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It is not everyday that comic investors have the opportunity to invest in the start of a comic universe. Imagine you were there when Marvel released Fantastic Four #1 or when Valiant launches it first line of comics.
The tricky part of investing in new comic universes is knowing whether it is going to be a fad or a long term trend. Currently, only Marvel and DC have managed to sustain their respective comic universes.
Other smaller publishers have tried and failed including the likes of Image in the 90s and Valiant in the current era. However, Valiant did succeed in the 90s and that yield a lot of profits for the early believers.
Right now, we have another chance to invest in the early stage of a comic universe that is Star Wars.
Technically, Star Wars comics are not new as its first issue was published by Marvel in the mid 70s. It was then continued by Dark Horse as Marvel and Lucas parted ways.
However, since Disney bought over LucasArts, Marvel has essentially ‘cleared’ the slate through its separation of Canon vs Legends continuity. In essence, we are witnessing the birth of a new Star Wars comics universe, one that is shepherd by Marvel, who knows all about a shared comic universe.
In this article, I am going to critically evaluate the risks and returns of investing in Star Wars comic universe.
Imaging the potential
The purpose of doing this exercise is because the potential returns are huge. It is bigger than than just than single issue investment because we are talking about buying characters that can form the cornerstone of a new comic universe.
The easiest way to imagine this is to picture Marvel comics when it has less than 500 published issues under its belt. Many of the character introduced then went on to become iconic characters for the next 50-60 years to comes. In this process, their first appearances went from tens of dollars to now thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars.
We are currently in this stage for Star Wars comics published by Marvel.
The first issue of the New Marvel Star Wars comics began in January 2015 with Star Wars Vol 2, #1 (Under Marvel). That is just under 4 years ago. The number of issues being published thus far is less than 500.
What happens when the published number becomes 5000, 50,0000 or even 500,000 issues? Will the characters introduced now become iconic characters that every Star Wars fan will want in their collection? If so, how much will that be worth?
Right now, it is hard to see from this perspective because we are so early in the game. Also, such opportunities do not come often so we are not used to the mindset of investing in the birth of new comic universes.
So, how do we know if this Star Wars comic universe will succeed long term and not fade away? (Note: the comics fading away does not mean the IP will. Star Wars itself will never fade away but that does not its comics will always have collectors wanting them)
I will analyse this via 2 ways: fundamental factors + early successes vs long term risks. If the success signals outweigh the risks, then it will be worth an investment.
1.1 Fundamental factors
The most important factor driving the success of any new comic universes is the publishing machinery behind the comics. In particular, we need to consider if the publishing machinery:
- Has a track record
- Is stable and sustainable
- Has incentives to continue on this IP vs others
Many of the other comic universes failed due to (1) and (2). They either lack the know how to start and maintain comics universes or they fall apart afterwards like 90s Image and Valiant.
In this regard, Marvel and DC have the best experience in doing so and this is one reason to be bullish on Star Wars.
However, the third factor on incentives is also important because a big company like Marvel has many IPs to maintain. What if Star Wars is no longer a focus and Marvel dropped the line completely?
Have they done that before? Yes. Malibu and the Ultraverse was acquired by Marvel comics in the 90s but was dropped eventually. However, it is hard to see that with Star Wars because:
- It was Disney who bought Lucas Arts and not Marvel Comics. Disney has to be accountable to its shareholders and properly monetized this acquisition like how it has done for Marvel Entertainment
- Star Wars franchisee has a very deeper fan base than Ultraverse, which means a more lucrative business if it was developed.
To see if the above translates well to actual execution, I will look at early success signs. After all, if Marvels’ publishing machinery is doing its job well (or badly), we will be able to see it in actual data being generated.
1.2 Early signs of success
A successful new comic universe has to have 2 winning signs
- Good sales of its comics
- Success of new characters
Below is a table showing the sales numbers of Star Wars, which is the main series. I compared it with other comic series that have lasted that long.
I avoided taking the #1 since that is always inflated with all the marketing variants and such. Instead, I take the tail end of the series as that shows the core audience size.
|Issues||Year||Sales Number||Sales Rank|
|Star Wars Vol 2, #71||2019||37,031||48|
|Batman Vol 2, #78||2019||80,979||11|
|Flash Vol 6, #78||2019||36,673||52|
|Harley Quinn Vol 3, #65||2019||26,082||78|
Aside from Batman, Star Wars outsold all the rest of the long running series. Harley Quinn #66 for example sold 24k copies.
This tell us that the core audience for Star Wars is strong and that is a very important foundational floor for a new comic universe to be born.
Now, lets look at the secondary lines for Star Wars.
|Issues||Year||Sales Number||Sales Rank|
|Darth Vader Vol 2, #21||2018||46,479||32|
|Darth Maul #5||2017||57,805||13|
|Darth Vader Target Down, #6||2019||22,647||98|
If you look at titles such as Darth Vader and Darth Maul series, they both have impressive sales numbers as well. The last issue of Darth Maul, for example, ranked #13 for that month and outsell many established comic characters.
Even a mini series such as Darth Vader Target Down sold 22.647. Do you know the beloved Ghost Spider sold below this for the same month?
So the sales number are encouraging as they match the sales volume for regular Marvel titles.
In terms of creating successful new characters, Marvel already has a new hit called Doctor Aphra within its short 4 years of publishing.
Below is her sales number compared to other new successful Marvel characters such as Kamala Khan, Spider Gwen etc.
|Issues||Year||Sales Number||Sales Rank|
|Doctor Aphra #36||2019||20,501||112|
|Miles Morales Spider-Man #10||2019||37,380||47|
|Magnificat Ms. Marvel #7||2019||13,097||13|
|Champions Vol 3, #9||2019||12,504||171|
|Iron Heart #10||2019||10,246||200|
As you can seen, Doctor Aphra is holding her own series well, losing only to Miles Morales in terms of sales. And that is after already publishing #36 issues compared to the other series that are still within 10 issues.
This is a good sign because new comic universes require new characters. If the publishing machinery is unable to create such characters, they cannot expand it to form a universe.
Finally, I turn to the risks that a new comic universe faces.
The biggest risk is Marvel stops publishing Star Wars comics. As explained above under 1.1, I believe this scenario is very unlikely. Hence, as long as Marvel continues to publish, the chances of a new comic universe will become stronger and stronger.
Another risk is whether the collectibles market follow the publishing market. There is a possible scenario whereby collectors are not interested in the Star Wars comics even though they are published regularly.
Fortunately, evidence shows that the collectible market usually follows good publishing. For example, we have seen examples of specific Image comics getting collector interest when they are published regularly. It is only when the title ends or have long periods of waiting that collectibility interest drops.
Hence, assuming Marvel has no such problems with publishing Star Wars comics, the collectibility of the comics should follow.
This article is meant to consider the possibility of treating Star Wars Comics beyond just the usual short term weekly speculation. Currently, these early signs point to a strong possibility for a new comic universe, even after taking account the risk of failures.
If Marvel continues to focus on this IP and publish consistent quality content, some of these books might become good long term corner stone comics that every collector should have.
Some food for thought.