Asterix Coming Soon to Italy cover

The Enormity of the Franco-Belgian Market

Rough sales estimates tend to show only a small number of monthly series in North America moving more than 60,000 copies each month.  You have a Batman title in there, a “Walking Dead” issue, a new “X-Men” series, and a “Star Wars” book.  (Event books and big mini-series, all from Marvel and DC, round off the top ten titles.)

The four top spots are comics selling over 100,000 copies. Two of the slots are from the semi-monthly “Batman” series.

But, hey, that’s still impressive, right?

 

By Comparison…

Asterix and the Race Through Italy

The upcoming “Asterix” album due in November has a first printing of 5,000,000 copies.  Again, that’s the first printing. It’s a pretty safe bet there’ll be a second printing down the road somewhere.

But that’s “Asterix.” It’s a cultural institution. Can other Franco-Belgian comics get much big sales?

OK, maybe not to that degree, but there are some impressive numbers I found while poking around.

 

“Lesser” Sellers

Largo Winch L'Étoile du matin cover

The Largo Winch mic drop move

First, the 21st “Largo Winch” album is coming up this fall. It’s the first book without Jean Van Hamme scripting it.  Philipe Francq is sticking around, with the series’ new writer, Eric Giacometti.  The first printing on that album is a respectable 360,000 copies.  From earlier this year, here’s a news story covering the new writer.  (Hint: Use the Chrome browser, which will translate everything to English for you.  It’s not perfect, but you’ll get the gist.)

Lucky Luke La Terre Promise cover

Now, what about “Lucky Luke”?  Another book that Rene Goscinny brought to amazing heights, it’s not quite at “Asterix” levels, but it does have a long and glorious history, along with a series of television shows and movies to its credit.

Last year, they published a new album titled “La Terre Promise.” (“The Promised Land”)  It started with a 500,000 copy first printing.  As previously discussed, the series doesn’t seem to have aged well without Goscinny, but people are still lining up to buy it.  And reviews on this one seem to have been good.  Fingers crossed.

Off-topic, but I wanted to throw it in here: There’s a Lucky Luke comic to educate people on the topic of Type 2 Diabetes.

 

The Outlier

Tintin in the Land of the Soviets

Now, that all said, there’s “Tintin.”  A couple years back, a new printing of the first Tintin story, “In the Land of the Soviets” brought the book back after decades of neglect. (Long story, but politics.)

I haven’t found the sales figures for the regular edition of the book, but the Special Edition that was released at the same time as a “limited edition” had a print run of 50,000 copies.

Yes, a limited run of Tintin still outsells 99% of the North American Direct Market. I have to imagine, though, that a “new” Tintin book sold in the millions.

 

And Then There’s Titeuf

Titeuf by Zep volume 15

It’s a series you’ve likely never heard of.  It’s never been translated here, and I doubt it ever will be.  It’s the story of a little boy who’s a lot of trouble.  The 15th volumes in the series by its creator, Zep, is out in stores tomorrow, as I write this.  I looked for print numbers on it.

Couldn’t find it specifically on this volume, but did read a report that had a 2006 release come in at 1,800,000 copies.  I’m sure those numbers have dropped a tad since then, but I’d bet the first printing was still seven figures.

 

Even More Numbers, from 2016

The 2016 numbers from ACBD.fr show these titles at the top for the year:

(Note: “Volume” in French is “Tome,” thus the “T” where you’d expect a “v” for volume here)

  • 500 000 ex. Lucky Luke T7
  • 400 000 ex. Blake et Mortimer T24
  • 320 000 ex. Lou ! T7
  • 220 000 ex. L’Arabe du futur T3
  • 200 000 ex. Les Légendaires T19 Patrick Sobral Delcourt
  • 200 000 ex. Thorgal T35
  • 200 000 ex. XIII T24
  • 155 000 ex. Les Carnets de Cerise T4
  • 150 000 ex. Les Sisters T11
  • 150 000 ex. Seuls T10
  • 130 000 ex. La Face crashée de Marine Le Pen
  • 120 000 ex. Boule & Bill T37
  • 120 000 ex. Les Profs T18
  • 115 000 ex. Game Over T14
  • 115 000 ex. Game Over T15

Two volumes of “Game Over” in the same year?  Money in the bank. I wish they were available in North America.

I have to be honest.  There are a couple books up there I’ve never heard of.  I’m happy to see “Sisters” chart that high, as does “Seuls.” (That’s “Alone” from Cinebook.)  I think they’re both that high because multimedia tie-ins in France actually do lead to increased sales of comics.  Unlike North America.

An interesting selection of settings, too: gaming, cowboys, Civil War, teachers, barbarians, kids and their pets, and Smurfs.  (OK, the little blue people are probably “fantasy”, but they feel like a genre all their own…)

That list has comedy for all ages, young adult fantasy, books for little kids, adult dramas, thrillers, power fantasies, political satire, etc.  Nice mix.

These books are definitely not being sold to the same small market of people.  And, yes, their large sales are helping to subsidize the publishers to keep the lower selling titles going — just like what happens here in North America, really.

By the way, two volumes of “The Walking Dead” translated into French had 100,000 copies in their first printings last year.  There’s no better incentive to keeping a book monthly than sales like that

 

Just How Screwed Are We, Exactly?

France’s population is a less than a fourth of the United States’.  Even adding in Belgium and Germany, it’s still not even a half of America’s population.

But the biggest selling albums in that market sell 5x the number that the biggest selling American comics do, with half the population.  There’s obviously a bigger comics market over there, and one that appreciates something closer to the bookstore model over the magazine model that we have.  (They still have anthologies that lead to the albums, which is the bigger seller and the ultimate goal.)

Comics are just a bigger part of the culture over there.  It’s impressive to see, and the numbers hammer that home.  Comics here are still stuck in the North American Direct Market closet.  Marvel and DC are not making a serious effort to break out of that, because it would be financial suicide to attempt it. When you measure you numbers by the fiscal quarter, the long term planning and execution needed to attract new audiences can never happen.

This might be why programs like Scholastic can maintain such a successful comics-selling program where Marvel/DC fail. They are publishers first, not IP farms.  They invest in the publishing, not the Hollywood machinery.

We’re screwed.

And stop fooling yourself that multimedia outreach (movies, video games, the never-ending stream of tv shows) is bringing new fans into comic shops, or even into digital comics. Those are just licensing fees that help pay the overhead for the publishers to keep the lights on for a few more months.  I think “The Walking Dead” might be the only hard and fast exception to the right now, and even that can’t last forever.  TWD has been the exception for just about everything over the course of its life, too.

Next time you’re impressed by the numbers on the latest Marvel or DC crossover with their lenticular covers and blank covers and hip hop album covers and black and white line art covers and six guest artists-who-don’t-draw-interiors-anymore covers, etc., take a look back at this post and dream of what could be…

And then realize we’ll never get that.

Sleep tight.

7 Comments

  • JC Lebourdais August 30, 2017 at 3:05 am

    It’s all really about method. Basic marketing. Scarcity sells better. Just imagine you’d have to wait 2-3 years every time for a new 50-page Superman or Batman story. That would make every volume special and everyone would buy it. Regardless of quality. Now, you see that the periodical outlet is slowly dying here as well, Weekly sales for Spirou Magazine is on a downward trend, has been for decades. And not everything serialized makes it to album form eventually. All the other weeklies have died a slow and quiet death (same in the UK and Germany btw) so eventually straight-to-album is the norm, for those titles with potential, which is only a few hundreds in an ocean of dreck. The equivalent in the US market would be switching all titles to OGN. Japan has been doing it for years as well, periodical serialzation (like Shonen Jump for example) then big volumes selling millions of copies. But the consequence would be a drastic downsizing of the US comics market, ditch the assembly line system and hundreds of second tier artists would go unemployed so I’m not sure that’s something to wish for, ultimately.

    Reply
  • Augie August 30, 2017 at 10:07 am

    Yes, the market would have to shrink, but I don’t think it would be by as much as you might think. After all, most of the top tier North American artists wouldn’t be able to draw more than two albums per year. Look at their pathetic page counts currently.

    It would likely hit the artists who gave up doing interior work for just drawing covers, but I have less sympathy for them, anyway.

    I like the idea of “event” books. I think in the current Direct Market, just having that one Batman book coming out four times a year with a complete story in it would be the equivalent. But this whole idea of shifting to a Shonen Jump model for comics has been championed for 20 years now in North America, but nobody is ever going to do it, unless forced to economically. We’re not there yet, and nobody would ever want to foot that bill for distribution.

    This is why I hold out hope for the YA market these days for getting comics books into schools in a format closer to the French model than the North American one. Kids go nuts for something new from Raina Telgemeier, or the next “Amulet” volume, etc. That’s the way of the future. Maybe as they grow up, we’ll see that start to morph the industry….

    Reply
  • Arcturus August 30, 2017 at 10:44 am

    We have to start learning French then 😛

    Maybe it’s me but I think walking dead managed to get readers of the show into comics because it’s really easy to follow, start with #1 (in a collection) and count up.
    If I watch Green Arrow on TV and want the comic I have to figure out if Green Arrow Year one, Green Arrow new 52 #1 or Green Arrow rebirth #1 comes first (maybe it’s me but crossovers don’t help either).
    I bet people would read more comics if American comics were easier to get into, even if that’s not the only issue

    Reply
    • Augie August 30, 2017 at 2:02 pm

      I completely agree. It’s why “Watchmen” did so well when the movie came out. Even though everyone in comic already owned a copy or two, new people coming in had ONE BOOK to buy. Period.

      I don’t know which is worse — that Marvel and DC don’t focus their line to cash in on the movie tie-in, or that they create something new to be their focus and fail so miserably at it every time.

      Reply
  • Alastair Savage September 1, 2017 at 4:19 am

    Two things spring to mind.
    First of all, lots of these French comics are translated all over Europe and are very big sellers in other countries like Spain too (btw don’t you mean Belgium and Switzerland rather than Germany when assessing the Francophone market?), so in fact, their sales may be even larger.
    Secondly, look how much richer the French comic market is. The US has been dominated since the onset of the Silver Age by superhero comics, whereas before that, lots of other genres were equally popular (Western, Romance, Horror etc.). US books are too same-y. When big names stand out from the pack in a new genre there, it’s almost always because of a TV or movie tie-in (like Star Wars).
    Did the rise of the superhero kill diversity in US comics?

    Reply
    • Augie September 2, 2017 at 12:20 am

      Yes, Switzerland would have been a better example from a language point of view. I think I was just trying to not make it look as bad as it is with some conservative numbers. Germany is 10x larger than Switzerland. If we sub in Switzerland for Germany, then the American market is even larger, while falling behind even faster.

      What killed diversity in American comic? I think the Wertham era did a large amount of damage for sure, Not sure if that’s all of it, but it got so bad that parents didn’t even want to buy Disney comics for their kid. It killed the horror and sci fi comics of the time. Somehow, superhero comics survived as the safe hero-based alternative, but that was all that was left. Everyone else left.

      Once the readers left, it was impossible to bring them back, even if you did make material for them. By the 80s, you ran into a distribution problem which has plagued us every since — comics have today disappeared from newsstands and supermarket shelves. (Archie is the holdout exception.)

      Reply
  • JC LEBOURDAIS September 1, 2017 at 5:19 pm

    Yeah it kind of killed it for a long time, until Image phase 2.
    He mentioned Germany because it is Asterix’s #1 market, even bigger than France itself. For some reason they just love it over there.

    Reply

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