Middle School Graphic Novels – It’s a Big Thing

Brian Hibbs, at ComicsBeat, goes in-depth for us examining
the BookScan numbers for the 2018 Graphic Novel section.

It’s time to look at graphic novel sales in 2018. Implausibly, this is the sixteenth annual report of something that is hard to exactly perceive and understand: the size and shape of the sales of graphic novels and trade paperbacks through the book store market, as seen through the prism of BookScan.



Brian begins by going over some ground rules:

Jeff Kinney’s Dairy of a Wimpy Kid (also Stephan Pastis’s Timmy Failure or Mark Parisi’s Marty Pants) are not graphic novels, BookScan drops some comic strip books but not all as part of its graphic novel section, and some other details.

The main thing that has to be done in editing the data I am sent is removing all of the things that are not comics.  I literally hand-checked thousands of items against Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature” to say “is this a comic or not?”  I defined “comics” like this: either a) it has multiple panels sequentially producing a narrative (those don’t have to be on ONE PAGE, so someone like Mo Williams is certainly comics) OR b) a single image that, taken entirely by itself, provides a complete thought. So, “The Far Side” is comics, but, no, “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” is NOT (but very glad to see that number as a comparative)


In the world of graphic novels Dav Pilkey (Dog Man) and Raina Telgemeier (Drama, et al), both with Scholastic Books rule. But I want to separate some comic strip creators from rest.

The chart below lists the top book selling authors in this class:


In the first dozen are three comic strip creators. Let’s see what Brian says about their efforts.

Again, Brian reminds us:

I’d like to continue to remind you that back in 2008 there was some sort of behind-the-scenes recategorization in what got sent to me – I now know this is probably a change in BISAC codes! – and most of the “cartoon-strip humor” books like “Calvin & Hobbes” and “The Far Side” suddenly disappeared, so there’s kind of a not-strictly apples thing going on with the pre-2008 numbers here. Do keep that in mind when making comparisons both in the Top 750 chart, as well as the Long Tail.


Lincoln Peirce and Dana Simpson

In what I can only categorize as the first of several “complete upsets”, the #2 publisher is now Andrews McMeel. Andrews is a publisher that sometimes has frustrated me by how they’ve been represented by BookScan – as I noted, it used to be that “humor” books like “Far Side” and “Calvin & Hobbes” used to rule the BookScan charts. Until, one day, poof! Almost of those books disappeared entirely from the dataset I was given, throwing off a whole lot of my comparables. And, for the most part, comic strip reprints have stayed out of these charts for half a decade.  But, they’ve started creeping back into the listings for the last few years. I’m actually fine with comic strips and comic books co-existing in the same places – at least they’re both comics – but the inconsistency just drives me nucking futz.

Lincoln Pierce and “Big Nate” is the big star player for Andrews McMeel – there are fifteen different “Big Nate” volumes in the Top 750, summing up to almost 340k copies combined. The best seller (“Silent But Deadly” sells around 84k copies)

The other big winner is Dana Simpson’s “Pheobe and Her Unicorn” which does nearly as well, with v1 selling just over 82k copies, and placing all eight volumes into the Top 750, summing to 206k total sold.


Terri Libenson

Moving up to #5 largest publisher with Western comics in BookScan Top 750 in 2018 is another of the “big five”: HarperCollins. Harper places twenty books into the Top 750 for a total of 448k copies sold, and $6.5 million. There’s a lot of imprints with the word “Harper” in the title in the Long Tail (Harper, Harper Paperbacks, Harper Teen, Harper Festival, Harper Teen, and so on), and Harper is also Amistad and Blazer & Bray (in the Top 750), and IT books, William Morrow, and Zondervan (out of the Top 750)

At Balzer & Bray it is all about Terri Libenson, and “Positively Izzy” (a staggering 91k) and “Invisible Emmie” (77k).  There’s also a box set of the two which moves over 8k copies.


Brian Hibbs’ complete analysis of the 2018 graphic novel market.


China tariffs will affect printed material.



Full disclosure: The Daily Cartoonist is a branch of Andrews McMeel.