Do you need an ISBN for a comic book?

I had heard you need an ISBN if you publish a comic book, but it can get confusing working out if you need an ISBN and what type. Since I publish my comic book series 'The Brink' online and in print, I needed to know what my obligations were.

I didn’t really know what an ISBN was, to be honest. I’d seen them on the back of books and assumed that comics used them too because all the comics I’ve bought have a bar code.

After a lot of research, I have an answer, but it’s not as straightforward as you may think because it really depends on what you want to do with your comic. 

The first questions you need to answer are: 

  • What type of comic book do you have? 
  • Do you want an ISBN for each issue of a comic book series? 
  • Are you talking about a collection of comic books?
  • Maybe you’ve compiled six issues into one volume?
  • Maybe you actually have a graphic novel?

What is an ISBN?

An ISBN is the International Standard Book Number (ISBN). It is a unique numeric commercial book identifier. It is used by retailers to track purchases and allows your book to be found by all (which can also increase your sales because it will be listed with retailers, libraries and online retailers).

When do I need an ISBN?

If you’ve decided you want to sell your series collection (volume) or graphic novel through retailers and/or online services, you do need an ISBN. If you sell online with Amazon they will automatically give it an ISBN (although this is only for use for sales on Amazon).

BUT ISBNs are expensive. Right now it’s around £90 for one. My advice is, get yourself 10 because it’s so much cheaper in comparison. You can buy them from a few places like or

Even then it’s not THAT simple because you could also shell out for someone to make you a barcode from your ISBN, although some services might include that. If I were you, I’d use a free barcode generator like this barcode generator.

When you don't need an ISBN

If you’re selling your graphic novel or series collection at conventions or straight from your website and you’re not too bothered about retailers, you don’t need an ISBN. But I have to assume you want it to be accessible to ANYONE so you’re going to want one anyway.

What do I need for my comic book series?

Your comic book series is classed as a serial so it does not need an ISBN. However, if you want to get your comics out to retailers, they will still want a barcode to allow them to track sales.

The Universal Product Code (UPC)

So, get yourself a Universal Product Code (UPC). It is a specific type of 12 digit barcode used in North America, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand. Again, it is used by retailers for tracking sales. Its most common form is the UPC-A and it is sooo much cheaper than an ISBN. I’ve found the price totally varies on these, from $5. 

Here are a few websites you can checkout to see the differences in price and services. I used Instant-UPC and received good customer service. I’ve also heard you get a good service with and you get more for the price.

One UPC for a while comic book series

Also, one UPC can be used for a whole series of comic book issues because it is also accompanied by a 5 digit code that displays the issue number (001, 002, etc.), cover variant (1, 2, etc.) and print run number (1, 2, etc).

Issue 3, with the second variant cover on it’s first print run would be displayed like this – 00321.

Take a look at the main image to this article - you can see the 12 digit UPC on the bottom. On the right, you can see that this is issue 1, first cover and first print run. Simple.

Let me know if you know something I don’t. Hope this helps.

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Steven Sweeney BSc(Hons), MSc

'The Brink' comic creator, author, Web developer and musician with 5 albums.