June 2010 Flashbacks: McFarlane Spider-Man #1 at 20

Following the report on comics orders for June 2010, here’s a look back at what was going on in previous years…

June 2009‘s top seller was DC’s Batman and Robin #1, with estimated first-month Diamond orders of 168,500 copies. It would ultimately be the fourth best-selling comic book of 2009, with reorders bringing it to 190,300 copies. June 2009 was notable for increasing prices, which set new records in the month with the average comic book offered in Diamond’s top-sellers list selling for $3.50. Check out the detailed analysis of the month’s sales here — and sales chart here.

June 2005‘s top-seller was Marvel’s House of M #1, with Diamond first-month orders of over 233,700 copies. Final orders including reorders brought the summer event issue to 248,200 copies, making it the 14th best-selling comic book of the 2000s. (See the whole list here.) Check out the sales chart for June 2005 here.

June 2000‘s top-seller was Marvel’s Uncanny X-Men #383, with Diamond preorders of 120,600 copies, barely making the Top 300 list for the decade; such were the low volumes in 2000 compared to later in the decade. June was X-Men month, with the first movie prompting the release of several prequel issues at Marvel; yet retailer orders remained light following many down years in the direct market. (The coincidence of a popular movie with poor cash flow at retail is one of the case studies examined in this piece relating comics and movie sales.)

Still, overall figures were up, a step in the right direction. Check out the sales chart here.

June 1995‘s top seller at Diamond was Spawn: Blood Feud #1; at Capital City Distribution, the top-seller was Marvel’s X-Men #43. With newsstand and subscription sales, the X-Men issue almost certainly was the better seller overall; Capital’s orders were 90,800 copies, with average annual sales for the title that year at nearly 333,000 copies.

It was the last month in the year all distributors would have Marvel and DC comics: on March 3, 1995, the publisher announced it would shift all Marvel’s products to its recently purchased Heroes World Distribution company as of July-shipping products. (A not-insignificant detail in all this: Heroes World stopped selling other publishers’ products at the same time, cutting out sales from what was then the third-largest distributor.) On April 28, DC announced it was going with Diamond exclusively with its July-shipping products. Dark Horse did the same for November items, and Image for December items. Capital City did get two additional months of DC products by filing a lawsuit against DC and Diamond, but for practical purposes, June 1995 was the end of the multi-distributor direct market the industry had known for more than a decade.

The average price of comics in Diamond’s Top 300 was $2.48, and the average comic book ordered within Diamond’s Top 300 cost $2.43. The most common cost of comics was $2.50.

June 1990‘s top seller at Diamond and Capital City was a blockbuster: Todd McFarlane’s Spider-Man #1. The issue went on sale in comics shops June 21, 1990: 1.2 million copies of a silver-ink cover edition and 125,000 copies of a “bagged” silver-ink version. (In theory, removing the bag meant the book was no longer “mint.”) There followed 800,000 green unbagged and 125,000 bagged newsstand editions — and several reprints. Golden Apple Comics in California staged a “Midnight Madness” sale for the release, complete with searchlights and radio news crews; hundreds of people showed up, and the chain sold out of its initial shipment of 3,000 copies withing 36 hours, with sales restricted to one per customer after the first day. (I bought my own copy in a comics shop set up in, all places, a doctor’s office complex — a sign of how easily shops were opening in the multi-distributor world.)

Reported same-day prices on the bagged silver editions ranged from $15 to $30 in many places, and hit $80 in at least one. It was a watershed moment in the commoditization of new comics, decried by many at the time; Moondog‘s owner Gary Colabuono, declaring that the bagged editions were “the dumbest thing to come along in some time,” announced his stores would no longer carry them. “It serves no purpose but to stimulate greed and speculation.”

Indeed, even the former Marvel executive who came up with the idea of the limited-edition Platinum Spider-Man #1 reprint wrote of his second thoughts in Comics Retailer magazine, years later: “I was taking advantage of the desires of the market and fueling speculator greed.”

While Spider-Man #1 was not the best-selling comic book of the wave — that would be the following year’s adjectiveless X-Men #1, with its five covers — it did have a long-lasting effect in solidifying McFarlane as the most popular creator working in comics. McFarlane would parlay that popularity into the launch of Image Comics. (Readers interested in the inner workings of the publisher should check out Maggie Thompson’s in-depth coverage of the 2010 hearings in the McFarlane/Neil Gaiman laswuit.)

June 1985‘s top seller at Capital City was Marvel’s Secret Wars II #4. Capital’s orders were approximately 63,200 copies, suggesting overall sales in the 300,000-to-400,000-copy range. A Barry Windsor-Smith issue of Uncanny X-Men, #198, came in second.

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