Archives to the Rescue?

Brian C. Poole
5 min readJan 23

Sale numbers of new comic books aren’t good.

Marvel, DC and other North American publishers of traditional comics have seen unit sales drop dramatically, while losing significant sales ground to manga collections and YA graphic novels. The quality of most new books is rather disheartening, churned out by people who aren’t good at making comics and don’t seem to actually like, or want to work in, the medium.

A series of decisions by publishers dating back decades has led to comic books becoming premium-priced, niche products. Unfortunately, the industry also has deliberately alienated long-term customers with the interest and resources to buy them and has failed to attract a new audience. Thus it might surprise some observers to learn that Marvel and DC both remain above the breakeven point of costs versus revenues. To be sure, each is leaving lots of money on the table with their current strategies, and both are facing shrinking budgets and loss of resources from their parent companies as they continuously underperform. Higher per unit prices for single issues and, to some extent, for trade collections of recent comics have blunted the impact of lower unit sales.

A key factor helping Marvel and DC stay out of the red is healthy sales of collections of archive material. From low-cost reproductions of key single issues to premium omnibuses collecting significant runs, archival re-releases have provided a glimmer of good news for the Big Two in recent years.

That’s not entirely a new trend. “Trade waiting” has been a core part of publisher strategies for years, though declining interest in new comics has had a predictable effect on sales for collections of recent material. Collections of older stories have been catalogue staples for years and have demonstrated some ability to engage both older and newer fans. Watchmen, for example, has represented a decent-sized chunk of DC’s sales almost since it was first collected over three decades ago.

With few takers for their current material and a sharp rise in interest in back issues, ramping up archival releases makes sense. Marvel and DC have decades of books in their repertoires, many of which have either never been collected, seen only limited re-release since their original printings or have been unavailable for years. With budgets…

Brian C. Poole

Author (Grievous Angels) and pop culture gadabout #amwriting