Summer 2021 had the best comic book sales in five years. The last few years have been difficult for the comic book industry, and the entire direct market has frequently been called into question. Matters were made even worse by the coronavirus pandemic, which essentially shut the industry down for months and led to many retailers struggling financially. Major publishers are adjusting their distribution models in light of the pandemic, with several major companies switching to Penguin Random House Publisher Services for distribution of comics and graphic novels; it’s still too soon to say how that will ultimately affect the comic book market.
Still, having struggled through 2020 publishers are keen to draw readers back to comic book shops. There have been a range of major events, ranging from the X-Men’s Hellfire Gala to Batman’s (ongoing) Fear State, and there have been several major relaunches. Image has released a raft of celebratory titles such as King Spawn #1 and Spawn Universe #1, and even Boom! Studios has had some high performers, notably BRZRKR and Something is Killing the Children. Now, it’s becoming clear this approach is proving to be a real success.
According to Comichron, which collates comic book sales across the direct market, in summer 2021 comic book sales were at one of their highest points in the last 25 years. The top 300 comics sold at least 24.2 million copies in June, July, and August – more than any summer quarter except 1997 and 2016. This success is particularly remarkable, given in 1997 there were literally twice as many comic book stores, while 2016 saw the high-profile “DC Rebirth” initiative that relaunched DC Comics’ entire range..
Summer traditionally performs well in terms of comic book sales; that’s why most publishers save major events and relaunches for the summer, when footfall and demand are at their highest. But the strength of summer 2021 is particularly remarkable given all publishers are currently releasing fewer books each week as a result of the pandemic. Sales have been bolstered by variant incentives and one-shots, major relaunches including the likes of X-Men and Moon Knight, and events such as the X-Men’s Hellfire Gala, War of the Bounty Hunters, and Fear State. Marvel continue to benefit from Star Wars, with both War of the Bounty Hunters and Star Wars: The High Republic – a bold transmedia initiative – flourishing. Image Comics, meanwhile, will be especially pleased with the sales figures for King Spawn #1; including international sales, it will be their first book to break half a million in the 21st century, likely bolstered by variants.
The interesting question is whether the reduced slate has actually contributed to the overall strength of summer 2021. It’s possible publishers have been able to focus their marketing more tightly, leading to increasing demand for the smaller number of books; ironically, this seems to have created openings for independent publishers, whose books have rarely made it into the top performers but are nonetheless expanding their output successfully. The comic book industry looks a lot healthier right now.
More: Who is the Spawn Universe’s New Star, Gunslinger Spawn?