For many years, comics were popularly conceived as an industry limited to superheroes and pulp fiction, with customers that ranged from kids to awkward adolescents to your run-of-the-mill nerd.
Over the past 25 years, the industry stereotype has transformed due to the rise of the graphic novel — a long-form comic that is packaged like a book.
It is only in the last four or five years that graphic novels have experienced a significant increase in sales.
"The product has been available for about 25 years. What we call the rise, or the explosion, in growth — sales in bookstores and libraries — really happened in the last fours years," Kuo-Yu Liang, VP of Sales and Marketing for Diamond Comic Distributors, the world's largest comic book distributor told CBSNews.com.
And believe it — graphic novels are making a killing. According to Publisher's Weekly, retail graphic novel sales are up 18 percent from 2004 to 2005, with around $245 million sales last year.
Bookstores, publishers and mainstream cultural venues are devoting more resources to graphic novels. You can find a graphic novel in your local Barnes and Noble or a "graphic short story" tucked into the pages of The New Yorker. You can walk into Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art and view the work of graphic novelist Chris Ware. Major publishers such as Harper Collins and Pantheon compete along side comic industry mainstays such as Dark Horse.
There are several reasons why graphic novels are finally catching on.
Writers' Golden Age
Graphic novels have gotten bigger because they're, well, better. The past five years have often been trumpeted by the comic book industry as the "Golden Age of Writers."
Terry Moore, author of the long running, self-published "Strangers In Paradise," compares the graphic novel business to "the Hollywood movie industry in the forties."
Moore told CBSNews.com, "This is a really great industry to find America's best short story writers right now because where else are you going to find them?"
When asked to explain why writers would be attracted to the comic industry he said, "The asset of the comic over the movie is that the comic has not gone through so many creative-by-committee filters."
Abby Lis-Perlis, an 18-year-old student and comic shop employee, says,
"Because, now, they're doing trade paperbacks and one-shot stories there's an industry out there not just for super hero comic books or cartoons for little kids like Archie and stuff like that. There's an industry out there for anyone."
This new age of comic writing has attracted writers such as Stephen King and directors like Joss Whedon and Kevin Smith to cross over to comics.
"Today we have creators from the ocean diving into the pond," says Marvel's Editor-In-Chief Joe Quesada. "It is truly a creative Golden Age ... And now the tide has turned as creators who got there start in the small pond that was comics are being courted by Hollywood and succeeding in that ocean."
Creators from the small pond, like Frank Miller, can hit it big. He co-directed "Sin City" as 2005 film adapted from a graphic novel. With the increasing convergence of entertainment media it is no wonder he is set to direct and adapt a film of Will Eisner's "The Spirit."
Comics aren't just an American industry anymore, either. The global economy has also absorbed comics. The influx of Japanese Manga — comics that are largely character oriented — have boosted comics' sales and opened the market to an international demographic.