Comic Store In Your Future – Milking Spider-Man Readers For All They’re Worth

Rod Lamberti of Rodman Comics writes weekly for Bleeding Cool. Find previous columns here.

This column ended up long. By long I mean longer than usual. This week I share my thoughts while going through the comic ordering for April. I usually try to do the ordering as soon as possible due to the fact that time is something I do not have a lot of. This also gives me an idea on what is coming out that I think will sell and more time to adjust orders before they are due. Even then FOC (Final Order Cut Off) allows me to adjust orders later. I just saw Bleeding Cool’s article showing Derrick Chew‘s Batgirl #32 cover art and Artgerm‘s Wonder Woman #65 cover art and think they are pretty cool and believe their “coolness” will translate to better sales so I upped my orders for them.

Keep in mind my ordering and the store’s customer base will not be the same as every other store. Lots of factors go into ordering comics which all change store to store. Some stores have a large population base to draw on, some do not. Some stores may have a high sci fi customer base while other may have a high horror comic base. After opening a comic store the challenge is to find what your customers are interested in. Then when you think you have it all figured out it changes. I learned that even great customer service with a happy customer base still does not stop the loss of customers. As I stated before people move, life changing situations happen, customers even sadly pass away. All of this is beyond ones control. I learned to always be trying to gain new customers and I feel that is also what comic publishers should always be trying to do. Increasing customers is a never ending battle, or at least it should be.

As most know Diamond Comics is the vendor that all comic stores have to use. In this day and age it does seem like somehow monopolies exist even though somehow legally they don’t.  Going through the ordering for April what stands out to me? What do I notice?

A miracle. Image is having a new comic that is a limited series. Not a new ongoing series that will only be around a few issues. SECTION ZERO #1 (OF 6) CVR A GRUMMETT & KESEL. Not only a limited series but a creative team that I like. Grummett’s art on New Titans hooked me on the series all those years ago. Titans Hunt is still to this day one of my favorite Titans storylines. He also drew Adventures of Superman getting me hooked on that title back in the day. Karl Kesel? I remember him from Hawk and Dove. He helped make me a fan of Hawk and Dove. This was all many years before the New 52 series. Here is where the business man in me steps out and the fan boy in me whispers order it and the Homer Simpson in me simply smiles and does it.

Criminal #4 by Ed Brubaker. As a retailer Ed, I wish you were still writing for Marvel. That said at least we still get to enjoy your work.

Die #5. I did read the first issue. When I first read the title for the first issue I thought Die as in death. No it is Die as in dice. I enjoyed it.

Spawn #296.  Just this week had another person add this title to their pull list. Spawn has been inching up wards sales wise which in the current market is impressive. Younger people here are getting into Spawn. Just sold a Spawn #293 Cover C misprint for over $50. That surprised the heck out of me.

Walking Dead #190. Over the years Walking Dead has slowed down. No longer the magnet it once was for pulling in truly new people into comics. That said it still sells well. Kirkman still writing comics is great. I am pretty sure he doesn’t have to write comics to make ends meet with the various T.V. deals he has made. Over 190 issues straight with no renumbering. Just in case Marvel thinks it cannot be done. COUGH! COUGH!

Oh Dark Horse, Marvel does give you the shaft a lot. Years ago they took Star Wars from you and now they have Conan. NEIL GAIMAN AMERICAN GODS MOMENT OF STORM  1, BLACK HAMMER 45 FROM WORLD OF BLACK HAMMER #2, DISNEY FROZEN REUNION ROAD are the stand outs this month for us of Dark Horse’s April offerings. I find it odd that Disney has Dark Horse publishing comics with their characters. Though I also find it odd that Star Wars Adventures is published through IDW. Does Disney not know they own Marvel Comics? When higher ups at Disney think of Marvel is all they think about is Marvel Studios?

On to DC. DC has been bleeding out on us, sales wise. Moving some of their talent to the Walmart books is not helping. A new Flash #1 through Walmart? A new Swamp Thing through Walmart? Thanks DC. So far what I am seeing is people who are regular comic book buyers wanting these titles.  Not seeing any new customers thanks to comics being sold at Wal Mart. They are too different from a typical comic. $4.99 for 100 pages with a bunch of different stories compared to regular comics with less than a fourth of the page count for a dollar less. The New Age of Heroes has seen no increase even though the various titles have issues reprinted in the various 100 page Walmart exclusives. A lot of the New Age of Heroes titles are ending.

Heroes in Crisis. When customers talk about Heroes in Crisis it is about how confused they are about the series. My favorite line, “So characters that were dead are brought back and are dead again? Why?”  It has been bleeding out, readership wise.

Action Comics #1010. All the excitement from Action Comics #1000 is long gone here.

Adventures of the Supersons #9. One of the few comics without two covers that DC puts out. People enjoy it. Had to reorder copies of the previous issues for new people which is great.

Batgirl #34. It is all over the place. The Middleton covers and Artgerm cover makes it jump in sales. Though is anyone actually reading the book?

Batman #68 and #69. It has been dragging story wise. Jumping around leaving readership disappointed and dropping the title. Batman from the Flashpoint universe shows up getting people excited and then they cut away for issues leaving the cliffhanger unaddressed and readers asking what the?

Batman Who Laughs #4. I thought I over ordered the first two issues. This title is selling for us. Slower than I thought it would though it looks like it has legs.

Catwoman #10. Like Batgirl is anyone actually reading this title? Artgerm might be able to do just do the covers for this book and the interiors could be blank and no one would notice.

Detective Comics #1001. How many people will get Detective Comics 1000 and then want the following issue? That is the guessing game I get to play. Detective Comics is seeing an increase here in store leading up to issue 1000 which I hope means a healthy dose of extra readership afterwards.

Damage #16. I read the first few issues and thought this has what to do with Metal? The DC Age of Heroes was artist focused but the artists that launched them had hardly anything to with the various series. Hard to figure out why they wouldn’t last.

Flash #68 and #69. Now when people talk about the Flash title often the question is why did they bring back Wally just to kill him off?  I am intrigued by Impulse being back.

Freedom Fighters #3. Sells a heck of a lot better than I thought it would.

Green Lantern #6. I thought the return of Grant Morrison writing a superhero comic would be bigger.  Has Grant Morrison been gone from mainstream comics too long?

Hawkman #11. This title is one of the biggest comeback stories in store of any comic title ever here in store.  I am cheering on Hawkman and hope to see it continue to grow sales wise.

Shazam #5. So far I have been over ordering. Hoping for people to start checking out the title after seeing previews for the Shazam movie. We had a jump in sales for Venom though the growth happen much closer to the release of the movie and now it looks like the bump is gone. Closer to the release of the Shazam movie (or hopefully sooner) I will learn the hard way if I gambled correctly or not.

Supergirl #29. No Artgerm cover this time. Amanda Conner is popular though not as popular currently as Artgerm. Playing it safe and ordering half as much as I did for the previous issue.

Terrifics #15. The title with established characters did the best here out of the various New Age of Heroes titles. It did have something to do with Metal at least so that might have helped. Now that Marvel has the Fantastic Four back that might have diminished this title.

Wonder Woman #68 and #69. This title has a stable readership. It also has wild spikes in sales. Upcoming Artgerm covers of course should help. Artgerm, Artgerm, Artgerm! Why DC hasn’t locked him up with an exclusive contract I do not know. These two variant covers though with Kaare Andrews for issue 68 and David Finch for 69 will be a guessing game. Finch’s star power has faded over the years for us. Andrews on Batman covers have sold well and hopefully will move copies of Wonder Woman.

Wonder Twins #3. Still do not have the first issue to get a feel of how this will sell. My gut say it will either bomb or sell well. No in between.

Young Justice #4. The first issue sold well. People are happy to have a Young Justice title. I am banking that Young Justice has some staying power.

IDW. With their various licensed properties they do get people in to buy comics.

Star Trek, Ghostbuster, Uncle Scrooge, Sonic the Hedgehog, My Little Pony, Dungeons & Dragons, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Transformers, Judge Dredd, and more have mainstream appeal. Those titles do get people that would never buy comics in if there were not a publisher for these titles.

Marvel. After going through what they are offering for April I just was in shock. Not in a good way.

War of the Realms #2. Marvel, never one to wait long without having a massive crossover, has one early in 2019. Without having the first issue sales data, due to it not being out yet, I am wondering how it will go. Infinity Wars went poorly for a Marvel crossover last year. The oneshot after it was over confused many people. Is this a reprint of the first issue? No. Amazingly only six different covers for the second issue of Realms.

Thor #12. War of the Realms tie in. I did up my order. Hopefully I do not regret it.

WAR OF REALMS JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #1 (OF 5) The creators of the blockbuster podcast The Adventure Zone bring their talents to Marvel for a wild romp through THE WAR OF THE REALMS!  Really, having a podcast means one can write a Marvel Comic? And of course four variant covers. I did not order any of the variants. Not seeing demand for them.

Avengers #18. War of the Realms tie in. Did order the Alex Ross variant cover. It is Alex Ross.’Nuff said.

WAR OF REALMS UNCANNY X-MEN #1 Starting to see a pattern here. Lots of War for the month of April. Just four different covers for this one. Just ordering the main cover. Too much War of the Realms I am thinking.

ASGARDIANS OF THE GALAXY #8 War of the Realms tie in. Shocking I know! Did up my orders by a few copies.

WAR OF REALMS WAR SCROLLS #1 (OF 3) I ordered low. Daredevil tied into War of Realms seems a stretch to me. I hope I am wrong. Alan Davis art is always something I want to see.

VENOM #13 Stop me if you have heard this before…. War of the Realms tie in!

WAR OF REALMS PUNISHER #1 (OF 3)  If I thought Daredevil in a War of the Realms limited series was a bit much I do think Punisher being in one is a bridge to far.

UNBEATABLE SQUIRREL GIRL #43 A War of the Realms tie in.  For me that says pitiful money grab. No order increase.

MIGHTY THOR 3D #1 POLYBAGGED The few ordered of the Uncanny X Men sold out so I will order this.

AVENGERS NO ROAD HOME #8 (OF 10) Weekly event. Not a War of the Realms tie in. Someone missed the memo of including it.

THANOS #1. But, but he’s dead? Nope it is Marvel. Death means a few months nap now. Great main cover. There is eight different covers for the issue.

MAJOR X #1 (OF 6) Who is Major X? That is what I would like to know before ordering it. Rob Liefield is the writer, artist, and cover artist for the comic. This is going to be a complete guess on what to order. Just two different covers for the issue.

SYMBIOTE SPIDER-MAN #1 I was all for this before I read all the various new Spider-Man material coming out in April. I like Peter David‘s writing. I like Greg Land‘s art. Just afraid it will get lost in the Spider-Man wave of material this month. Eight different covers for this issue. Artgerm variant among them. Sadly no image of it yet. The dreaded “Image coming soon” image.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #18.HU and 19.HU  Yes, 18.HU and 19.HU. Nick Spencer is writing it so why not just have it be part of the normal numbering?

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #19 Hunted part three. Not to be confused with 19.HU.

MARVEL TEAM-UP #1 Spider-Man teams up with Ms Marvel. Current team up books are a waste of time in my humble opinion. The characters all meet each other at least once a year with the yearly crossovers so what need is there for a team up book? Spiderman was teammates with Ms Marvel in Avengers so they team up now? So what?

Spider-Man Movie Prelude 2 Spider-Man!

SPIDER-MAN CITY AT WAR #2 (OF 6) More Spider-Man!

WEB OF VENOM CULT OF CARNAGE #1 Carnage has fans so hoping for a good selling title.

SPIDER-MAN LIFE STORY #2 (OF 6) In case there was not enough Spiderman comics in April.

SPIDER-GWEN GHOST SPIDER #7 Spider-Gwen is cool.

SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN #5 Spider-Man!

MILES MORALES SPIDER-MAN #5  Spider-Man!

SPIDER-MAN DEADPOOL #49 Look at this a Team Up book with Spider-Man!

FRIENDLY NEIGHBORHOOD SPIDER-MAN #5 For everyone who was demanding more Spider-Man titles in April!  Cover is kind of freaky. Looks cool other than the fact it looks like a projector on Spiderman’s stomach of two people for some reason. Yes, I know who the two people are supposed to be.

Captain Marvel. After so many failed series I think of this character as toxic. Yes, there is a movie coming out and still people do not want to pick up her comic. I had one person return for free the Life of Captain Marvel issues he bought because he read them and really did not like them. That rarely happens.  I most likely do not want to know how much Captain Marvel has cost me over the years in failed relaunches. After getting stuck with non-returnable product that happens to have Captain Marvel on the cover I am very hesitant to get burnt again.

Six Age of X-Man tie ins. Six that, so far, don’t seem to have people interested.

WOLVERINE INFINITY WATCH #3 (OF 5) Because Marvel did not overly milk out Wolverine already. Marvel took the interest of Wolverine’s return and destroyed it with too much meaningless limited series. There is only two Wolverine titles in April. Though he is also in Marvel Presents currently and in April. Need one good Wolverine series.

Marvel should be thankful they were handed the Star Wars license. Without it, they would not be the number one publisher. Or maybe there would be more talent on their super hero titles and they would be in better shape? Regardless here in store I have noticed that the Last Jedi movie did divide the fan base. People did get turned off by the Last Jedi. Star Wars sales dropped though they are still titles that sell. Just not as well as they did before the movie.

Right now, my order has Marvel ahead of DC by over two hundred dollars at my cost. That is a rarity for Marvel, to be more heavily ordered here than DC. So what happened? Marvel’s new character Major X is going to be the next Spider-Man so I ordered thousands of copies, just kidding. Marvel of course has more product coming out. Far more variant covers. DC’s big event is winding down while Marvel’s is on its second issue in April. Marvel also has higher priced comics in April than DC does. Marvel is pushing $4.99 titles more and more.

Now on to other publishers. Marvel had cos play variant covers in the past and they blew chunks for us sales wise. Titles that have cosplay covers of characters such as Red Sonja, Vamperilla, Dejah Thoris, and other female characters sell.

BARBARELLA DEJAH THORIS #4 CVR E COSPLAY cover. Oh wow, Dejah Thoris has a tattoo of a dragon on the cos play cover. Who knew Mars had tattoos and dragons?

Turok #4 written by Ron Marz. I miss his work on Silver Surfer and Green Lantern. Would love to see him back with the characters. We need a good Silver Surfer and Kyle Rayner Green Lantern book. Turok does have fans here and we are out of the first issue so of course I will order this issue.

Boom Studios Firefly does well for us.

Boom’s FAITHLESS #1 seems odd. It has a pre order variant that costs more because it will be bagged so the cover will not be seen.

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #38. What wild and crazy variant covers will Boom do for issue 50 of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers?

Lady Death has a ton of stuff that is supposed to be a “warehouse” find. Without any images of the actual product of course.

Comic Shop News. Always a hit with customers.

Oni Press with Rick and Morty #49. Years ago we didn’t sell any copies now we have a small customer base for it. Even sold the Rick and Morty Risk board game.

Titans Comics Doctor Who 13th issue #7. Small core good group of Doctor Who fans here in store. Who do make money for the Doctor Who comics so keep them coming.

Valiant Comics. X-O Manowar #26. There was a time X-O Manowar was giving Amazing Spider-Man a run for its money. It has sold well for the store over the years.

Bloodshot has been seeing signs of life. The upcoming movie should be interesting for seeing what kind of effect it has on Bloodshot’s comics. Still surprised there hasn’t been a teaser of Bloodshot’s upcoming movie.

ZENESCOPE ENTERTAINMENT INC Grimm Fairy Tales #27. Zenescope knows horror and good art. Stable group of customers over the years here that are fans of Zenescope.

With over three thousand items to order from the latest Previews that is some of what we order. Being non-returnable product that means placing orders on product due out months from now and for better or worse gambling on what will sell.

After reading a sample of the material to order from one most likely will notice how plentiful variants are. Most publishers deal with variants. It is a way to increase sales. The old saying do not judge a book on it is cover has little meaning when it comes to comics. Variants will get some people to buy multiple copies of the same issue. A way to get others that normally would not pick up the comic to buy a copy. Cause comic store owners to order more. It is all very short term gain. Not long ago a new customer picked up a comic and said the interior artwork is nothing like the cover artwork. Another customer laughed and said that is often the case.

Variant covers have been pushed and promoted so much, less and less focus has been on the actual interior of a comic. The story, the interior art, and so on mean less because it is all about the variant covers now. I mention Artgerm a lot when ordering for April. He moves the sales needle more than any current interior artist does for us here in store.  The customers are buying and wanting his artwork.

Marvel pushes variants hard, harder than any other publisher. The most recent Fantastic Four #1, Captain Marvel #1, Tony Stark Iron Man #1, Uncanny X-Men #1 were all heavy with variant covers. When people talked about the comic it was about the variants. Comic news outlets to customers focused on the variants.  The plot? The interior art? Who cares is basically what Marvel has said. Buy because there are so many variants. The other publishers do the same thing. It is a crowded market and they want to get their comics noticed. Though again it becomes all about the variant covers.

So much focus is on variants that creators of a comic get lost. Over the years I have noticed less and less people following a writer and or interior artist. Writers and artists may have an online “following” though it seems that does not translate into sales when they are working on a comic. Only a handful of writers or interior artists actually move the sales needle for us.

Why do I feed the beast by ordering variants then? Because that is what a lot of my customers want. Customers are the fuel that keeps the store going. The publishers hype variants so much it is what they want the customers to want.

Marvel is all about short term gains. Amazing Spider-Man sells well currently. It is giving DC’s Batman title a run for its money here. So what does Marvel do? Flood the market with Spider-Man product. Milk out the Spider-Man fans for all they can. A Wolverine title should easily be a top ten selling comic. Instead of one high selling comic, Marvel wants to over produce and milk a character dry.

DC’s focus is now divided. Part of their focus is now on their Walmart books. They are not going to close the gap between them and Marvel anytime soon as long as they put some of their more popular talent on Walmart books. Notice that the Walmart books have no variants.

DC mostly does just one variant cover for book. Though they will do more at times such as they did with Young Justice #1.

It is easy to send out images of variants and hype a book that way. Tougher to hype the talent in a book. Though that is what it is going to take to improve the market.

Crossovers. Marvel’s Infinity Wars limped along and now we have War of the Realms. Not sure how it will go. Though it looks to be a big crossover. No idea if it will be a flop like Fear Itself or a hit. With it being so close to the just ended a few months ago Infinity Wars will that hurt it? All factors that I basically have to make educated guesses on how to order.

The days a title might sell ten copies one month so that was the basis of ordering the next upcoming issue are long gone for the most part. Variants could be why it sold ten copies or why it will sell more or less for an upcoming issue. Art is subjective. What I enjoy does not mean others will. Crossovers are a big variable also. Stability is not something the comic market has. Non-returnable product means if we don’t sell it we are stuck with it.

How will I find out how well I ordered? The hard way of course. Come, April I will find out.

About Rich Johnston

Chief writer and founder of Bleeding Cool. Father of two. Comic book clairvoyant. Political cartoonist.