The Sales Figures of Marvel’s Jim Shooter

Well, not really Jim Shooter’s directly, not in the same was as the Irwin Donenfeld sales charts we looked at last week. But I’m reasonably certain that I cribbed these newsstand tracking sheets from Jim Shooter’s old web page a decade or so back, and he would have been there when they came in–so we’ll credit them to him in any event.

This was the manner in which newsstand sales were reported back to the publishers by the distributor in the 1970s and 1980s. We were still getting reports exactly like these on our titles in the early 1990s when I began working at Marvel (though I never kept any of mind–hence, the need to swipe these from Jim.)

These aren’t as attractive to look at as Irwin’s hand-compiled book with its cover reproductions, but they do provide a lot of interesting information. You can see that the sales of a given issue of a given title were reported on a weekly basis for about 32 weeks, which was the sales cycle of that particular issue. The top section indicated the print run of the title, the date it went on sale and the date it went off sale, and then the returns (in thousands) each week for the 32 weeks. At the bottom, there’s a summation of the full number of copies returned, the full number of copies therefore sold, and then the percentage or “efficiency” of the book in question. We can see here that DAREDEVIL is on the upswing, selling 85,000 copies of its January 1978 issue, and 101,000 of its November 1979 issue, the last one for which all of the returns are in.

The one thing that makes these reports a bit more difficult to parse is the fact that no issue numbers are given–only cover dates. But to provide some of that context, the first issue covered here is #150, and the final issue #167. Notably, Frank Miller came aboard the series as artist with issue #158, though the book takes a slight dip at that point. Miller’s first issue as writer as well as artist would be the next one beyond the range of this chart.

This next sheet covers the full run of Jack Kirby’s MACHINE MAN series, as well as the first bunch of issues of its revival shortly after its discontinuation at #9, this time illustrated by Steve Ditko. It’s worth mentioning that these numbers are for the newsstand Marketplace only. While at this point the Direct Sales network of comic book specialty shops was still small, its impact was slowly growing month after month. I would guess that at this point it was adding another 10-20,000 copies to the final sales on a given book depending on what it was.

Looking at this, after a decently strong launch, Kirby’s MACHINE MAN settled in at a sell-through of between 75,000 and 80,000 copies an issue right up until the end of its lifespan, when it suddenly tapers off. Thereafter, the first issue of the Ditko incarnation pops in a big way, jumping up to 101,000 copies, but this settles down immediately thereafter and a slow slide begins. The final issue covered on this sheet (for which returns have only just started to come in) is #14.

And this last sales chart covers LUKE CAGE, POWER MAN right at the moment that the series is being combined with IRON FIST into the joint series cleverly titled POWER MAN AND IRON FIST. The first issue covered here is #49, the final issue #63.

From these figures, we can see that the first combined issue, #50, popped way up in sales, eventually settling back down again (though still at a higher sell-through than the last POWER MAN solo issue.) The interesting bit to me comes right in the middle. Suddenly, the sales jump up to 116,000 for one issue. I expected this to be for #57, in which the All-New, All-Different X-Men guest star–that’s definitely why I picked that issue up. And #57 did show an uptick to 93,000 copies. But the big jump was actually for #58, with the debut of El Aguila and an attractive Dave Cockrum cover. I would not have guessed that.

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