By Benjamin Nobel, February 13, 2016
The variant of Savage Dragon #137 featuring Barack Obama on the cover is an incredibly difficult comic book to find (while meanwhile there are plenty Amazing Spider-Man #583 variants out there), which begs the question: why? Why is this comic such a challenge to find? In this blog post, I will answer that question! It all has to do with the circumstances that led to this comic’s creation, and the sales numbers for Savage Dragon comics at the time.
In August of 2008, Erik Larsen was the first comic book creator to feature Senator Barack Obama on the cover of a comic book. This makes Savage Dragon #137 a key issue: first appearance of Barack Obama on a comic book cover. At the time, candidate Obama was getting all sorts of “celebrity endorsements” and Savage Dragon’s endorsement drew the attention of the press, including the NY Times with this piece entitled “Super Endorsement: Savage Dragon Backs Obama.”
But as relates to the scarcity of this variant of the comic, the relevant paragraph of the NY Times piece is this one:
The reason the NY Times states that one in five copies will have the Obama cover is that the version with Obama on the cover is a “retailer incentive variant.” So stating that one in five copies will have the cover is actually a little misleading… a maximum of one in five copies would be more accurate, because one in five assumes that ever retailer would participate to the maximum extent. That’s a relatively big assumption. Here is a different article, confirming that the “one in five copies” is actually drawn from this comic being a 1:5 retailer incentive variant:
So if we know that this Obama variant cover was a 1:5 retailer incentive variant (if a retailer committed to buying five “regular” copies of issue #137 on a non-returnable basis, then they could get their hands on one “variant” copy), then figuring out how many copies are out there is simply a mathematics exercise, if we know the total sales figures. And fortunately, there is a wonderful resource out there called Comichron that chronicles the sales numbers month by month (here is their page for September 2008). As we can see, the titles are ranked from highest to lowest sales, with Savage Dragon #137 in the #202 spot with sales of 7,935 copies.
So now we can do the math. If every batch of 5 copies out of that 7,935 number came with a variant, then the maximum number of variant copies is 1,587. However, the assumption that every retailer participated is just that: an assumption. I have seen it argued that the likely number of actual variant copies is closer to 1,000, because not all retailers would have participated. But whether it is 1,000 or 1,500, we’re talking about an extremely low number. And that’s why it is so difficult to find copies of this variant, whereas it is relatively simple to find copies of the other prominent comic featuring President Obama on the cover, Amazing Spider-Man #583. That comic was published in March of 2009, and drew the attention of the Wall Street Journal, in this piece:
A fun article title! The piece mentions issue #137 of Savage Dragon, as well as mentioning Amazing Spider-Man #583. Note the discussion of the sales numbers of issue #583 in this paragraph:
Let’s see if Comichron corroborates those sales numbers in its page for January 2009:
So, what was the incentive offer given to retailers for this issue? This one is a little trickier. Instead of a having to buy a fixed 5 copies in the case of Savage Dragon #137, for Amazing Spider-Man #583, as reported here by newsarama the offer was tied to exceeding previous orders of issue #575:
This seems very open-ended, where the number of total variant copies out there may therefore be quite high, especially given the jump in sales numbers from the 70,000 range for issue #575, all the way up to 350,000+ copies indicative of retailers handily exceeding their orders for issue #575. In situations like this, the CGC Census data comes in quite handy as a data source. As of this writing, CGC has graded a grand total of 1,418 copies of Amazing Spider-Man #583:
So the total number of copies of Amazing Spider-Man #583 that have been turned in to CGC for grading by collectors is in the same ballpark as the total number of variant copies of Savage Dragon #137 that were produced. And that is why the Obama variant of Savage Dragon #137 is so challenging to find, in contrast to the Obama variant of Amazing Spider-Man #583 which is so prevalent by comparison. And for further contrast, here is the CGC census data for the Obama variant of Savage Dragon #137, showing a grand total of 29 copies have been turned in to CGC for grading by collectors. (Just for sake of illustration, if we were to take the total CGC graded copies of both of these issues and compare the piles side by side, the Savage Dragon #137 pile would have rarity of about 1-in-50 next to the Amazing Spider-Man #583 pile).
With its low print run standing in stark contrast to Amazing Spider-Man #583, and as the first comic book to feature Barack Obama on its cover, the Obama variant copies of Savage Dragon #137 are a challenging find but a highly interesting comic to consider for your collection.