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Comic Boom: Local stores follow national trend with rising sales

Madison Mathews • Jan 23, 2012 at 8:39 AM

The continuing adventures of Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Wonder Woman and the X-Men aren’t slowing down any time soon.

Local comic book stores have seen a steady rise in sales in the last year, following a national trend that has seen the comic book industry grow.

“The comic industry is going strong. I just read an antique journal the other day that said it’s better to invest in comic books than gold and silver now,” Mountain Empire Comics owner John Stone said. “Our business the last three or four years has been going steady. This year’s been really great. There’s a lot of good material coming out and these companies — Marvel and DC (Comics) — they’re putting out just so much new stuff.”

In an interview with the Associated Press, Dan Buckley, publisher and president of Marvel Comics, said the creativity of stories and the pure volume of titles available are some of the forces at work behind the industry’s growth.

“This is an American storytelling medium that people love and respect,” Buckley said. He added that Marvel’s success stems from deeper storytelling and moving readers with the deaths and re-imagining of some well-known characters, such as the Fantastic Four’s Human Torch and Spider-Man.

According to Baltimore-based Diamond Comic Distributors Inc., which distributes comics, graphic novels and pop culture merchandise to more than 4,000 shops worldwide, DC Comics held nine of the top 10 top-selling titles in 2011, while Marvel held the biggest share of the market.

Marvel’s titles, coupled with DC’s complete relaunch of 52 titles, including “Superman,” “Justice League” and “Batman,” are giving faithful readers more to choose from while creating a new customer base at the same time.

With the release of DC’s “New 52” series, which throws decades of comic book continuity out of the window, most local stores have seen a surge of sales from the company most famous for characters like Superman and Batman.

“We do sell more DC overall than Marvel, because of that new series right now. Prior to that, it was probably pretty equal. Marvel puts out more titles a month than DC does. If you look at the top sales for each month, last month, eight of the top 10 books were DC, but in terms of overall market share, Marvel still sold more than DC,” G2K Games store manager Greg Tuccitto said.

The wealth of good stories and top-notch writers working in today’s industry is something Tuccitto said has kept customers coming in to G2K, 3101 Browns Mill Road, No. 16, whenever new titles are released.

“With collectors who buy each issue or people who just want to get into it for the first time, it’s hard to find what to start with, so with (DC’s) new titles, you can find out how it all started along with everybody else,” he said.

The customer base at Atomik Comics, 213 E. Main St., has kept the shop from feeling any of the negative effects the recession may have caused elsewhere, according to owner Shawn Samier.

In a business that has seen ups and downs throughout the decades, Samier said he’s definitely seen worse times.

“I think ’98 and ’99 were worse when Marvel went bankrupt a couple of times and things were up in the air. The sales dropped off then and the quality of the comics was crap. In this day and age, they know they have to put good writers and artists on them so people will buy it,” he said.

Samier said Atomik is selling more DC books than anything else that’s being released because of the company’s reboot of the DC universe. However, the relaunch wasn’t without backlash from fans.

“I had people yelling and crying because they were ending continuity — stuff they’ve been following for decades,” he said. “After a couple of months and reading reviews, people started coming in buying one or two.”

Like the other local stores, Stone said Mountain Empire, 1210 N. Roan St., No. 1, has seen an increase in sales thanks in part to the DC titles.

“I’ve had a lot new customers come in and when they come in, they buy other stuff — toys, maybe other comics that we point out,” Stone said.

The popularity of comics at the movies and on TV with shows like “The Walking Dead” have also had a hand in keeping comic book sales up, he said.

“It keeps the market fresh and it stimulates these companies to have new ideas,” he said.

With the variety of titles being offered by Marvel, DC and the other independent companies, there’s a comic book for everyone, and Tuccitto said that’s exactly the goal comic book publishers are striving for.

“I think that’s what the goals of a lot of comic book publishers are now to have have a book for everybody. It’s not encapsulated anymore to this idea of you have to be into this sort of ‘geekdom’ to read comics. It’s far beyond that now,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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