By Benjamin Nobel, February 14, 2016
As I talked about in my post about Graphic Fantasy #1, that comic is now credited by CGC as containing the first appearance of The Dragon. In effect, Megaton #3 was “demoted” having previously been credited by CGC with the key first appearance of Savage Dragon (for much of the industry, Megaton #3 is still given this first appearance credit, with people still catching up).
So if the Graphic Fantasy fanzines and Megaton are both The Dragon, where does Savage Dragon first appear in comics? This credit is now given by CGC to Savage Dragon Limited Series #1 (Image Comics, 1992). In effect, with the launch of Image Comics, the character is considered by CGC to be Savage Dragon, and anything prior to that is considered to be The Dragon. If we look at the cover of Megaton #3, we can see that the bottom of it does say “Vanguard vs. The Dragon” (not Vanguard vs. The Savage Dragon).
All in all, I think this delineation of the character makes sense… and it means that collectors should consider Savage Dragon Limited Series #1 as a key issue, containing Savage Dragon’s first appearance. Below is an example CGC certification lookup, showing this credit in the key comments field:
So, how should collectors approach this issue? Before collecting any comic, we should arm ourselves with information, including looking up the CGC Census data. When we do this for Savage Dragon Limited Series #1, we can see that there is a Newsstand Edition variant listed on the census:
As you can see, at the time of this writing, there are a grand total of 151 graded copies of the regular edition (direct edition lacking UPC code), while there are 6 graded copies of the Newsstand Edition. As discussed in Comic Book Newsstand Editions: Understanding The Difference, the vast majority — 98-99% — of comic books sold by Image Comics were direct edition copies sold to comic shops on a non-returnable basis. The remaining small fraction were newsstand sales, where unsold copies could be returned for a refund. Two distinct print runs were published, one for each distribution channel. The newsstand print run was always published with a UPC code somewhere on the front or back cover. (In the case of Savage Dragon Limited Series #1, the code was on the bottom left corner of the front cover, and the newsstand edition of the comic book was also manufactured with different interior paper, newsprint; that manufacturing difference is what causes CGC to deem newsstand editions a variant).
This distribution rarity disparity explains the difference in the CGC census numbers between the two variants. Investigating the sales numbers a bit further, in this article, Erik Larsen is quoted as saying that the early Savage Dragon comics sold “hundreds of thousands” of copies:
So even though Larsen did not reveal a precise number, this quote is a critical clue. If it was two hundred thousand copies he might have said “a couple hundred thousand,” if it was three hundred thousand copies he might have said “a few hundred thousand,” while if it was five hundred thousand copies he might have boasted of selling “half a million” copies. So the phrase “hundreds of thousands” suggests to me that we’re talking somewhere in between three and five hundred thousand.
Here are some more clues. According to the 1992 comic book sales statistics on Comichron, Savage Dragon #1 came in at the #98 spot for the year for sales. Atop the list was Superman #75, in second place was Jim Lee’s WildC.A.T.S #1, and third place went to Venom #1. Spawn #1 came in 8th place. Looking at the books right above Savage Dragon #1 on that 1992 Comichron list, we have Uncanny X-Men Annual #16, and Amazing Spider-Man #374. Searching for statistics on Amazing Spider-Man issues around that time, turned up a page listing a print run of approximately 470,000 copies of Amazing Spider-Man #360. So based on this research, combined with Erik Larsen’s quote of “a few hundred thousand” let’s be generous and upgrade him to “half a million” for the total sales estimate for Savage Dragon Limited Series #1.
Assuming sales of 500,000 and applying 1% newsstand rarity, would give us an estimated count of 5,000 copies for the newsstand edition of Savage Dragon Limited Series #1 with the UPC code on the cover. For a key first appearance, this is a fairly low number, one that arguably makes the comic highly collectible. Another factor in this comic’s favor as a collectible is an incredible cover, that is arguably a “modern classic” cover. As collectors we are on our own to identify which covers are “modern classics” but as I talked about in the classic covers section of my post about rare comics to collect, a good “test” for whether a modern comic book cover should be considered “classic” by collectors is whether that cover has ever been swiped. If others are taking the time to swipe it, that is a pretty darn good indication that it is an important cover. And in the case of Savage Dragon Limited Series #1, the cover passes that swipe test, having been swiped both in the title and outside of it (recently in Spawn #220 by Todd McFarlane):
With its low estimated count of 5,000 copies, a modern classic cover, newsprint interior causing CGC to give the newsstand edition variant status, and the key first appearance of the Savage Dragon, the newsstand edition variant of Savage Dragon Limited Series #1 is an excellent candidate to seek for your collection.