As the fall television season kicks into high gear, TV shows based on comic books are becoming more and more common. But do they have any effect on the sales of comic books in stores?
"Yes, of course!" said Bret Park, owner of Ssalesfish Comics in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, echoing the answers we heard from comic book retailers across the country.
In fact, retailers said the TV shows seem to bring in more sustained customers than comic book movies of the last few years. And not surprisingly, retailers said the biggest boost in sales has been the result of The Walking Dead TV show — a sales trend so prevalent in comic book stores that the title is consistently a top-seller on national lists.
"Whenever The Walking Dead returns to air — even five years in — sales take a spike," said Mike Wellman, owner of The Comic Bug in Manhattan Beach and Culver City, California.
"Every time a new season [of The Walking Dead] starts, I tend to pick up a few new followers of the comics and novels," said Charlie Harris of Charlie's Comic Books in Tucson, Arizona. "[It] shows the most growth as a TV tie-in, keeping the title in the top five selling titles."
The biggest challenge in keeping those customers around? Educating them about the serial nature of comic books — and some aren't too happy that there's a whole month to wait between issues.
"Often times people who enjoy the superhero shows will come and buy an issue and are somewhat befuddled that there are more issues to buy later," said Adam Casey, manager at Ssalesfish.
"Sometimes it takes some work to get [new customers from the TV shows] to stay customers, but I welcome the challenge," Park added.
Besides The Walking Dead, retailers said there are several other TV shows that bring new customers into stores — from The Flash to Gotham to Daredevil to the iZombie series.
"Arrow and Flash have brought in new customers (or lapsed readers in some cases) and DC was kind enough to have books for us to sell to them such as Flash Season Zero and Arrow Season 2.5," Park said. "I have had some luck 'converting' buyers of the digital-first titles to Green Arrow and Flash 'New 52' trade paperback buyers. When that happens, I feel successful. When someone says the comics are better than the shows, I feel validated."
For fans of Gotham, retailers pointed customers to Gotham Central. When asked about the Daredevil show, retailers sold everything from classic era Frank Miller trades to the modern comic book series. "Thankfully after the Netflix show, Daredevil kind of sold himself," Park said.
Sales of iZombie trades have also been going up substantially, retailers said.
"Sometimes it takes a different medium to make a comic book concept connect with readers," Park said. "It just didn't sell that well pre-show."
Another side effect of the TV shows is building excitement among existing comic book fans.
"The CW stuff really resonates with our customers and is a weekly topic of conversation," Wellman said. "The shows keep the energy going throughout the week for comics."
Other retailers agreed that the CW shows have been particularly successful in piquing the interest of new and existing customers, but several store owners were befuddled that there wasn't the same attraction with Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
"We've had less response to S.H.I.E.L.D., although the comic book series is more closely related to the program than to comic book continuity," Harris said. "And maybe that's the problem."
"As big as the Marvel movies are, I can't think of anyone who has come in asking about Agents of SHIELD comic book," said Casey.
Back issue bin prices have also gone up for the original printings of comics that preceded the TV shows. Not only are early issues of The Walking Dead worth big money, but the original iZombie issues are pretty much sold out.
"There is a strong trend of back issue customers buying back issues with characters that are announced as TV show properties," Park said. "This type of collecting has always baffled me, but I run the type of store that has or finds whatever folks are looking for so there is no judgment on my part."
Several retailers also emphasized the success of comic books that continue the stories from TV shows that have ended, or fill in stories between seasons. And when customers come into the store for those TV-based comics, retailers can often lead them to learn there are other comic books that inspired TV shows.
"It's often the non-comic readers who come to the shop with friends and suddenly realize that many of their favorite programs have deeper stories in the comics, or canceled series that continue in comics such as Smallville, Jericho, Buffy, X-Files, etcetera," Harris said. "But many of these leave with the first Walking Dead omnibus and then become regular customers."
Despite the success, all the retailers had wish lists for what could be done by Marvel, DC and other publishers to help sell more comics to TV and film fans — from advertising during shows to just a better dissemination of information about the source material, such as the frequent references to The Walking Dead comic book during The Talking Dead after-show.
"I think that the general public who sees comics as mostly people in tights punching one another will come to see the diversity of the medium," Harris said, "especially if the film industry informs their audiences that non-superhero titles like From Hell and the Road to Perdition are derived from their comic book origins."
"I would like to see commercials for the comic book at the midway break of the show," Park said. "So if anyone reading this can make that happen — do it I don't mean an ad for digital comics either; I mean an ad for real comic books sold at real comic book stores for people watching these shows on real TVs."
Retailers are particularly excited about the growing number of TV shows based on comic books, and they hope to see even more.
"As a literacy advocate I would like to see comics and books thrive on their own strengths," Harris said, "but if America's fascination with film is the primary entry level for new readers, then it's all good."
"Rising tides lift all ships as my friend Richard Starkings likes to say," Wellman said. "And it's true. These TV shows are multi-million dollar ads for the product we sell, as far as I'm concerned. Keep 'em coming!"