Celebrating the artistry, stories and timeless characters of comics, National Comic Book Day exists for fans and collectors to bond over a shared love for one of the most unique storytelling mediums.
The term “comic book” originates from the first modern comic book printed in 1933, a compilation of humorous comic strips titled “Famous Funnies.” Now comic books are best known as the homes of beloved pop culture icons such as Superman, Batman, Iron Man and Spider-Man, and these characters have gained even more popularity from their portrayals on the big screen.
It’s no question Marvel has been the top dog of the motion picture market. The Disney-owned company has grossed over $22.4 billion since 2007 from films alone. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is now recognized as the highest-grossing franchise of all time, and the DC Universe continues to live in its shadow.
According to Diamond Comic Distributors, Inc., Marvel dominates the comic book market as well. Marvel Comics possesses 46.15 percent of the retail market share, while DC Comics owns a mere 24.86 percent of the market. Collectively, these franchises own 71.01 percent of the market share, which is an incredible triumph.
It's clear Marvel owns the world of superheroes from a revenue standpoint. Within the past year Marvel has seen their lead in the market share increase from 13.3 percent to 21.29 percent. This revenue increase is a result of Marvel’s ability to draw fans in with their filmmaking ability.
Since 2002, superhero movies have claimed the number one spot for highest grossing movie six times in the United States, with Marvel accounting for five of them. DC took the throne in 2008 with “The Dark Knight.”
Marvel has reigned supreme with “Black Panther” in 2018 and “Avengers: Endgame” in 2019. “Avengers: Endgame” set the opening weekend record, grossing $1.23 billion worldwide.
Comic book experts Brandon Thomas and Mitchell Hadaway work closely with their passion every day as employees at Ames’ Mayhem Comics store.
At Mayhem, Thomas and Hadaway have the job of recommending customers comic books based on their taste profile. With characters like Batman, Superman and Spider-Man existing for decades, superhero comics can be difficult to get into. Local comic book stores and their employees direct new readers to jumping-off points.
“Working here is honestly a dream,” Thomas said. “It’s nice because this place is just a safe place for all walks of life that can come in here and read comics. We can all come together and just enjoy these things we are passionate about.”
For Hadaway, working at a comic book shop is always what he wanted to do.
“This is what I do outside of work,” Hadaway said. “I have my fiance, I have my dog, then it’s comic books.”
Hadaway and Thomas developed their passions for comic books at an early age, each starting through a connection with a specific character.
For Thomas, it was Spider-Man, whose struggle to do right while balancing problems as a high school teenager resonated with him.
For Hadaway, it was Ghost Rider. Due to Hadaway’s affinity for motorcycles, the character’s fiery chopper drew him in.
Nathan Wanderscheid, senior in hospitality management, found his passion for comic books with Batman.
“A character devoted to an unwavering ideal, to avenge his parents’ death and dedicate his life to serving justice," Wanderscheid said when describing Batman. "A character who time and time again overcomes impressive odds and refuses to give up.”
For Wanderscheid, there’s no other medium providing an experience like holding a physical comic book and flipping through the pages does.
“I can fully immerse myself into them, it’s a form of escapism for me,” Wanderscheid said. “Oftentimes, in comics, there are whole universes that are intricate and complex in their own ways. You can really forget about everyday life.”
Comic books are more immersive for Wanderscheid because of their artistic nature and the combination of art and literature.
“Based on how the panels are laid out, the artist is directing your eyes to specific places,” Wanderscheid said. “If you were to equate [a comic] to a movie, the writer of the comic would be the equivalent to the screenwriter, the cinematography and directing would be the artists. I like that form of storytelling because you can visualize it and appreciate the art.”
Both Hadaway and Thomas have seen many changes in the comic book industry throughout their long tenure in the hobby. For example, the MCU has changed how many Marvel characters are portrayed in the comics. Iron Man is now illustrated to look closer to his on-screen counterpart Robert Downey Jr., while the Daredevil comic books have adopted a similar tone to the “Daredevil” Netflix series.
The exploding popularity of superhero movies has been surreal for Hadaway and Thomas when they've seen, for instance, previously niche comic book characters from “Guardians of the Galaxy” reach mainstream relevancy.
Wanderscheid finds the relationship between film and television production companies and the comic book industry interesting from a business standpoint.
“Disney didn’t produce much of a profit on Marvel comic books, but in the large scheme of things they become more profitable through movie adaptations, toy sales and so on,” Wanderscheid said. “Comic books may not be the most profitable industry, but they sure can generate enormous financial gain through other, bigger industries adapting them."