By Benjamin Nobel, November 8, 2015
As discussed in Comic Book Newsstand Editions: Understanding The Difference, 98-99% of each comic book issue sold by Image Comics were direct edition copies, while the remaining tiny fraction represented newsstand sales, with newsstand copies printed differently and discernible from direct edition copies.
By the 1990’s collectors were generally buying all their comics in comic shops, and newsstand sales by comparison were struggling industry-wide. Within that struggling newsstand channel, competition was fierce; Savage Dragon was competing with the likes of Superman and Spider-Man, not to mention Spawn within the Image universe. Newsstand buyers were not picking up many copies of Savage Dragon, with high levels of returns making this distribution channel a real challenge.
All Savage Dragon comics printed for the newsstands used cheap newsprint interior paper, and centerfold posters were often excluded. But despite any savings that might have come from these manufacturing choices, the newsstand channel was a losing proposition for Savage Dragon.
Even with any savings that might have come from these manufacturing choices, Savage Dragon newsstand sales were losing money. The final newsstand issue was #30, which featured Spawn on the cover. Interestingly, the newsstand print run for this issue was given a different cover — the same artwork was used, but there are some key differences between the two covers:
- In place of the Savage Dragon logo, for the newsstand print run a combination logo with both Spawn and Savage Dragon was used.
- An “As Seen on TV” logo was included to further attract the attention of newsstand-goers.
- Instead of being numbered as Savage Dragon #30, the newsstand print run was numbered as #1 on the cover (Spawn / The Savage Dragon #1)
- Bonus DART pin-up was advertised in the bottom right corner
- The cover price was different.
And then of course the newsstand edition also had a UPC code in the bottom left corner. Below is a front cover comparison of the two versions:
A cover variant such as this might have carried the hope of drawing more newsstand buyers than normal. But from the fact that there was no newsstand edition of #31 (i.e. #30 / Spawn/The Savage Dragon #1 was the final newsstand issue), we can surmise that the newsstand channel remained a money-losing proposition. The post below by Erik Larsen reflects on just how difficult newsstand sales actually were:
With the newsstand channel, the level of returns determined the difference between making money or losing money. For Savage Dragon comics, with this distribution channel losing money, after issue #30 Larsen made the decision to stop distributing Savage Dragon comics on newsstands altogether.
So: Savage Dragon #30 was the final issue distributed on newsstands. How many copies of Savage Dragon #30 were sold in total? Although Comichron doesn’t have monthly sales data going back quite as far as issue #30, they do have monthly data going back to issue #32 which should be within the same general neighborhood. Here’s how the sales numbers look around issue #30:
Savage Dragon #32: 33,956
Savage Dragon #33: 33,299
Savage Dragon #34: 34,427
Savage Dragon #35: 33,077
So we’re in the neighborhood of 34,000 around these issues. Suppose having Spawn on the cover provided a 15% sales boost for issue #30… that would put us at about 39,000. Let’s round up to an even 40,000 for total assumed sales of Savage Dragon #30. A ratio of 99% direct edition to 1% newsstand would imply on the order of just 400 Newsstand Edition copies of issue #30 (i.e. 400 copies of Spawn/The Savage Dragon #1). Even if we were to generously estimate total sales of Savage Dragon #30 all the way up at 50,000, the 1% newsstand ratio would still imply just 500 copies of Spawn/The Savage Dragon #1!
Any time you can find an interesting comic book that has on the order of merely several hundreds of copies, that’s one to consider collecting, and for Spawn / The Savage Dragon #1 fortunately as of this writing the awareness of the rarity level of this comic book doesn’t appear to be widely known. Sellers who originally picked up their copy on the newsstands, may therefore price their copies such that a high grade copy can be found under $25.
As shown in the screenshot below, as of this writing there are a total of three copies of this comic book listed on eBay, asking $99.99, $129.99, and $147.99.
These three sellers clearly know they own a rare comic, based on their asking prices. However, not all of the people who picked this comic book up on the newsstands originally, now know just how rare it is. Comic book “Lots” (listings of several comic books instead of just one) can sometimes be a source of finding hidden gems like Spawn / The Savage Dragon #1. My own copy was purchased as part of a larger lot, for a total lot price of $12.65.
Aside from eBay listings, another place to potentially look for a well-priced copy is Atomic Avenue. As of this writing, they ascribe a guide value of just $2.50 to Spawn / The Savage Dragon #1, which means when their members are going through a box of books and listing them, if a member owns a copy they may blindly follow the guide value when listing it, especially if they’re going through a collection — you can almost picture them now, having listed their copies of Savage Dragon #1-29, each of those low priced, they get to #30 and see a suggested value of $2.50… chances are, they’ll accept that number without giving it a second thought, and list away. So keeping an eye on Atomic Avenue might be a way to find a low priced copy.
Although no copies are currently available, this is a good place to check. Also working in our favor as collectors, the ComicsPriceGuide guide value is $5.
Given the extreme rarity, both of these guide values are “giving it away” — likely because of lack of awareness of the extremely low numbers. But now that you’ve read this post, you can count yourself among the collectors who are aware of the rarity, and benefit accordingly as you seek out your own copy!
One last note: don’t bother waiting for a CGC graded copy, because as of this writing only two exist on the census.
With its estimated count of only on the order of 400 copies, and a mere 2 copies having ever been CGC graded, Spawn/The Savage Dragon #1 is the single most rare 1990’s Spawn comic that I have ever come across. It is “a #1” (while at the same time being #30 and the final newsstand issue of Savage Dragon), with a highly fascinating set of circumstances contributing to its existence, giving it true collectible interest. For my own collection it was was of the most challenging — but ultimately rewarding (once I got my hands on one) Spawn comics I have collected, and true to the theme of this blog due to the low level of collector awareness it should still be possible to this day to purchase a high grade copy with a $25 budget.