Sabre (Slow Fade of an Endangered Species)

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Sabre (1978), one of the first graphic novels. Cover art by Paul Gulacy.

One of the first graphic novels, Sabre (subtitled Slow Fade of an Endangered Species), by writer Don McGregor and artist Paul Gulacy, was a trade paperback published in August 1978 by the company that would become known as Eclipse Comics.

The initial project of Eclipse Enterprises, Sabre is a 38-page, black-and-white, science fiction swashbuckler in which the self-consciously romantic rebel Sabre and his companion Melissa Siren fight the mercenary Blackstar Blood and others to achieve their freedom and strike a blow for individuality, all amid a futuristic Disneyland-turned-torture-chamber. Many elements were a continuation of McGregor's unfinished work on Marvel's Killraven. Described on the credits page as a "comic novel" (the term "graphic novel" not being in common usage at the time), it was followed by a 14-issue comic book series by McGregor and, consecutively, the artists Billy Graham (no relation to the evangelist) and Jose Ortiz. The first two issues reprinted the graphic novel in color.

Annette Kawecki was the letterer. P. Craig Russell inked four pages, as revealed in a later edition's introduction.

The first graphic novel to be sold in the new "direct market" of comic-book stores, the book, priced at a then-considerable $6.00, helped prove the new format's viability by going into a February 1979 second printing. Eclipse published a 10th-anniversary edition (hardcover ISBN 0-913035-65-3; trade paperback ISBN 0-913035-59-9) with a new Gulacy cover and Jim Steranko logo. A 20th-anniversary edition was published by Image Comics in 1998.


Dean Mullaney [1]: "...[B]ack then all we needed were fans starved for something good, and storeowners willing to pay up front in order to get new comics to sell. I also published a Sabre poster in December 1977, partially to appease people for the delay in the graphic album, but also to generate more working capital. Then I [spoke with] Phil Seuling, the only distributor to the comics market at the time. Phil put his reaction to my pitch on paper and handed it to me: a cartoon of Phil's head, hair standing straight up, saying, '$5.00 [sic] for a comic book!!!!' ... He agreed to take 200 copies and sent a solicitation out to his stores. A short time later, I got a call from Phil telling me to get over to his office. I thought he wanted his money back, but as it turned out, the reaction to his solicitation was so good that he wanted to double his order. Before Sabre saw print, Phil had upped his order several more times, and based on the strength of his continuing orders, we went into a second printing!"

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