What if... a comic book series started selling a million copies a month?

I've read that back in the 1940's Superman sold a million copies a month.


What if a single series started selling like that now?  Never mind why.  To be extremely silly, we'll say that a wizard secretly compels people to start buying copies of a particular book. None of them know that they're being compelled, they rationalize to themselves that they're interested in it.  The point of the exercise right now is to consider what the company's response would be to a sudden insane upsurge in sales of a single title.


First off:  Could a book sell a million copies a month? Do even the big companies print a million copies of a single title? If not, how would they respond to a sudden, unexpected, enormous upsurge in demand for a single book?  I've seen the Skipper talk about companies doing multiple printings of a single issue as a sales gimmick, but suppose multiple printings of a title start routinely selling out month after month.  What does the company do?  How quickly would they get themselves geared up to sell a million copies a month?  How quickly could they? Would it make a difference if it was DC or Marvel?  What if  a book by a small independent started selling like that?  Would a small company even have the infrastructure to print that many copies? Would they maybe have to cut a deal with one of the bigger companies?


What's it like for the writer/artist team on the book? Can they write their own tickets? What's it like for the writer/artists on the other books, which are still only selling as much as they normally would (Although there might be a bit of a "coat-tails" effect.)  How does the greater culture at large react to this?


Let's suppose that this continues for at least five years, month in and month out.  Of course, the company doesn't know this, so we don't know how long it might take them to decide it was more than a fluke.








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I think my head just went splodey.

Lev Gleason used to publish an ad claming Daredevil sold over a million copies an issue. I seriously doubt that was true, although it's possible he was perferring to all of his titles together sold over a million (I thought he had only about eight so that would be possible.)

I think I heard that one of the Captain Marvel titles (or was it the total of all his titles?) once sold that many copies. Of course back then and into the 70s comic books were printed on newsprint using the four-color process. Could today's paper, coloring and printing processes be maintained for that volume? I have a feeling that if a single title was selling that many copies the company would have to suspend all of their other comic titles in order to handle the volume.

1,000,000 copies of a single book would require the 3,000* comic book stores in North America to buy an average of 333 copies of the book, so you'd have to compel them to sink money into all those non-returnable copies of a single issue. Would there be enough lead time from when shops order their comics to print this many copies? The wizard would have to enchant the company management so that they would begin printing before the orders came in. Then he'd have to enchant the writer and artist be actual meet the deadlines.

*This number is a few years old. I'm sure it's fewer now.

My understanding is that Fawcett claimed total sales on all of its Captain Marvel titles for Captain Marvel Adventures, and that began the urban myth that Captain Marvel outsold Superman.

I've read at one point in the 40s Captain Marvel was outselling Superman. (Don't known about Whiz but I think its sells were much less.) That must have been National furious. I think it was coming out twice a month for awhile, and I don't think Superman was a monthly until long after Fawcett was gone.

I think the wizard would need to come up with a new form of distribution too. Something like what newstand distribution used to be back when it actually worked.


Wasn't Dell claiming Uncle Scrooge was outselling everything too?

Marvel and DC probably both have more than a million issues a month printed.

Looking at the figures at Comichron for July, I find the top title was Rocket Raccoon, with estimated sales of 293,913, which is well over a quarter of the way there. According to a note at the top of the page 100,000 of those were to a single retailer. Even leaving that portion of the figure aside, I take its sales to be an outlier. The next titles were Batman and (the recently relaunched) Amazing Spider-Man, with respective estimated sales of 117,996 and 117,917. The next four have sales in the lower ninety thousands and higher eighty thousands.

I think these figures are significantly down from a few years ago, but I don't have any way of estimating how many comics are sold digitally, and I can't guess whether that number is significant or insignificant. If it's significant, the Diamond figures may no longer accurately reflect individual unit sales. I think buying comics digitally is a logical way to buy them if you have a good way of displaying them and only want to read them once (it's not like you'll get a lot of money selling them second-hand). If you already have a huge collection it's also a way of solving your storage problem. The total unit sales, plus the sales of the trade with an issue, is the real sales level.


Ron M. said:

I've read at one point in the 40s Captain Marvel was outselling Superman.


As I explain above, that is a myth. Check John Jackson Miller's Comichron.com site for more.

To answer your initial question, Baron, if a monthly comic sold 1,000,000 per month we would see a boat load of comics copying whatever "it factor" the powers that be deemed responsible.

Since it was coming out twice a month they were probably trying to convince everyone it was true. Backfired on them since it probably caused DC to push their lawsuit harder.

What do I look under? Fawcett? Captain Marvel? It offers me the 60s but not further back unless I'm doing something wrong. Interesting 1963 sales says their Dennis the Menace was the top seller. So they did end up with a number one hit. And Fantastic Four didn't finish in the top 38. The cowboys, split books, and Millie the Model did though.





Interesting. I had the feeling that even if the demand wad there, it wouldn't be possible for a company to immediately supply it. I'm sure they could figure out a way, of course.

Fawcett largely got out of comics in the 50s. I think Dennis the Menace comics were they only ones they published later.

Captain Marvel was a close imitation of Superman. He even had squinty eyes, as Superman did then. I don't know what the legal criterion for too close an imitation should be, but I think it wasn't unreasonable for DC to object to him. (Also, my dim recollection is Fawcett partly defended Captain Marvel on the grounds that the Superman newspaper strip had been improperly copyrighted. If I'm not misremembering, I would think DC couldn't let that argument succeed.) On the other hand, I think one criterion for whether an imitation is morally (as opposed to legally) too close is "Could you mix them up?", and Captain Marvel survives the test of that one. I think I got this criterion from something one of the judges in the Superman/Captain Marvel case said (if I recall rightly, while passing judgement against Fawcett), namely that he found no evidence that Fawcett had tried to pass Captain Marvel off as Superman.

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