A timeline for the evolution of American comics publishing since the 1980s tracks to the career of journalist Calvin Reid as tightly as any superhero’s outfit.
A coincidence? Definitely not.
From 1987 until his retirement in January, Calvin Reid reported on all aspects of comics publishing as a writer, editor, and podcaster at Publishers Weekly. Over that generation, Reid covered the artists and their audiences, the comic books, and the comics business.
Total comics and graphic novel sales to consumers in the U.S. and Canada in 2021 climbed to more than $2 billion, 70% above 2019. Sales of graphic novels, driven by manga, were nearly $1.5 billion, or about three quarters of the total.
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Milton Griepp, founder and CEO of comic book B2B site ICv2, has hailed Calvin Reid as “a key figure in the growth of the graphic novel” – a publishing format increasingly critical to the industry.
When New Kid by Jerry Craft won the 2020 Newbery Award, Reid recalls, it was the first graphic novel to win that prestigious prize. New Kid is representative of how graphic novels have led to diversified content and diversified readership, Reid tells me.
“Those of us in the business, we know Jerry Craft. Jerry Craft, he’s a visionary artist and creator,” Reid explains. “He started a comic strip called Mama’s Boyz because he didn’t see any comic strips out there, or not enough of them, aimed at a Black readership. He was a self-publisher before it was cool.
“Seeing Jerry Craft recognized for his storytelling was the capper to a long career, and a capper to his literary skills,” says Reid.