The Comichron Mission
Inside the world's largest public database of comic book sales figures,
a quest for historical understanding
I'm John Jackson Miller, a lifelong comics fan who's been working in the American comic-book industry for more than 25 years, as a journalist, business analyst, and creator. I'm the New York Times bestselling author of several novels and graphic novels, including many for the Star Wars and Star Trek franchises. I'm also something of a pop-culture archaeologist, specializing in — among other things — comic book circulation history, as presented regularly here on Comichron.com. Chronicling comics sales history is a strange obsession, to be sure — but one that produces information that people need.
For several years as a kid, I indexed what comic books I'd bought, keeping detailed records about where and when I'd gotten them. Those records were for the benefit of nobody but myself, trying to keep a handle on a burgeoning collection. Later, I would get the chance to work in the comics industry itself — where I'd see the value for everyone in having accurate records about how many comics were out there.
In 1993, the comics industry hit its all-time peak in sales — fueled, in part, through speculation by collectors and would-be investors. That same year, I began editing Comics Retailer (later Comics & Games Retailer), the trade magazine for the comics industry, documenting the long, agonizing fall from that sales pinnacle.
Through the rest of the 1990s, I saw firsthand what could happen if collectors and retailers lacked information on how many comic books existed. While speculation alone didn't fuel the boom, far too many collectors made decisions based on incomplete information about scarcity. When one of the "hot" comic books had a circulation of more than 8 million copies, it's clear it wasn't going to paying for anyone's college!
Having the number of comics in circulation available to all is, thus, a collective good. It also helps to provide needed perspective about the comics market. The comics industry nearly collapsed in the 1950s, 1970s, and 1990s; the 21st century has seen tumultuous times, but nothing on that scale. Comics shop orders for comics and graphic novels in the decade of the 2010s, in fact, increased 8% after inflation, increasing even as the market for other kids of magazines shrank.
The wider one's focus is across the whole of comics history, in fact, the more one sees how resilient the business has been. We get in jams; we invent solutions. And often the solutions cause the next set of problems! These things are visible at 30,000 feet — but they also require accurate information about what sold, and when. To that end, I work both forward and backward, adding up-to-the-present information about new material, while also adding past months and years to the website.
The site — and the sets
Comichron.com has nearly 200,000 sales figures for comic books and graphic novels online, most of which are the result of my own research and estimates. They fall into several categories:
• Monthly distributor sales. The best-known set is based on distributor sales to comics stores in North America — I've done a monthly report every single month since 1996, and have been slowly working backwards to add more information from earlier charts. Comichron's physical archives for distributor sales charts goes back to the 1980s, including from defunct distributors; I rescued one major firm's records from the incinerator!
As time progresses, more of that material will be online. Learn more about what goes into the monthly distributor stats here.
• Postal sales statistics. As a consequence of postal regulations, publishers were required to publish annual average sales in the comics themselves, beginning in 1960. While almost no comic book publishers print the "Statement of Ownership, Management, and Circulation" forms today, around 4,000 of them exist — a fact known because I've collected 98% of them.
Some of that material is online here and here — but there is a lot more to be published. Learn more about postal sales statistics here.
• Audit data. Back when advertising in comic books was still a big business, the major publishers belonged to audit bureaus whose job it was to track sales of their comic books; the idea was advertisers wanted to be sure their books were reaching the promised audiences.
That data primarily exists only on microfilm archived with the main bureau; I've made pilgrimages to get that information, which goes back to the dawn of comics in the 1930s. That material will find its way onto the site at some point as well.
Special reports and features
In addition, I use the Comichron space to report on the state of the industry overall, such as in our annual joint report with ICV2, as well as answer a number of questions about comics.
Looking for data on comics prices across time? Wondering about where comics numbering came from? How about information on how often series get restarted? These are the kinds of questions that Comichron is a great resource for.
Comichron operates according to a number of guiding principles. One, as mentioned, is that circulation data should be readily available. Just as important, however, is detailed communication about what statistics do and do not include.
Most distributor sales charts on the site say right at the beginning that they do not report the whole reach of an individual work; distributor charts in particular are regional commodity reports, covering what went to a particular sector of the market in a particular timeframe. The "fine print" alongside our tables should not be skipped; these paragraphs explain in detail what is and what isn't covered, and there are FAQs linked as well on the topic. The financial success of comics in the modern era comes from several different revenue streams; any given number reported should only ever be seen as a minimum number of copies in circulation.
While a segment of fans may be interested in the horserace between publishers, Comichron rarely highlights it. "A sales chart is not a scoreboard," I often say. The comics medium requires healthy delivery systems; the success of any one publisher helps them all. As such, while there is plenty of market share data on the site, its real value is in the historical context it provides future readers. "Publisher X clobbers Publisher Y" is not a headline you'll find on Comichron. (Likewise, we encourage publishers not to sweat it when, say, a distributor report ranks them lower than they think they should be positioned. No measure captures all sales; the important thing is that the methods for reporting data are transparent and understandable.)
We do provide some analysis of trends on Comichron, but to the extent possible, such content is informed by historical perspectives. My commentary was criticized for being too downbeat during the 1990s collapse; during the much milder slowdowns of 2010 and 2017, I heard the opposite complaint. In all three cases, I believe I was in the right place. Once you've lived through a couple of near extinction-level events in the business, minor fluctuations tend to be more readily recognizable as such.
Despite the motivating role played by the 1990s crash in this site's existence, we believe there's a significant role for the aftermarket. Comics are the magazines people keep; the fact that some comics increase in value is a net strength for the medium. There's a role, even, for variant comics in the business; their print runs are much more likely to be limited in number today than back in the early 1990s, and in a consumer product world driven by choice, readers can be expected to want more options for their money. Where variants can be harmful is when the purchasing structures are designed so as to defeat normal supply and demand — and, of course, they impose additional labor and logistical costs on retailers.
We believe that eBay has, by and large, been a helpful arbiter in telling which comics are rare and which are not; many comics listed on Comichron are linked to the site. Had auction sites and resources like Comichron been around in the early 1990s, it's possible the market wouldn't have overheated to the extent that it did. Knowledge is protection.
Finally, it's our goal to make as much material as we can publicly available. To advance that goal, here's...
Ways you can help
On occasion, there are specific research needs which Comichron requests help on; we ask about those on the site, on social media, and on our Patreon.
But the easiest way to support Comichron's efforts is through the latter: by your contribution to the site's Patreon. Thanks for your support!