Following its recent partnership with both Marvel and manga publisher Viz, Walmart is reportedly discussing the possibility of allowing Diamond Book Distributors to design a graphic novel section in its retail stores. Among many other publishers, DBD distributes Image Comics, which has been releasing the most popular and innovative comic art of the past several years. While Walmart’s now-active interest in comics and manga means trouble for local comic book shops, it could mean great things for readers who can’t necessarily find these products in their towns.
Publishers Weekly recently reported that graphic novel sales rose 22 percent in 2015, which means comic book and graphic volumes are rapidly being integrated into mainstream media. American cinema continued its love affair with superheroes in 2015, and 2016 already has a stunning number of comic-inspired heroes on television. It makes sense that an interest in the source material would follow, and Walmart seems to have its finger on the pulse of this cultural movement.
Diamond Book Distributors’ Kuo-Yu Liang told The Beat:
“Consumer interest in graphic novels keeps rising. That’s been a trend over the last 10 years. And there were lots of new customers — including women and minorities — asking about graphic novels in bookstores. The more people talk about graphic novels, the more people want to try one out.”
This rise in interest means readers who wouldn’t have considered buying graphic works in years past are suddenly hip to the concept that comics are often readable, legitimate works of literature.
Consider a hypothetical for a moment: Most Americans who live in the Midwest or the South understand Walmart as a vastly different entity than those who grew up in the Northeast. For many, Walmart means weekly visits for groceries, household goods, gifts, toiletries and sporting goods. Walmart’s main demographic isn’t concerned with buying locally, primarily because the local stores in towns like Topeka and Roswell don’t have the infrastructural support of comic book shops in cities like Boston or New York. Walmart has the capability to provide cultural and artistic outreach to young readers whose parents use the store for books and toys. The superstore’s foray into the world of comics will introduce beloved characters from Image works to a brand new audience, and that’s a great thing.
A previous version of this article stated that DBD owned Image Comics. DBD is a distributor, but does not own the company. We regret the error.