Author Archive

DECLINING READERSHIP OR DECLINING BUYERSHIP:: PART I

May 07, 2010 By: Phil Southern Category: DISCUSS, Opinion

A young Andy Mansell, after trading his shoes for comics.

At Heidi McDonald’s “The Beat”, her crack team of analyzers go over the monthly estimated order numbers from all the publishers selling through the “direct market” (known to you and me as Comic Book Stores).  I enjoy the articles  for what they are:  Educated guesses about trends of what comic shops have bought.  These numbers don’t catch the actual sell through at the stores, mail subscriptions or  newsstand sales[1] (such as 7-11s or Border’s or whatever).

The best selling titles for March of 2010 topped out at around 135,000 for DC and 113,000 at Marvel.  This got me thinking about comic sales, and why they seem to be so, so low.  Interest and awareness of comic characters is higher than I can ever recall, so why the low numbers?  Have trade paperback sales eaten into monthly circulation?  Is the overall impenetrability of the major titles discouraging to new readers?  Is $4 too much for a ten minute read?  Do people download them for free?  Is print media DOA?  Let’s look at historical comic sales trends before we use Heroesonline to save the comics industry!

With some internet digging, here are some comic sales factoids (courtesy of The Comics Chronicles), gleaned from the Postal Service Statement of Ownership and Circulation, which used to be run once a year in the back of most comics:

In 1960, the best selling comic was  Uncle Scrooge, moving on average 1,040,000 copies per month.  Superman topped out at around 810,000 copies.

Batman’s television debut in 1966 saw his eponymous title rocket to the number one spot with nearly 900,000 copies sold on average.  Marvel’s best selling title was Amazing Spider-Man at number 16, which turned about 340,000 issues, edged out by the Catholic Guild’s Treasure Chest by over 8000 units!

1969 saw Marvel finally break into the top 10, with Spidey’s circulation at around 372,000, Superman’s near 511,000, and Archie taking number one with 515,000 comics sold.

The 1970s saw a dramatic decline in comic sales, marked by numerous price hikes, from 15¢ in 1969 to 40¢  by 1979.  In order to make more money, both major companies started to up their output.  In order to bolster sales and beat out Marvel, who had finally surged ahead in the ’70s, DC increased their line dramatically in the famous “DC Explosion”.  This was followed by the infamous “DC Implosion” in 1978, leading to the sudden cancellation of 20 titles.  Over the next ten years, the newsstand market steadily declined to the point of effective nonexistence.

Concurrent to this, comic sales rebounded, primarily through the direct market of specialty comic book stores.  Things seemed good for the next 15 years, until the the speculators market of the 90s.  What followed was an industry-wide implosion that we’re still dealing with the effects of today.  We’ll get to that over the weekend, as well as how digital distribution just might be the new “newsstand”!


[1] From their inception in the 1930s through the 1980s, a comic’s print run was was significantly higher then it is today, up to 100% of the eventual sell-through.  Newsstand distribution allowed for the return of unsold items, where a vendor would “strip” the cover from the book and send it back to the distributor for refund or credit.  Cancellation of titles seems to have occurred when they fell below that 50%-ish sell-through.

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BRUCE HAZEL AND SOME VOLUNTEERS :: Love Comics, Are Our Friends, Need Your Vote!

December 04, 2008 By: Phil Southern Category: Other Events, Slice of Life

I wanted to disturb you fine folks for a few minutes today, and plead for your assistance. I would like you to vote for my friend Bruce Hazel & Some Volunteers! Take a minute on the “my space” and give his stuff a listen!

Bruce Hazel and the band are one of 13 semi-finalist in an international search for the “Best Unsigned Band” by Genya Ravan, Little Steven Van Zandt from the E Street Band and Wicked Cool Records. The last round of voting continues through Friday, December 12th, via Genya Ravan’s Sirius Satellite program “Goldie’s Garage“. Find out more by checking out Bruce’s website at Wheeler St. Music

Just click on this link to register, and then follow the directions to VOTE. You do have to register at the site to vote online. And just to prove their bona fides, I totally asked them to tell you, the Heroesonline fan, about their favorite comics. I did not just make these pull quotes while I was at work.

Brent Bagwell:
Justice Society of America

Brent is a horn player extraordinaire. He plays all styles, whether it is free form jazz in the NYC-based “eASTERN sEABOARD”, or the improv stylings of the expansive “Project Bluebird”, or the straight up honky-funk in the Volunteers. And he just can’t get enough of the new JSA. He’s a fan of all of Geoff John’s recent yarns, up to and including Green Lantern, but Hawkman and the other ’40s characters grab a firm hold of his imagination. He will totally corner you and go on and on about it (and I love it!)

Karla Marsh:
To Terra, by Keiko Takemiya

The complete three volumes tell the story of one of those “manga futures”, wherein a race of telepathics called “Mu” are on the run from the humans who want to destroy them. Staying hidden and attempting to rescue as many Mu children as possible before they are eliminated, the Mu have only one desire: to return home. Heartbreaking and delicious.

Bruce Hazel:
Omega The Unknown

Bruce Hazel loves him some Jonathan Lethem, author of such notable novels as my favorite, Motherless Brooklyn, to Bruce’s preferred Fortress of Solitude. Lethem’s obvious love of comics is on display in his and Farel Dalrymple’s collection of the ten issue series. Based on the ’70s character created by Steve Gerber, Lethem explores areas of the search for identity, struggles for power and developing an understanding of who we are and what we are capable of.

Shawn Lynch:
E.C. Segars’s Popeye, from Fantagraphics

Shawn, beloved guitarist for the Volunteers, plus member in good standing of Lou Ford, plus 1/9th of the band Buschovski (who happen to have a show at The Neighborhood Theatre on December 20th, along with the release of their “Compact Disk”) likes the Fantagraphics “Popeye” collections. Originally a strip called “Thimble Theatre”, Popeye went from being a one-note incidental player to international superstar. Read these and see why.

Chad Wilson:
Dark Horse Star Wars comics

Chad goes on and on and on about Star Wars, and the Sith and the what not. In his defense, he only likes “real” Star Wars, and not the recent knock-offs. however, he quite enjoys The Knights of the Old Republic series from Dark Horse. He has good taste, so I’ll defer to him. He also liked Alan Moore’s From Hell.

Plus, you can come see some of the Volunteers this very weekend as Shawn Lynch and Mark Lynch play, along with the rest of Lou Ford, Friday night at Snug Harbor! If you like that, come back to Snug Harbor on Saturday to see Mark again, when he plays with The Trouble Walkers. Caution: The show will have B-A-D words.

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ORDERING COMICS :: Sure Can Be A Funny Thing

July 25, 2008 By: Phil Southern Category: Comics Industry, DISCUSS

Luckily for “nights and weekends” workers such as myself, the scut-work of deciding what and how many to order of any title is left in the capable hands of Dustin and Shawn. The minefield that is intuiting the demand for any title is–at best–akin to reading tea leaves; or if you prefer, the innards of your average ungulate.

This was put on dramatic display just yesterday, when, hot on the heels of its cool looking trailer, Heroes sold six copies of the Watchmen trade paperback and two full runs of the series. Now, you might not think of eight as a huge number, but ponder this: We have sold, on average, a copy or two of Watchmen per week for the past several years. In the six years I’ve worked at Heroes, that’s around 70 copies a year, in the neighborhood of 400 since I’ve worked there. On a book that has been continuously available since 1987!

Shawn and I had a brief discussion after seeing The Dark Knight last week that we should beef up our supply of Watchmen and Batman: The Killing Joke, but Sweet Nellie Furtado! Our sales have jumped 300% in one day. One day! We didn’t see a commensurate increase in demand for Sin City, nor The Spirit, nor for 300, nor any of the other (relatively) self-contained works with filmic tie-ins. We saw a considerable bump, mind you, but not a sell-out.

This leads to thoughts about the perils of ordering. Comics that we love, or are original and exciting, or are just plain wonderful, don’t often move off the shelves. In the month and a half since it was released, we’ve sold one or two of the recent Starman Omnibus, one of which I bought (or, at least, I think I paid for). This was a well reviewed comic by respected creators, and whose penciller appeared at HeroesCon. And it hasn’t sold worth a poop. Luckily, I wasn’t in charge of ordering, or we’d be saddled with ten unsold copies of a $50 book. Likewise were the sales on Darwyn Cooke’s DC: The New Frontier. It sold OK, but even with all of us constantly pushing it, we maybe sell one every week. Cable & Deadpool trades sell at a more rapid clip!

In the coming months, we hope to get leaner and meaner with our ordering, cutting the chaff, while still providing the selection that you’ve become accustomed. Give us a hand, as we depend on your expertise, from unknown great creators, to online “chatter”, to trends in manga. Remember. This is your Heroes, too.

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SLICE OF LIFE :: 5th Annual Fool’s Brigade This Friday!

April 01, 2008 By: Phil Southern Category: Other Events, Slice of Life

I wanted to take a minute to pester everybody:

For the past five years my pal Bruce has been putting on a concert to benefit a local charity, called The Fool’s Brigade Annual Benefit. This year it is “Loving the Alien-A Night of David Bowie”, and is coming up on Friday, April 4th, 2008 to benefit the Metrolina AIDS Project (MAP). The show will be held at The Visulite Theatre, with doors opening at 8pm, and admission is $10. A veritable legion of musicians from 18 Charlotte bands will be playing the songs of David Bowie to benefit MAP, with a selection of over 40 songs to be performed.

Performances can be expected from: Benji Hughes, Buschovski, The Houstons, Snagglepuss, BabyShaker, Bullship, The Virginia Reel, Raised By Wolves, La Chocha Loca, Nitehawk, Trouble Walkers, The Adulterers, The Situationals, Dylan Gilbert, Cockpit, Shane Elks, Josh Burch, Bruce Hazel and some surprise guests! Last year’s “Kinks” show was the best ever, and, judging by what I’ve heard thus far, it will be surpassed pretty handily.

Come out and support a worthy cause; besides, where else are you going to hear five hours of music, much less good music, for the measly price of ten bucks? You’ll be supporting a good cause and actually get something in return: the joy of song! We’ll see you Friday! For more info check out myspace.com/foolsbrigade and foolsbrigade.blogspot.com!

Thus ends the pestering!

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BEST OF 2007 :: Phil Southern Humbly Submits–

December 07, 2007 By: Phil Southern Category: DISCUSS

According to Baron Von Egidy, 2007 is at an end, so now it’s time to take a look back at some of the groovy grooviness that was this year. In the interest of transparency, I’ll admit to being an adventure comics, super-hero reader. My picks are as follow:

Best Ongoing Series: Iron Fist
My theory on what makes a successful comic book comes down to two basic things:
1. Character
2. Plot
Go back and check your ninth grade English book for the literary theories behind the concepts, and you’ll see that Iron Fist has it in spades. Recent comics have tended to favor “superstar” creators who can’t wait to get to some great “moments”, or to explore interesting “themes and ideas”. At the end of the day they’re wrapping the “moments” in schlock, sturm und drang where the characters are shoe-horned in order to serve the story (this is ultimately what made Civil War so unfulfilling, and World War Hulk such a fun read), and the “ideas and themes” meander to nowhere. Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction, like Claremont and Byrne before them, are able to produce a whole that is even more talented than their respective parts.

Best Mini-Series: 52
52 ended up being surprisingly good. At the end of the year I found it to be a fun read from start to finish.

Best Mature Series: Black Summer
I hesitate to call this book “mature”, but it is definitely for older readers. As with any of the great Warren Ellis comics, Black Summer is full of rapid-fire ideas, chain-smoking, raging substance abuse, political allegory, scientific techno-babble and hard-scrabble, world-weary cynicism. A well done paean to political dissatisfaction.

Best Collection: Jack Kirby’s Fourth World
After many failed attempts to represent the Fourth World family of titles, including The New Gods, Mr Miracle, The Forever People and Jimmy Olsen, DC’s latest attempt to collect Kirby’s storytelling experiment has also been its most successful. Previous attempts, including the Hunger Dogs graphic novel of 1984 and the early millennial reprints in black and white, were unsatisfying reads, at best. Finally, reprinted in the order of publication and (here I’m assuming) as the ideas and concepts evolved, this lush collection puts the whole saga in the correct context, not only with itself but with a greater DC universe. Further, the production values are spectacular, second only to that of Jeff Smith’s recent Shazam! collection. I can say, without reservation, that this is the best paper stock I’ve ever seen, with the stories printed on supple and creamy paper, allowing the old “four colors” to pop off the page with zest and zing!

Best Comic Book Movie: 300
Were there any other ones that were worthwhile? It was OK. I guess. Did Batman Begins come out last year?

Other Stuff:
Worst Trend 1:
mega events. Remember when the new issue of Uncanny X-Men was the big event? Or the new issue of Amazing Spider-Man? I miss those days. Let’s put top notch talent on the flagship books, and make ‘em monthly.
Worst Trend 2: Inkers, and the lack thereof. Leinil Yu’s kinetic and frenetic pencils are what keep me reading New Avengers every month. The only thing that would make them more awesome would be a little polish. Can you imagine some Tim Townsend inks—woohoo!
Worst Trend 3: Computer painting. Just because you have access to 32,000 colors does not mean you have to use them every issue.
Best Licensed Book: The Star Wars relaunch. Good, solid comics.
Best Penciller: Jim Chueng. He draws the best Avengers I’ve seen in years. Classic, easily recognizable, beautifully drafted (Darwyn Cooke’s work on The Spirit is a close second, bumped only because he was my number one in ’04, ’05 and good ole ought-six)
Best Writer: He put Daredevil’s genie back in the bottle, killed Captain America out of his own book, made Iron Fist viable and made me buy Uncanny X-Men again. Good job Ed Brubaker!
Best Hero: Captain America
Best Villain: I couldn’t pick one. It was more about the event in ’07 than ever before. I can’t think of any story that put our heroes in genuine danger, that vicariously pulled me in. Better luck next year, bad guys.

Most importantly, what’s your best of?

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TOP TEN :: Best Comics Artists Ever :: #3 :: John Romita, Sr.

September 20, 2007 By: Phil Southern Category: DISCUSS

While Jack Kirby set the style for all modern comics, it was John Romita who established the look. He also had the unenviable position of following the greats of the comics industry: Kirby on Captain America and Fantastic Four, Steve Ditko on Spider-Man, and Wally Wood on Daredevil. I’ve heard many an old school fan decry Romita’s arrival on Amazing Spider-Man, with the seminal issue 39, as the end of the character. How could a romance artist, with the glossy and clean linework, replace a master of oddity and mood! This was quickly replaced with astonishment.

John Romita’s work, influenced by the great Milton Caniff, quickly won over legions of fans, making Spidey the preeminent Marvel superhero. He followed his run as penciler for Spider-Man as the embellisher on Gil Kane’s pencils, perhaps the greatest mesh of graphite and India ink ever produced. He established the popular look of Marvel’s characters in Spider-Man’s daily newspaper strip, and in almost all of their licensed material. Later, as Marvel’s art director, he guided the next generation of artists and continued Marvel’s incomparable “house style”. His hand is seen everywhere on covers from the ‘60’s to the ‘80’s, often offering the subtle changes that move a cover from good to great. John Romita is one of the most influential pencilers, and arguably the greatest inker, that comics has ever seen.

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TOP TEN :: Top Ten Single Issues Ever :: #3

August 30, 2007 By: Phil Southern Category: DISCUSS

Amazing Fantasy #15
by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko

It takes the front half of a cancelled comic to introduce the most important superhero since Superman. While it is said that the first and last stories are the easiest to write, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s Spider-Man is the textbook example of secret origin perfection. Everything you need to know about the character is packed into 11 scant pages, and is so perfect that it has remained virtually unchanged for over 40 years. Compare this to recent attempts to reinvent the character for modern times, which took ten times the page count. Amazing Fantasy #15 is modern day mythology, a model parable about power and responsibility, and has rightfully been declared the superhero classic of its time, if not all time.
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TOP TEN :: Top Ten Single Issues Ever :: #8

August 28, 2007 By: Phil Southern Category: DISCUSS


Amazing Spider-Man #33
by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko

There are probably more influential issues of Spider-Man than Amazing 33. One would be hard pressed to find one which is better, though. This issue shows Steve Ditko at the height of his influence on the character, as well as the apex of his storytelling, penciling and inking. Spider-Man, trapped beneath tons of debris, struggles to free himself from the rapidly rising water; he needs to get the serum that will save his Aunt May’s life. While many great stories have centered around a Peter Parker’s desire to quit being Spider-Man (See Amazing Spider-Man #50), this issue shows that while he may fail, he will never give up. That is the heart of the character, and marks this issue as the true “Greatest Spider-Man Story”. Easily one of the top ten.

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SLICE OF LIFE :: Phil Has Big Plans This Weekend!

August 10, 2007 By: Phil Southern Category: Other Events, Slice of Life

In the next week there’s some good stuff happening in and around town; it looks as if it’ll be a busy weekend for this hirsute individual.

Perhaps the second greatest submarine movie of all time will be playing this Friday and Saturday at the Ballantyne Village Theatre. Is it The Hunt for Red October? Or Run Silent, Run Deep? Maybe The Enemy Below? These are all good guesses, but, sadly, quite incorrect. I speak of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. At 9:40 and Midnight, you’ll be able to partake in a tale of war and remembrance, of vengeance and loss. Don’t you judge me, you unterseaboot snobs! And best of all, we have a limited number of free passes available in the store–come by beforehand to pick yours up, and then enjoy the show!

Additionally, there are some excellent shows coming up in the next week at local watering hole Snug Harbor :

Tonight (Friday, August 10) local boys Bullship will be playing with Chapel Hill’s North Elementary. I have it on good authority that Dustin Harbin will be in attendance, and will almost certainly be accepting any beverages our customers would like to purchase for him. For those of you who’ve never heard Bullship, Dustin describes them as “…kind of like the weirdest, oddest, most relaxing music you’ll hear in a rock club this year. Kind of.” Thanks, Dustin.

On Saturday, August 11, former Guided by Voices guitarist and current solo artist Doug Gillard will be playing with Charlotte’s own Fence Lions . See who Creative Loafing’s John Schacht called “a master axe-man with an uncanny ear for just the right hook in just the right place.” You’ll also get the chance to check out Fence Lions, one of the best of the recent crop of excellent local bands. Swing by the store if you want to give a listen to their new CD. If you like what you hear, they’ve got another show coming up in September.

Next Wednesday, August 15, Snug Harbor will feature the Charlotte version of a supergroup, Nitehawk . Current and past members of Snagglepuss, Tyre Fyre, Babyshaker, Buschovski and The Houstons are part of the most over-qualified cover band in Music History. It’s like Damn Yankees, but, y’know, good (Rusty swears to me he enjoyed it!). Plus, if they make lots of money, my girlfriend gets paid more, and I am all around happier. Thusly, you receive most excellent customer service. It is the circle of (retail) life.

Snug Harbor is located at 1228 Gordon St., just up Pecan Avenue from our store. We’ll see you there!

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