Comic books—long scorned by highbrow readers, banned from library summer reading programs, and generally hidden away among more serious-looking works—are in the midst of a heyday. As reported in LJ’s 2018 Graphic Novel survey (LJ 12/18), to which 400 public librarians throughout the country and Canada responded, nearly two-thirds of the libraries sampled experienced an overall increase in graphic novel circulation in 2018, with 13 percent stating that print circulation spiked significantly. While 96 percent of respondents said they carry superhero titles in print and 88 percent in digital, general fiction trailed close behind at 92 percent and 81 percent, respectively. Meanwhile, nonfiction is a rising force.
Sales are also skyrocketing. According to a recent joint report by ICv2’s Milton Griepp and Comichron’s John Jackson Miller, comics and graphic novel sales in the United States and Canada reached an astounding $1.095 billion in 2018, an $80 million increase from 2017. Already this year sees a continuation of such growth, no doubt aided by smash-hit screen adaptations such as Ms. Marvel, Aquaman, and the Avengers making comics characters household names, and alternative and literary works topping book club lists and winning prestigious awards usually reserved for traditional prose. This year, Nora Krug’s Belonging: A German Reckons with History and Home (Scribner) won the National Book Critics Circle Award for autobiography and Nick Drasno’s Sabrina (Drawn & Quarterly [D&Q]) was short-listed for the coveted Man Booker Prize.
Circulation among digital collections rose 32 percent in 2018 from 2017, asserts hoopla Digital’s product marketing lead of comics and graphic novels Ray Barry, who predicts numbers will continue to climb in 2019. OverDrive’s public relations specialist Andi Barnett cites a 50 percent jump in circulating titles in 2018, expanding to 56 percent in 2019 so far. "We’ve seen strong growth of female-led and female-starring comics and an effort for inclusion through LGBTQ+ characters, women, people of color, and emotionally deeper stories," says Barnett. Iron Circus Comics founder and publisher C. Spike Trotman forecasts that "2019 [will] be about LGBTQ rights, the struggles of black Americans, [and] the struggles of trans Americans."
Says BOOM! Studios VP of marketing Arune Singh, "a greater diversity of voices behind the page allows for more representational stories and a more honest reflection of the world around us." Eva Volin, supervising children’s librarian, Alameda Free Library, CA, and communication committee member of the American Library Association’s Graphic Novels and Comics Round Table (GNCRT) concurs, but adds that "while the conversations about diversity, #OwnVoices, and inclusion are happening, it will take a little longer to reach critical mass."
Drawn to Life: Memoir & Biography
Nonfiction and biographical comics consistently provide some of the highest crossover appeal for noncomics readers. Graphic memoirs and biographies are also often among the breakout titles of the year. (…) Debut author Travis Dandro’s King of King Court (D&Q, Aug.) recounts from a child’s perspective the ripple effects of family trauma, addiction, and abuse, while Austrian creator Ulli Lust continues the narrative begun in 2013’s Ignatz Award–winningToday Is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life with How I Tried To Be a Good Person (Fantagraphics, Jul.), drawing on her years as a young anarchist in Vienna and her tumultuous love triangle with two men.
Limitless Possibilities: Fictional Tales
Notable 2019 fiction releases include works by some of comics’ most celebrated creators. In September, master cartoonist Chris Ware powerfully weaves the lives of three disparate characters in the long-awaited Rusty Brown (Pantheon), while Kevin Huizenga’s Glenn Ganges obsesses about life and the nature of time over the course of a sleepless night in The River at Night (D&Q). (…) For Julia Pohl-Miranda, D&Q’s marketing director, "indie publishers like D&Q and Fantagraphics are willing to explore the possibilities of adult comics in ways that the major corporate publishers are not, to produce outside the box hits. Among her company’s not-to-be-missed 2019 releases are Hot Comb (Jun.), a vibrant debut short story collection by Ebony Flowers, illuminating black women’s experiences through the lens of black hair, culture, and identity, and Eleanor Davis’s The Hard Tomorrow (Oct.), which examines the uncertainty of the future during troubled political times.