Among the deluge of pre-NYCC press releases was one from Papercutz that really grabbed my attention: According to publisher Terry Nantier (who also helms parent company NBM), pre-orders of their Ninjago graphic novel have topped 170,000 copies. That’s a pretty impressive number.
The graphic novel is based on Lego’s ninja-themed Ninjago playsets, which have already spawned a couple of made-for-TV movies, and there’s a cartoon series in the works. Plus, people really like Lego, so it’s logical that it would do well.
Still, numbers like that put Ninjago in rarefied company. The first printing of Scott Pilgrim (which admittedly wasn’t a slam dunk) was about 10,000, if memory serves. Potential blockbusters justify greater risk: Yen Press announced an initial printing of 350,000 copies of the first Twilight graphic novel, and over 168,000 copies were sold in stores monitored by BookScan (which includes sales from bookstores only, and not all of those) last year.
There aren’t many books that do that well, though. Dork Diaries, which is a prose-graphic novel hybrid, actually topped Twilight on the BookScan charts, and The Adventures of Ook and Gluk: Kung Fu Cave, by Captain Underpants creator Dav Pilkey, came in a very close third. But only those three topped 100,000 copies; Scott Pilgrim filled slots 4 through 9 on the chart, with sales ranging from 90,000 to almost 60,00, and the number 10 book was a volume of Naruto that moved about 53,000 copies.
That effect was even more pronounced in 2009, when BookScan’s top seller Watchmen, dwarfed the ninjas and the vampires with sales of well over 400,000 copies. The second best-selling book that year was Dork Diaries (again!) with sales of over 68,000, a considerable dropoff from the top spot. With graphic novels, it seems you can’t count on volume—unless you have Lego ninjas on your side.