By Filip Sablik, Publisher of Top Cow Productions, Inc.
I love ice cream. It’s one of my many vices and I’m cool with that. Chocolate and vanilla are old standbys because they pair well with just about anything. Pie? Good. Cake? Good. Cookies? Good. Bananas, nuts, and candy? Good. A nice filet mignon? Probably not, but I’d be willing to try it.
As much as those two flavors are standbys and consistently the most popular flavors in surveys, I do love to experiment with different flavors. Hit me with some Peanut Butter Cup, Mint Chocolate Chip, Cookies & Cream, Rocky Road, or any number of more unique combinations and I’m a happy man. What does this have to do with comics?
In the last couple of weeks, I’ve seen a bunch of “Best” lists online for top picks of comics and graphic novels for 2008 and couldn’t help but notice how heavily dominated they are by Big Two books. When I scan the list of top-selling books from Diamond each month on ICv2, I can’t help but notice the lack of what I would call independent titles. In the top 25 comics last month, there was only one non-Marvel, non-DC title – Buffy, The Vampire Slayer – an excellent read, but a licensed property with its roots in television. In the top 50, only two others – Angel (same boat as Buffy) and The Umbrella Academy. The Umbrella Academy gives me a little bit of hope, because it’s a fantastic, unique comic that doesn’t rely on a pre-established licensed property, but that’s only one out of 50! The top 100 looks a bit better, but only slightly so with the addition of The Walking Dead, Spawn, Conan the Cimmerian (licensed again) and Black Terror from Dynamite Entertainment.
Then reading John Mayo’s monthly report of sales through Diamond, I came across this chilling statement – “the total units sold for the top 300 comics was down by an estimated 1,763,925 units from October 2008 and down 1,185,793 from November 2007.” As John explains, the reason for this significant sales hit is because a number of high-profile titles from Marvel and DC Comics did not ship in those two months.
Back to my ice cream analogy so we can bring this blog entry full circle. Marvel and DC are our vanilla and chocolate. I say “our” because they’re mine as well, I love the characters and the stories these companies produce. But the pure domination of the market concerns me both as a fan of independent and original comics and as a publisher of the same said comics. It bugs me when I see a second or third-tier superhero character outselling a unique, critically acclaimed title like The Goon, Mouse Guard, Firebreather or Pax Romana.
Using November as an example again, Marvel had almost 43% of the total units sold to comic shops and DC had 35%. The percentages by which vanilla and chocolate are favorite flavors? According to the International Ice Cream Association, 29% prefer vanilla and less than 9% prefer chocolate. Independent comic publishers fight over 22% of the market, while other ice cream flavors compete for 62% of your taste buds. I think the latter makes for a much richer market place overall.
What do you think?
Filip Sablik is the Publisher of Top Cow Productions, Inc. He’s been in the business for eight years and just officially entered his thirties. Occasionally, he does a bit of writing and drawing. He loves comics.
Top Cow Productions, Inc. was founded by Marc Silvestri, co-founder of Image Comics. Top Cow currently publishes its line of comic books in 21 languages in over 55 different countries. The company has launched 20 franchises (18 original and two licensed) in the industry’s Top 10, seven at #1, a feat accomplished by no other publisher in the last two decades.