Retailer Incentive Variant

Savage Dragon #156 Herb Trimpe Variant

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:

Savage Dragon #156 Trimpe Variant Side By Side With Incredible Hulk #156

Savage Dragon #156 Trimpe Variant Side By Side With Incredible Hulk #156

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:

Savage Dragon #156 recent listing with front and back cover scans.

Savage Dragon #156 recent listing with front and back cover scans.

As you can see at the bottom, they note the 1:10 ordering ratio:

Savage Dragon #156 variant was 1:10

Savage Dragon #156 variant was 1:10

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:

MyComicShop also states the variant was 1:10

MyComicShop also states the variant was 1:10

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:

From Comichron, the Savage Dragon #156 original sales numbers same in at an estimated 6,152 copies (“regular” 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:

At the time of this writing, the CGC census has 3 of the Herb Trimpe variants of Savage Dragon #156 on record.

At the time of this writing, the CGC census has 3 of the Herb Trimpe variants of Savage Dragon #156 on record.

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):

Savage Dragon #156 Herb Trimpe Variant Recent Sale

Savage Dragon #156 Herb Trimpe Variant Recent Sale on eBay at $99.99 + $7.99 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:

savage dragon 156 variant auction

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! 🙂

– Ben

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Retailer Incentive Variant

Savage Dragon #137 (1st Obama Cover)

By Benjamin Nobel, February 13, 2016

Obama variant cover of Savage Dragon #137, a 1:5 retailer incentive variant.

Obama variant cover of Savage Dragon #137, a 1:5 retailer incentive variant.

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.”

Super Endorsement: Savage Dragon Backs Obama! As reported by the NY Times in August of 2008.

Super Endorsement: Savage Dragon Backs Obama! As reported by the NY Times in August of 2008.

 

The celebrity endorsements have begun!

The celebrity endorsements have begun!

But as relates to the scarcity of this variant of the comic, the relevant paragraph of the NY Times piece is this one:

NY Times states: "one in five copies will have the Obama cover."

NY Times states: “one in five copies will have the Obama cover.”

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:

 

"Savage Dragon #137 will sport a special 1:5 variant cover featuring Dragon formally endorsing the one candidate he is confident is not a potential nemesis, Barack Obama."

“Savage Dragon #137 will sport a special 1:5 variant cover featuring Dragon formally endorsing the one candidate he is confident is not a potential nemesis, Barack Obama.”

 

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.

Savage Dragon #137 sales numbers: 7,935 copies.

Savage Dragon #137 sales numbers: 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:

It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's... Obama!

It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s… Obama!

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:

spider-man-583-mention

Issue #583 sold over 350,000 copies, making it the best-selling regular series comic book in a decade.

Let’s see if Comichron corroborates those sales numbers in its page for January 2009:

Yep: Amazing Spider-Man #583 is right there at the top, with sales over 350,000 copies.

Yep: Amazing Spider-Man #583 is right there at the top, with sales over 350,000 copies.

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:

obama-583-conditions

The conditions for ordering the Obama variant were that if retailers ordered more copies of issue #583 than they had ordered of #575 by a cut-off date, they could order as many variants as they wanted, while supplies lasted.

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:

As of this writing, a grand total of 1,418 copies of the Obama Variant of Amazing Spider-Man #583 have been turned in to CGC for grading.

As of this writing, a grand total of 1,418 copies of the Obama Variant of Amazing Spider-Man #583 have been turned in to CGC for grading.

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).

CGC Census data for the Savage Dragon #137 Obama variant shows a grand total of 29 copies.

CGC Census data for the Savage Dragon #137 Obama variant shows a grand total of 29 copies.

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.

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