Late last week, news broke that The New York Times would be shutting down its graphic novel and manga best-seller lists, as part of a larger effort to streamline the company’s weekly published book-sales compilations.
Specifically, the Hardcover Graphic Books, Paperback Graphic Books, and Manga categories will be discontinued beginning February 5th. Going forward, graphic novels will now fall into the far more competitive general Fiction category when it comes to making the list. The New York Times has had a contentious relationship with the graphic novel and comic medium, with no graphic novels being listed at all on the best-seller list until 2003. In 2009, the NYT Book Review granted graphic novels and manga their own lists in what a statement to The Beat calls “an experiment.”
New York Times Book Review editor Pamela Paul defended the decision on Twitter last week: “The Times is not cutting back on coverage of these genres / formats, but rather expanding on coverage in ways that reach more readers than the lists did.” She promised more reviews and features focusing on the storytelling medium in the future.
The Verge reached out to several authors in the comics industry to see how cancellation of the graphic novel lists was being received. Most were disappointed by the loss of the list, noting that it served as a useful mechanism for readers and educators alike to discover new works, and that it helped legitimize the medium, which is still often looked down on by the publishing community.
Scott McCloud, cartoonist and author of The Sculptor:
“I hope someday they bring the comics lists back. They were a much-appreciated gesture of recognition for an art form struggling to finally live up to its potential (and making significant progress in that direction in recent years).”
Ryan North, writer of The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl:
“I’m sad to see the list go, of course: it was a great way for teachers, librarians, parents, and readers to find new comics. Just the fact that comics had a list of their own showed their legitimacy, and since we live in a world where the entire medium (the entire medium!) is sometimes still considered to be juvenile, just for kids, dismissible, and irrelevant — that was important. I’ve always felt that people who might dismiss a book just because it was a comic might give it a second look when it was a New York Times bestselling comic, which of course helped both readers and creators.”
Eric Stephenson, publisher at Image Comics:
“Given that graphic novels were the only growth category in the book market during 2016, the decision to discontinue the graphic novels bestsellers lists seems a little out of step with what’s actually happening in the marketplace. Graphic novels have been on an upward swing in bookstores since the turn of the century, even as other print categories have struggled, so it’s both puzzling and short-sighted, I think. It’s not like comics and graphic novels are going anywhere.”
Bryan Lee O’Malley, author of the Scott Pilgrim series and Seconds:
“It’s a shame. It lent comics some legitimacy, and I think losing it will hurt the growth of comics not just as a bookstore category, but as an art form. I think to inspire a new generation of creators, you need good work in a dialogue with other good work, but you also need the lure of potential financial reward. The Times list offered both of those at once. The Times said, ‘Here are some good comics that people are spending money on.’ When the Times cares about comics, it says people should care about comics. When the Times stops caring, it says people should stop caring.”
On the flip side, why didn’t we have hot new cartoonists battling for the top of the charts every week? Why was the list usually just a handful of reliable hitmakers? I hoped the Times list would be a beacon illuminating some sort of path for talented newcomers, but it didn’t work out that way. Maybe we all need to be selling a lot more comics in order to truly merit an ongoing list. Maybe the list was wishful thinking all along.
Raina Telgemeier (whose novels Ghosts, Drama, and Smile all topped the paperback graphic novel best-seller list last week) directed us to her comments on Twitter regarding the loss of the list:
There are some notable exceptions regarding the loss of the graphic novel best-seller lists. Author Neil Gaiman, whose Sandman comics series was the first graphic novel to make The New York Times Fiction best-seller list before graphic novels received their own separate category, commented on Twitter, “I liked it better when we had to fight for our place on the list. Don’t mind going back to that at all.” That summarizes the dissenting opinion that placing graphic novels on the same list as other fictional works helps legitimize the medium instead of marginalizing it. Other major publishers were unfazed by the move, as rounded up by Publishers Weekly, with Ted Adams, CEO of IDW Publishing saying, “We liked being able to say something was a NYT best-seller but I don’t know that it ever really impacted sales.”
It’s too early to tell what kind of tangible effect this will actually have on the future of graphic novels. The New York Times only publishes relative rankings, not actual units sold, making it difficult to determine how often (or not) we’ll see graphic novels making their way onto the fiction best-seller list. At the end of the day, though, at a time where graphic novels are reaching a more mature and diverse audience than ever, it’s still hard not to look at The New York Times’ decision to cancel the list as a step backward in the legitimization of the art form.