Image Comics makes a big change that could make popular comics harder to find in print

Gunslinger Spawn #1 cover
Gunslinger Spawn #1 cover (Image credit: Brett Booth/Todd McFarlane (Image Comics))

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect every corner of life, even comic books. Just weeks after DC announced delays for its major titles, Image Comics has informed retailers to expect delays on some titles, but also that they are, effective immediately, not doing second printings of comics anymore.

(Image credit: Jacob Phillips (Image Comics))

"As many of you are now undoubtedly aware, the current shipping delays, supply chain crunch, and paper shortages are creating nationwide issues across many industries - and that impacts our industry too," reads a letter sent out to comic book shops and bookstores. "I'm sure every publisher will have different responses to this crisis, but at Image we're proactively streamlining our releases to reflect these circumstances."

"Starting now, and for the foreseeable future, there will be no second printings of any titles," it stresses strongly. "Please keep this in mind as you order: there will be limited stock available for orders, and we will not be reprinting anything that sells through at the distributor level."

Newsarama has learned this pertains only to single-issue comic books, not original graphic novels or collected editions.

What does this mean for readers?

Saga #55 cover (Image credit: Fiona Staples (Image Comics))

Basically, print editions of certain in-demand Image comic books will be harder to come by. The initial shipment of comics your comic shop or bookstore receives from Image may be the only supply available to them. In that case, it's important to reserve your copies ahead of time with your retailer (if that's an option).

How often does Image reprint books? More than you might think. Five Image Comics sold out in the past month - Echolands #2, The Me You Love in the Dark #1, Sweet Paprika #3, Primordial #1, and A Righteous Thirst for Vengeance #1. You'll notice three of those five are first issues, and that's not uncommon; retailers generally don't have an order history to go on to set their orders for a first issue, leading them to usually order cautiously then adjust up (or down) based on sales of the first issue.

Image Comics' new policy could curtail the potential success of new series through Image if retailers and the publisher itself keep ordering and setting print runs the same. Digital comics remain available and never sell out, but the ability to order reprints is something comic book shops and bookstores have relied on to be cautious about comics but at the same time be confident if demand exceeds their expectations, they could order more.

A key concern is the upcoming return of Saga, which has a history of being under-ordered by retailers...  to the point Image briefly changed their second-printing policy similarly back in 2021.

Image Comics' previous attempt to curtail reprints

(Image credit: Fiona Staples (Image Comics))

In December 2012, Image briefly had a policy where they would not be reprinting books after sellouts if they were "known over-performers in hopes that it will help initial sales find their proper level." This was done after Saga returned from a three-month hiatus with Saga #7 and immediately sold out. Demand for the interest was so high, but still cautious, which led Image go back to press on several times due to demand that exceeded comic shops' original orders. The demand even eclipsed Image's own thinking of what it would be, as the company itself said it ordered a "generous overprint" beyond retailers' initial orders.

After vociferous responses from retailers about the rule, Image backtracked but stressed for more optimistic ordering to lessen the need for reprints.

"When we sell out – and more importantly when you sell out – we know we're all losing both time and money," Image Comics' publisher/partner/co-owner Eric Stephenson said in 2021. "It typically takes three weeks to a month to get a second printing to market, and that's three weeks to a month we all could have been selling more books. That's frustrating."

The long-lasting effects of COVID-19 appear to make it cost even more "time and money" in 2021 than it did in 2012.

Newsarama has asked Image Comics for a list of the titles Image plays to adjust the schedule for, but has not received that information.

Image Comics has big plans for 2022, as it's the company's 30th anniversary.

Chris Arrant

Chris Arrant covered comic book news for Newsarama from 2003 to 2022 (and as editor/senior editor from 2015 to 2022) and has also written for USA Today, Life, Entertainment Weekly, Publisher's Weekly, Marvel Entertainment, TOKYOPOP, AdHouse Books, Cartoon Brew, Bleeding Cool, Comic Shop News, and CBR. He is the author of the book Modern: Masters Cliff Chiang, co-authored Art of Spider-Man Classic, and contributed to Dark Horse/Bedside Press' anthology Pros and (Comic) Cons. He has acted as a judge for the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, the Harvey Awards, and the Stan Lee Awards. Chris is a member of the American Library Association's Graphic Novel & Comics Round Table. (He/him)