Martha Thomases: Graphic Novels Save The Day!

A few years ago, the conventional wisdom was that physical books (and therefore, bookstores) were endangered species. All of us were going to get our reading material beamed directly into our various devices, if not our actual eyeballs, and there would no longer be physical books to buy.

This isn’t happening. Print book sales are up this year.

Among the categories helping to sell hard copies of books (besides coloring books, and is that still a thing?) is graphic novels. Sales of graphic novels were up twelve percent last year.

That is a lot.

A great deal of the credit for the book market success of graphic novels is Jeff Kinney’s Wimpy Kid series, which continues to sell and sell and sell. Raina Telgemeirer is another dynamo. Both are considered to create books for the children’s market (or young adult). While this market is not growing as quickly as it was a few years ago, it’s still a very profitable segment of the business.

However, kids’ books aren’t the whole story. All kinds of graphic novels are doing well. Why are they selling so many in the book market that isn’t necessarily kind to actual, physical books with pages? I have my theories.

For one thing, a lot of people (myself included) have not yet accustomed themselves to reading comics on a screen. It can be difficult to read lettering on a small device, and blowing up the image means you don’t get to see the entire page. To me, that diminishes the experience. Note that changing the size of the type in a prose book, especially the mysteries and thrillers I tend to pack into my Kindle to read on airplanes and in hotel rooms, makes no difference whatsoever in the experience.

People are busy. People have trouble unwinding at the end of a stressful day. A graphic novel, all things being equal, provides as rich and nuanced a reading experience as a prose book, but more quickly.

(Yes, I can think of a zillion exceptions. Please feel free to list your favorites in the comments section.)

Graphic novels are the new coffee table books. Along with collections of great art, great photography or great travel destinations, graphic novels demonstrate to your guests that you are a literate sophisticate who appreciates the finer things in life.

This is all lovely and satisfying to those of us who love the medium, but it isn’t all roses. While graphic novels are selling very well, individual comic books seem to be less successful. This means trouble for the comic book stores that were designed to sell individual comics to fans on a weekly basis. Now, I love my local stores, and I am a regular customer at several. It’s hard for me to pass up an opportunity to buy books in any form. However, I understand why a reader new to the medium might prefer to buy collected editions of comic book stories. It’s simply more satisfying as a purchase. The parallel case might be someone who prefers to binge on a whole season of a television show instead of waiting week to week.

This is where Amazon, which I generally love (they have everything!), gets to be a problem. Because they buy in enormous quantities, they can sell graphic novels for much less than your local shop. And if your local shop isn’t selling weekly pamphlets, and if it can’t sell graphic novels either, then it won’t be open for much longer.

I love my local comic book shops. They are places that understand me. And as the graphic storytelling medium has grown to cover more kinds of storytelling, they understand even more people.

Ross Richie of Boom! Studios has a solution. He urges everyone to buy a graphic novel from our local comic book shops.

It’s a great idea. I’m going to do it, even though it means that I will have to schlep a heavy book around with me all day. Along with yarn, water, money, glasses, pens, phone, tablet and all the dreck of modern life. It’s a small sacrifice to make to keep my pals in business.