Five months back Professor Fury dropped the news that PrettyFavorite crime novelist Victor Gischler would be penning a Punisher special, Little Black Book, for Marvel’s MAX line. It got some very positive reviews from around the extremely tough comics blogosphere, especially from Marvel Noise and Mania.
Reviews are nice and all, but any writer has to sell those books. From the numbers released yesterday by the Beat, it looks like the Little Black Book did quite well indeed.
First, a dork primer. Comics are a cutthroat business, and for many years sales were manipulated or obscured by the very nature of the magazine and comics business, which generally allow a retailer to return unsold copies; for many years, actual circulation was also difficult to pin down because certain retailers would strip a book’s cover and return it as evidence for refund, while still selling those stripped books at a reduced rate.
Now, with the advent of the so-called “direct market,” where comics are basically sold directly to comics outlets, it’s much easier to pin down actual numbers—even moreso for Marvel’s adults-only MAX imprint, which is sold only to comics shops. MAX is basically an 80’s R rated movie, more f-words and blood and the occasional boob beyond your typical Marvel comics.
In the recently-released June sales numbers, there were four max books: the flagship Punisher title, penned by the venerable Garth Ennis; a Richard Corben Lovecraft adaptation; another Ennis work in partnership with Howard Chaykin, a war-is-hell retelling of the Golden Age Phantom Eagle; and Victor’s debut. He just about slaughtered the competition.
First, the primary title hit 29,802 in sales, with its fan-favorite creators wrapping up a lengthy run on the title. Victor’s work hit 22,826, which the Beat noting that it was a “[o]ne-shot by crime novelist Victor Gischler. Lagging some way behind the regular title, but then the creators aren’t particularly well known to comics fans, so that’s natural.”
Yet well-known creators are still not a guarantee of success—see the “underwhelm” of the current Millar/Hitch run on Fantastic Four—and the rest of the MAX line doesn’t fare nearly as well as this debut. Verifiable underground legend Richard Corben’s book only hit 13,605, while the Ennis/Chaykin book has never had the numbers of Little Black Book; it debuted with 20,373 copies and has now slid in its penultimate fourth issue to 11,765 copies. Further, the recent MAX Foolkiller series debuted at 19,706 copies before plunging to a finale five issues later of 9,697, and Dead of Night never broke 13k.
Keep in mind that these numbers are still at the low end of the superhero market, but they’re restricted in sales due to location, a slightly higher price, and the adults-only marking. Sales of 50,000+ are certainly a mass market “hit,” but there’s tons of play in the joints of that machine.
Does it help that Victor got to play in the sandbox of a character with a dedicated fan base? Absolutely. That fine
Larry Dave Johnson cover didn’t hurt either:
All told, I think this is a very solid debut and I hope that Victor gets a call back; the numbers bear out that he could make Marvel a little cash. Frankly, I think a Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse limited series on Vertigo makes a whole heck of a lot of sense. A bang-up debut from a Red Stick gun monkey.