By Benjamin Nobel, July 22, 2016
Savage Dragon is one of my favorite comic book characters, and one whose first appearance falls under the category of “its complicated”… Because at different sources you look at, and at different points in time you were to look, every one of the five comics shown at right has been credited by someone or other as the 1st appearance of Savage Dragon! These five comics are:
Graphic Fantasy #1 & #2, Megaton #2 & #3, and Savage Dragon Limited Series #1. These obviously can’t all be Savage Dragon’s first appearance (and they’re not). Inquiring minds will certainly want to know: why have all these different comics been given this key first appearance credit by different sources at different times… what on Earth is going on here?
In this post I’ll explain what’s going on, and I’ll highlight each of these five Savage Dragon comics to show how each one fits into the “puzzle of keys” in the 1st appearance of Savage Dragon.
Erik Larsen’s 1st “Pro Work” Credit: Megaton #1
I think a good place to start the “1st appearance of Savage Dragon explanation” is actually none of the five aforementioned comics, but rather at Megaton #1, because it carries Erik Larsen’s first “pro work” credit; at right is a screen-shot from a CGC census lookup for Megaton #1, where you can see this 1st-pro-work credit in the key comments section.
And here’s why I think this makes Megaton #1 a good starting place to explain what’s going on: because by simple logic, if the industry credits Megaton #1 as Erik Larsen’s first professional work, and if Savage Dragon does not appear in this issue, it would follow that collectors and industry participants would all be looking after that date for the first appearance of Savage Dragon.
And that brings us to the subsequent issue of Megaton, issue #2, where we get a Dragon “cameo” appearance… Not a Savage Dragon appearance mind you, but a Dragon appearance (i.e. the character is called “Dragon” — no “Savage” in the name). And here, the industry credit you’ll find for Megaton #2 depends on when you look. Because some years back, if you looked, you’d have seen this:
This older CGC label for Megaton #2 reads: “1st app. Dragon in cameo by Erik Larsen (later becomes Savage Dragon)” — so here CGC was crediting the book with the 1st appearance of Dragon, in cameo, and saying that Dragon would later become Savage Dragon. But that’s not what newer labels say. If you look at recently graded copies of Megaton #2, or look up Megaton #2 in the online census, you now see this instead:
As you can see, it now simply says “Dragon appearance” (no “1st” credit anymore). Why did this happen? I’ll get to that in a bit! 🙂 But first, let’s also look at…
If Megaton #2 was previously credited with the 1st “cameo” appearance, then what about issue #3? Well, issue #3 used to be credited as the 1st “full” Savage Dragon appearance. Some years back, here is what the label note used to look like:
As you can see, this older CGC label for Megaton #3 reads: “First full appearance of Savage Dragon” — so with Megaton #2 previously credited with the 1st “cameo” appearance, Megaton #3 was then previously credited with the 1st “full” appearance. But here once again we’ll see that that’s not what newer labels say. If you look at recently graded copies of Megaton #3, or look up Megaton #3 in the online census, you now see this instead:
Just like with Megaton #2, it now merely says “Dragon Appearance” (no “1st” credit anymore).
Remember how I started off with a look at Megaton #1, Erik Larsen’s 1st “pro work” credit? Well as it turns out, the enterprising young Larsen actually self-published earlier comic book works, that pre-date this “1st-pro-work” credit! Before Megaton, Larsen self-published the Graphic Fantasy “fanzines” with some friends, under Ajax Comics.
And you’ll find some sources out there on the Internet credit issue #2 of Graphic Fantasy with Dragon’s first appearance (as opposed to issue #1)… and I think I’ve figured out why. Let’s continue, with a look at:
Graphic Fantasy #2
When we look up Graphic Fantasy #2 on the CGC census we see (at right) that for one thing CGC credits the comic with the second appearance of The Dragon. (Not “Savage” Dragon, but “The” Dragon). Another thing we can see is that there is no publication month shown, just the year, 1982. With no month indicated, enter this into a computer database and it might very well default to January. Chronologically, that would put Graphic Fantasy #2 before issue #1 in error (as we’ll see in a moment, issue #1 does have a month listed: June). I contend this may very well be why many sources out there erroneously cite Graphic Fantasy #2 as the first Savage Dragon appearance, even though by simple logic issue #2 would have clearly come after issue #1.
And that brings us to issue #1…
Graphic Fantasy #1
And here we have it, finally, the earliest appearance… of… “The” Dragon. That’s right: a line has been drawn. This Dragon is “The” Dragon. And “The” Dragon, appearing for the first time in Graphic Fantasy #1, then appears for the second time in Graphic Fantasy #2… And then the “1st pro work Dragon” — in Megaton #2 — is simply treated now as an appearance but not a first appearance.
But you’ll notice of course that something is missing… and that’s the “Savage” part. So: which comic does CGC now credit with the first appearance of Savage Dragon?
Savage Dragon Limited Series #1
And that brings us to Savage Dragon Limited Series #1, which is now credited by CGC as the first appearance of The “Savage” Dragon.
So there you have it! That’s how all these comics fit into the puzzle of Savage Dragon’s first appearance, and the reason why the industry has been so puzzled… and it all traces to the fact that those early Graphic Fantasy fanzines are incredibly scarce, with the copy count in the hundreds and practically “invisible” to collectors and the industry.
I’ve written further posts about these keys, including how there is a 1-in-100 rarity variant of Savage Dragon Limited Series #1. Check out this highly interesting quote from an industry insider:
“Another consideration about newsstand editions is that different publishers produced them at different times. Image, for example, had a vigorous newsstand program right from the beginning, but still sold 99% of their comics through the Direct Market.”
— From “Newsstand Editions History,” Chuck Rozanski
That’s right: if Image Comics sold 99% of their comics through the Direct Market — as Direct Editions sold to comic shops on a non-returnable basis — then they sold only 1% of their comics on newsstands as returnable copies with UPC codes on the covers. And as it turns out, those UPC codes aren’t the only difference… further manufacturing differences lead CGC to “break out” this 1-in-100 version as a distinct variant on the CGC census (labeled as “Newsstand Edition”). And very few copies show up on census!
Read more about:
If you enjoyed this exploration of Savage Dragon’s first appearance in comics, another “it’s complicated” situation you may enjoy reading about is the 1st appearance of Krang in comics (over on my TMNT blog). Within the Savage Dragon title there’s also an interesting situation with the 1st appearance of Invincible too.
Thanks for reading and Happy Collecting! 🙂