May the Glut Be with You

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Last month Newsarama published an article on the “Top Selling Comic Book Titles of the 21st Century…So Far”—an article that, perhaps shockingly, had the just-released new Star Wars comic from Marvel occupying the top spot. As the article relates, the sales for this book were an estimated one million copies. A hell of a number in this day and age.

This would have been cause for rejoicing but for the fact that this first issue had ninety-five cover variants. And to think, I was monster pissed when that new X-Men title from ’91 had a whopping five cover variants. If five covers was an attempt at gouging, what the hell do we call this? “Goring,” maybe?

ross sw

More broadly, could this be a harbinger of what’s to come? Could it signal a return to the bad old days of ridiculous cover gimmicks and awful sales stunts that cause the industry to implode—again?

A Sort of Homecoming

The comic-book life of Star Wars began at Marvel in 1977, with the first issues coming out just before the film itself was released. The series lasted about ten years, and then a few years after that it would move on to Dark Horse, which began publishing Star Wars comics in 1991. Once Disney had completed its purchases of both Marvel and Star Wars, however, corporate synergy rendered the possibility of Marvel once again publishing Star Wars an inevitability.

Just how successful was that original Star Wars series for Marvel? This is an interesting question. A few years back I met Jim Shooter at a creator appearance at Dewey’s Comic City and he told me that Marvel’s Star Wars comic “never sold.”

The word “never” would seem inappropriate here. When the comics first came out and then the movie blew up, the comics went back for second and third printings—something that never happened to any other comic in the 70s. So for damn sure it sold well, at least at the beginning. Now maybe by ’85, ’86, ’87, when the movie series was over and there were no new films on the horizon, perhaps the books stopped selling by then, and maybe that’s what Shooter was referring to/remembering when he said they didn’t sell. Also keep in mind that Shooter did not become editor-in-chief at Marvel until 1978, so he might not have been keeping close track of (or even been privy to) sales figures at the time the Star Wars comic debuted.

It’s also possible that Shooter hadn’t meant they didn’t sell, but that they simply were not profitable—perhaps because of costly licensing fees. But this New York Times article puts the kibosh on that idea, as it reveals that Marvel paid zero licensing fees. It also suggests that the Star Wars comic may have “saved” Marvel Comics. Now this is probably a bit of a reach, but if it was indeed selling a million copies as the article states, then the series was certainly a very profitable venture for Marvel, at the very least.

And here we are today, nearly four decades later, and it’s breaking the million mark in sales once again. Welcome home, indeed, Star Wars.

The New Star Wars

I should add that I’ve read all the new Star Wars comics thus far and enjoyed them immensely; they’re really well done and a great read. I only wish they were setting sales records based on their quality and not on a stupid sales gimmick like cover variants. We can only hope this doesn’t turn into a trend again.

So by all means, do go out and buy a copy. But please—just one copy per issue, okay? Choose your cover wisely.

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