By Benjamin Nobel, September 10, 2018
Retailer incentive variants are an interesting “category” of comic book collectibles: instead of their rarity attributes occurring “naturally” (like with modern newsstand comics (see this newsstand rarity slideshow), retailer incentive variants meanwhile have a “manufactured rarity” where the publisher purposely restricts how many variant copies are sold relative to “regular” copies. For example if the offer was a 1:10 incentive, then for every 10 “regular” copies of the issue, there can exist a maximum of one retailer incentive copy.
On the one hand, this leads to lower print runs for these incentive variants, which can attract collector interest and drive up values. On the other hand, collectors these days are flooded with incentive variants to choose from: there are so many different incentive variants out there these days, that each individual one almost isn’t unique anymore — each next one almost becomes “just another incentive variant” in one large pile of other “unique” incentive variants.
We collectors need to be very choosy when collecting within the incentive variants theme.
What do I mean by “choosy”? For me, that means a given retailer incentive variant will attract my interest only if there are other interesting attributes beyond the print run alone. Remember, from day one the buyers of these variants are paying through the nose for them, and thus are going to treat them as collectors items and keep them in pristine condition — hardly any retailer incentive copies are getting read or naturally destroyed.
Here are some of those other interesting attributes that led me to be interested in Savage Dragon #156. For one, I’m a sucker for great cover swipes, and Savage Dragon #156 is a great cover swipe of Incredible Hulk #156 (and a great “fit” because Savage Dragon and Hulk are both green). Notice the “#156” in common between those two issues as well — to me that says there was thought and care put into the concept. And which artist did Larsen bring in to create the variant cover for Savage Dragon #156, and swipe Incredible Hulk #156? Why, he brought in the original cover artist of Incredible Hulk #156: Herb Trimpe himself! The result is a very cool incentive variant. Here are the two covers — original and swipe — side by side:
How rare is it?
A copy of this variant recently came up for sale on eBay and the seller described it as the RARE Herb Trimpe Heart of Chicago Variant of Savage Dragon #156, and in the listing description noted the ratio as being 1:10. Here is a screenshot of the listing body which shows front and back scans, as well as the note about the ratio:
As you can see at the bottom, they note the 1:10 ordering ratio:
This ratio is corroborated by another retailer, MyComicShop, who does not have any copies in stock at the time of this writing but on their website catalogs the variant with the following description: “Limited 1 for 10 Variant Cover by HERB TRIMPE ‘Dragon War,’ Part 2 – Story and art by Erik Larsen. It’s Dragon vs. Dragon – to the death! But one of our green-skinned law enforcers has the brain of Emperor Kurr! Featuring an incentive cover by comic book legend Happy HERB TRIMPE! Cover price $3.50.” Here is a screenshot of that description below:
So if the ordering ratio for this variant was 1 in 10, then that means for every ten copies ordered by comic shops, there should be a maximum of 1 incentive variant copy (we should keep in mind that not all retailers would be expected to participate; some may have placed an order for issue #156 but ordered less than 10 regular copies). A great resource for sales estimates is Comichron, which estimates in their 1/2010 sales page that Savage Dragon #156 sold on the order of 6,152 copies:
So if each and every batch of 10 out of that 6,152 estimated sales number got 1 variant, then at most there should be 615 variant copies of Savage Dragon #156. Which means we’re dealing with numbers in the hundreds, for what is already an interesting variant, with Herb Trimpe cover swiping himself and reprising his great work on his Hulk #156 cover. With so few copies around, there are also very few CGC-graded copies on record today: three:
And note that two of those three are Signature Series copies. While CGC’s census doesn’t tell us who signed each of the listed comics, I have to wonder: did Herb Trimpe sign one or both of those Signature Series copies? If so, the owner of those must surely treasure them for the super-rare collectibles they are… now irreplaceable. I’m jealous, as those two copies overlap several of my top ten themes for rare comics to collect, including the incentive variant theme, the cover swipes theme, and the signature series theme!
Savage Dragon #156 Herb Trimpe Variant Value
The listing I referenced earlier sold for $99 (plus shipping):
That was a buy-it-now, and the copy that came to market before the listing above was an auction, the copy was described as VF/NM, and the winning bid was $58:
With such interesting attributes above and beyond the low print run, the Herb Trimpe variant of Savage Dragon #156 is a highly interesting comic to consider for your collection!
Happy Collecting! 🙂