Spawn #1 Newsstand- A Cautionary Tale?

by Harry Stone III

692363_spawn-1-newsstand-edition-199x300 Spawn #1 Newsstand- A Cautionary Tale?If you collected comics in the 1990s, you probably agree Spawn is one of the coolest characters in comics. You most likely have a few copies of Spawn #1. Are your copies newsstands, and if not, should you invest in one? 

A Brief History

Image Comics and Spawn #1 ushered in the Modern Age of comics at the height of speculation and high print runs. According to Todd McFarlane’s website, when Spawn #1 was shipped in May 1992, it sold an incredible 1.7 million copies, making it the best-selling independent comic book to this day. With estimated newsstand print runs of 10% in 1992, Image sent 200,000 copies to the spinner racks. These numbers make Spawn #1 one of the most highly printed comics of all time.

To put this in perspective, the first appearance of Knull, Venom #3, sold 57,000 copies. Current print runs are comparatively low because the comic industry learned its lesson from the overprinting of the Copper and Modern Ages. I previously wrote of Darkhawk #1 being the poster-child for the comic crash of 1993. Spawn was right there with Darkhawk at the forefront of this comic calamity. Until recently, you could find early Spawn issues for a dollar in comic warehouses in New York City and still can if you know where to look.

Broken Records

768447_spawn-300-cover-j-parody-variant-mcfarlane-192x300 Spawn #1 Newsstand- A Cautionary Tale?Spawn #1 recently landed itself atop the heap for eBay sales, beating out Ultimate Fallout #4 and Amazing Spider-Man #300, an impressive feat. Despite a large volume of copies trading hands, prices for direct issues of Spawn #1 have remained relatively steady in a year where many keys have tripled in price. Direct raw copies have typically sold for $20 for years now while graded 9.8 copies have varied between $120 and $160. GoCollect data shows us year-to-date returns for a 9.8 are a modest +17.2%.

Newsstand versions of Spawn #1 tell another story. In recent years, raw newsstands typically sold for $100 while graded 9.8s sold for $250. With renewed discussions of a Spawn movie with Jamie Foxx as the lead, 9.8 graded newsstands started to hover around $500. That is until 2020 came along with its staggering prices. Last October gave us a record-breaking sale of $1226, a 75% increase in fair market value from one month earlier.

The outlier sale of $1226 is why buying comics in the last year has often been an easy way to lose money for unseasoned collectors. This inexplicable sale demonstrates signs of the shill bidding and market manipulation that have become common for comic collecting during the Covid-19 crisis. Following this record sale, we then saw declining prices of $900, then $800, and then $695. The most recent sale was for $850. These unpredictable see-saw prices are a prime example of why I am hesitant to buy skyrocketing, highly printed modern books during this volatile time. Although Spawn reaching its milestone 300th issue did bring renewed attention, there is no concrete catalyst for such rapid growth. If you purchased such a highly printed book because of FOMO, you could have lost as much as 40% FMV in two months. Ouch.

The Breakdown

large-7816000-204x300 Spawn #1 Newsstand- A Cautionary Tale?There is widespread confusion as to Image newsstand distribution. You will frequently see sellers describe newsstand copies of Spawn #1 as a 1:100 variant. That is simply not true. This misinformation is largely due to the internet echo chamber and sellers trying to artificially inflate prices. With a 200,000 issue print run, the newsstand ratio is over 1:10. Spawn newsstand issues did become increasingly rare in later years after the series debut. Spawn #137, the last issue with a UPC, is so scarce that FMV is yet to be tabulated. If you’re looking for genuinely rare Spawn newsstands, look to the early 2000s, when print runs were smaller and the 1% estimate held true.

GoCollect data shows us there are 8,747 Spawn #1 9.8s on the CGC census. Unfortunately, CGC does not differentiate between newsstand and direct copies, but if we do the math, as many as 800 of these may be newsstands. Also, it should be noted that despite blowing up in 2020, the newsstand craze has been around for years. Experienced collectors will grade more valuable comics like newsstands while ignoring their cheaper direct counterparts. This hypothetically gives Spawn #1 newsstand edition a CGC population of well over 800. Whatever the exact number is, a newsstand Spawn #1 is not rare.

Although it is an immensely popular book and easily one of my personal favorites, I do not think the demand for Spawn #1 newsstands outstrips the extremely high supply to justify recent prices. Because of current trends, sellers are withholding newsstands in general and waiting for the perfect time to unload their copies. Without confirmed movie production, I think Spawn #1 will rightfully settle back in the $400-$500 range, a fair entry price all things considered. Until then, I would save my money and enjoy the show.

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9 comments

G Fish January 9, 2021 - 11:49 am

All everyone speaks of is newsstand copies. If you want to discuss something rare, please write an article about early Direct Market copies for Marvel which appear as early as 1977. And were printed in much smaller numbers well into the early 1980s.

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Harry Stone III January 10, 2021 - 11:23 pm

That’s a really good point and I was actually debating doing that. Because you’re right, people see “newsstand” and think the comic is automatically rare. In the early 90’s, print runs were so high that it didn’t matter where it was sold, nothing was rare. In the 70’s, the majority of sales were still newsstand and only 6% or so went to the direct market, making the direct copies more rare by far. But most would still rather jump on the newsstand in that situation because they don’t know better. A lot of funky info and dishonest sellers out there.

Thanks for the comment. Don’t mind me if I steal that idea.

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dave stevens January 9, 2021 - 3:15 pm

Newsstand distribution is different than direct market. Returns are allowed and conditions are lower. Beyond this, they were either ignored or seen as lesser than direct editions for years. These reasons are why newsstands, especially in high grade are so popular now. They were not printed as a 1:100 ratio variant, but the distribution challenges make them much more difficult to find in collectable grade. As such, their prices are indeed warranted (and why wouldn’t they be? if they were more common, the market would self-correct) and their popularity is only likely to increase in coming years.

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Harry Stone III January 10, 2021 - 11:15 pm

Definitely have a valid point with the returns. The problem is its very hard to nail down those numbers. Also, first issues were scooped up from newsstands and less likely to be returned unlike later issues. In fact a lot of Image titles stopped going to newsstands later on because of poor sales, which was when their newsstand sales dropped closer to 1%. But back in the 90s, everyone ran to the spinner racks to get first issues after their local sold out so return numbers on Spawn were probably low.

Also, how many are still sitting in boxes in warehouse in NM condition? Those discoveries happen all the time. The point was that they aren’t that rare, and definitely not 1:100. Let’s be honest, I’ve seen people try to float the idea that only 10k of these went to newsstands, which is a joke considering it was the 1990s and all of the nonsense quotes sellers pass around the web are easily disproved with a little research.

I think that there is market manipulation going on which is why I don’t think the price is warranted. If you have an explanation for the odd sale of $1200 months back which caused the FOMO that followed, I would love to hear the backstory.

As for future popularity, I guess we’ll see. I remember when people thought barcodes were ugly and stayed away from them. I think its a gimmick by sellers after years of hoarding them. Personally, I’m not spending $1200 dollars for a newsstand copy of a book with 100k copies floating around out there. Bad investment if you ask me.

I could be completely wrong though. Would love to hear some more input.

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Josh January 9, 2021 - 4:44 pm

haha!! just got mach my Spawn #1 newsstand from CBCS in 9.8!!! I’m lucky though…I over paid for this book in 93 or 94…$10 was more than it was worth but I got it anyway lol!!

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Harry Stone III January 10, 2021 - 11:00 pm

Nice! Going to hold on to it?

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Josh January 11, 2021 - 8:52 am

This will likely be a keeper book. I have almost 9k books and the goal is to drive that down to 1 or 2k over the next few years….will have to see what books make the cut and stay as part of my collection!!

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Harry Stone III January 11, 2021 - 9:04 pm

Top 10 book for me. I won’t be letting go of mine anytime soon. Congrats!

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Nick January 10, 2021 - 12:30 pm

Plus Spawn has already had a movie produced years ago. Everyone has seen it. This possible/maybe/one day remake isn’t really going to be new for anyone remotely aware of comic books or comic book adaptations.

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