With at least 65 confirmed variant covers and more than 1 million copies being printed, it’s not hypberbole to call this week’s release of Star Wars No. 1 by Marvel Entertainment an event not seen in years — if not decades — for comics and Saga fans.
The series, which marks the return of the lucrative Lucasfilm property back to Marvel after a 29-year absence, is being celebrated with a comics mega-event, a Jan. 14 debut so anticipated and desired, it’s poised to become the best-selling title since 1999, when Pokemon: The Electric Tale of Pikachu No. 4 sold a million copies, as did Batman No. 500 in 1993, according to John Jackson Miller, who curates Comichron, a website that analyzes sales and demands for comics.
While the release isn’t likely to reach the heights that Marvel’s 1991 relaunch of the X-Men that sold 8 million copies, it is on par with 1977’s original Star Wars No. 1 issue, which came out came out a few weeks before the film and, within a short time, went platinum, albeit unexpectly.
Miller noted that before that 1977 launch there were no comics selling more than 300,000 copies a month. The appeal of the first Star Wars comic caught many by surprise, he said, noting that “the newsstand dealers wouldn’t have expected to sell near that many copies of the first issue” when they placed their initial orders, well before the film’s debut.
“But they were caught by surprise, which was why Curtis Circulation asked Marvel to go back to press with a newsstand-only reprint — and why there were so many bagged reprintings of #1-6 via Whitman,” said Miller.
“It’s those books that helped make up the million copies. In today’s record-keeping we generally consider ‘snap reprints’ — those released within a few months — to count toward the same comic book’s totals, so long as the package does not change. Variant covers are allowed, but the trade paperback wouldn’t be. So we count all the Whitman bagged editions, but wouldn’t count the giant Treasury Editions.”
This time around, retailers were — and are — ready, thanks to Disney’s acquisition of both Marvel and Lucasfilm and from the long-time planning between Marvel and the Lucasfilm Story Group that saw four distinct titles emerge for this year. That, coupled with the buzz surrounding Star Wars: The Force Awakens, has generated steadily increasing interest in the new Jason Aaron-written and John Cassaday-illustrated Star Wars series.
And to mark the eponymous return, Marvel went all out in terms of approving variant covers for the issue, which feature numerous artists, such as Frank Cho, Sara Pichelli, Amanda Connor and Mike Mayhew, among many, many others, doing distinct covers for comic shops, retailers and the others. To date, there are about 100 such different titles, according to research by comics and film website Bleeding Cool. And, there may be more unaccounted for.
That’s no surprise, according to David Gabriel, senior vice president for print, sales and marketing for Marvel Publishing Worldwide, who told Coffee With Kenobi that the number of variants isn’t all too surprising.
“There was a certain superhero team book a year or so ago with something like 53 solicited variants so it’s not really that unique. And to be honestly technical we just did over 10,000 unique variant covers thanks to the Ant-Man #1 Shrinking Variant so the bar is always being created and re-created!” he said.
“But It’s safe to say we were so far just under 65 covers on this issue — give or take a cover — and we hit an astronomical order number, and then we printed an astronomical number to meet the demand, which kept on growing, even after the order cut-off date. Now, this can’t be done on every comic for many obvious reasons, BUT when people read the issue I think everyone will be happy.”
But why so many variants from so many artists for so many outlets?
“There are a number of different reasons to have variant covers, but in the end it all boils down to selling more comics,” J.C. Vaughn, vice-president of publishing for Gemstone Publishing, the home of The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide,
told Coffee With Kenobi. “The up side of this is that no one makes any of us purchase more than one, but for those of us who really love a property — and Star Wars is certainly a great example of that — we can really get into it,” Vaughn said. “When you go after an issue with a lot of variants, sometimes the chase is really part of the fun.”
Many variants are going for under $10, with limited runs at specific shops. Others are publisher-endorsed and are set at more reasonable prices, such as $4.99. A Joe Quesada (he’s Marvel’s chief creative officer) sketch variant is listing at $299, while another by famed artist Alex Ross is $149.99.
“One million copies, with a nice boost from the (65) or so variants — it’s brilliant on so many levels,” said Mayhew. “You might like one variant over the others, or you might be a completist and collect all (65) or so variants.”
Among those variants is one featuring nothing but Hasbro’s six-inch Star Wars Black Series action figures, all individually posed to show detail with a view of Darth Vader and numerous storm troopers from Emperor Palpatine’s viewpoint. That’s going for $19.99.
Mayhew — whose illustration of The Star Wars mini-series for Dark Horse Comics drew plaudits and raves — has a variant, too, done for Zapp Comics. It features an homage to Rob Liefeld’s New Mutants No. 98, the first appearance of Deadpool. A veteran artist, he initially didn’t care for variants, yet as friends at Dynamite leverage more sales with them, his thinking changed.
“I think their trend really makes sense. At first I disliked the notion of variants, like they somehow undermined you if you were the ‘regular’ cover artist, or somehow minimize you if you were the ‘variant’ artist,” Mayhew told Coffee With Kenobi. “I see things differently now. I see it like getting a bonus track on a album, or access to a special character in a video game. Something that can make the comic more unique for the individual. It’s a cool thing comics can do that caters to the marketplace of those that love to collect and enjoy comic art.”
Matt Moore has been perpetrating journalism since 1985, reveling in Star Wars since 1977 and reading comics since 1974.
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