Last month, Marvel confirmed that Jason Aaron and John Cassaday‘s “Star Wars” #1 — the launch title of Marvel’s new “Star Wars” line, after reacquiring the license from Dark Horse Comics following Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm in 2012 — had sold more than a million copies to retailers. For the release, Marvel utilized a combination of sales strategies, including a high number of variant covers — officially just shy of 75, including multiple retailer-specific covers — and working with alternate distribution channels, including monthly subscription service Loot Crate, which has a user base of more than 250,000.
The end result is numbers that haven’t been seen in mainstream North American comic books since DC Comics’ 1993 release “Batman” #500; or Viz Comics’ “Pokemon: The Electric Tale of Pikachu” #1, released in 1998 and reaching one million copies in 2000 after 16 printings. A second printing of “Star Wars” #1 has already been announced, and CBR has been informed that issue #2 has initial orders of nearly 200,000. Earlier this week, “Darth Vader” #1 — the next Marvel “Star Wars” launch — was revealed to also be close to 200K.
With the issue now on sale, CBR News spoke with Marvel Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing David Gabriel about devising the “Star Wars” #1 plan, how to help new readers reached by new sales outlets find issue #2 and beyond, sustaining the momentum of a million copies and the prospects of the line growing beyond the four announced titles.
CBR News: David, once it became official that the “Star Wars” license was returning to Marvel, how quickly did it become clear to you that there was a rare opportunity to push this first issue through some alternate outlets and new distribution methods, and get it in front of non-traditional comics readers?
David Gabriel: After we had our first meeting at Skywalker Ranch with Lucas, and put together our creative team, I knew we would have something special. During the meeting, Axel Alonso suggested that we create a shared universe with the existing “Star Wars” line, the same way we orchestrate and craft the Marvel universe titles. When that was agreed upon, that’s when I knew we’d have something never done before and something huge and naturally with the “Star Wars” fans out there we knew we’d be able to make this big!
Now, keep in mind this was all prior to the launches of “Amazing Spider-Man” #1 and “Rocket Raccoon” #1 where we really learned what we could do within the direct market and how we could reach out to some new accounts. Kudos need to go to John Paretti who tirelessly managed about 35 retailers and their variants over the course of about 5 months.
Hitting the one-million copies sold mark certainly is a major milestone. When the potential for “Star Wars” #1 became apparent, was there ever a specific goal in mind that you wanted to hit, numbers-wise?
From the moment I saw Cassaday’s first cover, I told Jordan White and Axel Alonso that we were going to hit a million copies. And as we approach the release of “Darth Vader” #1, I am excited to announce that we will be hitting close to 200K on the debut issue!
To talk specifically about the other outlets, it’s been fascinating in just the past year to see the effect that an essentially brand-new commodity like Loot Crate — also distributing its own “Star Wars” #1 variant — can have on the industry. What kind of potential do you see for these new markets to grow even further within the comics industry?
The potential is only limited by the amount of customers they can reach, and that subscriber base and audience is growing drastically! What I really feel strongly about is that these subscription box services work symbiotically with the direct market. If we deliver issue #1 through a subscription box service, the only place, right now, to get issue #2 is through the direct market. So you can understand the importance in working with these outlets. And with almost 200K units of “Star Wars” #2 out in the direct market there’s a lot of fans that will be satisfied.
Speaking of new outlets, I was intrigued to see Alex Ross selling a variant through his own store. What can you share about that unique arrangement? And is it possible that we may see other artists selling their own variants?
This was really a one-off that we did because of our strong relationship with Alex. He did a lot of fantastic work on his covers for “Star Wars,” and it was something unique he wanted to do and we honored that.
Given the success of “Star Wars” #1 in its multifaceted rollout, is it safe to say that Marvel has plans on utilizing similar sales strategies in the future?
This was really a herculean effort on everyone’s part! With the newly announced second printing, we’ve come in at just under 75 covers for “Star Wars” #1 — no easy feat to plan and manage! We’ve used what we’ve learned from all our other promotions and sales planning in the past and implemented those tactics into our rollout for “Star Wars” #1, and it paid off big time!
For those folks who do get “Star Wars” #1 through one of those new outlets — one where #2 and beyond may not be available — what is Marvel doing to help those fans come back for (and find) the second issue, and hopefully more comics beyond that?
We spent more time and care on the advertising and promotion of issue 2’s (as well as the other launches) within “Star Wars” #1. We made sure that all roads lead to the direct market for subsequent issues, and the other “Star Wars” series. In addition to ads and previews, we’ve done webskins on partnering sites leading fans to comic shops, and we had a lot of promotional items within those shops for all the “Star Wars” books. Also, having “Star Wars” head up our Previews catalog three months in a row certainly helps.
Above all, though, it’s the strength of the creative on this book that solidifies its place with fans and retailers. Jason and John’s, love for these characters propels this series outside of all our normal realms.
With the huge number of “Star Wars” #1, what’s the plan to keep the momentum going with issue #2 and beyond? And has the performance of “Star Wars” #1 altered the expectations for the “Darth Vader” and “Princess Leia” series?
I think the pressure is on for “Darth Vader” #1 and “Princess Leia” #1 to deliver, sure! Once fans get their hands on those issues, I think they’ll be equally as happy and excited. We’ve seen word of mouth on “Star Wars” #1 bleed over into the sales on “Darth Vader” and “Princess Leia.” The short previews of both titles in the back of “Star Wars” #1 has definitely been helpful as well.
“Star Wars” is certainly off to a prosperous start at Marvel, and there are two more original trilogy books soon to debut, plus the “Kanan” ongoing on the way, starring the “Star Wars Rebels” character. How much thought has been given at this point to how big the line could get?
We’re concentrating on the four monthly slots and we’ll be announcing specials, one shots, annuals etc as we approach the newest “Star Wars” film.
Last one — with all those variant covers out there, do you have a personal favorite?
The blank cover — that was the easiest to get approved! However, I have been and always will be partial to anything Joe Quesada does!