Spawn #310, set to be released on September 30, has more than 100,000 copies ordered by the retail market, and that's before counting a 20% overship -- which is likely to sell, given that series creator Todd McFarlane has a designated "overstock variant" cover. That's all good news for Spawn, a book that has been on a hot streak since last September when #300 hit the market. The following issue, Spawn #301, overtook the record for the longest-running independent comic of all time, previously held by Dave Sim's Cerebus. Since then, it seems like every month or two, McFarlane and his stable of artists have had some big, cool new thing to get fans excited.
Of course, the idea of an independent comic, at 300 issues, suddenly topping 100,000 issues again for a story that isn't a death, marriage, the end of an era -- it's just a part of an exciting new storyline -- seems unbelievable. How did it happen?
"I wish I knew what the trick was," McFarlane joked. "I would have done it years ago."
More seriously, McFarlane says that while a jump as impressive, and a number as impressive, as what #310 has accomplished might look like a fluke, he is hoping to hang onto at least some of those new readers in the same way he managed to hang on to a lot of the people who tuned in for the record-breaking #300 and otherwise might have left.
"Obviously, that anniversary book was going to sell, and then we have 301. Those were given, right?" McFarlane said. "Like opening up a movie on the opening weekend would. Okay, I have my floor sales, I do something with it, whatever that something may be. And then when I come out of it, is the floor higher? That's really the goal for me. So if you enter selling 30,000 comics and you do something for three, four months, you're hoping that when you go back to normal that you don't go back to the 30,000, because otherwise, it was just a momentary blip of sales. What you're trying to do is build some kind of momentum. So if we use that as a criteria, which is one of the things I'm looking at, then it's been working. I had a floor pre-#300, we do our build-up, and #300 comes out, and there's now a new floor, which is a decent amount higher than before."
That's a basic tenet of marketing comics; Superman #75 ("The Death of Superman") sold an absurd, unsustainable number of copies back in the '90s, but the real success of the storyline wasn't one blockbuster book, but the way thousands of readers stuck around after #75, into the funeral, return, and beyond.
"So then, the next question is if you consider that to be a step on a graph, can you create another step?" McFarlane continued. "I guess we'll see, with what's currently happening with some of the momentum artistically, and then the little retailer incentives that I'm doing. Once that ends in six months, will the new floor, again, be higher than the previous one? Do you go from -- let's use round numbers -- from 20,000 to Spawn #300 comes out, the new floor is 40,000, do another trick, the new floor is 60,000. I'm using big jumps. But I'm just saying that. And if you can do that, then each time you do one of the initiatives, then you go, 'Oh, we're growing the base.'"
That isn't too far from the actual numbers. Since #300, the comic has been selling 40,000, and by #309 and the return of Gunslinger Spawn, it was at 44,735.
And if it works, this might be something that Image can use for other long-running titles. There aren't that many around at the moment, but an obvious choice would be Savage Dragon. The series, from McFarlane's fellow Image Comics co-founder Erik Larsen, just hit #250 with no end in sight, and it has enjoyed a surge in popularity in the back issue bins (just try finding some recent back issues for less than $10. We'll wait). With the likelihood that Spawn #350 and Savage Dragon #300 will come out in close proximity to one another, it seems likely that the success both are enjoying now is something Image would be likely to try and replicate when the next big milestone for each comes around.
Of course, in the case of both Savage Dragon and Spawn, casual fans seem to be drawn primarily to the oversized milestone issues -- so how do you get them to keep coming back for the 25 or so issues in between?
"The piece that goes hand in hand is how do you get people interested?" McFarlane told us. "You have to give them something of interest in the story, art, character front to get them to keep coming back. So that's the combo...So the jump for 310, which is a staggering jump, may just be a bit of a perfect storm, which is, we've got the buzz coming out of 300. I'm slowly introducing sort of the new characters that will eventually become my Avengers and Justice League group. I'm teasing them on a bunch of covers, getting some really terrific artwork coming from that. And starting with 310, I'm doing this thing where every store, whatever you order, you will get 20% more Spawns and I'll put a different cover on it. We're all trying to find angles to help the retailers, and we've been doing stuff here and there. So what I want to do, and we just announced, is starting with #310, for six months, whatever you order, I'll give you a variant cover and it will be different than all the other covers. Now, I didn't know whether they would say, 'Oh my God, Todd's going to give me 20% so I can cut my orders back 20% because he's going to fill in the gap,' or 'hey, I'll just order the same. And if I happen to sell the extras that Todd gives us okay, cool.'"
Of course, the variant market being what it is, it's plausible enough that the overstock variants will be resold by the retailers at a higher price point -- and McFarlane isn't sad about that, either.
"They [might] sit there and say, 'Hey, those variant covers I can get 20 bucks a pop for them, so it's worth me ordering an extra five,' figuring that cost them five bucks to order five Spawn comics, but they can sell the variant for $10. So they're still up. I don't have any preconceived notion as to what any retailers should do with their 20% over."
You can see the synopsis text for Spawn #310 below.
Release Date: September 30, 2020
Diamond ID: JUL200231
"The STORM… begins."
SPAWN is on the hunt for someone, or something, insidious! Demons hiding among humans! Secret dealings with Big-Pharma! Dark plans are about to be exposed! There is a STORM coming, and SPAWN is at its center. TODD McFARLANE and JIM MUNIZ weave a dark and disturbing tale!
Cover Artist A: Francesco Mattina
Cover Artist B: Todd McFarlane
Cover Artist C: Björn Barends
'Overship Cover' (Incentive Cover): Black and white of Todd's cover B.