So the fine folks at Nielsen BookScan have released their numbers, and now we know what the best-selling graphic novels of last year were. Since I have never, in this space, considered what the best-selling graphic novels 1 say about us all 2. So let’s soldier onward, into a new space!
In this case I’m specifically writing about the “Adult Graphic Novels” chart 3, so here we go!
March: Book One
WHAT IT IS: The first of the three parts of John Lewis’s memoir of the civil-rights era.
WHY IT’S HERE: The whole thing won the National Book Award at the end of the 2016, which probably goosed exploratory purchases of the first volume. Also, if you’re someone who doesn’t habitually read graphic novels, but aren’t opposed to the prospect, then a graphic novel that won the National Book Award, about a Civil Rights-era hero who is also a sitting Representative is probably the one for you.
WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: Well, other than that we like history in general, it probably says that a book about a real-life person who stood up for what he believed in is a real comforting balm, given the national situation.
Saga Vol. 7
WHAT IT IS: The most-recently-published collection of Brian K. Vaughn’s current space opera, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink juggernaut.
WHY IT’S HERE: Non-superhero comics 4 always have a couple of darlings, books that people rally around, and that tend to find their way out of the usual markets to include casual readers and the curious and the like. Saga is one of the current ones 5.
WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: That people got really into a super-cool whiz-bang story about space ships and sorcery that happens to speak to a desire to see an end to both a ceaseless war and generalized prejudice from all sorts of angles, and have continued to be into it all the way out here at the seventh trade paperback collection.
Everyone’s a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too: A Book
WHAT IT IS:A book about a solitary alien that comes to Earth to learn about what life is like. That’s understating the book a great deal, but I can’t figure out a way to write this here that doesn’t. It’s also the backstory for a twitter account, which is an even weirder way to describe it.
WHY IT’S HERE: Graphic novels are a field that isn’t actually that big, especially here in the “Adult” category, and so when something takes over like Everyone’s a Aliebn 6, it’s easy for it to sell a bunch of copies.
WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: That everyone can relate to feeling like a aliebn, and wants to buy a book about it.
March (Trilogy Slipcase Set)
WHAT IT IS: All three volumes of the above-mentioned memoir trilogy, packaged together.
WHY IT’S HERE: For the same reasons as the freestanding edition of volume 1, above, but this time with the modifier that slightly fewer people wanted to just read the whole thing in one shot, rather than buying them one part at a time.
WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: That more of us are tentative beginners than are completionists.
The Walking Dead Vol. 27
WHAT IT IS: The 27th volume of a deathless, shambling, seemingly-immortal series of issues.
WHY IT’S HERE: At this point, TWD is a comics institution, and I would imagine its volumes will continue to appear here for as long as they continue to exist. It’s the rare occurrence of something being so popular that it basically attains its own momentum, and couldn’t not be a best-seller.
WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: That even more than the oft-stated appeal of the zombie story 7, what people really like is the comforting continuance of the same story they’ve been reading for fifteen years.
Batman: The Killing Joke Deluxe Edition (Hardcover)
WHAT IT IS: The very Alan-Mooreiest 8 of Alan Moore’s mainstream work. This is also the thing that got adapted into the animated movie that everyone got super mad at for sucking huge wet hose last year. Said adaptation was in conjunction with this, the “Deluxe Edition” of the graphic novel itself.
WHY IT’S HERE: Well, Alan Moore’s name sells 9, and TKJ is, even without the toxic buzz of the animated adaptation, a super-famous Batman story (Tim Burton, for example, cited it as the inspiration for his Batman movies). It postulates an origin for the Joker 10, it’s the story in which Barbara Gordon is gratuitously fridged 11, and it does, for whatever else its (considerable) flaws are, have pretty incredible art, so it’s been a prominent Batman book for a long time. A reissue was bound to sell like hotcakes.
WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: That this kind of grimdark, dumb-as-hammers storytelling does big business among readers of “serious” “adult” graphic novels, and it probably always will. Actually, it probably has a lot more to say about us than that, but this is already a long entry (there are three footnotes in that one paragraph there), and frankly, I’m keeping it light. Suffice it to say that Killing Joke represents a bunch of what I detest about Batman, about a certain class of comics reader, and about Alan Moore.
Tokyo Ghoul Vol 1
WHAT IT IS: A manga about a world with ghouls walk among us, and also occasionally result in half-ghouls, of which, perhaps predictably, our protagonist is one.
WHY IT’S HERE: I mean, it’s not actually a zombie story, but it hits a lot of those buttons. It’s also fast-paced and has excellent art, and was bonkers popular in Japan, so it was probably only a matter of time before we started seeing it pop up.
WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: That the manga audience is huge, and that horror manga does generally pretty well. It probably also says some of the same stuff as zombie stories, even though it is, once again, not actually about zombies.
My Hero Academia Vol 1
WHAT IT IS: A very funny manga about a kid in superhero school.
WHY IT’S HERE: It has the sort of generalized appeal of the “kid in a school for kids like him” 12, plus it’s funny. It’s also got a well-received television series, and adaptations are nearly always a good thing for book sales.
WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: That a bunch of us wish we could be given superpowers by our idols and whisked away from our regular lives to go learn to be superheroes, probably.
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic
WHAT IT IS: Alison Bechdel’s first memoir, and the basis for the very popular Broadway show 13.
WHY IT’S HERE: This is another consensus favorite of a certain subset of the graphic novels market, and this one (even before the Broadway thing) poked its head out into the mass audience – it’s become one of the comics that people with no real connection to the larger world of comics have probably at least heard of, if not read themselves. That kind of thing clearly gives it legs in sales terms.
WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: Well, we as a book-reading populous tend to go nuts for memoir. Bechdel’s is unlike anything else also – her tone is very different from the usual memoir, and she tells her story, which is plenty odd in and of itself, in a cockeyed sort of way, without being outright weird. It’s a really interesting piece of work, and its ability to be embraced by so many people that try it speaks to Bechdel’s abilities as a writer/drawer.
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess Vol
WHAT IT IS: It’s a manga based on a video game.
WHY IT’S HERE: There’s tonnes and tonnes of comics that are based around licensed properties that vary pretty wildly in terms of tone and quality. I must confess, I do not know very much about this particular set of comics – I don’t read them, I don’t know anyone that reads them, and I’ve pretty much only seen them around in passing.
WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: That we like to read the plots of video games in comics form. I mean, at least Twilight Princess has a pretty good plot.
WHAT IT IS: I have used the word “deathless” already, and also the word “juggernaut”, and also the word “venerable,” and it is a shame that I didn’t save them for this here, because this is the venerable deathless juggernaut of venerable deathless juggernauts. It is probably the single most influential superhero comic ever published, it is the work that almost single-handedly justifies Alan Moore’s entire thing 14, it is the superhero comic book for people that don’t like superhero comic books, it is the defining work of both serious adult superhero comics and the entire grimdark nonsense age that we are, somehow, going through again.
WHY IT’S HERE: It’s wildly influential, talked about more-or-less constantly, and is a rare thing that actually lives up to (most of) its reputation 15, so people recommend it fairly enthusiastically.
WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: That we have a healthy appreciation for the classics, that we are suckers for dystopia, and that we’re still stuck in the thrall of a grimdark revival that I hate.
My Favorite Thing is Monsters
WHAT IT IS: A murder mystery (among other things) from the point of view of a monster-obsessed girl.
WHY IT’S HERE: It’s more-or-less an instant classic – a visually distinctive, well-constructed book that really captured people’s attention. It has the benefit of being the debut work from 55-year-old Noble Midwesterner Emil Ferris, which created many a marketing hook, but it doesn’t even really need the gimmick.
WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: That we are currently in a period of being really, really into murder mysteries, and that we love a late bloomer.
Black Panther Vol. 1 – A Nation Under Our Feet
WHAT IT IS: The beginning of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s run on Black Panther.
WHY IT’S HERE: Well, the Black Panther movie has been on the horizon for awhile 16, and this may or may not have something to do with that 17. Plus Ta-Nehisi has been on people’s minds for a while now, and it’s always a sales boost to have a name on the cover.
WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: That there is an underserved market for comic books featuring black folks. Also that movies help sell comics.
The Legend of Zelda Legendary Edition Vol 1
WHAT IT IS: More Zelda comics. I’m led to believe (by googling) that this includes The Ocarina of Time, which is my favorite Zelda game, but does not have my favorite plot. Go figure.
WHY IT’S HERE: Because, unaccountably, people have a bottomless appetite for Zelda comics. I dunno, man.
WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: That we can’t get enough Zelda, I guess.
One-Punch Man Vol 1
WHAT IT IS: A wildly hilarious manga about a superhero that got its start as a webcomic and is also now a wildly hilarious cartoon. The manga doesn’t share the cartoon’s awesome theme song, though.
WHY IT’S HERE: Because it’s funny, and because the animated series is really popular, and, as discussed previously, adaptation is good for book sales.
WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: Sometimes motherfuckers just wanna laugh.
Tokyo Ghoul Vol 2
WHAT IT IS: The sequel to Tokyo Ghoul volume 1
WHY IT’S HERE: Because a bunch of people started Tokyo Ghoul and didn’t stop after the first one.
WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: That not as many people keep reading Tokyo Ghoul as start reading Tokyo Ghoul
The Legend of Zelda Legendary Edition, Volume 2
WHAT IT IS: Volume 2 of the bafflingly popular Legend of Zelda comics series, which is also the second such series here mentioned, which is, itself, also baffling.
WHY IT’S HERE: I am baffled
WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: Something that I do not fathom beyond “people continue reading a series once they start it, and often that series is Zelda.” Baffling.
Going Into Town: A Love Letter to New York
WHAT IT IS: The follow-up to Roz Chast’s world-conquering Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant, this time about New York City, and specifically the whole-other-planetary-body that is Manhattan.
WHY IT’S HERE: People love Roz Chast, and people love books about New York City 18. Also people loved Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant, which probably helped drive sales significantly.
WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: Most of it’s in the “why it’s here” section, but also that we love memoir, and, weirdly, we love single-creator comics at least enough to propel them onto this list in between manga about zombies and/or Zelda comics. In Going Into Town’s case, it’s literally between Zelda comics.
The Legend of Zelda Legendary Edition, Volume 3
WHAT IT IS: I mean, it’s not that I’m opposed to it being Zelda comics. Some googling around shows that the art is quite nice, and I’m sure the stories translate well. I just don’t understand why it’s Zelda comics so much.
WHY IT’S HERE: Is it because we all still miss Robin Williams, and Zelda was his favorite? 19. Is it because the best video game of last year was a Zelda game?
WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: It says that the vast panoply of human experiences contains much, and there is much about its contents that I may never actually understand.
Death Note Black Edition Volume 1
WHAT IT IS: The special fancy reprinted edition of onetime sensation Death Note
WHY IT’S HERE: Because it sold like hotcakes, because it was adapted into an anime that sold like hotcakes, it was made into movies 20 that did well. It’s a sales institution.
WHAT IT SAYS ABOUT US: Well, the premise is pretty understandably mind-catching: a notebook that kills anyone whose name is written in it, and it’s executed pretty incredibly, so people justifiably wanted to read a bunch of it. A reissue is a great excuse for people that weren’t yet on the train to get on the train, and so it sells like mad. The circle of life and all that.
And that about wraps it up for the sales year! I suppose it isn’t as revealing as some of these can be, but it might be interesting to come back next year and see how things have flopped around. Now I’m off to go remove “aliebn” from my spellcheck dictionary.
- I’m going to use the term “graphic novels” in this post because it’s what the attached article, with the bookscan results, uses, so for those of you that know me and hear me talk, that’s going to sound weird, since I, by preference, exclusively use the word “comics”. It feels weird for me, also. ↩
- A thing I have done previously for books here and here, and music here and here. ↩
- the “Author Graphic Novels” chart is a little too repetitive, the “Superhero Graphic Novels” chart is too depressing, and I don’t know enough about children’s comics or manga to make that as entertaining. ↩
- a definition which is stretched somewhat, given the circumstances here. ↩
- Robert Kirkman’s venerable The Walking Dead is another, about which see below. ↩
- see also My Favorite Thing is Monsters, below ↩
- for many, it represents an ability to transfer the generalized opposition to “the other” into a socially-acceptable a form. You can learn a lot about American history, and about what its values are, by looking at the zombie stories that are popular at any given time. This is true for every single zombie story with which I am familiar. ↩
- I can never remember how much of my opinion on the matter has been printed here, so suffice it to say: I like Alan Moore significantly less than you probably think I do. ↩
- Watchmen appears below, and V For Vendetta is somehow on the “Author Graphic Novels” list. ↩
- Kind of. Despite the gospel that the Joker became the Joker because of “one bad day,” as posited by the Joker in this story, it doesn’t really – for all that I don’t care for Alan Moore, he’s not as ham-fisted as that – but rather presents the Joker as an unreliable narrator willing to bend whatever truths are necessary to make it appear that he’s whatever he’s trying to appear as at any given moment. It is, to its credit, as interesting a story about the Joker as there is, for whatever that may be worth. ↩
- generally speaking, “fridging”, from Gail Simone’s “Women in Refrigerators” involves the woman being killed, and in this case Barbara Gordon lives. She does, however, exist in the story only to be tortured, and the torture isn’t even aimed at her, she is a prop for the Joker to get to her father. It’s the worst kind of refrigerator-borne bullshit. ↩
- c.f. Dianna Wynne Jones, Chris Claremont, J.K. Rowling, Rick Riordan, and much fantasy YA published in the last couple of decades ↩
- see above w/r/t adaptations being helpful to sales. ↩
- alongside Swamp Thing, and there are things about Promethea, Tom Strong, Miracleman and V For Vendetta that are admirable. ↩
- It isn’t without its problems, to be sure, but even its flaws exist largely in service to its general effect. ↩
- if you’re reading this on the day it was posted, it comes out today ↩
- Well, this and World of Wakanda, I would imagine. But who knows, really? ↩
- if this seems like a crazy sentence – and trust me, it felt plenty crazy to write out in the first place – go and look at how many bestsellers are, all or in part, directly about New York City ↩
- I mean, his daughter is named Zelda, and he made no bones about why. ↩
- in Japan. The Netflix movie was a turd. ↩