Let's Talk Comics


Fans await Star Wars - The Force Awakens

Let's Talk Comics
With Rob Lamberti
The biggest movie blockbuster this year is not so far away.
Star Wars’ seventh installment — The Force Awakens — hits movie theatres in time for this Christmas. It would be fair to say the J.J. Abrams’ reboot should be, well, excellent. He yanked Star Trek from mediocrity, and the Star War trailers are tremendous.
But let's step back to time long, long ago, when in 1977 Marvel boss Stan Lee turned down an offer to publish a comic based on the movie a few months before the release of the first film. He was antsy about taking on an unproven product. His then editor in chief Roy Thomas talked Lee into snaring the rights to publish the comic that ran for 107 issues, three annuals and four Treasury Editions.
It was a good thing Lee let Thomas talk him into taking on the tie-in. Financially the series saved Marvel in 1977, which was seeing its financials wobble as the comics business weakened. Issues 1 to 6 adapted the first Star Wars movie, while issues 39 to 44 retold The Empire Strikes Back.
Expect the hype attached to The Force Awakens to drive demand and prices for that original series into warp (am I mixing up movie franchises here?).
Of course, this is about comics, and of course, it's not simple for collectors. Marvel printed second printings of some editions, which are not as valuable or desirable as first prints. Also, Marvel printed variants of some of the first editions, with a 35-cent cover rather than the normal 30-cent cover which is very desirable. It's important to know the differences so that one doesn't get stung.
Issues 1 to 4 have the variant covers with 35-cent prices, testing limited markets to see if the market would accept a price increase. The print runs were significantly smaller and unwittingly created a future collectable. The price was raised to 35 cents starting with the fifth issue.
The differences in the collectable market value between the regular issues and the variants are light-years apart. The regular 1 goes for about $350 mint in the retail market, while the variant 1 is worth about $3,500 in mint, if you can find one. It's believed the press run was as small as 1,500 issues, compared to more than 100,000 for the regular issue.
Many of the variant #1s appear to have been slabbed, that is, the grade certified and stored in sealed plastic containers, and sold at multiples of the guide value. For example, a graded 9.0 edition sold at auction for $7,767 in May.
Similar story for the second and third issue, about $50 mint for the regular issue, and about $350 for a mint #2 variant. The fourth regular issue is valued at about $40 mint but about $350 for the variant. Slabbed copies sell for even more.
Sales for the Star Wars comic surpassed Marvel’s expectations in 1977 and ’78, and demand called for second prints. The issues, both 30-cents and 35-cents are marked as reprints, some with the word “Reprint” on the upper left hand corner of the cover or in the indicia that states, “This is a reprint of a previously published issue.”
They have value, about $20 in mint for #1.
Now there’s a debate as to which issues were reprinted. The Overstreet guide says issues 1 to 9 had reprints, but some dealers say only issues 1 to 6 were reprinted. A reprinted issue will have the statement that it is a reprint.
Check before you buy.
There are four treasury editions and the first three were also issued under the Whitman label as well as the Marvel label. Does it affect the collectable market price for Whitman editions, which had a smaller print run? Hmmm, is all I can say.
One last collecting tip about the original Marvel series. The other really, really collectable issue in the series is the last regular edition, #107, published in 1986. The series’ popularity waned and distribution shrunk. Indeed, that’s what makes this issue so valuable. I've only handled one copy of this issue. Prices range in the mint to mint-plus categories of between about $100, to a certified 9.8 out of 10 that sold in 2009 for $657 at auction.
To use a word no one in the Star Wars universe utters: Wow.
1 - Cover of Star Wars 107, the final issue of the series
2 - Star Wars 42 - Empire Strikes back
Next column: Movie and TV characters in comics
Let's Talk Comics with Rob Lamberti, who started collecting comics when the going price was 12 cents an issue and Peter Parker really was a teenager. He dabbled in the comic convention circuit in the Toronto area for a while, but stopped to concentrate on his career as a not-so-mild- mannered crime reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, where he hoped he managed to record a little bit of history the past three decades.
You can reach Rob at lamberti@cogeco.ca
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