For over a decade, I have followed the monthly sales charts of comic books in the North American direct market (meaning the local comic shop; no subscription, digital, or newsstands sales). I have long thought the monthly comic book is doomed.
Recently, I read an article that indicates there is indeed trouble for the format and the stores that carry them.
In this essay, I will be exploring, specifically, comic books from Archie Comics.
My Comic-Collecting Background
I got into Archie through one specific digest, which my mom bought for me at the supermarket. She got me another one later. Those two digests were my only Archies for a while. My sister got me a subscription to the regular floppy “Archie” title around 1993 (I remember seeing the ad for the “Super Mario Bros.” movie).
I started buying regular floppy comics, this time exclusively starring the female characters, in December of 1998 and kept it up until around 2001 or 2002. Then I sold a bunch. Then I got back into it. I wasn’t buying just Archie. I was buying pretty much every female-centric title from DC and Marvel – as well as “Witchblade”, “Tomb Raider”, “Fathom”, and various adaptations of 1980s cartoon properties. A lot of these went unread. During this time, I would drive way out of my way (sometimes an hour away) to get to the nearest comic-carrying bookstore to buy goddamn comic books. At least, they were usually just monthly trips.
Around 2005, I sold most of these and quit the habit.
I got back into digests around 2008 and started buying the AU horror titles in 2013. I also started getting into the last few issues of the Classic Archie titles in 2015. Then came New Riverdale. There was also a new “Tomb Raider” title, “Power Rangers Pink” (Kimberly!), “Back to the Future” (new, canon Jennifer Parker content!), a “Jem and the Holograms” comic (finally!), and so on. At least, I stayed the fuck away from superheroes this time. With no local comic shop, I bought these online through TFAW. If I risked waiting a week or two to combine multiple comics into one order (to save on shipping), I risked an issue no longer being available. If I bought only one issue in a single week, the added shipping basically meant I was paying around $7.00 for a motherfucking 20-page comic book.
In December of 2016, I quit buying physical comic books cold turkey. At the same time, I stopped using my credit card, so that would be one less thing that would be showing up in the mail on a monthly basis. I was helping the environment! Try it! 🙂
I also gave away all of the issues that I’d bought of New Riverdale “Jughead” – along with a bunch of DVDs, most of my digests, and some video games – to a local thrift store.
Yeah, most of those comics had gone unread.
So far, with the exception of the first issue of “Your Pal Archie”, I haven’t bought any digital comics. I can’t really say I miss it either.
Archie Comics’ Problems
The first sign of trouble came when there was a five-month gap between issues #6 (July 23) and #7 (December 10) of “Afterlife with Archie” in 2014.
Likewise, there was a six-month gap between issues #1 (October 8, 2014) and #2 (April 15, 2015) of Archie’s second AU horror title, “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina”.
There was also a five-month gap until issue #8 of “Afterlife with Archie” (May 6, 2015).
Issue #3 of “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” came out only one month after #2 (May 27), followed by #4 two months later (July 29). Not bad.
Archie Comics attracted criticism for launching a Kickstarter to help fund production of “Jughead”, “Betty and Veronica”, and a post-college Classic Archie title called “Life With Kevin” (from Kevin Keller’s creator, writer/artist Dan Parent). The Kickstarter was finally cancelled in mid-2015, and the titles were delayed. I’ll discuss the first two below. Regarding “Life With Kevin”, it did only three issues from June 22 to December 28 of 2016, and there’s been nothing since. It’s likely been cancelled.
The final story arc of the Classic “Betty and Veronica” title had been delayed for so long that the final issue didn’t come out until October 21, 2015 – after the first three issues of New Riverdale “Archie” and the first issue of New Riverdale “Jughead” had already come out.
While “Archie” and “Jughead” came out regularly, the horror titles went completely off the rails. Issue #5 of “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” didn’t come out until nearly ten months after #4 (May 18, 2016). This was followed one week later by the long-delayed issue #9 of “Afterlife with Archie” (over one year since the previous issue).
Issue #6 of “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” came out on July 13, 2016, about two months after issue #5. It looked like things were getting back on track. It would be nearly one year (July 5, 2017) before issue #7 was farted out.
Issue #10 of “Afterlife with Archie” came out just over three months after #9 (August 31, 2016). Things were looking good here, too. That’s been the last issue to date.
Over at New Riverdale, the long-delayed “Betty and Veronica” title debuted on July 20, 2016 – from a writer/artist that attracted controversy from the moment that he was announced (Adam Hughes). Issue #2 was delayed for nearly four months until November 9. Then nothing until Hughes farted out issue #3 over seven months later (June 14, 2017), hastily wrapping up his story arc with a “Never mind, it was all for show” excuse that doesn’t hold water. He’s off the book, and there hasn’t been a new issue since then, leading to speculation that the title’s been cancelled.
Speaking of cancellations:
On December 12, 2016, Archie Comics announced four one-shots: Jughead: The Hunger (an AU horror story in which Jughead becomes a werewolf), Sabrina the Teenage Witch: Back to School, Little Josie and the Pussycats, and Little Sabrina. Only “Jughead: The Hunger” came out (March 29, 2017). By May 30, the other three one-shots had been cancelled.
On June 23, 2017, Mark Waid off-handedly mentioned in an interview that “Jughead” was “on hiatus” (read: cancelled after 16 issues) and also mentioned “Archie” is “the only ‘New Riverdale’ series”, which basically confirms the cancellations of not only “Betty and Veronica” (after 3 issues) but also “Josie and the Pussycats” (after 8 issues).
There was a “Reggie and Me” miniseries that ran from December 7, 2016, to May 3, 2017, putting out five issues, but no one really noticed them. Ditto for the Big Moose one-shot on April 26. On July 11, Archie Comics announced ongoing titles based on “Jughead: The Hunger” and the “The Archies” one-shot from May 24. They can barely keep titles coming out regularly – and sticking around – as it is. How are they gonna handle two more? I’ll believe it when I see it.
In May, rumors swirled that the long-running “Sonic the Hedgehog” comic book, the longest-running comic book based on a video game (with a combined total of well over 500 issues, once you account for the main series, miniseries, spin-offs, crossovers, and one-shots), had been cancelled after a run that stretched back to 1992. The cancellation was officially confirmed on July 19. Sega had pulled the Sonic license from Archie. There’s no official explanation but plenty of rumors: licensing fees, the above-mentioned Kickstarter backlash, “Riverdale”, and a lawsuit. Whatever the cause, an era has come to an end.
So, after all of that, what does Archie Comics have left? “Archie”. Some digests, which contain mostly reprints but also some new stories set in Classic Archie continuity. “Your Pal Archie”. And an ongoing “Riverdale” comic series that started on April 5 after a one-shot on March 1. Oh, and there’s also “Road to Riverdale” and “Riverdale Digest”, which are both just reprints of New Riverdale comics (seriously, they’re the same thing). That’s about it.
Doing the Math
An issue of a New Riverdale title (also known as “Archie”) or “Your Pal Archie” costs $3.99 and is 20 pages long. You’re paying nearly 20 cents for each page of story. Remember Jughead falling down the cliff? That shit cost me 20 cents. The whole sequence of Jughead trying to drive Archie’s car? $1.00.
Let’s look at the “xoxo, Betty and Veronica” novels. This was a series of three novels that were published in 2011 as part of Archie Comics’ 70th anniversary celebration. They’re similar to the old “Riverdale High” novels that were published from 1991 to 1992 as part of Archie Comics’ 50th anniversary celebration. There are some differences, such as third person instead of first, no full-page illustrations, and authors other than the regular comic writers. Still, they’re pretty enjoyable.
Let’s assume one page of prose equals one comic page. I realize one comic page can be novelized in far less than one page of prose, but let’s keep it simple for this essay. Each novel is around 156 pages long and priced at $4.99. That’s like getting a little over 7 issues for $4.99 – or a single issue for a little over 70 cents. I’m talking old-school 22-page issues. It’s be like getting a modern 20-page issue for about 64 cents. Yes, I realize you don’t see the characters and have to, y’know, use your imagination, but I’m doing this to illustrate how much more of a value that novels are compared to comic books.
Even the old “Riverdale High” novels were a better value than the comic books of the time. I’ll use “Bad News Boyfriend” as an example. At $2.99 each and with 124 pages (mostly prose, but also some illustrated), that’s like getting a little over 5 issues for $2.99 – or a single issue for 53 cents. A regular comic book from Archie cost $1.00 in 1991. The trade paperback of the corresponding 2007 comic adaptation retails for $7.95.
Now, let’s look at “Riverdale”. One episode is 40+ minutes long, so let’s consider that to be roughly equal to two issues of a comic book. Setting aside the fact that you can watch it for free online (if you’re willing to wait one day), you can buy an episode on the day before it’s televised on Amazon Video (at least, those are the release dates that the site provides) for $2.99. That’s like getting 2 issues for $2.99 – or 1 issue for $1.50.
Finally, let’s pretend “Your Pal Archie” is a television series. A typical episode would feature a complete 12-minute story, a partial 8-minute story (to be continued in the next episode), and one of the segments from the old Filmation cartoon tacked on as a “bonus”. Each episode would retail for $3.99. Would you buy it or wait for the complete season to come out on Blu-ray?
Price per page/minute (in descending order from best value to worst value):
Riverdale High novel (1991) = $2.99/124 – $0.0241129032258065 per page
xoxo, Betty and Veronica novel (2011) = $4.99/156 = $0.0319871794871795 per page
monthly comic book (1991) = $1.00/22 = $0.0454545454545455 per page
trade paperback collection (2007) = $7.95/110* = $0.0722727272727273 per page
Riverdale = $2.99/40 = $0.07475 per minute
monthly comic book (2017) = $3.99/20 = $0.1995 per page
*I’m using the cumulative total pages in the original digest printings.
So, yeah, there it is. Monthly comic books aren’t a good value, no matter how you look at it. And comics from Archie are worse. Other publishers at least reduce the price of earlier issues of ongoing series, but every New Riverdale, “Afterlife with Archie”, and “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” issue is still the same price as on release day.
And this is just Archie, which cancels and delays issues and has cancelled some series (while others might as well be cancelled). If you were a follower of DC or Marvel, which each puts out a cumulative total of dozens of titles per month, ranging in price from $2.99 (more commonly $3.99) to $10 (Ten Motherfucking Dollars!), then you’d go broke trying to keep up.
In this climate, it’s no wonder that more and more people are dropping monthly installments and waiting for the trade. The days of the monthly comic book surely are numbered.