Sign up to get this as a fancy email newsletter every other Thursday: As in Guillotine.
“Comics for young readers, middle grade, and YA pulled themselves up by the bootstraps… They’ve become one of the great publishing success stories, not just in comics but for the entire book trade, purely on the basis of what’s between the covers.”
I have many pet peeves when it comes to the publishing industry, and one of them is how little attention comics get in the broader trade press. Now that comics are an integral part of my day job, I’m regularly confronted by the industry’s ignorance of one its strongest growing categories over the past decade.
Comics have historically benefitted more from word of mouth and specialty stores to drive sales, including a long history of what’s now considered “influencer” marketing. Despite representing $1B in annual sales and a global audience, it’s still frequently dismissed as a niche category for nerds and kids. It wasn’t until a few won major ‘literary’ awards that regular bookstores and libraries really started paying attention to them, though.
I wonder what the kids who’ve grown up reading Yang, Telgemeier, Kibuishi, Pilkey, and Craft moved on to? Did they stick with comics, shift to YA, or get discouraged from reading at all as some parents and educators still think comics don’t count as real reading?
“Comics-wise, the biggest category to blow up has unquestionably been manga—or, as most of the people looking for manga erroneously refer to it, ‘the anime’—or anything that’s a cartoon and has 50-plus volumes that are impossible to stock or, now, even reorder.”
Independent bookstores got a lot of attention last year as they were slammed by the pandemic while many publishers saw sales increase, primarily via Amazon, but comic book stores were in an even more precarious position as weekly periodicals took a major hit for several months, and their main distributor could go out of business any day now.
This roundtable features several notable retailers on the direct market and traditional side, and offers some great insights into how they survived and what the future of comics in physical stores might look like.
“The first graphic novels specifically designed for early readers were Françoise Mouly’s Toon Books, which launched in 2007 and whose titles have won numerous library and industry awards over the years.”
It’s funny how ‘comics are for kids’ has shifted from being a generally accepted insult to a huge revenue opportunity once the Big 5 publishers recognized it. The idea that young kids weren’t reading comics until Telgemeier and Dog Man blew up underpins a lot of the broader industry coverage that centers the Big 5, so I’m glad this one gives props to some of the publishers who’ve been at it for years.
“There’s something beautiful about a celebrity book club that allows us to imagine having a conversation with Oprah. Books are like imaginary spectacles for inventing ourselves and inventing relationships to real and imagined characters.”
I’ve always been an avid reader of any and everything —I was literally the kid who read cereal boxes, and still am — but ‘bookishness’ is too often an obnoxious form of thirsty elitism that I’ve always been turned off by. I find identifying with any form of media consumption weird and off-putting, though, so your mileage may vary.
I had this article bookmarked for a while, curious but assuming I’d hate it because I absolutely loathe ‘bookish’ culture and ‘influencer marketing’ is the worst, and I was right. It doesn’t really answer the question posed in its summary — ‘But does it actually sell books?’ — but it does give a solid overview of the vapidness of it all.
“Amidst this noble message of hope and love, It’s a Wonderful Life bears an unintentionally subversive message. The irony of it is that all is not well. The happy ending is neither happy nor an ending.”
I’ve been blogging since 2003, and was “publishing content” online in various other ways for several years before that, and every now and then I stumble across something I wrote back then that brings back fond memories. In the mid-90s, I published a few print issues of a zine called zuzu’s petals, the name inspired by one of my all-time favorite movies, and the first issue included a cynical take that questioned the conventional wisdom that It’s A Wonderful Life was a feel-good movie with a happy ending.
It’s a tad more cynical than the guillotine of 2021 is, but not by much. A year-plus into the pandemic has given me a greater appreciation for the life I do have, though, one I could not have imagined for myself back in my 20s. I can only hope it has made life a little better for some others, too.