iFanboy vs. iFanboy: The New York Times Adds Comics Bestseller Lists

As you may have read in the last day or so, The New York Times expanded their array of Best Seller lists yesterday to include graphic novels.

Sort of. The lists are made up of graphic novels, make no mistake, but for some reason the Times has opted to call them lists of “graphic books.” I have to admit to reflexively rolling my eyes; “graphic novel” is a little self-conscious and pretentious to begin with, but this is pretension-on-pretension crime. It’s only a synonym, but that one word was enough to start off the whole venture awkwardly as far as I was concerned. I thought of the Mark Twain quote: “The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter–it’s the difference between ‘lightning bug’ and ‘lightning.'” I imagined a group of people on a conference call, saying, “There are many different names that these books go by– graphic novels, comix, sequential art– so for clarity’s sake I propose we use something that no one on earth has ever called them, anywhere, ever. Just to make it our own, get our stink on it a little bit. You know.”

Awkward naming aside, this obviously has the potential to be a great development for the medium. When it comes to books, all eyes are on The New York Times Best Seller lists, and it seems like comics can only benefit under the sweat-inducing spotlight that comes from being in the Paper of Record. Or would, if these lists were actually in the paper. If I’m reading the announcement correctly, the rest of the Best Seller lists are in the Times while the comics lists will be printed solely in the Arts ghetto- um, blog. It’s like getting a madly coveted invitation to a dinner party and then being seated in the kitchen. Of course, when it comes to mainstream media attention, most of the comics community would be delighted to sit under the table and eat whatever happened to fall. You should see the press release we just got from Marvel about this. Oh my God, you guys! The popular newspaper totally looked at us!

Speaking of the M Word: as you will see when you read it, the post inaugurating this development begins, “Comics have finally joined the mainstream,” and one sentence in I’m irritated. They finally did that, did they? In March 2009? What stream have the rest of us been in, then, Grey Lady? Did you miss what happened when the trailer for Watchmen came out? Did you miss the first season of Heroes? Didn’t you profile Brian K. Vaughan a year ago? I’ve got this Robert Downey movie you really need to check out. I think you meant to write, “BAM! POW! Old Media has finally caught up to the mainstream of 2003.” Are these lists making their appearance because comics have finally joined the mainstream, or because you are rapidly leaving it and need to reach your tendrils out to any cranny that might have new subscribers in it? When I first heard this news, the first thing I did was post to Twitter the headline, “New York Times Adds Graphic Novel Bestseller List Seconds Before Blinking Out of Existence; Nerds Just Grateful For a Moment of Attention.”

But now I sound ungrateful.

As for the books themselves, the Times has broken graphic novel sales into three lists: Hardcover, Softcover, and Whatever Naruto Came Out. For simplicity’s sake, they have shortened the name of the last list to “Manga.” I encourage you to click over and check the lists out; they are a nice combination of just what you’d expect and refreshing surprises. Also take note of their methodology for coming up with the list, which does much better at accurately reflecting the marketplace (Dear Diamond Sales Numbers Adherents: Borders exists) while still being maddeningly short on quantifiable data for my tastes. Even with this added into the mix, nobody is any closer to knowing anything when it comes to sales. Still, I suppose that shouldn’t matter to me; nobody pesters soda companies shouting, “Exactly how much Caffeine Free Pepsi have you sold? What are you hiding, Pepsico?!” It’s really none of my business.

For now, kvetching aside, I am warily looking forward to seeing what sort of rankings these lists yield. (One topic for later: who decides what’s manga?) Gordon, what do you make of all this?

Jim Mroczkowski


I am a fan on The New York Times. As a matter of fact I even have their app for my iPhone. Granted, the app is one of the most frequent “crashers” but aside from that, the content is usually pretty good. Upon hearing that they were releasing a list of the “Graphic Books Best Seller List” I was sort of excited and intrigued.

Before I go any further I’d like to say that I agree with almost everything Jim has already said. My biggest issue with all of this is actually what’s on the lists themselves.

I’m certainly not the first person to admit that I’m out of touch with “comics.” I read what I like, or at least what I think I should/might like. I know there is a lot of good stuff out there that I don’t read because I just don’t have them time – but based on these lists it seems like there are a lot of great things that nobody is reading.

I understand that this is just a weekly snapshot and it’s going to constantly be changing, but if it is a sign of things to come it has me a little worried… either for myself and my relationship with comics. Or perhaps I’m worried about the future of comics… unless they are Marvel or DC.

Don’t get me wrong — I really don’t have an issue with people reading any of the books — hell, read everything. It just scares me that 15 out of 20 (I’m not looking at Manga) are from the “big two.” Granted, they are called the “big two” for a reason and maybe that’s where my issue is. No matter how many books come out weekly, the “big two” are the ones that I hear people talk about. I hear it in my LCS, I hear my students talk about it and now The New York Times. It’s almost like they are making the problem worse by getting in the mix. And — as Jim pointed out — their entry seems to be a bit clumsy…

A lot of people respect what the Times has to say, so why not use this as a catalyst to get more publishers/creators a little bit of face time? I’m aware that they are just reporting numbers here — but I still see (or saw) this as an opportunity to actually promote people that could use the promoting.

Keep reading books. Read them all — try something that you wouldn’t normally buy. Who knows, it might be great…

…I’m off my soapbox now.

Gordon the Intern



  1. Hey, Gordon’s back!  Was glad to see Terry and the Pirates on the HC list.

  2. While it’s certainly not *the* single defining moment of Comics Mainstream evolution, it is a meaningful gesture. That book list is the hallmark of how books are advertised. Do you know how many RA Salvatore books call him a "New York Times Bestseller" years after he’s broken that barrier? It means something to people.

    And if you can have Starman Vol. 2 as the top seller, a respected tome in Comic-Dom, maybe you’ll get a couple people who don’t read comics to say "Hey, if this is on the Bestseller list, there must be something right about it." Not saying it will re-shape the industry, drastically increase readers or such. But it does help. And in a struggling economy, in a medium slowly losing readers, ever little bit helps.

  3. OMG! This is the most amazing news!! Gordon isnt dead! He’s alive and well! 🙂

    I’m happy that New York Times is finally giving some notice to comic books. It’s certainly at a point now where the medium is respected enough to at least make it a talking point again to regular people. Maybe for all the better, if this list continues we can see some non fans pick up the books they put on the bestsellers list every week/month.

  4. Hey, that’s kinda cool. Incredible Starman is doing so well. A lot of what’s on the list are solid comics it seems. That’s awesome. Sometimes, just sometimes, I am not disappointed in humanity. 

  5. I’m surpised that naruto spam the market with volumes thing works so well for them.  Must because all the Jump titles are under 8 bucks a pop. I’ve effectively stoped buying Manga because most of the titles I like pricey.  I’ve got a sub to shonen jump for all my Japannese boy comic needs. 

  6. hmmm, graphic novels + comic books = graphic books?

  7. NO! It ruins the reputation. "Books with less words" – don’t mention pictures or people won’t respect it.

  8. I can see Gordon’s point in that it won’t showcase books deserving of people’s attention, but that’s not really it’s purpose anyway, so it’s a bit of a Catch-22.  My main concern is that week in and week out nothing will really change a la Wizard’s Top 10 Artists and Writers and thus, it will lost any real impact (if it has any to begin with).  I mean, how many times do you want to see that Naruto has 95% of the Manga list or that Watchmen, Dark Knight Returns and Killing Joke are always in the top 10?  It’s great that those books are still selling, but if it’s the same list week in and week out, it gets boring and pointless.  Imagine if the Fiction Books Top 10 list always had The Da Vinci Code or Twilight on it?  You’d start to groan and probably stop paying attention to the list.  I think there’s a lot of red tape and politics too to getting on the Times list, as from what I recall from Neil Gaiman’s blog way back when American Gods came out, so it’s not just what sells.  But that’s just me.

  9. @CGPO: The New York Times Best Seller List often features the same books on it.  There are books that live on that list for months and years.

  10. Lets also keep in mind there are A LOT more regular books coming out every month than there are Manga and TPB’s. Watchmen, Dark Knight etc. really don’t have that much to compete with week in and week out.

  11. RE: the Graphic Novel thing.

    Graphic Books is a much better catch-all term, since a lot of great comics aren’t novels, but non-fiction.  

    I’m thinking of Louis Riel, Lindbergh Baby, MF Grimm, just to mention some recent ones.

    Its the ‘Graphic’ bit that bothers me, to be honest, since to a lot of people that evokes notions of sex and violence, or, as Alan Moore put it, ‘Tits and Innards’.

    As for splitting it into Hardcovers and Softcovers, they are kind of making the mistake in thinking that the comics market is analogous to the prose market, i.e. that a book comes out first in Hardback, then is reprinted in Paperback, when often the only version of a comic is in one format or the other, depending on design and publisher. 

  12. You know what I am shocked at?

    That Incredible Hercules: Love and War is #8 on the HC list….I mean jeez….I guess a lot of the comic fans are going to trade on this. I’m happy though, that means my reviews and other reviews have made people interested in the series. Yay I contributed!

    Plus I’m not that shocked Naruto is on the manga list 8/10 times. That sells like crack at my job.

  13. this is fantastic news…

    i kind of feel this weird sense of vindication when I see comics in popular culture, especially this week when everyone is discussing Watchmen.

    I just wish this was around in high school. The amount of shit I got off people who didn’t read (full stop) for being into comics was enormous. It would have been nice to say “hey, fuck you. The New York Times considers this comic quality”

  14. Glad to see the list added to the NYT.  Hopefully this will lead to people picking up some more comics / graphic novels, as well as more coverage and reviews in the wookly book review.

    re: the list being dominated by the big two, I think that the way the list is calculated will keep the big players making up the majority of the list most of the time.  Smaller presses just don’t have the resources to push big retailers and outlets other than bookstores to do large buys of their books, IMO. 

  15. I’m pretty sure the DaVinci Code was on the best sellers list a long time in 2 different stints.

     If I understand correctly that it’s only on the blog and won’t be in the paper then I have to say it doesn’t mean much to anyone that won’t actively go looking for it. I don’t see this having any great effect on the medium of comics going truly mainstream.  (Which I mean that my mother no longer sighs when her 30 year old son mentions how much he enjoyed the new Walking Dead or Green Lantern j/k but you know what I mean). I do think it’s a good thing even if it isn’t in the actual paper.

    Books, T.V., Movies and Video Games are mainstream,books, t.v., movies and games about comic book characters are mainstream too, but that doesn’t make Comic books mainstream unfortunately. I think we are still an undercurrent in society, an unappreciatted art form. I hope one day we reach that point again. I think we still have a ways to go.

  16. Well it’s about fucking time!

  17. What I want to know is how Uncanny X-Men "End of History" is on the best-seller list?  The comics in that book are 4-5 years old, and there have been slews of tpb’s released from that title since then.  What makes that one so popular?

  18. I’ve been sending this article to friends. It’s hilarious!

  19. Baby steps! This is pretty darn cool. It’s nice to see a standby like the Times recognize comics and graphic novels in this way.

  20. I call ’em Grovels. 🙂