The Comic De-spec-tive v.1-3
Barely a Wednesday goes by when there isn’t a new Image first issue on the local comic shop shelf.
Image accounts for about 10 percent of the market share behind the two monoliths that are Marvel and DC but it seems like they are putting out more NEW titles than anyone in terms of sheer quantity.
I am not going to go into the history of Image comics here; that is well-tread territory but if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend the SyFy documentary So Much Damage: How Image Comics Changed the World.
The focus of this piece will be to look at a few Image first issues by three of their most prominent writers in order to see how they’ve performed historically, both in the long- and short- term.
This will allow us to forecast which current series may be worth investing in, and what trends/patterns to look for in the future.
For our purposes, we are going to rewind to October 2003, when among the Spawns and Savage Dragons, a new zombie title by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore appeared on the scene.
The Walking Dead had an initial print run of 7,266 copies coming in at 233 on the sales charts. Other first issues up higher on the list were Sword of Dracula and Cursed both from Image, Tales of the Realm from CrossGen and Alan Moore’s Yuggoth Cultures from Avatar which had a 50% higher print run.
There had been other comics at that time that had tackled the same themes including one that shared a title in the 1990’s but something in this creative team’s dark, unyielding look at our society tapped into the cultural zeitgeist.
The serialized look at the survivors, laced with black humor and punctuated with shocking explosions of violence where no character was safe, continued to build a growing fanbase before settling into the pop culture phenomenon of today.
The rarified air of The Walking Dead 1 (a 9.8 recently sold for $2,378) had a few things going for it. A relatively unknown writer in Robert Kirkman was first and foremost; the series went on to win two Eisner-awards.
One of the Image founders, Jim Valentino’s advice to Kirkman to shift the series from a Night of the Living Dead postscript to an original property also allowed Kirkman to worldbuild on his own terms.
Combined with a miniscule print run, and the eventual adaptation of the AMC show launched the title into the juggernaut that it is today.
Earlier that same year, again from Kirkman, Invincible 1 was launched in January 2003 with 10,751 copies. Featuring the first full appearance of Invincible, recent 9.8 sales have hovered right around the $1K range.
(I will leave the Masters of the Universe 1, Savage Dragon 102, Tech Jacket 1, Noble Causes Family Secrets 3 appearance debate for others to sort out but basically the 6-page preview of Invincible in Tech Jacket predates the other preview books and the Noble Causes is first cameo and first cover on the X-Men swipe ‘B’ cover. Tylenol, anyone?)
Besides sharing a writer what both books had in common (as Invincible has now ended its impressive run) is that they managed to maintain a consistent shipping schedule.
One can’t say enough about the fact that if you put a quality product out on a consistent basis, your customers will continue to purchase it.
If I was a Pepsi fan and one week I showed up to my local deli and no Pepsi showed up, there’s a good chance I would walk out with a Coke or a similar substitute.
Comic buyers will either shift their buying habits, or worse for publishers, not purchase anything at all if the book they are expecting is not there on the shelf.
Usually with comics ending (and Kirkman has said that this is an unequivocal ending though all of my copies of 144’s ‘B’’ cover with Terra in the costume are holding out hope!) there will be a decidedly downward trend in value no matter how beloved the property.
We are dealing with Kirkman here however and with a film promised on the horizon, values for 9.8 issues have stayed pretty consistent in the $800-$900 range.
One final aside while we’re on Kirkman; a classic example of a book that speculators held on to for too long was Outcast. Thinking that every property that actually goes to series will only increase first issue/ appearance value is the exception, not the rule, especially when you’re dealing with non-superhero genre properties.
While the series was well reviewed, it aired on Cinemax and its second season already aired overseas. Be prepared to sell at the slightest sign of a bump that the series may receive as Cinemax will air the first season on HBO before it makes its U.S. debut.
It may never see 3 figures again but should rise above the paltry $30 that slabs are currently fetching. (Or you can always leave it in your PC as a looming reminder of investor inaction!)
There are other similar titles where the ship has sailed; only time will tell whether the ship has run permanently aground but I would not be rushing to acquire copies: Peter Panzerfaust, Wicked & the Divine, Wytches, Morning Glories, and sadly, Chew.
The jury is still out on The Realm but much of the interest generated by the variants including the paper bag wrapped ‘Secret Cover’ has died down.
Special Mention: Thief of Thieves– Kirkman has been talking up the impending series since 2016. The title is back in 2018 so it could garner interest again soon.
Jumping from one of Image’s go-to-writers to another will help to demonstrate what the effects of an inconsistent release schedule can do to a book.
I am an unabashed fan of Rick Remender; from Fear Agent up to his X-Force run, and his Image titles with rare exception have all been home runs or at least, solid triples.
In the last couple of years alone, he has pumped out Seven to Eternity (September 2016, 9 issues), Deadly Class (January 2014, up to issue 35) , Low (July, 2014, issue 19), Black Science (November 2013, up to issue 35) and now his upcoming collaboration with Bengal, Death or Glory (B cover below).
Besides being uniquely prolific in coming up with original concepts, his next greatest strength, working with top tier talents probably also works against him, at least in the case of the insanely talented Jerome Opena (and to a lesser extent Greg Tocchini on Low, a book with decidedly less heat.)
Remender pushes the visual envelope which is why each artist is uniquely suited to their respective books and other artists suffer in comparison when asked to fill in. (Case in point: James Harren on Seven to Eternity.)
Remender would rather have lags in the schedule than to rush out an inferior product which is good for fans of quality comics but not so great for speculators.
The downward trend of Seven to Eternity is no doubt a result of the long hiatus- almost 11 months between issues.
On the other end, let’s take a look at Deadly Class. 9.8 copies have steadily moved since the news of the series option in the $120 range. This book has also had a very consistent publishing schedule and as fans of the title can attest, it will lend itself well to an episodic format.
Casting announcements are not necessary definitive that the show will actually go to air bit they will bring buyers out of the woodwork. Many of these titles have generated initial interest but then cooled off considerably.
When it comes to books that shoot out of the gate and then just disappear into the ether, nobody tops our final writer.
Mark Millar has been pretty transparent about the fact that he uses comics almost purely as a platform to showcase as future film and television properties.
A writer whose cinematic scenarios seem tailor-made for the big screen would seem like the goose that laid dozens of golden eggs but that is not the case here. Kick-Ass and The Kingsman have been middling spec performers at best.
Longboxes are lined with the corpses of the next big Millar book from Huck to Jupiter’s Circle/Legacy to Chrononauts to Starlight. Maybe the novelty of a comic turned Netflix series will break the curse with the upcoming original The Magic Order.
Of the three covers for issue 1, the Adam Hughes one probably has the best chance of breaking out but Coipel’s work is none too shabby either.
Perhaps the floodgates might just open up if the series gets people talking; Millar’s deal with the streaming company covers most of his Millarworld titles.
So, what are the high grade raw Image titles I might start to look at as stashes based on their current 9.8 sold averages.
Here are five that are either flying under the radar or that have cooled off and may end up being spec zombies that rise from the dead:
- Redneck- The pendulum is probably ready to swing back from zombies to vampires again and no writer is hotter than Donny Cates.
- Monstress- A critical darling, this slow burn features beautiful art wrapped around enigmatic storytelling.
- Gideon Falls– Lemire is writing a pure horror book with Sorrentino providing equally haunting visuals here. Rare for an Image title, there are four variant covers for 1.
- Black Magick– Rucka and Scott’s witch-y detective series is a good bet to actually get made.
- Infidel (virgin variant)- This topical horror series may raise SJW hackles but its eye-catching covers make this a sleeper hold.
Too early to tell but off to promising starts based on previews or first issues:
Isola and the aforementioned Death or Glory
Bonus Round: High concept writer Jonathan Hickman is speculator quicksand. Stay away! With that being said, Amazon’s recent deal centered on East of West and Transhuman will put that theory to the test. Remaining high grade cheap issues have rapidly disappeared; both could still be lingering in long boxes.
As we move away from our look at Image, let’s see what else is happening in spec this week:
Reads of the Week:
- Wilds 2 (Cover B), Black Mask
- Abbot 4, Boom!
Wednesday Lotto Tickets
Covers of the Week
Wish the Batgirl was one of the limited trade dress covers but still a great image. The Hellblazer and Doom Patrol make nice duelling white covers. In-Hyuk Lee is a beast- ‘nuff said. Frison at this point is a known quantity.
Proceed with Caution
- Entertainment Weekly just ran a piece on Captain Carter which featured both the regular and Game variant covers for Exiles featured below. This cover for issue 3 could definitely start to heat up as this will be the first official appearance of the game version of Sharon Carter as an alt dimension Captain America. She is also featured on the regular cover. Look for a likely cameo in issue 2 as well!
- Wake me up when The Hunt for Wolverine is over. I still have too many Death of Wolverine books clogging up my long boxes.
- With all of the Fantastic Four news and the appearance of Franklin and Valeria with the “Future Foundation” logo, I am starting to squirrel away copies of the Fantastic Four 579, Heroic Age variants when I find them on the cheap. In addition to the great John Tyler Christopher cover image, this is also the first appearance of the Future Foundation.
Bonus: Check out the odd Geoff Darrow piece that was initially supposed to be the variant cover and was never used!
That’s it for this week; until next time, continue to spec the unex-spec-ted!