The Weight of Comic Sales

By | Wednesday, December 09, 2020 1 comment
(Trust me; this IS comics related.)

I like to stay in shape. (Well, more accurately, I don't like not being in shape.) By no means am I in peak physical condition, but I think I'm reasonably fit for a guy who's always preferred mental over physical activity, drinks WAAAY too much soda, and is now pushing 50. I freely acknowledge that I could be doing a lot better, but I don't beat myself up over it because, frankly, there's a LOT of other things I'd rather spend my time on than working out more for exponentially diminishing returns.

My overall health and fitness is obviously of some concern, but I don't worry about it much. I've got a scale that I pull out from the linen closet pretty much only when I know that I'm about to be asked how much I weigh. Like, just before I go to get my driver's license renewed. A lot of people judge how well their exercise program or diet or whatever is working by that scale, but I don't. It's a worthless number.

See, your weight is just the measure of gravity pulling against your mass. If your goal is to simply to make the number on your bathroom scale smaller, there are several options you could pursue. You could move to another planet where the intensity of gravity is different. You could decrease your overall mass by, say, cutting off one of your limbs. You could mount huge magnets in the ceiling above your scale and wear iron bracelets.

All of those options are absurd, of course, but that's my point. The goal itself is absurd. The measurement of your weight doesn't speak at all to the density of of your mass. Maybe you do actually have thick bones. It doesn't speak to any difference between fat and muscle. It doesn't speak to how your fat is distributed throughout your body; sumo wrestlers, while heavy, have a distinctly different body makeup than equally heavy couch potatoes. It's not really an accurate gauge of what you're REALLY trying to achieve -- which is (generally) improved health.

comic book ad featuring Arnold SchwarzeneggerLet's look at body mass index (BMI) for a second. It's basically just a simple calculation of your weight to your height. That's a little more reasonable than weight by itself since it takes into consideration a second factor that would have an impact on your mass. According to BMI "standards" a BMI of 30 or higher is considered obese. At the height of his body building career, Arnold Schwarzenegger had a BMI of 31.2 during competitions and 33.8 during the off-season; I hardly think anyone would have ever thought to call him obese though. Schwarzenegger's weight was primarily muscle.

So why, if those numbers don't really mean anything, do people rely on them?

Because, frankly, we don't have a better measurement methodology available. There's no real standardized test for "fitness" so people use things like weight and BMI as indicators of fitness. It's really only useful as a general trending number for yourself. If you feel uncomfortable with the amount of fat your body has, exercise and a healthy diet (not "diet" as a verb, mind you) will help you lose weight. But whether you lose 5, 10 or 20 pounds that's really only a general guide for the direction you're taking your body. Did you actually just lose 10 pounds, or did you lose 15 pounds of fat and gain 5 pounds of muscle? Which is better for you, if there is a difference?

Apply the same thought now to comic book sales numbers. Ever month that they come out, the people who calculate them always say, "These are ESTIMATES." And most everybody treats them as gospel anyway. I've heard more than a couple editors flatly say the estimates are rarely even in the ballpark. The only thing they do is suggest general trending; is Action Comics selling better or worse than Uncanny X-Men? It's a rough guide at best.

Sadly, I think my weight analogy hits too close to the mark. People have been using weight for generations as THE way to measure physical health and that doesn't look to change any time soon. Unless we start getting genuine, actual sales measurements from the publishers themselves, I'm pretty sure people are going to continue looking at the current numbers as if they were more definitive than they are.
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Matt K said...

Also sadly, this applies to much more than comic books and fitness.

So many of the indicators that our culture is glued to are little better than junk. Some are worse. Dow numbers, GDP, political polling, "bestseller" rankings… even job numbers are deeply problematic.

Things genuinely are a mess, and active sabotage is a big part of why. But so much of the signage being either obsolete, or never good guidance in the first place, is also part of why.