Before "Guardians of the Galaxy" was announced as Marvel's latest upcoming blockbuster action flick, only the most diehard comic book fans knew who Rocket Raccoon was.
The gun-toting, wise-cracking, two-foot-tall superhero seemed to be out of place in a universe filled with the likes of Spider-Man, the Hulk, and Captain America. The character was almost a complete unknown compared with the household-name reputation enjoyed by many of Marvel's characters.
But in the weeks before the release of "Guardians of the Galaxy," the hype surrounding the movie propelled the anthropomorphic raccoon superhero into history, with "Rocket Raccoon #1" topping sales charts in what has been estimated to be the most profitable month in comic book history.
According to The Beat, July's profits beat previously held records to become what may have been the most profitable month in comic book history, at least according to monthly records recorded since 1997. Customers bought comics in some form or another worth a total of $53.63 million this July, beating October 2013's record by more than $3 million.
The month's huge profits are only part of an overall trend of growth in recent years.
Last year, sales of comics and graphic novels generated $870 million, according to Publisher's Weekly, the largest amount for the industry since 1993. And the profits show no signs of dropping anytime soon.
With millions going to see movies like "The Avengers," "The Dark Knight," and "Iron Man," interest in comics has steadily increased over the past several years. The success of "Rocket Raccoon #1," for instance, owes a great deal to the hype for Marvel's "Guardians of the Galaxy."
With blockbuster after blockbuster making superheroes an increasingly mainstream part of pop culture, comic book stores are seeing more and more interest from newcomers in increasingly obscure characters.
“The 300th book [on bestseller lists] used to sell 1,000 comics, now it sells 5,000 copies,” says Milton Griepp, an expert on sales in the comic books industry, according to Publishers Weekly.
Comic book publishers have realized the potential profits a growing base of readers has to offer.
"It's very important that we honor our tradition and, in doing so, our long-term fans, but also have an eye on the future to make sure we are always up with the times," said Axel Alonso, editor in chief of Marvel Comics, according to CBS.
Keeping an eye on the future, comic book publishers are embracing technology in every way they can. Digital versions of comic books are up 260 percent in the last three years, according to CBS. Marvel and DC, the two largest comic book publishers in the industry, provide electronic services to view comics on smart phones and tablets.
The rise of digital versions of comics, some even with music and sound effects, have not hindered print sales. In fact, they've helped sales go up.
"The thing about digital comics is that they are super portable, so you kind of always have access to your library," said Jim Lee, DC Comics co-publisher, according to CBS. "But there's something very charming about the print books themselves and ... people collect them."
Marvel recently released an augmented reality app that encourages the purchase of conventional print comics as well. By placing their smart phone or tablet over certain issues, readers can unlock various digital extras associated with that particular comic, striking a balance between new and old that some industries have had trouble finding.
"We view [the digital world] as the new newsstand to find new fans," said Alonso, according to CBS. "Moving into the digital arena is to take advantage of the technology and tools to continue telling a comic book story ... just on a different platform."
With movie blockbusters, rising sales, and the embrace of the latest technology, the future has never looked brighter for the comic book industry.
Weston Williams is a Monitor contributor.