On -isms: Pini or Telgemeier?

By | Thursday, March 09, 2017 1 comment
Earlier this week, Brian Hibbs took a look at the BookScan numbers for 2016. I haven't had a chance to parse through everything yet, but Hibbs frequently provides some fantastic insights about the industry. One of the big, and totally not surprising since it's like the fifth year in a row for this, is that Raina Telgemeier frickin' dominates the market! By herself, she accounts for about 5% of the income for the entire comics industry! (And as I recall, she did about the same in 2015 as well.) If that's not a success story, I don't know what is.

But hang on a moment. Telgemeier's earliest published comics work were around 2003, and her breakthrough graphic novel Smile came out in 2010. She's been working on comics for just over ten years, and her monster success has been basically within the past 5-6 years.

That's a hell of an accomplishment, and I don't say that in an attempt to try minimize it. But I put it out there as a bit of context.

You see, I was wondering the other night (before Hibbs' piece went live) which cartoonist has had the most long-term success as far as their own independent property is concerned? One of the names I was thinking about was Wendy Pini. Her ElfQuest series has had a strong and devoted following almost since the beginning, and it's still going strong. Not exactly the gangbusters numbers that Telgemeier is getting right now but -- and here's where that context I was talking about comes into play -- ElfQuest debuted back in 1978. About eight months after Telgemeier was born. Pini has over three decades of more-or-less continuous work before Smile came out.

Their relative success to one another, at least financially, would be almost impossible to determine. Does the lower sales over a substantially longer time from ElfQuest even out against the higher sales over a much shorter period from Smile (and Telgemeier's other books)? I don't know that anyone has access to all the numbers you'd need to crunch over that. I daresay Pini doesn't even have all of that information for just herself! I mean, that'd be nearly forty year of receipts she'd have to sort through, assuming she kept them all!

But either way, those are two hella awesome success stories. How many other creators are even in that ballpark? Will Eisner? Jeff Smith? Maybe Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but they eventually sold their rights to them. (For no small amount of money, I'm sure, but my point is that TMNT are no longer their characters.) I'm hard-pressed to come up with many other names to really consider. At least not in the US.

I point all this out because it's worth noting, I think, that a good percentage of the most successful comic book creators doing their own independent comics are women. And yet their work is rarely cited in comics circles -- at least rarely relative to the overwhelming successes they've had. Pini's and Telgemeier's name should, at this point, be regularly said in the same breath as Eisner or Smith.
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Your comment that "Pini's and Telgemeier's name should, at this point, be regularly said in the same breath as Eisner or Smith" is a great thing to read, and I wish there were more women in the almost-household-names category (I would also include Alison Bechdel and Marjane Satrapi).

Alan Moore and Daniel Clowes have several film adaptations to bolster their popularity, but how about the following creators with long (and successful?) independent comics careers:

Robert Crumb
Jack Katz
Terry Moore
Scott McCloud
P. Craig Russell
Dave Sim
Art Spiegelman
Chris Ware