Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Sunday, July 20, 2021

What to make of the against-the-stream sales trend of graphic novels in the American publishing market?

Foreign titles are rarely that successful in America, says Dedi Phelman, a senior editor at Simon Schuster and co-founder of the online magazine Words Without Borders. Only about 2 percent of books published in the U.S. are works in translation, but in the graphic novels business, more than half the titles sold here are foreign-language imports.

I think the stronger numbers for European and Japanese comics directly correlate to the dearth of meaningful American content that’s worthy of graphic novel presentation.

You don’t have to believe me. Go to any of the burgeoning graphic novel sections in bookstores, and what do you see among native-soil selections? Row upon row of superhero, sci-fi and fantasy crap. Sure, there’s a smattering of independent voices presenting literary material, but it’s overwhelmed by the same adolescent-targeted content that’s kept the U.S. comic book industry stilted for decades.

That’s why adults looking for an actual good read go for the imports — there’s no domestic alternative. There’s simply not enough American graphic novel material out there, and what there is is strictly for the fanboy/collectible market. If conventional books were in the same state, the sales figures would be identical to this niche.

Personally, I look upon this with a good deal of sadness. I grew up on comic books, and was thrilled to see the graphic novel format emerge when I was in my teens. But I recognized early on that the content wasn’t growing along with the format. Even now, the groundbreakers in U.S. graphic novels — “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns” and “Watchmen” — are still considered the pinnacle, even though they’re more than 20 years old. Since then, nothing. Small wonder readers are looking overseas to fill the void.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 07/20/2008 01:54:48 PM
Category: Pop Culture, Publishing
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