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The Middle Ground #53: Soaring Down The Charts

by  in Comic News Comment

The top selling non-Marvel or DC comic in the direct market last month was The Walking Dead. No surprise there, perhaps; it’s a good book, and one buoyed by a successful television show, as well as an impressive bookstore campaign to draw in new readers. When it comes to non-Big Two books, it’s probably the one you’d expect to be leading the pack in terms of sales. No, the surprise is that, despite that, forty-seven other books managed to sell more copies last month.

Okay, it’s true; those forty-seven other books only definitely sold more copies to retailers, considering the Diamond charts are based on retailer sales, not customer sales. But still, am I the only one who’s surprised that something like Age of X Universe #2 or Green Arrow #11 managed to sell over a thousand more copies each? I shouldn’t be, of course; the weird stranglehold that DC and Marvel have over the direct market is long-known and just generally accepted these days, but it’s always been something that I’ve wondered about. Why is it there? Is the direct market really more about habit than anything else, about teaching fans to return for weekly doses of regular nostalgic thrills, than the quality of what’s on offer?

It’s melodramatic, I know, but consider this; after Walking Dead‘s appearance at #48 on the April chart, the next non-DC/Marvel book to appear is Hellboy: Buster Oakley Gets His Wish at #91. In fact, only five books not published by Marvel or DC make it into the entire top 10 which, when you stop to think about it, is kind of stunning. Three of them come from Dark Horse (Two are Star Wars books), and only one – The Boys, from Dynamite – doesn’t have a movie or television show attached… and even that one started as a DC title.

If you think about the ratio of what is actually published – How many DC books to Image books, for example, or how many Marvel versus the sum total of everything non-Marvel and DC – the results seem almost ludicrous. How can those two companies consistently have more than 60% of the market between the two of them, when they’re not responsible for 60% of all the material published? Is it that the audience for non-Marvel and DC stuff is reading it elsewhere (The collections chart is always much more forgiving to other publishers, for example, or in places where the sales aren’t recorded by Diamond), or that the single issue market is really just an area where superhero books – and superhero books published by two particular publishers – will always be not only the dominant force, but so dominant a force? There’s something both depressing and curiously unbelievable about that idea, but I’m not sure how an alternative scenario can be created any time soon.