But beyond marketing with the movies, the Big Two do almost nothing to advertise their comics outside of the comics themselves. Aside from the initial launch of The New 52, I’ve never seen any television ads for comics, I’ve never seen any billboards, I’ve never heard any radio/podcast ads, there’s weirdly not even much advertising online. In years past I would have said that having to go into a comic shop (which can be overwhelming) to pick up comics is too big of a hurdle (asking people to adopt an entirely new behaviour always is) to expect any sizeable influx of new readers, but in an era where you can download a comic on your phone or tablet anywhere, that’s no longer the case. The only hurdle is getting people to tap on a piece of glass, so that hurdle is largely gone: which means if either company did a big advertising push it’s more likely to be successful. The stigma of being a geek has also greatly decreased, so another hurdle is gone. I know people who, 5-10 years ago, wouldn’t have been caught dead with a comic in their hand who now collect GNs, so I know people who *aren’t* interested *can* be converted into comics readers. Another thing that’s potentially a hurdle to new readership is impenetrable continuity in the comics themselves, but both companies have thankfully realized this and offer easy-to-find “Get Started” lists on their websites at least, so that problem has lessened somewhat. (Also, the general audience’s willingness to continue to shell out money for the X-Men film franchise is at least weak evidence that they can handle the continuity nightmare that is X-Men in the comics.) All of this is to say: the barriers to entry to comic readership are as low as they’ve ever been and we’re still not seeing any appreciable increase in comics sales, so I’ve got to put the blame on both companies for not marketing their products better. If DC and Marvel want to tap into the general audience and make comics readers out of even a fraction of the hundreds of millions of people who are willing to pay money to see a movie based on their characters then they have to actually advertise the source material those characters appear in. Robert Reineke I take the correction about Marvel’s animated successes, but I think we can all agree that BTAS was more successful. Certainly we wouldn’t have the #4 selling book in June (Harley Quinn) without that. In that one case, I think we can point to multimedia having an impact on comic book sales. Just for the record, Batman hasn’t always sold well. It’s sold well since 1989, and certainly improved a lot in the mid-1980s with TDKR and Year One, but Detective Comics hovered near cancellation a few times between 1970 and 1985. Neither of the Big Two has really been able to duplicate it, aside from moving a ton of Watchmen graphic novels when the movie came out, but Batman certainly has gotten momentum from multimedia exposure and managed to sustain it. Partly it may be because Batman has been a multimedia juggernaut, movies, animation, and games for a generation now. But, aside from Batman, The Walking Dead certainly has benefited from its exposure charting at #9 in June. Is it the more serial nature of The Walking Dead that’s helping it? Or merely that there’s a constant threat for the main characters to face so that it’s easy to imagine further adventures? Or is the attraction further depth to be explored? Or is it that there’s a finite story driven by a single writer? But, yeah, I didn’t want to make this a DC vs. Marvel thing, and if that was the impression then it was poor writing on my part. Just for the record, Green Arrow doesn’t sell either. In my defense, I devoted a whole paragraph to note that Marvel is doing fine, it’s just that the needle hasn’t really moved on their popular movie characters and I find it curious. You’d think that comic book fans themselves, who are part of the core audience of these movies as well, would be more enthusiastic towards these characters. Relative to its own market, movie success doesn’t seem to have translated. Heck, I just checked on Amazon. Not one Avenger book ranks in the Top 100 graphic novels currently. Not even Winter Soldier. Maybe you could count The Marvel Encyclopedia, although that isn’t exclusively an Avengers book. I don’t have an easy way to backtrack GN sales, but you’d think that there would be some carryover for at least Winter Soldier. Here’s Diamond’s June 2014 GN chart which is again pretty underwhelming for Avengers titles, although Thor, God of War makes it to #15. I do agree that the lack of marketing for comic books certainly doesn’t help matters. Both companies are certainly guilty of it. Overall sales are low. But, other than the fact that the Avengers are traditionally B-characters, why aren’t they being boosted within their own market? Why haven’t they become A-characters? As far as overall sales, I also think the price point for comic books is frankly absurd. I know, paper is expensive, print advertising is dieing, and it’s nice that creators are paid well, etc. Still, it was in my lifetime that a comic cost about as much as a candy bar and was about as prevalent. And you got a complete story often, which may be the big advantage of graphic novels. Perhaps there’s too much overhead at the big two. stock I loved BTAS, but that too followed directly on the heels of Batman 89′ to the point of having Elfman do the theme music. It was great, but I also enjoyed the X-Men toons, and Spiderman. They just didn’t have those blockbuster movies yet. But Heck, I watched Spiderman and Superfriends and all that stuff when the quality was atrocious. Clutch Cargo bad. If you like it, you will devour anything of almost any quality, (when you’re young.) Oreole The late Shirley Walker did the theme music for BTAS— which was emulative of the Burton film score. I disagree with your point about it following on heels of 89′ film. There are very little similarities between the 89 film and the BTAS other then sharing the same visual, moody,. timeless aesthetic but the BTAS was more following the heels of Max Fleischer Superman cartoons of the 40’s (design wise) with a more dark deco look to the whole show. stock I could’ve sworn Elfman got a credit on the theme. At the very least he should have. Artist are generally fiercely protective of their work, and the BTAS theme is too similar not to have Elfman as a direct source, IMHO. I agree with you on the visual similarity with the Fleischer cartoons, but Bats 89 was the intro to the darker characterization of Bats (at least to the general, non comic book fans who thought Adam West when they thought Batman.) And Anton Furst’s design of Gotham also had to be an influence. I agree about Fleischer. Oreole BTAS Gotham certainly inherited the timeless visual aesthetic of Burton films since you have gang members wearing anachronistic gang clothes of the 40’s and so on. BTAS essentially got permission to go a more serious, darker route from the success of the 89′ film but BTAS is mostly based on the more serious 70’s O’Neil/Adams comics with bits of Bronze age sprinkled in(Bane’s appearance in the show for example). The 89 film is certainly the major springboard for the show to exist the way it did because if it didn’t; no way Fox would green-light a serious Bat-show(especially since Adam West was so ingrained into public’s conscientious at the time), Without the 89′ film redefining Batman from the lighthearted, whimsical, joyous costumed Adventurer with his sidekick Robin to the dark, tortured, melancholic costumed loner in the public eye then the BTAS would not exist( At least not in way it was done). Rob Ó Conchúir I think I heard it best described by a Batman writer (can’t remember which one) who said that the only sales that spike when movies come out are those of the landmark graphic novel stories. So the monthly Batman title probably won’t fluctuate, but sales of ‘Year One’, ‘Long Halloween’, ‘Dark Knight Returns’ will. I’m a dedicated DC fan and most months I try and buy at least one monthly DC comic (it’s been Snyder’s Batman for a while, although I haven’t been able to make it down to my LCS in a few months). When it comes to Marvel, I’m more of a casual fan and if I want to read a Marvel story, I’m more likely to buy a trade paperback – they’re just better value and you don’t have to wait a month for the conclusion of the story. When ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ comes out, I’m probably not going to rush out and read the new comic, I’m going to ask my comic book dealer what the best trades are involving those characters. So really it would be interesting to see what the sales of trades like ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’, ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’ and other stuff like ‘Iron Man: Demon in a Bottle’ were like this year. Not to mention stories involving Thanos, Ultron, etc. Stephanie Siener Turner The market has changed. Why would anyone pay $4.00 for each part of a 12 chapter story in a flimsy magazine when they can have it in a book for $20? Today people wait to hear the buzz about a particular story, and then buy the GN when it comes out. stock I think Batman 89 brought me back for a while into comics, but outside of the obviously better than average stories, most comic book series have a difficult time maintaining the average person’s interest. There’s too many hands in the pot, too many plot devices seen too many times for people to shell out the money for it anymore. Besides, the movies are what we old men, and some of the younger fans have been waiting what seems like forever for, and the quality of those aren’t exactly consistent either. (I haven’t even seen the new Spiderman flick. Didn’t read reviews that bad since The Lone Ranger.) But the flicks are there for your viewing pleasure at any time. Unless you are going to have consistently good comic book stories, and not just derivatives of previous plot-lines, etc, what’s the point? I don’t believe these shake-ups in characters, like Thorina, are going to improve any sales either, because its basically pandering to a group of prospective buyers who aren’t going to care that Thor is now a woman. Because they have no intention of buying comic books in the first place! Thor is a character, not a title; she looks just like any comic book heroine, outrageously proportioned for male adolescent hormonal stimulation, so I don’t think most girls are going to relate. If there’s any pandering I hate its PC pandering. Another point is, there’s just way too many alternatives to your geek fix than a comic book these days. Its not like when I was a kid, when I rushed to get the latest Marvel Two in One or Bats at the local Stop and Rob. It takes something really special for me to buy a comic book now. That’s as rare as a one wiper. As an aside, and we’ve mentioned this before, I wish MMM would expand its definition of Modern Myths to those films/novels that are outside of Marvel/DC control. The new POTA film is a prime example: A sci-fi flick based on a old sci-fi flick, based on a weird novel by an otherwise unknown author. Also our favorite killer Hannibal. There’s so much of interest to mine in these other myths, that talking about the functionality of the Flash’s suit seems pretty dull, IMO. Of course, I love this site- I’m addicted, but I know there’s more going on than Marvel/DC. Robert Reineke FWIW, I think Batgirl’s new cosplay friendly costume is going to have more long-term impact than female Thor. I expect you’re going to see a lot of homemade versions of Batgirl in the not too distant future and the interactive nature of that participation may help. It wouldn’t surprise me if it’s part of a trend. Certainly, more fresh and cutting edge than Jim Lee’s redesign of the DCU. I’ll take note of POTA and Hannibal. I plan on doing something, for Season 3 of Hannibal, likely recaps. Doctor Who is something I’m also considering. Obviously we have a big year upcoming when the Fall tv season hits. I have a few old films from the vault that I’m thinking of doing retrospectives on. But, when we try something new, feedback is always appreciated. stock Look forward to it, Robert. Can’t discuss it with the wife, so it’s appreciated here as well. Robert Reineke Fwiw, I see that SDCC has a Hannibal panel. That’s enough to justify coverage for me. stock WIW is a lot to me, Robert. Its tough I know, where to draw the line of interest, but I wouldn’t know of the new Mad Max movie were it not for you at MMM. And, surprisingly, my interest is piqued. Must be a desire to rejuvenate my youth. Michael Lalaian I don’t know if this is responsible for the line-wide slump you’re describing, but I will just talk about my individual place in all this: I am one of the biggest Marvel guys you will ever meet and, currently, I am not reading a single Marvel comic book. Not one. In fact, I haven’t since about 2012. Part of the reason is my disagreement with how Axel Alonso has been running Marvel, with constant reboots of titles (it seems like there’s a mandate that no series should go past issue #12 or something) and non-stop sensationalism. But perhaps a bigger reason for me is that it’s an inferior product in almost every way. Story/Supply: Both the movies and the books present a rich tapestry of over lapping characters. However, in the comics, its near impossible to actually catch up with any of it. Not only do you have the years upon years of story to catch up on, but every single week there are anywhere from fifteen to twenty five new, overlapping, and possibly contradicting, stories to keep up with. I use the terms “keep up with” and “catch up on” liberally here, and I know the argument could be made that you really don’t NEED to do either of those things to enjoy and single, recent story. That’s true, but the fact that you CAN get together with a group of friends to watch Thor, The Avengers, and Thor: The Dark World in a one day marathon with beer and popcorn before heading out to see Avengers: Age of Ultron counts for a lot. Fans, and I mean fans of both comic books AND movies, tend to be completionists, people who like knowing the whole story if possible. That’s why there was the recent Harry Potter-athon of all eight films on ABC Family. The cinematic universe allows you to do as that as well, and very quickly, by only adding a new installment of any one particular character every two years or so. That’s different than something like three separate titles featuring a character on the same Wednesday. Spectacle: When superheroes were invented, the only medium that their stories could be told in was comic books. The technology did not exist to make movies that came anywhere near portraying them accurately, and purely prose novels would be lacking in the vibrant color and storyboard-esque pacing. But the truth is that movies are actually the best medium for superheroes now. That’s not to say that individual comic books don’t do a better job than individual movies. But as a medium, film is much better at delivering “the superhero spectacle” experience than comics ever did in the past, and even more than they can now. Which leads me to my final point… Strengths: Film understands what its strengths are and capitalizes on them. The score, cinematography, pacing, etc… the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe really strive for, even if they don’t always reach, the best way to tell a story cinematically. One big down fall of modern comics is that they try way too hard to be like movies. Marvel goes as far as releasing “director’s cuts” of some of their comics, when there isn’t even a director involved! Basically, movies try to do everything movies are uniquely suited to do, but comics don’t, at least not generally from what I’ve seen. I’m not saying every comic needs to be like a Will Eisner’s The Spirit with people jumping in and out of panels, or has the esoteric nature of Grant Morrison’s Arkham Asylum, but to me those are examples of comics doing what comics do best, and what ONLY comics can do best. If comics are just trying to be like movies, then why not just go see the movies that do a better job OF BEING movies? Adrian I’m enjoying many of the Marvel Now! X-Men series but I do agree with the films just being so much better despite its limits. The medium is just … awesome. Haha Robert Reineke It’s a pet peeve of mine too when comics aren’t trying to be the best comics they can be. There certainly is a place for cinematic effects in comics, even going back to Will Eisner’s Spirit. But, when you’re blatantly storyboarding a movie in comic form, I might as well wait for the movie. Likewise, when Image got out of hand and their books were replete with unnecessary splash pages that would fetch better rates when the original art was sold, to the detriment of the story. If you’re more interested in commerce than making the best comic book possible, then perhaps my money is better spent elsewhere. Sean Gerber While I’ve long hoped both major publishers would make their monthlies friendlier to fans who first found the characters in movies, the business model continues to be maximizing the revenue gained from those who are already fans of the medium. If I first became a True Believer through the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’d have a hard time with Jonathan Hickman’s AVENGERS, for example. I would expect a lineup similar to what I saw in the movie and while those characters are present, I’ve also got to find out who Star Brand and Sunspot are. In the same hypothetical scenario, I’ve seen the very beginning of each character in the MCU, but in comics, I have to fast forward several years to the far more experienced versions of those same characters that now have so much more baggage. It’s not as much fun to read a story when I feel like there’s so much I’ve missed. Marvel deserves some credit here, however, with its Marvel Unlimited app that makes it very affordable to play catch up for those who wish to do so. The downside is that it probably affects their new comic sales since I do know Marvel readers who wait 6 months to read issues on the Unlimited app instead of paying $3.99 or $4.99 for new issues when they are initially released. If animation boosts future comic sales when the kids grow up, Marvel is positioning itself very well right now with three series on Disney XD (and at least one more on the way) that introduce some of the more obscure characters that’ve not yet made it to the movies. Despite my new-reader-friendly hopes, I understand why Marvel and DC do not just simplify their continuities and make them better matches for what is shown on film. They certainly don’t want to turn off the customers they know they have when there are no guarantees that the movie fans will show up even with comics that are more like the films. That’s not to say nothing can be done, but there is a need for balance in any action taken. Another question I would pose is how big of a problem is this, really? For DC and especially Marvel, you can be a pretty big and knowledgeable superhero fan without ever picking up a comic book. You might lose a few trivia contests, but between movies, television, animation, and video games, there is more than enough content to get by. For a lot of people, what they see on a screen will be enough to satiate their superhero appetite. There will still be some new readers who go full tilt after seeing the movies, TV shows, and cartoons to offset the existing readers who drop off. As long as the publishing divisions of DC and Marvel remain profitable enough under their current business models to satisfy the larger organizations they are a part of, the need for changes geared toward movie fans is debatable. Robert Reineke Is it a problem? Not really, more of a curiosity that the movies and the sales of Marvel’s comic book characters are disconnected. You don’t see that with any other successful movie franchise, so it’s an interesting phenomenon. That said, neither Marvel nor DC are in trouble. Nor is Image, etc. Sales are fairly low, but I think a glut of product and a price point that seems at odds with the trend for other media is to blame for that. I do note that apparently the Injustice books sell very well digitally. And certainly the upcoming Arkham Manor book seems partly inspired by the success of the Arkham games. Perhaps the audience that would dive deep into exploring worlds needs to be introduced in a more interactive way today. wolfsteve What I have noticed. In the 70’s & early 80’s , both Marvel & DC were churning out good TV & comics. Now DC is putting out good TV & animated (for the most part) , but for the most part their movies stink. Marvel is killing at the Movies & with Agents of SHIELD are starting to put out some good TV ; but their animated isn’t doing as good. Some people are talking about the animated shows & their link to toy sales. That the only reason the shows stay on is because of toy sales, “Teen Titans Go”, (that babyfied crap that replaced the great show “Young Justice”). OK , so what does it have to with comics? I think that they’ve made a terrible mistake . They keep killing off characters ; replacing them with someone else , a clone , or just making the comics so dark , grim & gritty ; that people are getting tired of it. The movies & TV shows are more….fun. While the DC TV shows are kind of dark , they are more fun. The Marvel movies have a lot of jokes/ bits. It makes us smile or laugh. Iron-man sitting in the doughnut , Hulk hitting Thor out of nowhere , Cap running laps around Falcon. It’s fun! It reminds me of the way comics USED to be written. All-in-all , I think the main reason that comic sales are low , is because almost everything written these days is crap and is trying to pander to the special interests or caving in to the whole “politically correct” movement, and what is well written gets overshadowed by the rest of it. Comics are meant to be entertainment , plain & simple ; and that is the element missing now.