The digital age has been undeniably revolutionary for comic books, with industry sales increasing continually since the debut of online comics. But with that increase, we also see a trend perhaps unique to the comic book industry, in that as digital comics have increased in popularity, so have print versions, and the industry as a whole has flourished as a result.
There are a wide range of factors that explain this recent surge in comic book popularity, be that the seemingly unlimited supply of superhero movies, the rise of ‘geek culture’, or a wider acceptance of comic books in general.
Since 2000, and especially in the last few years, it feels like we’ve had an endless stream of Superhero movies and TV shows, with it almost becoming a genre in itself. Although the quality has varied dramatically, the rate at which these movies and shows are being produced has continued to increase. True interest is perhaps waning a little now, but movies such as Black Panther, and Avengers: Infinity War prove there is still huge potential for both the movies and the audiences.
This increase in superhero popularity has had a knock on affect to comic books (the original home of many of these superheroes), and over the past few years comic book sales have risen significantly. In 2010 Diamond Comics reported selling 73.8 million single comic book issues (in the North American market) this had risen to 99 million by 2016. Additionally the North American market, counting both print and digital, had an estimated worth of over $1 billion in 2016, compared to $715 million in 2011.
The rise in popularity isn’t just due to the recent success of superhero movies however, ‘geek culture’ in general has become much more of a trend, with superhero and comic related merchandise almost everywhere you look. This can be attributed to a wide range of things from TV shows such as the Big Bang Theory to a wider acceptance (or at the very least awareness) of different mediums in digital age.
The general rise in the industry has meant big boosts for both of the big two comic book publishers, Marvel and DC. Marvel have kept their dominance over the market in part due to their extremely popular MCU, but also through sheer quantity, and the addition of the Star Wars comics to their line up (with both Marvel and Lucasfilm now being owned by Disney). The first issue of Marvel’s Star Wars comic, released in January 2015, sold over 1 million copies, which was nearly double the number of 2014’s best selling book.
Although printed comics still dominate the industry, perhaps primarily due to the collectible nature of physical copies, comic book publishers have shown a great readiness to adapt to the changing market.
Both Marvel and DC have taken to the digital format with great success making a wide range of their back catalogue available as well as creating a range of digital exclusive titles, and releasing most books in print and online simultaneously. In particular subscription based services such as Marvel Unlimited and Comixology Unlimited, which give a Netflix style ‘all you can read’ approach for a monthly fee, show a particular effort to appeal directly to the modern day comic book fan.
With more comics being released now than ever it’s easy to see the argument that the market may be becoming saturated, and that we’re perhaps getting quantity over quality. However over the past few years, Marvels’ Star Wars comics have consistently impressed, telling unique and ambitious Star Wars Stories. Additionally DC’s recent universe reboot ‘DC Rebirth’ has been a critical success since launch, not only making up for any shortcomings of 2011’s New 52 reboot, but using it in a clever and innovative way and as a result telling some great comic books stories.
With the internet as accessible and easy to manoeuvre as it is now, it’s easier than ever for people to create and share their content online, and the comic book industry is no exception. With more people able make and distribute their comic books and strips, the indie market has seen a huge level of growth. Platforms such as Kickstarter have a dedicated ‘comics’ category (which has so far had over $61,47 million pledged) and Comixology also have their ‘submit’ section which allows users to upload and sell their own comics with considerable ease.
Indie comics are not only one of the more unique parts of the market, but their presence has also caused bigger publishers such as Marvel, DC, and Image to pursue more ‘indie’ style stories, telling bold and ambitious narratives that are less mainstream than traditional comic books.
There are plenty of factors leading to the increase in comic book popularity, with online availability, superhero movies, the rise in ‘geek culture’, and a huge influx of indie comics being among the most important. As a whole the industry is worth more than ever, and isn’t slowing down, and so regardless of the waning interest in superhero movies, it seems the diversity of modern day comic books is more than enough to help the industry continue to grow.