Blah Blah Blog – The Year That Was 1990

A post from my ancient Marvel blog concerning sales figures from the year 1990

The Year That Was–1990

April 28, 2007 | 1:00 AM | By Tom_Brevoort | In General

Once again dipping into the files, here are some more Direct Sales marketplace sales figures from many years ago. Remember, these were just the number of copies sold into the non-returnable direct market of comic book specialty shops. With most of these books, there were additional sales through the returnable Newsstand distribution network as well, so these aren’t complete figures. Still, they give us a nice snapshot of an exciting period of change for Marvel and the industry.

As you can see at the left, this was the month that the first issue of Todd McFarlane’s adjectiveless SPIDER-MAN title shipped. And as you can see, it was an overwhelming hit, selling close to two million copies in the direct market alone (and that’s only for these two editions of the book–there were also two newsstand editions, and a specialty version or two that were later done as a gift to retailers.) The next-nearest selling book, X-MEN, didn’t do a fraction of that.

I can remember at the time that nobody was surprised that Todd’s SPIDER-MAN was a hit–it was a new ongoing Spidey book produced by the most popular artist to illustrate the web-slinger in a long time. But the actual extent of its success raised the bar and changed the industry. Because, having done this once, the powers-that-be above editorial expected a repeat performance the following year. Hedging his bets, EIC Tom DeFalco working with X-MEN editor Bob Harras decided to launch a new X-MEN #1 and transition NEW MUTANTS into X-FORCE that following year, hoping that between the two titles, they’d be able to deliver the same sales spike as SPIDER-MAN #1. And then, of course, X-FORCE #1 moved 4 million copies, and X-MEN #1 moved 8 million–and suddenly, there was an even bigger hurtle to deal with the year after that.

It’s also interesting to see the range of material Marvel was producing at this point. Far from simply focusing on the super hero titles of the Marvel U, there was an aggressive licensed property program, a line of books aimed at younger kids, the creator-owned Epic line, and a number of other projects that defied easy categorization. Not all of it was wonderful, but there was definitely some diversity going on.

This was also a summer month, which at that time meant that many of Marvel’s most popular titles had started to ship twice-a-month for the duration. A glance at these sales numbers will tell you instantly why that happened–an additional issue of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN brought in more revenue than any number of other books, even mainstays in the Marvel line. This strategy allowed the Marvel of the era to dominate the sales charts, leaving the competition, for the most part, in the dust.

I also can’t quite figure out what would have been the number one selling title for Marvel the month previous. According to these rankings, X-MEN was the #3 book in May. Even if this was skewed because of the double-shipping, that still means that X-MEN would have been the #2 title. So what was #1 in May of 1990?

More later.

Tom B

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4 thoughts on “Blah Blah Blog – The Year That Was 1990

  1. The top Marvel issue in May 1990 — and the reason you’re not seeing a comparative — was UNCANNY X-MEN ANNUAL #14. It was fourth in the market overall, behind two BATMANs and a DETECTIVE.

    I have long had a collection of Marvel internal files from this era — in some cases, they’re the ones these documents were prepared from; in others, they’re later. The Amazing Spider-Man #337 numbers match the ones one file, for example, and it also notes newsstand sales of 69,400 copies and a miscellaneous 29,000 copies (which I believe are subscription and Special Sales) for a total sale on the issue of 312,000 copies.

    But other material in that file appears to come from later — the adjectiveless Spider-Man #1 totals are much higher — so I still have some parsing to do to figure out just what it was reporting. Seeing more documents like these helps a lot!

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  2. Interesting to see that Heatcliff sold slightly less than Street Poet Ray. If these are just direct market sales, I can see Heatcliff doing much better on the newsstands.

    Also I know some Star Comics Heatcliff stories got used for Heatcliff paperbacks that look identical to the comic strip reprint paperbacks.

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  3. Yes, Heathcliff sold quite a bit more with the newsstand included. It was averaging 64,000 copies an issue overall in 1990, of which 9,000 copies monthly went to subscribers.

    The buzz at the time was Ray had the lowest circulation in Marvel history; can’t say that it isn’t, but I don’t think I’ve ever found a copy in the wild. It’s just the sort of thing that might actually be catnip in 2020’s aftermarket — people are chasing a lot of peculiar things this year!

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