CCI: "Watchmen" Crowned This Year's Buzz Book

Sun, July 27th, 2008 at 2:42pm PDT | Updated: July 27th, 2008 at 3:49pm

Comic Books
Sean T. Collins, Guest Writer

"Watchmen" was the word on customer and retailer's lips alike during Comic-Con International.

Retailers and con-goers appeared unanimous in agreeing that Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons's "Watchmen," which originally debuted in serial format in 1986 and was first released in trade paperback the following year, is the buzz book of the convention. Spurred on by an explosion of interest in the title following the release of the trailer for director Zack Snyder's adaptation (attached to the blockbuster Batman film "The Dark Knight") as well as relentless promotion here at the show by both DC and Warner Bros. - including a packed panel, exclusive footage, and near-ubiquituos "big bags" featuring the film's logo and release date - demand for the acclaimed graphic novel has exceeded retailer ability to keep up. The show's trifecta of "anchor" retailers - Mile High Comics, Comic Relief, and Bud Plant Comic Art - sold out of all their copies by the show's second day.

"'Watchmen' is easily the buzz book of the show," said William Moulton, Executive Buyer for Mile High Comics, who sold out of 110 copies within the first two days and had to order additional copies by next-day freight. "We had 300 that came in, and they sold out in two hours and ten minutes - we actually timed it. We've still got people asking for it. We had at least 50 ask for it today, so that means we way under-ordered on our direct shipment that came over, too."

"The buzz book is 'Watchmen,'" agreed Shawn Saler, Convention Manager for the late Rory Root's Comic Relief. "This year we originally planned to have 75 [copies on hand]. We upped that to 200 before the show." When that supplemental shipment arrived on Friday, Saler said, "We sold out of [all] 125 copies in three hours."

"'Watchmen,' obviously, is in great demand," said John Reed, Marketing Director for Bud Plant Comic Art. "It's been around for more than 20 years, and suddenly this surge of interest - I don't think there's a copy left in the building after yesterday."

The success of 'Watchmen' seems even more surprising given its status as a perennial seller. "It's been slightly astonishing to me," said Saler. "Every year we've been able to sell through about 50 copies of 'Watchmen,' making it always one of our best sellers no matter what movie was coming out. I always assumed that there was a saturation of consciousness about the book and that there'd always be new readers buying it but that most people who were savvy readers had already encountered it. What I've learned is that there are still a lot of people who are about to have the wonderful experience of reading it for the first time."

"It's a real consistent, even-tempered item that we carry," said Reed of the "Absolute Watchmen" deluxe hardcover collection, "but of course this flurry of interest in 'Watchmen' has driven sales up to such a point that not only are we sold out, but we're having a hard time getting more copies from the publisher - and the whole world is vying for those copies."

Moulton and Saler both echoed Reed's assertion that copies are in short supply. "It's crazy, because the Memphis warehouse for Diamond sucks - they'll even tell you it's probably the worst warehouse they have," said Moulton, blaming lack of supplies on a bottleneck at the distributor level while chalking up Mile High's ability to restock to a strong relationshipw with their reps at the company. "Our reps are actually really good. We talked to our reps and got [our shipment] the next day, and that turned out to be probably one of the best decisions we made at this Con."

"I don't know how official this information is, but I've heard that DC's doing another very large print run," said Saler. "But [I've heard] that Diamond's currently out across the country, but within a couple of weeks [copies] should be back in bookstores and comic book stores."

Saler added that he'd encountered some price gouging at the show. "I know that some people here are selling them over cover price. I find that kind of unfair to the fans and I just hope that the fans know that if they wait a week or two they'll be able to find it at their local comic shop, and that's who they should be supporting."

"Comic Book Tattoo," Tori Amos' first foray into the comic book world, was another success story of the Con.

While DC Comics had no comment on sales of "Watchmen," Moulton attributed the book's success to the publisher and its sister studio Warner Bros.'s promotional efforts. "With their panels and the trailers they did, even people that know nothing about comics came in and bought that trade. They have a pretty big buzz. [WB] did a really good job with the bags" they distributed for free the morning of the "Watchmen" movie panel, he added. "No matter how good the movie turns out to be - to reverse the way that I think most of the studios are thinking of it - I think that the movie is probably the best commercial the book could ever hope for," Saler argued.

DC and Warner Bros.'s multimedia marketing mojo also carried over into the Batman backlist, particularly "Watchmen" writer Alan Moore's major contribution to the category. "After seeing the success they had with 'The Dark Knight,' all the Batmans are actually selling pretty well too," noted Moulton. "'[Batman: The] Killing Joke' - we brought in 150 of those to begin with, [and] we sold out of those on Friday." Moulton praised DC's decision to release their recent hardcover edition of the title with a relatively inexpensive $17.99 price point as a factor in the book's success.

Saler, too, sold out of the title. "Most of the top-level Batman books sold out. I think with 'The Dark Knight,' it actually worked to make people enthusiastic about getting comics in a way that most comic book movies don't sit with people quite as much."

Both retailers also went through all their copies of Top Cow's "Wanted," the Mark Millar/J.G. Jones title upon which this summer's Angelina Jolie action hit was loosely based.

But films were not the only source of big sales: Image Comics' "Comic Book Tattoo," an extravagantly produced anthology of comics based on the songs of musician and Comic-Con guest Tori Amos, performed extremely well for the publisher despite supply problems during the early days of the Con.

"It's just one of those things that happens at conventions to somebody, and unfortunately this year, we were the ones," said writer Derek McCulloch, who collaborated with artist Colleen Doran on an adaptation of Amos' song "Pretty Good Year" for the book. "I don't know what the final story was. We kept hearing conflicting reports: One was that the books got stuck in the freeway mishap [an overturned tractor trailer on California's Route 5] on Thursday. The other report was that the books were actually here in the convention center and nobody knew where they were. We ended up getting an emergency shipment to replace the missing ones. I don't think the original shipment ever turned up." McCulloch said the book's deluxe limited editions sold out on Thursday, while regular hardcovers sold out on Friday. Softcovers quickly evaporated after Amos's panel and signing on Saturday, while Saler reported selling through Comic Relief's 10-copy supply nearly as soon as buyers realized it existed.

Other buzz books were a family affair. A rare appearance by all three comics-creating members of the Hernandez family, Jaime, Gilbert, and Mario - along with the clan's newest cartoonist, Gilbert's young daughter Natalia - helped Fantagraphics sell out of all but 12 of Los Bros' latest collaboration, the book-format "Love & Rockets: New Stories Vol. 1." Meanwhile, multiple Eisner Award-winning twins Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba were collectively responsible for several other break-out titles. Ba's Eisner-winning collaboration with My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way, "The Umbrella Academy," sold out at Comic Relief, while the pair's latest anthology with their Eisner-winning co-creators Becky Cloonan and Vasilis Lolos, "Pixu," was rapidly cycling through its limited run and earning plaudits among indie comics readers. Announcements of Moon and Ba's upcoming mainstream projects, "B.P.R.D.: 1947" with "Hellboy" creator Mike Mignola at Dark Horse and the limited series "Daytripper" at Vertigo, kept their names in the industry news circuit. Finally, fellow buzz-bearer Amos cited the brothers' collaboration with Matt Fraction, "Casanova," as one of her current favorite series during her well-attended panel, adding a layer of synergy to one of the most unusual assortments of buzzed-about books in recent San Diego memory.

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TAGS:  cci2008, watchmen, comic book tattoo, the dark knight

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