Graphic Novels

Things have never been better for graphic novels. Unlike the computer and gardening categories that are caught in a tail-spin of decline, unit and dollar sales of graphic novels are at their highest since the boom years of the 1990’s. More of them than ever before are being sold in bookstores, and readership is growing both vertically (in absolute numbers) and horizontally (to new market segments).

According to ICv2—a “pop culture trend tracker” that compiles annual statistics for the comic book and graphic novel market—2006 was a “banner year” that saw graphic novels outselling comic magazines for the second year in a row (sales of graphic novels exceeded those of comic magazines for the first time in 2005). Total North American sales for graphic novels in 2006 was $330 million, a 12% increase over 2005 and about $20 million more than comic magazines; the combined market total of $640 million was the highest its been in over ten years.

Milton Griepp, the ICv2 President, attributed the category’s revival to a number of factors, including the growth of manga, the increase in female readership, movie and TV tie-ins, increased sales to libraries and schools, and general mainstream acceptance. The manga title Naruto, Vol. 9, sold 100,000 copies in bookstores alone, more than any other graphic novel in 2006; among non-manga titles, V for Vendetta led the pack with 80,000 copies sold in bookstores last year. Titles like X-Men: The Characters and Their Universe, and Lost Girls, which both carried a suggested retail price of $75, also enjoyed healthy sales in bookstores. The success of the 9/11 Commission Report showed that even non-fiction can be sold in the graphic novel format.

According to a presentation by Griepp at the ICv2 Graphic Novel Conference (part of New York Comic-Con), dollar sales of graphic novels have increased almost five-fold since 2001:

  • 2001 = $75 million
  • 2002 = $130 million
  • 2003 = $195 million
  • 2004 = $245 million
  • 2005 = $295 million
  • 2006 = $330 million

The breakdown by sales channel during those same years shows that dollar sales of graphic novels in bookstores has increased at more than twice the rate as sales in comics shops:

Year Comics Shops Bookstores

  • 2001 $ 43 million $ 32 million
  • 2002 $ 50 million $ 60 million
  • 2003 $ 60 million $105 million
  • 2004 $ 67 million $140 million
  • 2005 $ 78 million $167 million
  • 2006 $110 million $220 million

Manga is still the catalyst for growth in the graphic novels category, accounting for 43% of Diamond Comic Distributors’ new releases and 46% of their 10,000-plus active backlist. Griepp thinks that Tokyopop’s expansion of their authentic manga line back in 2001, and the creation of original material for girls, is what saved the category. He estimated total 2006 manga sales (including magazines) at $170-200 million. Also helping the growth of manga in the U.S. is its growing appeal to juvenile readers, who play video games based on manga, and watch anime on the Cartoon Network. The hot new growth category is something called yaoi, which in the U.S. takes the form of sexually explicit, gay-themed comics.

According to Simba Information’s Business of Consumer Book Publishing, the leading graphic novel publishers in 2006, accounting for the lion’s share of revenues in the category, were the Del Rey imprint of Random House, DC Comics, Viz, Marvel Enterprises, and Dark Horse Comics.

According to Books In Print, 2,711 new graphic novels were published in the U.S. in 2006, a 16% increase over 2005. Since 2002, the number of new graphic novels has more than doubled. Below is a bar graph showing the upward trend in the annual output new graphic novels since 2002:


Manga dominates the graphic novel bestseller lists on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Masashi Kishimoto’s Naruto series alone, placed seven titles in the top twenty-five bestselling graphic novels on Barnes & Noble, including four of the top five. Other bestsellers include Volume 17 of Natsuki Takaya’s Fruits Basket series, Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter: Guilty Pleasures, Vol. 1, Frank Miller’s 300, Alan Moore’s Watchmen, and Mark Millar’s Civil War. Also continuing to sell well is one of the success stories from 2006, Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese.

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For those of you unfamiliar with graphic novels, below is a list of Publishers Weekly’s choices for the best in category in 2006, including the original descriptions:

  • Lost Girls
    Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie (Top Shelf); on the brink of WWI, Alice, Dorothy and Wendy, classic characters from children’s literature now grown to adults, explore their sexuality and mythic pasts in this controversial erotic fantasy.
  • Fun Home
    Alison Bechdel (Houghton Mifflin); in this haunting memoir, Bechdel examines her closeted father’s homosexuality and destructive lies while learning to accept her own lesbianism.
  • Scott Pilgrim and the Infinite Sadness
    Bryan Lee O’Malley (Oni Press); indie slacker musician Scott Pilgrim must fight his former girlfriend’s superpowered vegan, bass-playing boyfriend in this hilarious sendup of video games, indie rock, and comics.
  • Making Comics
    Scott McCloud (HarperCollins); completing his analytical trilogy, the guru of comics theory takes an in-depth look at how comics storytelling works, offering advice, how-tos, and exercises.
  • Ghost of Hoppers
    Jaime Hernandez (Fantagraphics);in this complex and wistful tale, an older, now-divorced Maggie Chascarrillo manages a low-rent apartment complex full of oddball tenants while she struggles with her new life and her old lover, Hopey.
  • Curses
    Kevin Huizenga (Drawn & Quarterly); Huizenga’s spare but architectonic drawings highlight stories that slyly explore philosophic quandaries, often through the eyes of Glenn Ganges, an everyman protagonist who offers a thoughtful wonder at life’s complexities.
  • American Born Chinese
    Gene Yang (Roaring Brook/First Second); the story of a Chinese-American kid in an all-white school is combined with the Chinese fable of the Monkey King and a hilarious racist stereotype, in a delightful allegory on Chinese-American identity.
  • Can’t Get No
    Rick Veitch (DC/Vertigo); corporate executive Chad Roe awakes after an all-night bender to find his entire body marked in indelible ink. After 9/11, he takes to the road, in an elliptical narrative that calls his life’s choices into question through satirical verse.
  • The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation
    Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón (Hill & Wang); a comics adaptation of the original 9/11 Commission Report that retains all its content and recommendations.
  • Dragon Head Vol. 1
    Minetaro Mochizuki (Tokyopop); a Japanese schoolboy heading home by train is violently awakened when the train crashes in a dark tunnel, leaving him and others trapped underground amid the mangled and dead bodies.

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