We recently conducted an email interview with Dynamite Entertainment CEO Nick Barrucci to get his views on the market and Dynamite’s place in it. In Part 1, we discuss recent market trends in comic stores and the book market, and the nature of those changes.  In Part 2, we focused on Dynamite's changing channel mix, its output, use of variants, why it stuck with Diamond, and the company's plans for its growing Disney and Warner Bros. lines.  The interview is lightly edited for length and clarity.

Last year was a down year in the direct market, and from what we hear, it seems to be continuing this year.  How is the direct market for comics and graphic novels from your perspective, and what are your thoughts on recent trends?
There's a few ways to look at this.  The macro view is that last year was a down year, and this year may seem to be.  But while 2023 was a down year, I will contend that this year is definitely starting off brighter and has the potential to be a better year, if not a great year. Not only for us, but for other publishers as well.

From what I've seen with retailers, there are quite a few books in the industry that are performing better, whether new launches or existing titles.  For example, the Ultimate Spider-Man series written by Jonathan Hickman is doing fantastic, as is the entire Ultimate relaunch with issues going into multiple printings, Blood Hunt, Deadpool/Wolverine.  Batman/Joker Year One and Justice League Vs Godzilla vs Kong are doing great.  Returning titles like BRZRKR continue to excite fans.  Transformers and GI Joe have been able to keep up their momentum from their 2023 launches.

For us, ThunderCats, Hercules, Lilo & Stitch, Space Ghost, Vampirella (both the ongoing series and the new Dark Reflections miniseries), Red Sonja, Army of Darkness, Elvira, they are all trending upwards.  And we have a larger, robust publishing plan leading up to the 4th quarter of this year, and into next year (robust does not necessarily mean many more titles, but also stronger titles and more diverse titles).  Though, we will pivot where needed.  One thing Dynamite has done well over the years, is continue to pivot.

Look, the pandemic had sales that surged because there was "free money" (which we are now paying for with high inflation), and people were at home and looking for entertainment.  I'll argue that while we're not at 2020, 2021 or early 2022 levels, we are ahead of 2019 levels, and should focus on the positive of that.

That's the macro view.  To view it from a different lens, there are many retailers that did exceedingly well last year and into this year, and many retailers who are still struggling, and those that continue to succeed with sustained organic growth.  The question becomes, how do we help all retailers so that the industry can grow?  How do we help the retailers struggling to strengthen themselves?  How do we help the retailers doing well continue to do better?  And how do we help everyone in the middle?  These are the questions, and there are no easy answers outside of putting out the best comics we can, AND marketing them to the audience.  I've said this in the past: the retailers are the front lines and best advocates for all comics, and we have to help by creating and marketing great comics.

One thing that we are addressing at Dynamite is that we need to do more to help retailers with sell-through.  We have been doing that and, I believe, doing it well of late.  We're working with talent and rights-holders to promote titles more to their fans.

The two most recent examples happen to be Declan Shalvey and Drew Moss on ThunderCats and David Pepose and Jonathan Lau on Space Ghost.  Declan, Drew, David and Jonathan treated these books with a passion as if they were their creator-owned books.  I think we drove these guys a bit crazy setting up interviews to promote the series, but the results speak for themselves.  ThunderCats #1 was a returnable book, and had less than 10% copies returned.  That's incredible for a book that sold as well as ThunderCats did.  Space Ghost #1 broke records for a Space Ghost comic, and our issue #2 orders dropped only 20% from issue #1.  That's phenomenal.  The creators/editorial and sales and marketing did a killer job promoting sell-in and sell-through.  The reality is, there's always going to be a month-to-month drop-off in comic sales of 2% to 4% once you get past issue #4, but minimizing that is important, and something that we as publishers all need to focus on.

One thing to add to really hone in on how much we support retailers with returnable titles, is that there is a risk with costs on returns that retailers do not see nor have to worry about.  It's something that the publishers underwrite to help retailers have a better chance of higher sell-through: the cost of printing, the fee to process the returns, and a few other costs.   While I know some will feel that these are marginal, they do add up as well.  When a publisher does this, we are betting that enough extra copies are being placed on the stands to pick up a few more readers.  And, for the most part, we allow our first two issues of a new series to be returnable for retailers, so we increase our risk and decrease retailers’ risk.  We want retailers to grow and the industry to grow.

Now, I've touched on some of our newest titles, but I do have to discuss our consistent and ongoing programs.  Gargoyles is still doing well, and we have one writer with a vision, Greg Weisman, the creator of Gargoyles, who continues to bring these great stories to fans.  We ran a 12-issue series, with a mini-series in the middle, a current mini-series, and more to come.  Lilo & Stitch will be 12 issues with Greg Pak, and then we will work on a new series, potentially a series of mini-series since these will be collected in lower price point collections for a larger audience.

Christopher Priest has been writing the main Vampirella monthly series for the last five years come July, and he will continue until he tells us he has told all of the stories that he wants to tell.  Separate from Priest, Tom Sniegoski, who has written more Vampirella stories than any other writer, continues to tell stories with Vengeance of Vampirella that ran for 25 issues, then mini-series including Vampirella Strikes and the current Vampirella: Dark Mirror.

And let's also take into consideration that The Boys Season 4 hits in a month, as well as Season 5 being picked up; Gen V Season 2 is either shooting or getting ready to shoot.  Dynamite has worked hard to ensure that Diamond is well stocked for retailers to take advantage of.  We are also going to give direct market retailers a special incentive on some of the collections.  I don't think we need to do this, as the books continue to sell even without a reason, but we want to give back.  We want to show our appreciation, and you'll see more of that when we discuss the first ThunderCats collection.

And how is the book market for graphic novels, which also went down last year, from your perspective?
Again, from the macro view, sales were down, but it's dependent on the characters/property, the creators, and many other factors.  So yes, the book market for graphic novels is slightly lower, but there are bright spots and room to build.

We have quite a few upcoming collections that are tracking incredibly well, including our first ThunderCats collection.  This is going to do very well in all markets with a wide release in October or November, but we wanted to thank the comic shop retailers who supported us with the launch, so the first collection is being released with a cover exclusive to the comics market in July, tying into the next ThunderCats story arc that begins with issue #6, as well as Cheetara #1 in July.  We’ll release Cheetara on July 3rd, and that will have ads for ThunderCats #6 and the collection, and then release the collection with #6 on July 17th so that fans picking up the collection who missed out on the series launch can pick up both.  But we are talking about the book market here, so I’ll top this off by saying that we have a lot of attention on the series, and this will sell well in all markets.

We are also releasing our first Lilo & Stitch: Ohana Collection, both in trade paperback and hardcover, on June 26th in comic stores and book stores to commemorate 626, Stitch being Experiment 626.  This is a HUGE day to release the book in comic stores and book stores.  And the book is at a price to allow casual fans to pick up the book: $13.99 for the trade paperback and $19.99 for the hardcover.  This is a book that comic retailers can capitalize on, and the book market will also be bringing Dynamite to their consumers, and the goal is to then try and have the books convert those customers into readers.

One thing that we have set up is a sale to Walmart, and all outlets combined, I believe, will be at nearly 20,000 units.  This helped bring the price down, which allows for the casual consumer to pick up the collection (again, talking about the book market, but also stating how it helps the comics market).  And this will have strong penetration in the library market, which will grow the readership.

We also have quite a few high-profile graphic novels hitting the second-half of this year, which include many of the Disney graphic novels from the Disney Villains and many more titles with larger audiences, including Nightmare Before Christmas.  We also have the Wizard of Oz 85th Anniversary graphic novel which we expect to do extremely well in the book market as well as The PowerPuff Girls original graphic novel.

We are also looking at growing our readers through webtoons and other platforms, which is exciting.  We will then work hard to direct those fans to the comics market.

I do wish to mention one point.  One other part of our business which is not spoken about enough is our merchandise.  We continue to release and grow our merchandise, including being Hasbro's partner for The Transformers 40th Anniversary trading cards.  These will be released in time for the movie in September, and will be available not only in the comics and card and hobby market, but we are finalizing our sales to Target and Walmart.  And this is in addition to statues and other merchandise, and we have some more announcements to come.

There’s been a lot of talk about whether the comics market is changing in some secular way, or if it’s just a typical cycle that’s based on the popularity of content, particularly from the Big Two.  What are your thoughts on that question?
Not the easiest question to answer since there are so many factors, which is another way of saying that there's never a binary answer to this question. Tastes do change, and sometimes cycle as far as what genre of content excites fans.  I also don't think that you can fully say the Big Two and everyone else anymore.  The market is more diverse today than it has ever been before and will continue to grow.

I’ll use Dynamite as an example, and then expand.  Gargoyles and Darkwing Duck stormed out of the gate.  Greg Weisman, the creator of Gargoyles, came back to the series and continued to build on the canon, to the stories he had created.  Amanda Deibert was a fan of Darkwing Duck who had never worked on the property, and she killed it.  I can honestly say that, while we had high expectations for ThunderCats, the sales exceeded expectations, and it's because the property is great and Declan and Drew did a fantastic job.  Issue #1 went into three printings!  While Space Ghost did not launch as high as ThunderCats, it still beat all records thanks to David and Jonathan.

Then you can look at Marvel, and Jonathan Hickman returning to write Ultimate Spider-Man; the book has sold out and gone into multiple printings.  In addition to that, bringing in Timothy Zahn with Jody Houser on Star Wars: Thrawn Alliances, and the exciting announcements that they have on their upcoming X-Men line.

You also have DC bringing back Mark Waid on World's Finest with Dan Mora; Tom King always creating comics that are great best-sellers as comics and then are some of the best-selling new collections of the year; and DC continuing to build on Batman with one of my favorite writers, Chip Zdarsky.

Look at how Skybound/Image Comics are succeeding with the Hasbro properties.  [Skybound founder Robert] Kirkman brought in some killer creators and the books are selling incredibly well.  I think that he now has at least five series rolling since October of last year.  Daniel Warren Johnson and Joshua Williamson!  That's incredible. Not to mention the fact that Todd McFarlane fully reinvigorated Spawn with issue #300 and has grown that world out, as well as Brian K. Vaughan and other great creators at Image.

IDW has had internal changes, and they are doing well from it, as they took a great run with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the heat of The Last Ronin, and are relaunching the series with one of the best writers in the industry, Jason Aaron.  Their Star Trek line has been getting incredible critical acclaim.

BOOM! just continues to grow the audience as well, with books that have mass market and comic market appeal, and they continue to build on their success.  They have continued to create great comics with James Tynion IV; continued to successfully release Mighty Morphin Power Rangers for years; and of course BRZRKR.  They are a very creative company with great people at the top.

Dark Horse has continued to release great comics, from Ghostbusters to Stranger Things, and now the Jinxworld line with Brian Michael Bendis and other great creators.

And yes, I'm only touching on the main publishers, and I could keep going, but then this would be a novella, which I'm sure you don't want.

So, I took the long way around of saying there is no definitive answer.  Yes, Marvel and DC still do lead on many levels, and there will be peaks and valleys, but the market will adapt and grow.  If you think about it, in 1991, Marvel and DC led, and Dark Horse was the strongest competitor.  Then came Image, then IDW, then BOOM!, then Dynamite, etc.

The ability to give fans variety has never been greater.  We just all have to keep our eyes on the ball and do our best, and while being pragmatic, be optimistic.  There are series that work and we need to build on, and those that do not work that we have to figure out how to make work, or pivot to make work.  I think that comics are the greatest form of entertainment because of the passion that is brought to each and every issue.  And there are so many publishers, and so many voices, that it continues to do so.  I am biased in that opinion.

Click here for Part 2.