Comics Lowdown: Bookscan charts, female readers and the Big Two

Comics gets a wake-up call, Wonder Woman gets a long-lost brother and Ted Rall gets SLAPPed.

It’s like comics is going through its half-year review, and manga and kids’ graphic novels get high marks but Marvel and DC get a low “needs improvement.” Heidi MacDonald has a long but very readable article at The Beat summarizing what’s going on: Comics are thriving, but not monthly comics and not in comic shops:

The Wednesday crowd got a huge shot in the arm from the New 52 in 2011, but the number of people who like to go to the comics shop for their periodicals every week has not been growing significantly since then. It’s a giant warning sign that at a time when Marvel and DC’s characters are better known to the general populace than they have ever been, the Big Two’s periodical sales have stagnated.

Now, I didn’t say that the number of comics READERS have declined. On the contrary, readers are growing all the time. But they consume their comics in many formats and many platforms. Tie-in graphic novel sales go up every time there’s a successful comic book movie or TV show. Wonder Woman. Old Man Logan. Deadpool. The Walking Dead. I look at these charts all the time and it’s a consistent pattern.

Graphic novels are burgeoning, women in particular are buying them in droves, but the Big Two continue to cater to the same narrow market they have had for the past 30 years, a market that is aging and shrinking because few new readers are coming in. Why would they? Monthly comics are expensive, offer a small slice of story for the money, and are bogged down in complicated continuity, events and crossovers. Slumping sales may indicate a change in the preferred format: Graphic novels offer a “satisfying chunk” of story and you don’t have to go to a special store to buy them. But there’s also the enthusiasm and buying power of women readers: This week’s BookScan chart, which tracks sales of books in bookstores and mass market retail channels, puts the second volume of Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine DeLandro’s Bitch Planet in the top spot. It doesn’t have a movie or TV tie-in, but it has a message that resonates with a lot of women and it gets a lot of buzz on social media, which in this case has translated into strong sales. And in case this seems like some sort of fluke, the other top sellers are, in order, My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness, vols. 1 and 2 of Wonder Woman, and March.

Well, Actually… Meanwhile, DC demonstrates Heidi’s point by following up the incredible success of Wonder Woman with female audiences by… hiring a man to write a story arc about Wonder Woman’s brother, the only male ever born in Themiscyra. Yup, apparently someone at DC Headquarters decided there weren’t enough men in Wonder Woman.

SLAPP-down: Cartoonist Ted Rall lost this round of his lawsuit against the Los Angeles Times, but the story isn’t over yet. Yesterday the judge granted a motion to dismiss Rall’s claims of defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress against LA Times editor Nicholas Goldberg, former publisher Austin Beutner, reporter Paul Pringle and reader’s representative Deirdre Edgar. The four had filed an anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) motion against Rall, who sued the paper last year after it fired him from his freelance gig and questioned the accuracy of a blog post he wrote about being treated roughly by the LA police. The judge will hear arguments on the LA Times’s motion to dismiss the entire case and will make a decision later this summer.

Interviews and Profiles

Crosswind

“Freaky Friday meets Goodfellas”: That’s the description of Crosswind, the new Gail Simone/Cat Staggs comic from Image about a hitman and a housewife who switch bodies. Both creators talk about the concept and how they are running with it in an interview with Lisa Granshaw.

Green Lanterns: Sam Humphries talks about writing Green Lanterns and what he looks forward to in his second year as a DC writer.

Local Hero: Sports cartoonist Murray Olderman drew his first published cartoon in 1941, when he was a student at the University of Missouri, and started his professional career in 1947, when caricatures of athletes were a staple of the sports pages. Now, at 95, he has collected 130 of his cartoons in The Draw of Sport, which will be published by Fantagraphics.

Comics Go to College: The Vermont newspaper Seven Days interviews Michael A. Chaney, a writer, artist and chair of the African and African American Studies program at Dartmouth College, where he is an assistant professor of English. Chaney writes about graphic novels and teaches a course on them as well, and he has some interesting insights into the medium.

Fish, Worms, and Pigeons: Did you know there’s a starfish that looks like a chocolate chip cookie? Kevin McCloskey’s kids’ comics are peppered with that sort of fun fact; he talks about his work and how he taps into the kid-brain in an interview I did with him at Good Comics for Kids.

The Biz

A panel from ‘The Fruit of Knowledge’

Virago Jumps Into the Pool: Virago, a UK-based publisher of novels by women, is launching a graphic novel line with two titles: Liv Strömquist’s The Fruit of Knowledge, described as “an illustrated history of the female body and female sexuality,” which will be published in April 2018 by Virago in the UK and Fantagraphics in the U.S., and Eve, by Una, a post-apocalyptic mother-daughter story, which will be out in 2020.

Otaku Alert! Japan’s Immigration Bureau is changing its rules to make it easier for foreigners who work in the anime industry and other “cool Japan” fields to get permanent residency after just one year, instead of five.

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