The Barack Obama commemorative issue of Amazing Spider-Man was the comic book ordered most by comics shops in North America in the decade of the 2000s, according to an analysis by The Comics Chronicles.
Comichron looked back at 119 months of comic-book orders reported by Diamond Comic Distributors, the exclusive retail agent for the largest publishers in the industry. (December 2009 figures have not been released yet.) The tables report Diamond's Top 300 comics from each month, as well as the number of copies ordered by its approximately 3,000 retail accounts; the figures represent final orders beginning in February 2003, and preorders before that. Since many comics reappear on the list several times due to reorders; all reorders for the same comics were combined to form a listing of the 300 comic books most ordered by retailers in the 2000s. The table appears here.
These figures are for the comic book direct market only — the network of comic book stores that sell the lion's share of comic books in periodical form in North America. Sales of these comics on newsstands or by subscription are not included. But quite a lot of information is revealed in this data. Notably, all ten top comic books come from the second half of the decade, underlining the degree to which the industry recovered from its turn-of-the-century nadir.
Apart from the Obama issue, the top of the list is dominated by Marvel's Civil War, a limited series that served as the anchor for the decade's most popular line-wide cross-over event. (Civil War #6 is the only issue not to make the Top 10, and that placed 11th.) Civil War #2 and #3 nudged past Civil War #1, reflecting that retailers had seen demand on the series' first issue and had time to boost their orders for later issues. Reorders and reprintings of Civil War #1 continued to sell throughout the year, however, and the issue made Diamond's Top 300 chart in seven consecutive months. The same thing happened with DC's Infinite Crisis #1.
It's possible that Civil War #1 did indeed surpass the later issues, because the figures cited above only account for the sales of issues in the months in which they made Diamond's Top 300 list. The bottom item on the list varied throughout the decade, as seen here, so sometimes it took several thousand copies sold for an item to reappear on the list. As noted, much of Civil War #1's sales life cycle is represented on the table, but there are bound to be months for all titles where reorders for them were "bubbling under" the Top 300 and thus out of sight for tracking purposes.
Only five publishers are represented in the Top 300 list for the decade. Marvel had the most entries, 186; DC had 102 comics on the list. Dreamwave had seven entries, all Transformers issues from that company's brief time on the shelves. Transformers: Armada #1 placed highest, at 128th. Dark Horse had three issues on the list, all from Buffy: The Vampire Slayer Season 8. #1 was Dark Horse's top performer on the chart, at 111th place. Image had two issue on the chart, led by Spawn #100 in 137th place. No other publisher pops up until Dynamite, with Red Sonja #1 landing around the 1,200th place mark. Archie shows up with its 600th issue landing around 3,000th place, and IDW also makes its first appearance in the 3,000s.
Note that since December 2009 isn't in yet, these rankings could change slightly; certainly, Blackest Night issues will move further up the list. The first issue is already up to 29th with reorders reported by Diamond to date. Looking at what we have, though, we can easily see where the strength is in the decade by looking at the number of Decade Top 300 entries by year:
Not unexpectedly, the hits cluster right around the Big Event heyday, the period that gave us Civil War and Infinite Crisis. There was also the weekly 52 phenomenon, which added many entries.
One reason comics from the early decade are less represented is that before January 2003, Diamond did not report reorders, so those issues are at a disadvantage. However, looking at known reorder rates from when Diamond did begin publishing the data, reorders are unlikely to shuffle the list dramatically. The industry was still coming out of the seven-year recession of the 1990s, and few titles were selling over 100,000 copies.
Items on the table are listed in the months in which they first made the Diamond chart — following the links to the individual months' pages shows what those comics sold initially, since later reorders pop up in the months that follow. It's interesting to see what months had the most hits: May leads with 36, while February and October have only 17 entries. Comic books have historically been a summer-dominated business, and while that is reflected here, there's a more even distribution than we might have found in previous decades. Hits, increasingly, can happen in any season, providing strong enough material is slated for it.
A few more words about what's on the list — and what isn't. Orders for variant editions and reprintings of comic books were combined if those versions were essentially the same product — that is, same physical configuration, same interior, and same cover price. This rolls up most of the snap-reprintings into the same entry, but disallows items like "Director's Cuts" or the Marvel Must-Have editions, which are in many respects distinct products.
And, importantly, the list above focuses on comic books sold at full, and not promotional, prices. The Diamond lists have, in the past, included a number of comic books offered below publisher cost: Fantastic Four Vol. 3 #60, priced at 9¢, had preorders of 752,700 copies in August 2002. There are many such examples of free or promotionally priced comics; Diamond made the decision a few years ago to no longer list low-priced comics, and that move has been followed with this list to guarantee comparisons of like items.
Since comics’ shops are the focus of this list, it also does not include some other highly circulated comics. For example, Gears of War #1 garnered attention for its strong circulation through game stores in 2008. Unfortunately, few specific numbers are available from the video game trade, and as much circulation in this channel is promotional, rather than sold, it's unclear how to integrate this sector's information for purposes of comparison, were it to become available.
Because not all reorders make the list every month, any decade ranking released by Diamond would differ somewhat. And as this is a periodical ranking, it doesn't get into the sector that brought the most new money into the business in the 2000s, bound collected editions and graphic novels. But it's an interesting snapshot. How do the 2000s compare with other decades for comics? Probably not spectacularly — only a handful of the charting issues would make a similar chart for the speculator-mad 1990s. But, as just noted, comics are not just about periodical sales any more, with stories reaching readers in more ways than ever.Writer of comics and books about comics, John Jackson Miller (http://www.farawaypress.com) has tracked comics sales figures for years. He’s developing an online archive for academic researchers at The Comics Chronicles (http://www.comichron.com). Follow research updates on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/comichron.