Readers of this page are, by now, well aware of my opinions regarding Raina Telgemeier. Namely, that she is the most important creator in comics, bar none. About once a year, thanks to comics retailer Brian Hibbs, we get actual, numeric proof of this hypothesis. Specifically, Hibbs does a yearly analysis of BookScan numbers for graphic novels; now BookScan is tremendously flawed — it aspires to be the Neilsen ratings of the book trade — but at least it’s flawed in the same way year after year, meaning that the trendlines are probably credible.
Specifically, while it includes major bookseller chains and big-box stores, it specifically excludes comics shops (good thing they don’t sell graphic novels), schools, libraries, book fairs (this will be important in a moment) and other non-corporate channels. So within the flawed environment of BookScan, Hibbs has determined an absolute floor on the size of the comics industry (remember, we’re not counting floppies or the direct market), and sees growth year-on-year. He also found that 2016 saw the publication of 21,000 items that could be called graphic novels, pared down to the top 750, selling just shy of 18 million units (about half of that in the top 750). Then this observation, near the start:
Clearly, the first thing you can’t help but notice is that eighteen of the Top Twenty are books aimed at younger readers –- it was just fifteen last year. The second thing you can’t help but notice is the complete domination of the Top 20 by Raina Telgemeier, clearly the “it” cartoonist of our day. The conventional wisdom is that the BookScan reporting is only the tip of the iceberg because the real market for kids books (and Raina, in particular) is going to be through things like Scholastic Book Fairs that run directly through elementary schools all over America. That’s all largely invisible, though, and something we can but speculate on.
The #1 book, “Ghosts” is Raina’s newest -– just released this year (and not until September, for that, which means that this is the #1 book with just three months worth of sales!)
Raina also takes slots #2 (“Drama”), #4 (“Smile”), #5 (“Sisters”), then, with her adaptations of the “Baby Sitter Club” books, also takes spaces #6 (“Kristy’s Great Idea”), #7 (“Claudia and Mean Janine”), #10 (“The Truth About Stacey”) and #11 (“Mary Anne Saves the Day”) –- literally every book she’s done that is in-print is a top-of-the-charts best-seller, which is wildly unprecedented in our dataset. [emphasis mine]
Let’s put that in other terms: Raina is responsible for fully 5% of all graphic novel revenue in 2016 through the book trade, with her best seller only available for 1/3 of the year. Futhermore, because as Hibbs notes, BookScan doesn’t account for the massive traffic Raina does via in-school book fairs, it’s not known how low those numbers are. I’m going to say they could easily be twice as large, especially considering Scholastic ordered a first print run of 500,000 for Ghosts.
Other people made more money than Raina on their sales — the Walking Dead collections go for between two and five times what Ghosts costs — but she still takes slots #6, 7, 9, 11, 12, 14, and 18 (the lowest of which has a revenue report — again, not counting all her sales channels — of US$1.28 million), off of books that are budget priced and aimed at the most critical audience in comics: kids who will be the core of the market. The Walking Dead sells high-priced copies to an ever-shrinking adult fanbase. Raina is creating an entire new demographic of comics readers, and the first publisher that figures out how to convert her fans to regular readers of their offerings will be set for the next half-century.
So naturally, they ignore her and engage in endless fanboy circle-jerks about how her books aren’t real comics. I’m absolutely convinced that her lack of acceptance by the gatekeepers haunts her every night as she falls asleep with nothing but universals critical and popular acclaim to buoy her. I have seen the future of comics, and she’s a slightly nerdy woman with excellent teeth that makes kids feel welcomed and happy. Long Live The Queen.
Spam of the day:
Taking the day off. Spammers don’t get to share today with Raina.