More of the Sales Figures of DC’s Irwin Donenfeld

After the piece we ran a couple of weeks back on former DC publisher Irwin Donenfeld’s big book where he would chart the sales figures of the various DC titles on an issue-by-issue basis in an attempt to ascertain what elements might make a given issue of a comic book sell better, a bunch of additional pages showed up, giving us a further glimpse at Donenfeld’s interesting data. These photographs were all taken a while back by somebody who had access to the DC library, which is where Irwin’s book now resides (after spending many years in editor Julie Schwartz’s office, apparently.) As a result, these images are a bit blurrier and harder to make out, so I apologize for that.

Here is the book itself, as it exists today (or at least relatively recently.) It’s a big 3-ring binder with the pages arranged alphabetically by title, with each tier largely donating a particular year’s worth of releases (this changed in later years when the frequency of publication of certain titles became so frequent that Irwin couldn’t fit all of one year’s releases onto a single line any longer.) I’m told by folks who will know that Donenfeld had the small cover reproductions that he pasted down into the book shot specifically for this purpose; a number of them have detached and fallen out over the years.

Here’s the page devoted to the launch of SUPERMAN’S PAL JIMMY OLSEN. This book came abut as a direct result of the popularity of the character on the black and white (later color) ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN television program, in which Jimmy was a regular player. Editor Mort Weisinger thought that the character might be able to sustain his own series, and he was correct. The first issue sold well enough that the print run thereafter was increased in order to capture a greater audience. The best-selling issue covered here on a number of copies basis is the last one covered, #17, which seems to indicate that sales on the title were going up at the end of 1956.

Here’s a page dedicated to Shelly Mayer’s popular kid strip, SUGAR AND SPIKE, right as the 1950s turn into the 1960s. SUGAR AND SPIKE had been created to cash in on the popularity of Hank Ketcham’s DENNIS THE MENACE strip, which was doing big business in those days–but Mayer did more than just a DENNIS knock-off. From this page, it looks like the sell-through on the series ranged wildly from issue to issue, which makes sense. I expect that it was more of an impulse buy at that time than a lot of other comic books, and so a particularly strong cover or story idea might make a tangible difference. This was what Donenfeld was looking to distill.

Here’s a page for GANG BUSTERS as the series wound down. It was based on a popular radio show of the day, and so it’s not surprising that as television became the mass medium of choice in most households and drama on radio dropped off that so too would readership here. Donenfeld doesn’t even bother to track the sell-through numbers on the last few issues given that the book is already cancelled. I’d imagine the fact that DC/National Comics also had to pay a fee for the license to the show may have impacted on the book’s profitability a bit–the sell-through numbers here still seem good to my eye.

The SUPERMAN page that I ran at the top contains some interesting information as well as a few key issues. A couple of these issues sold through over a million copies, so you can understand why people in the comics industry would have been concerned about the public backlash from the Senate hearings and so forth, as by the end of these entries they were moving just a bit under 2/3 of that many copies. Of note here is SUPERMAN #76, the first book in which Superman and Batman were featured side-by-side in a full length story. This is what led to the two characters being featured in stories together in WORLD’S FINES COMICS–but from these numbers, there really isn’t any justification for that decision. That issue didn’t sell materially well than the ones on either side of it. The best-selling issue here by far was #66 featuring Superman hitting a pitched ball into the ground. No idea why sales may have jumped so heavily on that particular issue–hopefully, Irwin figured it out.

Finally, this is the crown jewel of the new pages that turned up: the earliest issues of JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA. And this puts the lie to something that had been stated many times in the past, that the sell-through on the earliest issues of JLA reached wildfire levels. The numbers on the first issue are impressive, especially for the time–an 86% sell-through. But subsequent issues settle down quickly to normal levels as the print run is increased. Now, it’s possible that the tremendous sell-through was actually for the JLA’s try-out issues in BRAVE AND THE BOLD (DC did make the decision to green-light the series as an ongoing title relatively quickly, after all.) But until we can see those pages, that’s simply speculation. It’s also fun to see the sales take a jump for the final book listed here, the very first Justice League/Justice Society crossover issue. Makes sense that it would become an annual tradition if the numbers consistently behaved this way whenever such a story was done. The best-selling issue in terms of the number of copies sold in this era was unsurprisingly issue #9, which gave the Origin of the Justice League.

2 thoughts on “More of the Sales Figures of DC’s Irwin Donenfeld

  1. As a kid, I was way too grown up to read something as babyish as Sugar and Spike. As an adult, I came to love them.
    Tom DeFalco’s occasional Baby Benjy stories in Spider-Girl capture the spirit well.


  2. How hard would it be for DC to publish a facsimile/reprint of this book? The data is just fascinating and so cool when paired with the cover insets.


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