Sporadic Sequential
Friday, March 28, 2008
The New Comics Math

In what appears to be becoming a requirement whenever executives from DC Comics mention manga, Paul Levitz lets loose with this head-scratcher in his debut column at Blog@Newsarama:
Another interesting phenomenon is the difference in concentration between three types of graphic novels; manga, the strongest category in bookstores, seems increasingly dominated by a handful of properties; literary graphic novels (about 5% of bookstore sales and less in comic shops), by a couple of authors’ backlists with no major new hits in ‘07; and genre graphic novels (the strongest in comic shops) seem to spread the readers around to the most titles.
OK, if I'm reading that right, he seems to be saying the popularity of manga is really only due to the success of a couple series (Naruto, Fruits Basket, Death Note, Bleach, etc.). But then he goes on to say that "genre graphic novels" (does he simply mean superheroes by that, or is he using a definition more like Dirk Deppey's "pop comics," which would encompass Vertigo, Image, a lot of the non-manga stuff that Dark Horse puts out, etc.?) "spread the readers around to the most titles," i.e., reflect a greater breadth of distinct "properties." OK, assuming I understood his point, I just have one question Really???

Looking back at Brian Hibbs' Bookscan analysis (which is what Levitz says inspired his current column), I would dispute this. As Hibbs himself noted,
the 575 manga titles [charting in Bookscan's top 750 graphic novels] only [editor's note: only?] represents 140 different properties, if I’m counting correctly
Even though I've seen the raw data Hibbs is dissecting thanks to Rich Johnston, I'll take Hibbs' word for it rather than attempting to group all the individual manga volumes listed by series.

So if "genre graphic novels" "spread the readers around to the most titles," I guess we can expect to see significantly more than 140 properties represented on the Bookscan list, right? Well, that would be tough considering that DC only placed 58 books on the top 750 and Marvel only 37. ("Everything else" accounts for another 72 books, but many of those appear to fall into Levitz's third category of "literary comics.") Even if we count each book from Marvel and DC as its own property, that's only 95 spots. And as Hibbs points out,
There are nine “Batman” titles, seven “Superman” books (counting Superman/Batman as a “Superman” title), five “event” comics tracking (three volumes of 52, Infinite Crisis, and Identity Crisis), and four “Justice League” titles (v1 of the Meltzer run, and all three volumes of the Alex Ross Justice series). The other three DCU tracking books are Kingdom Come, Green Lantern: Rebirth, and v6 of Teen Titans.
So in terms of "properties," "genre graphic novels" would account for even fewer than 95 spots. Given all this, I'm at a loss to explain how "genre graphic novels" expose readers to more titles than manga or literary comics. Wishful thinking? Switching gears to include the Direct Market in addition to bookstores? (Although even then don't the same superhero properties dominate the Diamond charts? So is there really much diversity in the DM?) Technically counting Batman as a "title" distinct from Batman Confidential or the dozens of Batman limited series?

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