Superhero movies – and to an extent TV shows – are one of the biggest trends in entertainment of recent years. But success on the screen doesn’t guarantee comic book sales. To better analyze the correlation, I took a look at the trade paperback sales of two comic books for two of the most popular superhero films in 2016 so far: Deadpool and Captain America: Civil War, both of which happened to be Marvel titles. In addition, I reviewed what some industry professionals have said on the subject.
The Deadpool movie grossed over $132 million during its opening weekend and over $778 million in theaters worldwide since its release in mid-February 2016. Deadpool Volume 1: Dead Presidents (trade paperback collection of issues 1-6, ISBN 9780785166801) has sold 32,269 copies since its release date of June 11, 2013. Deadpool Volume 8: All Good Things (the trade paperback collection of issues 41-44, ISBN 9780785192442) was published closest to the movie’s theater release and sold 5,772 copies since coming out on June 1, 2015.
I took a look at their sales on Nielsen Bookscan before and after the movie’s release, by looking at their sales during its first week available, the week after the trailer premiered in September, during the film’s first week in theaters, and when the movie was released on DVD. With Vol. 1, I saw a slight upward tick in sales during the week of the movie’s release in theaters, but the number was nowhere near its initial sales week. With Vol. 8, the sales’ rise and fall seem to reflect the movie’s prevalence in media at the time.
Why don’t more movie fans decide to pick up the comic? A big part of the problem, according to Ian Warren on Comic Book Daily, is the vast universes don’t always match up. For example, “the movie Iron Man cherry-picked the most fun, glamorous, dynamic elements of the 60s-80s,” Warren said. So when fans tried to shift from the movie franchise to the comic, they found a completely different Iron Man from the Robert Downey Jr. version.
This isn’t a problem limited to the films, but extends to cartoons as well, where storylines and characters from the comic books don’t always match up with the ones that make people fall in love with the universe on the screen.
On top of this, Warren feels “DC and Marvel don’t make it easy for new readers. Their broad sweeping storylines can be daunting to a new reader for sure.” And even more annoyingly for new readers, “the writers champion existing readers by making stories about incidents from years ago without any thought about trying to garner a new audience.”
Cinema Blend’s Joseph Baxter wrote, “While it’s reasonable to presume that canonical differences between the modern comics and the films will always exist, there is no doubt that the films have created an idea of the product in the minds of mainstream audiences that, while they are not forced to emulate, creators do feel compelled to match.”
Baxter went on to quote Marvel Publisher Dan Buckley, who told ICv2 that Marvel isn’t “looking to align continuity between the two storytelling worlds because, frankly, that would be a venture into madness.”
Movies have also increased the popularity of some lesser comic characters, obvious examples being Iron Man and Thor who “roughly resided in the C-list category” and are now “certified recognizable A-listers,” according to Baxter. It should be noted that since Downey’s franchise’s success, more recent Iron Man comics reflect a Tony Stark that’s similar to Downey’s sarcastic, arrogant take on the character, presumably to create continuity between the screen and the page.
Many things are being done to try to take better advantage of the superhero movie and TV trend while it’s still at its peak. Warren proposed that publishers “start to have comics that reflect what is happening in the movies,” citing the popularity of Star Wars and Indiana Jones comics, which “gave you a ‘quick-fix’ to tide you over til the next movie came out” by expanding on the narratives the audience already knew.
Some people don’t think comics should become that dependent on films. “We try to make great comics…knowing that some of them may transfer well into films, and I’m not sure that creating comics in order to make films is a very good model,” Mike Richardson, Founder of Dark Horse Comics told Hazlitt reporter Mike Doherty.
In the past, publishers have tried releasing movie tie-ins, but they haven’t worked. “Comic-store owners…seem to agree on one thing: the near worthlessness of the movie tie-in,” wrote Doherty. People who buy comics don’t want the actor on the cover, preferring the usual artwork of the comic.
To see how accurate this statement is, Trends checked out the sales numbers for Captain America: Civil War. During its opening weekend, the movie made over $179 million in box office sales and since its release in early May 2016, it had earned over $1.14 billion worldwide as of the publication of this article. The original Civil War series’ trade paperback (ISBN 9780785121794) was released in April 2007 and has sold 177,203 copies since its release. The media tie-in version (ISBN 9781302900199) was released in April 2016, and features a photo of Chris Evans and Robert Downey Jr. on the cover. Since its release, it has sold 960 total copies. During the first week of the tie-in’s release (ending April 24, 2016), the original trade paperback of Civil War sold 1,514 copies.
Some, like Doherty, believe that in the future movie tie-in comics will be bundled with a download of the movie, but would anyone want to buy such a bundle? It seems likely that anyone interested in owning those comics would already have them and the non-comic reader wouldn’t pay extra for content that he/she might not like.
It might be time to accept that the two mediums are too different to attract the casual fan that’s looking to read the book before seeing the movie like other book-to-movie situations. Maybe publishers need to accept that there’s no crossover.