By Benjamin Nobel, November 28, 2015
In this blog I’m profiling Savage Dragon comics that are particularly challenging to find — and the newsstand variant of issue #10 definitely fits that description! In the Savage Dragon series, #10 marks the first issue where an alternate version with a variant cover was released; in this case the variant cover appeared on newsstand copies. Here is my tale of just how challenging a find this was for me.
A few years ago I decided this variant cover issue was a “contender” to seek for my collection, but I didn’t immediately buy a copy; instead, I searched eBay at the time, and saw a seller had a listing showing 5 available copies of “Savage Dragon #10 Direct Market Special Edition” — and although I knew this was not a direct market edition but actually a special newsstand edition, the picture displayed with the listing (a stock photo) showed the book I was looking for…
And meanwhile, over on Amazon, it was listed the same way, as a “Direct Market” edition, but picturing the newsstand variant. Below is a screenshot of how it is listed on Amazon to this day. Although Amazon currently shows no copies available (I’ll get to that part of the story in a bit), at the time that I was looking, it showed there were copies available. As you can see, although the title says “direct market edition” the picture is the newsstand variant cover.
And finally, there were copies available on Atomic Avenue, although once again, it was listed there as a Direct Market special edition (but the picture shown was that of the variant). So with a seemingly full supply of available copies out there, I decided I wasn’t in any rush to acquire my copy of this variant, I put it on the back burner, and turned my collecting attention elsewhere. But in the meantime, I did set up an eBay alert to email me any new listings for “Savage Dragon #10 newsstand.”
A few months later, I got an eBay alert for a new listing for a Savage Dragon #10 newsstand variant copy, and added it to my watchlist. I checked on that other listing with the multiple available copies and it was still there, priced around $8/copy, with 4 copies left… So I was quite surprised when the watchlist copy auctioned off for closer to $20. Why would somebody pay $20 at auction when they could have just picked up one of those $8 copies as a buy-it-now? What did they know that I didn’t?
At that point, I decided to buy one of the $8 copies, which now looked like a comparable bargain to the auctioned copy. Although the listing said “direct market special edition” it showed the correct comic (i.e. the one I was looking for) in the photo. Sure enough, it turned out that seller did not in fact have the newsstand variant after all, but instead had the regular direct edition version, the one that looks like this:
The photo was simply the wrong stock photo, in error! This was unfortunate, but, I remembered that there were also those Amazon copies I had come across, so I could acquire my copy there. Just in case, to avoid unnecessary returns, I contacted those sellers to explain the difference between the regular edition and the newsstand edition and ask they verify their copy before shipping to me.
So this same problem I encountered with the eBay listing was also happening on Amazon as well. I was striking out again and again!
By now it was crystal clear to me that the seemingly available supply of variant copies of Savage Dragon #10 out there was a mirage… That winning bidder on eBay must have learned the lesson themselves, to only trust copies with actual scans… a lesson I myself was now learning. [I hope you learn from my experience — stock photo listings of this comic are a very likely a mirage and are not to be trusted!] Atomic Avenue, my one other place that I had found available copies when I first looked, also has a stock photo based system, so I made sure to contact sellers:
If you’re starting to think “this is getting absurd” then you know how I felt! Here’s one more:
A third query to an Atomic Avenue seller went unanswered but a couple of days later I discovered the website had changed its categorization. I hadn’t taken a screenshot of the “before” but it used to show the variant cover and say “direct market special edition.” Now, they have changed the description to say “newsstand edition; barcode on cover.” There is no picture (yet), nor are there any copies shown available (so although that last seller never wrote me back, obviously they too had the regular edition and just miscategorized it).
At this point in the story, I need to reference something that happened in 2013. As discussed in Comic Book Newsstand Editions: Understanding The Difference, in 2013 Marvel’s newsstand distribution became part of comic book history.
In 2013, Chuck Rozanski, a comic book industry insider (and proprietor of one of the largest online comic shops) published stunning information about Marvel’s newsstand distribution; before ending entirely in 2013 he estimated it had reached just 1% of the total… but the decline in newsstand sales had actually been pronounced for decades. By 1990 it had dwindled to 15% of the total distribution, versus 85% direct sales to comic shops in that year. And furthermore, Image Comics (publisher of Savage Dragon), was said to only have had 1% newsstand sales. As a newsstand-only comic book variant, no wonder the variant of issue #10 had been so darn difficult for me to find!
This incredibly low newsstand distribution for Image is corroborated by CGC census data statistics; one comic in particular that helps us see this, is a key comic seeing a recent surge of collector interest with the 2014 release of Guardians of the Galaxy. The key first appearance of Angela was not actually in the Marvel universe but was over in the Image universe, in the pages of Spawn #9. And as it happens, newsstand copies of that issue were published with different paper — newsprint. This manufacturing difference causes CGC to consider newsstand copies of Spawn #9 to be a unique variant, meaning we can actually see on the CGC census how many copies are newsstand, versus how many copies are direct edition. Note that CGC does not make this census delineation for the “typical” newsstand issue with no manufacturing difference versus direct sold copies, so Spawn #9 is among a handful of unique cases where newsstand editions are considered by CGC to be a variant.
And equally importantly for Spawn #9 are the sheer number of copies submitted to CGC for grading. For issues with only a handful of CGC graded copies, a low newsstand count might be passed off as an anomaly. But with the surge of interest in Angela’s first appearance following Guardians of the Galaxy in 2014, collectors began to send in lots of copies to be graded. We’re talking over a thousand copies on census. As of this writing, a total of 1,378 copies — now those are some real numbers! [By contrast, Savage Dragon #10, the subject of this blog entry, had only one copy on census, a lucky 9.8 — I wonder if it was that winner of the eBay copy I watched at auction?!]
And of that 1,378 total copies of Spawn #9, there broken right out on the census as a variant we can see the total number of newsstand copies at just 29 (twenty nine). That’s a ratio of 98% direct edition copies, 2% newsstand — closely corroborating Rozanski’s estimate of 99% direct edition, 1% newsstand, especially when considering that Spawn was one of Image’s most popular titles and would have seen stronger sales on the newsstand than other titles (other titles such as Savage Dragon).
Newsstand sales only went down from 1990 industry-wide as a percentage; at Marvel they were said to be 10% by 1995. Starting at just 1-2% for Image in 1992, how low did Image newsstand sales go as the years went by? One thing we do know is that Erik Larsen pulled Savage Dragon off of newsstands after issue #30 — so the point at which newsstand sales had dwindled to zero for Savage Dragon was 1996. So relative to other superheroes in the Image universe like Spawn, Savage Dragon likely sold a lower percentage of the total on newsstands. Below is a post by Erik Larsen describing how the newsstand distribution channel was difficult because unsold copies were returnable for a refund, and that he pulled Savage Dragon off of the newsstands because he was losing money on that distribution channel:
Based on this information, we can surmise that the variant cover for newsstand copies of issue #10 was intended to boost newsstand sales, because collectors could only get their variant copy over on newsstands, not at their local comic shop. Based on this possible sales boost, it is unclear what rarity ratio collectors should apply to the total — was it 1%, 2%, 3% newsstand for issue #10? Also unknown is how many total copies of issue #10 were produced. Issue #1 was said in an interview to be in the hundreds of thousands; by issue #33 we have data from Comichron showing sales of around 34,000 per issue. Also contributing to guesstimate of rarity ballpark is how frequently an actual copy comes up for sale (i.e. not a miscategorized one). At the time of this writing there were no copies on Atomic Avenue, no copies on Amazon, no copies on NewKadia, no copies on MileHigh, no copies on MyComicShop…
I’ve had an active eBay alert since that original eBay auction I watched, and the rate of available copies is on the order of one new listing every six months to a year. The last copy that sold went for $19.33 and interestingly, that copy was listed by an artist, where the listing indicated they received the copy as a prize for placing in a “create a character” contest Erik Larsen had held. So, the newsstand edition variant of this issue was already special enough to be deemed “prize-worthy” back in the 90’s. How many have survived to this day? Based on how challenging a find this was in relation to other comics where I know the print run, based on the CGC census count of graded copies, based on the rate of new listings appearing on eBay over the years, and based on everything that is known about Image newsstand rarity — and then looking at the approximate sales of Savage Dragon comics around the year this was published, I guesstimate on the order of 800 newsstand variant copies. Happy collecting!