Amidst all the joy and chaos of Comic-Con last week, there was a bit of news that should be of interesting to anyone who, like myself, spends time thinking about the health and future of the comic book industry as a whole. The Walking Dead, Robert Kirkman‘s little zombie comic book that turned into a massive hit and a gargantuan TV show watched by millions of people who have no idea it’s based on a comic book, hit issue #100 last week. In the current marketplace, where the two largest publishers restart comics that have been around since the 30s with a new #1 every time the main character changes his socks, hitting 100 issues in and of itself is pretty impressive. It’s even more impressive when you consider that this is a black-and-white character drama disguised as horror, rather than the four-color superhero comic that has dominated the industry since the 60s. And most impressive of all were the sales numbers — over 380,000 individual units sold. To put this in perspective, this is the best-selling single comic book (not counting reprints) since 1997, and we currently live in an era when a single comic book hitting 100,000 is something to be celebrated.
All this is great news, and I don’t for a moment want to diminish the accomplishment of Kirkman and artist Charlie Adlard in the slightest. I do, however, want to think a little bit about what this actually means in terms of the industry. According to Diamond Distribution last month’s issue, The Walking Dead #99, sold 55,712 units. That’s a leap of nearly 330,000 in one month. When you see a number that huge, it’s hard to think of it as anything but an anomaly. Let’s look at all the factors here — issue 100 was released with thirteen different covers, including several by some of the hottest artists in the industry. A lot of people who don’t read the comic but collect anything by, say, Todd McFarlane, would seek out his cover. A lot of people who are completists would buy 13 copies of the same book just to make sure they have one of every cover. A lot of people who speculate on such things snagged copies merely because it was issue #100 and they think that it will be valuable someday. (Hint: it won’t. The value of comic books is based on scarcity and demand. By definition, no comic book that sells this many copies will ever be scarce. I’m not saying you may not be able to sell some of these books for more than cover price a few months from now, but nobody’s ever going to put their kids through college with one.)
And finally, there’s the question of the TV audience — how many people who started in with The Walking Dead as a TV show have migrated to comic books? Statistically, there really hasn’t been any significant, long-term sales bumps for any comics that have movie or TV adaptations in the last few decades. The Walking Dead has been an exception, though. Comic shop owners have reported increased sales on the trade paperbacks of this title since the show launched, and they’ve continually grown higher and higher, along with sales of the monthly comic book. Is this huge #100 bump helped by TV viewers who are using it as a jumping-on point, or who have caught up in the trades?
Any comic book selling that many copies in the current marketplace, for any reason, is good news. But I think it’s going to be a lot more interesting to see how many copies issue #101 sells. This isn’t the end of the story, friends. Hopefully, it’s just the beginning.