I have never spoken of Conan sales before. I have no tongue for it.

§ February 19th, 2014 § Filed under conan, retailing § 12 Comments

Señor Editor (who will always be “Professor Booty” in my heart of hearts) asks:

“Mike, how do Conan comics sell at your shop? That might be a weird thing to wonder about but I’ve been re-purchasing old Marvel Conan’s I used to own, as well as getting the new Dark Horse stuff. I like a lot of it, and I liked the recent ‘…and the People of the Dark Circle’ Conan miniseries a lot. Seems like Conan will be one of the more popular franchises Dark Horse has the rights to, once Star Wars is out of their hands. Do Conan comics sell well?”

Conan has always done fairly well at our shop, even during that weird period in the ’90s after Marvel ended their long-running Conan the Barbarian series and had like a dozen Conan minis and short-run series. They weren’t top sellers by any means, but they were solid sellers off the racks.

The Dark Horse Conan comics have also been regular, if not spectacular, sellers, with a dependable sales record that hasn’t seemed to fluctuate much over the years. That sounds like I’m damning with faint praise, but believe you me, in the current comics market I’ll take “consistent low-to-mid-range seller” over “spiraling into nothingness” (cough) iron man (cough).

As for taking over as Dark Horse’s Premiere Franchise after Star Wars is in the grips of Marvel/Disney’s tender mercies, well…maybe. I’m not certain. Star Wars has had its success at Dark Horse mostly because, despite the large number of SW books, not every fan felt obligated to buy every series. The franchise was wide enough to include a variety of titles with different settings and characters and timelines and so on, appealing to different levels of SW commitment. The people who are buying the current Darth Vader mini aren’t necessarily the same people who are buying the Legacy series set a century or so later after Return of the Jedi. Even the folks that have “ALL STAR WARS” on their comic saver lists at our shop usually have a list of exceptions after that notation.

Conan, on the other hand, doesn’t quite have that wide a range of readership that I’ve noticed. Whereas you can publish a bunch of SW books at once and not burn out their followers, since they’re not going to buy every series anyway, pretty much every Conan series will be bought and read by the same people. Conan doesn’t appear to have the same range of settings and characters that the SW comics do…I mean, by definition, they all star Conan. Sometimes Young-ish Barbarian Conan, sometimes older King Conan, maybe other Conans I don’t know about. But the readership mostly overlaps on all the Conan titles…you put out one Conan a month, they all buy it. Two Conans, they’ll buy both. Three Conans, they’ll probably buy all three.

And that’s probably pushing the limit right there. If you keep pulling more and more money out of the fans’ pockets every month by basically making them dish out to keep up with their franchise of choice, they’re either just going to cut back to just the main “flagship” title or just give up altogether out of frustration and economic necessity (Cf. The Avengers). There is a ceiling on Conan franchise expansion that is much lower than on the Star Wars franchise, so unless there’s suddenly an upswing in Conan popularity in culture at large (and there have been a handful of mostly failed attempts at it over the last few years), that ceiling isn’t going up any time soon.

This is all based on our local market conditions, of course, Maybe Conan is the biggest thing ever in, I don’t know, Fairfax, VA, and their incredibly high demand for Conan product is balancing out our mostly moribund demand.

Of course, new comic sales aren’t the extent of it. I do good business in Dark Horse’s trade paperbacks, primarily the books that reprint Marvel’s old material (the Chronicles of Conan volumes, and those big ol’ Savage Sword phone books reprinting the magazines). The actual original Marvel comics do well, too…not just the early Barry Windsor-Smith issues, which are sought out not just by Conan fans but by “Bronze Age” comic collectors seeking “keys,” but the later ’70s/early ’80s runs as well. Savage Sword of Conan mags move regularly, even the Conan Sagas reprinting old SSoC sell. This isn’t so much from new readers to Conan (though there are some!) but from older nostalgic fans buying up old Conans to enjoy again (or read for the first time, if they missed an issue or three back in the old days).

There doesn’t seem to be much overlap between the two audiences…the Venn diagram of “folks what are buying the new Dark Horse stuff” and “folks buying the Marvel stuff, via either back issues or reprints” would be a slim area connecting the two circles (and would include Señor Editor, whose question kicked off all this yakkity-yakking of mine). But at least there is still a market for our barbarian friend, even after all these years.

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