Still superheroes: comic industry flourishes

01.14.14 Thumbnail ORComicsBY VIVIAN MCINERNY | OB BLOGGER

For Oregon’s comic biz, 2014 is already proving to be a real page-turner.


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For Oregon’s comic biz, 2014 is already proving to be a real page-turner.

First off, Milwaukie-based Dark Horse announced the end of its licensing deal with Star Wars that it has held since 1991. The rights revert to Marvel in 2015.

Dark Horse ranks among the top five comic publishers in the U.S. (after Marvel, DC, Image Comics and IDW Publishing) in part because it published hundreds of successful Star Wars comics through the years. Losing the SW has got to hurt. (POW! OOF!) But Dark Horse is still in the race. The company, founded by Mike Richardson in 1987, publishes English language versions of popular Japanese comics, and has a stable of other licensing deals including Conan the Barbarian and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. If you haven’t noticed that popular movies and television series inspire comic book spin-offs, just as comic books inspire popular movies and television series spin-offs, you probably stopped reading them back when Batman met Robin.

Overall, comic sales in 2013 were up 9.04% from the previous year, according to Diamond Comics Distributors, the world’s leading distributor of English language comics. Their sales topped $517.4 million. Comichron, which chronicles the comic biz, estimates that comics and graphic novels sold through bookstores and newsstands plus digital sales add another $275 million to the mix. Although Marvel and DC continue to hold the biggest shares of sales — about 64 percent — Dark Horse claims a respectable piece of the pie with its 5.1 percent. The top-selling comic of 2013? The Walking Dead from Image Comics. That the chronicles of Zombie flesh-eaters are so wildly popular probably indicates something really profound about American culture, but dang if I can make any sense of it. Personally, I prefer the strong super hero or heroine type.

Meanwhile, back at the comic cons — you know, those conventions where like-minded people gather to educate, celebrate and often inebriate over a particular shared interest? Last year, Portland was home to three big comic events. This year Stumptown Comics joins forces with Rose City Comic Con (RCCC) for the September event. But first up, Wizard World Portland Comic Con (WWPCC) returns for the second year to the Oregon Convention Center. Wizard World produces comic conventions in cities throughout the U.S. including Chicago, New Orleans and Philadelphia. Comic book character actors including William Shatner (Star Trek), Billy Dee (Star Wars), Adam West and sidekick Burt Ward (Batman) and actress Laurie Holden (The Walking Dead) will be in Portland. But diehard comic fans may be more impressed with the January 24-26 lineup of comic book artists and writers. Despite the slightly creepy, loser image of Comic Book Guy on The Simpsons, actual comic fans come in all shapes, sizes, and ages. And let’s just say there are few things in this world cuter than the sight of an entire family in a city crosswalk dressed in coordinating comic costumes.

Anyway, between the WWPCC, RCCC, Dark Horse, a comic collective and a handful of indie comic companies, Portland deserves its creative reputation. So if that inked kid at the coffee shop doodles on a napkin, hold onto it.

(Image Courtesy: Dark Horse Comics)

Vivian McInerny blogs on popular culture for Oregon Business. VivianMcInerny