For those of you who don’t know me, I am a child of the 80s, Being born in 1981, I was brought up waking up Saturday mornings to a great cartoon block featuring two of my favorite properties of all time, the Transformers and G.I.Joe. Sure there were others, but those were what were in my wheelhouse.
So later when I was at the mall with my mom, we went into the bookstore and I found the now extinct spinner rack. And to my wonder, were these books on it called comics. And low and behold, one of which was based on one of those very cartoons. It was G.I.Joe issue #124 featuring Firefly. I immediately was hooked and collected that book for the remaining three years until it ended with issue #155. But that very issue is what I owe my comic love to today.
However, the current comics market is drastically different. Sales figures are down across the board. But there seems to be a noticeable difference in licensed properties. IDW is the current holder of both the G.I.Joe and Transformers licenses, along with many others as seen through their Infestation lineup. They hold Ghostbusters, Star Trek, Dungeons and Dragons, True Blood, Dr Who, and 30 Days of Night. But for sake of discussion, I’ll try to concentrate on the above two.
Unfortunately Marvel ended their run on the book in 1994 and sales figures are near impossible to find. However, over a decade ago, another company bought G.I.Joe rights from Hasbro. Devil’s Due published the second volume beginning in September 2001. Issue one debuted at #13 on the Diamond sales charts with 67,179. The first arc was done in bi-monthly format and issue 4 was the highest ranked issue of the run in March 2002 at #7 with 78,344. In the same month, the next closest licensed property was Star Wars. And those two books were ranked 91 and 95. Now, it is widely agreed upon that Star Wars is one of the most popular properties of all time. So to come in 84 spots above one of the greatest fixtures of pop culture is quite an impressive feat. But outside of licensing, G.I.Joe also beat titles that comics are known for. Superman, Batman, JLA, Avengers, Spider-Man, Hulk, and Fantastic Four all came in below G.I.Joe.
The popularity of G.I.Joe sparked the licensed property comics insurgence. Transformers, Voltron, Masters of the Universe, and Thundercats were all grabbed up and put in monthly books. Out of these, Transformers was the most sought after and was bought by Dreamwave. In April 2002, Transformers Generation 1 #1 came in at the top spot with 128,202 copies. The next highest ranked comic that month was New X-Men with 16,000 less.
Both Transformers and G.I.Joe remained strong for months. G.I.Joe was retained by Devil’s Due for 2 volumes totaling 80 issues and multiple spin off series. Transformers unfortunately met its end after 2 mini-series and a short-lived ongoing. The final issue of Transformers Generation 1 was ranked 74th in the top 100 and sold just under 30,000 copies. When Devil’s Due ended G.I.Joe America’s Elite, they were ranked at 117 and only 19,685 copies sold.
After Dreamwave closed up shop and Devil’s Due lost the G.I.Joe property, IDW bought them both. The initial G.I.Joe relaunch generated a sales boost. Issue #0 which previewed the new series ranked at spot 65 and 40,927 issues make it to the public. Transformers Infiltration began the IDW run on that title and had a strong showing. The first issue ranked at spot 30 and sold 45,453 copies. G.I.Joe definitely had a stronger impact but both had very similar numbers.
Transformers had 3 min-series and a maxi-series before moving to an ongoing title lasting 31 issues. By the end, the ongoing had dropped down to 173rd and sold a meager 10,348 copies. When G.I.Joe finished its first volume, it was one spot better at 172 on the charts but only had 10,102 issues make it to consumers.
However, IDW has retained both licenses and relaunched both titles. The main G.I.Joe book came out and had a slight bump. It sold 12,353 copies and went up to 136th according to Diamond. Also, out of G.I.Joe came a Snake-Eyes solo ongoing title. This came out a month later and sold 12,197 copies and took spot 131. Transformers took a different route and split the series evenly into two books, More Than Meets the Eye (MTMTE) and Robots in Disguise (RID). RID jumped the Transformers above 150 at 144 and sold 12,234 copies while MTMTE did slightly better and went into spot 121 and sold more than 3,000 more copies with 15,340.
As is plainly seen, both properties have dropped dramatically over the last decade plus. The current sales tactic seems to be that where one title generated a good following, it now takes two titles to even acquire half those numbers. But the question is “why?”. There are a few possibilities. It could be anything from the creative team to the general decline of comic sales. Or, have these two properties outlived their attachment to comic buying adults? With everything out there, has the nostalgia factor worn off?
I don’t have the answers. But over the decade, I have bought, dropped, and bought these titles again and again. My reasoning was the stories being told just didn’t appeal to me. And what brings me back is the hope of something new and different. I tried the IDW relaunch of G.I.Joe and not only dropped that, but also dropped the sister title “Cobra” because of the story tie-in to the other two books I did not want. I desperately wanted my nostalgia factor make it easier to enjoy the book but could not. I also have put both Transformers titles on my pull list after dropping those after the first three mini-series from IDW turned me off. And after 2 issues, keeping with them seems like a real possibility
But what will other fans of these titles think? The question if they have some staying power or fade away like has been the case time and again is on my mind and probably Hasbro as well.