In Chapter Nine of our book we examine the place of creators of contemporary young adult comics and wonder about the relative neglect in the area of comics studies. Specifically, in pages 101 and 102 we discuss the phenomenal success of Raina Telgemeier, who, we note, was responsible for $4.5 million worth of book sales in 2014. One problem with writing about such recent-published work is that it can become quickly out of date. If we had the opportunity to do a quick updating of the text (which is what this blog is for) we would report that in 2015, according to data compiled by BookScan and reported by Brian Hibbs, Telgemeier was responsible of an astonishing $11 million worth of book sales. Here's Hibbs:
The next four places #3-6 on the Top 20 are owned by Raina Telgemeier, with "Drama" doing 264K (it sold just 94K in 2014), "Smile" at 240k (151K in 2014), "Sisters at 219K (it was the #1 book of 2014's report... At 179K!) and vol. 1 of the newly colored "Baby Sitter's Club" pulling down 116k. Raina also takes the #12 book with another "Baby Sitter's Club" volume at 68K. That's an astounding performance, and an absolutely incredible growth in sales year-over-year.
Where is this growth coming from? Is it coming from all quarters as more and more stores realize the strength of middle-school-age-oriented graphic novels, or is it coming from big players like WalMart going big on the category? Anecdotally, "Smile" and "Sisters" are both in my own store's Top 100.
Raina has six books that chart altogether (though there are 27 entries in the full list, due to various editions and formats), and she sold 990k copies this year, for more than $11 million in sales -- almost 6.5% of all the sales of the comics report for BookScan were by Raina Telgemeier (and almost 4.25% of the dollars!) That's purely incredible (and just a little bit insane)
I might go further and say that what is "just a little bit insane" is the near total absence of scholarly discussion of Telgemeier and her work. Our chart in Chapter One shows her to be completely absent from our data sources, but GoogleScholar turns up a couple of pieces in which she is mentioned (though it still seems to lack any articles for which her work is the primary subject). Think about that: 6.5% of all comic book sales, completely ignored by scholars.
I think clearly this will change over time. Tomorrow's undergraduates will wonder if she is kept out of comics classrooms of the future.
True anecdote: Once per week I take my son (ten years old) and two of his friends (ten and eight) to their after school activity. The ten year old girl last week arrived with a copy of one of the Babysitters Club graphic novels, raving about it and having read about 90% of it already since having picked it up from the school library earlier that day. In the car she recapped the plot to the other two, and they finished the book and then began it again from the beginning. When I mentioned that I've met at Raina Telgemeier a few times at the Toronto Comics Art Festival there was shrieking from the backseat. I might just as well have said that I know Adele or Taylor Swift.
Both the data and the anecdote point to the same direction: these are books that connect strongly with their audience. Sadly, it's not an audience that comics studies has particularly prioritized. Hopefully that changes soon.