The Department of Variants.

§ June 21st, 2021 § Filed under indies, variant covers § 3 Comments

So back in 2014, when I was still at the previous place of employment, our prep for what would turn out to be the final Free Comic Book Day I worked at that store, we took advantage of a special deal Valiant Comics offered. If we ordered a minimum of 500 copies of that year’s FCBD offering from the publisher, Armor Hunters Special #1, we would be able to receive custom-printed copies with our logo on the cover. Now 500 copies at a quarter a pop our cost, for a total of $125, was just a drop in the bucket in the overall expenditures for our Free Comic Book Day event, so we went for it, resulting in this:


One, they actually ran two logos, one for Seth’s store and one for Ralph’s, though I suppose the restriction wasn’t “number of store logos” but rather “what will fit in that space, and hopefully isn’t straight-up pornography.” Two, you can probably tell which logo was actually by A Real Artist and which was by The Overworked Comic Shop Manager Who Knew How to Color In Letters in an Art Program. As to that URL, pretty sure I told ’em “just put it in there somewhere” and somewhere is indeed where they put it.

Anyway, aesthetics aside, one of the unintended but probably-should-have-expected-because-comics consequences was phone calls from collectors trying to obtain copies of our customized version of this freebie. Lots of calls. Valiant press-released a list of stores what went for these branded Armor Hunters, which sent folks our way. (Honestly, I’m surprised so few stores took part in this.) And I believe we did mail out quite a few, but true to the spirit of FCBD we didn’t charge for them (just asked for shipping costs…and waited to send ’em out after the event).

That was the one time I did the whole retailer-variant thing, which I’d been thinking about over the last couple of days in relation to a collection of comics I just took in. Specifically, I acquired a bunch of Department of Truth variants, several for each issue released so far. There were a handful of the regular variants available through Diamond, but the vast majority of them were covers specifically produced for retailers, like this cover for #1 by Peach Momoko:

Now, to get that Valiant variant, it was relatively easy…just hit that minimum and provide the artwork. For these kinds of variants, featuring specific artwork by actual professional artists, it’s a whole different scale of business there. I don’t know the specifics of what had to be done with these Department of Truth variants, but I do know with other retailer variants I’ve looked into, it required ordering a certain minimum number of the regular covers, then committing to a certain amount of the retailer variant, sometimes at a higher-than-normal wholesale cost. Regardless of the details, it costs a lot and you end up with a boatload of comic books. Huge numbers of books, more than my current rinky-dink operation can deal with.

Every time I crunched the numbers on these, it always looked like the end result would be me having to dump all those extra copies of the regular cover (above what I’d normally sell) for pennies on the dollar, or just plain recycle them, and hope sales on the retailer-variant cover the cost. But the larger stores with the more efficient (i.e. more than one dude running the shop) mail-order department probably is in a lot better position dealing with these. And that must be the case given the number of retailer variants that exist for comics. I mean, Department of Truth alone…

Anyway, speaking of that comic, I already knew there were a number of variants for issue #1, but I just wasn’t aware how many. The main cover of the first issue looked like this:


…but interspersed with this cover during its initial distribution was this cover (about 1 in every, what, 6 copies?) replacing Kennedy’s image with Lee Harvey Oswald:

And of course there were the usual “ratio” variants, where you could get 1 copy for every X copies of the regular you were ordering. These existed at the 1-in-10 and 1-in-50 levels (which you can refer to on this page, as I won’t be putting every cover up here). There was also a 1-in-100 variant, which I am putting up here:


…due to its “homage” to the writer’s other weirdly popular comic Something Is Killing the Children. It is noted as “Cover F” on the back cover…a letter designation is assigned to most, but not all, of these Department of Truth variants. (If you’re also wondering if this particular variant has staples, you know where to look.)

This series turned out to be in very high demand, and after the quick sellout of the first issue, reprints were quickly produced. Five printings of #1 as of this posting, with the 2nd print pictured here:

These reprints, at least on the first issue, were simply coloring variations on the initial release. But also wildly in high demand, often from collectors and investors looking toward resale. Like many reprints, which are seen by some as “rare” collectibles, their relative scarcity in comparison to the comic it’s reprinting, drive their demand to occasionally outrageous levels.

But nearly all the rest of the #1s are retailer comics, which you could buy at conventions, or, more likely since there weren’t conventions for a while, obtained via mail order. Often they had small print runs (like about 500 or so) and a quick scan of several of these retailers’ storefronts show them long out of stock. However, this version of that first Momoko cover I posted, but sans logo:

…was used for a foil variant that apparently was sold directly by the writer himself, if I understand correctly? This only had a print run of 100 copies, so the premium prices on the secondary market for this edition can run quite dear. (And yes, before you ask, I had one of those in this collection…it was one of the first to sell!)

As you scan down that catalog of variants, you see the process not slowing down much. A lot of the “altered color” reprints, along with a bunch of retailer exclusives, are listed for every issue. Issue 9 isn’t listed there yet, but I can assure you the same goes for that one as well.

As I go through this collection of Department of Truth variants, it has me thinking again about looking into getting a retailer variant of my own. Given the response we had far and wide from folks trying to get that Armor Hunters variant, I imagine I could probably move enough copies of my own store-exclusive edition of…something. Just a matter of me deciding to put my dime (well, lots of dimes) down on something that I’d want representing my shop. I don’t know if I can top this Archie Vs. Predator exclusive, but I’d love to have a House of Secrets #92 homage on some comic for my store to sell. Too bad Herbie is off the stands…an HOS92-type cover with a lollipop sitting in the foreground with a shadowed Herbie lurking behind, with a giant “Sterling Silver Comics” logo adorning the image. It’s too beautiful to imagine.

Okay, I don’t know how educational all that was, and it was a little off-model from the rest of my variant cover-age posts. I know I said I’d do the Marvel 35-cent variants this time ’round, but that was turning into more of a thing than I was really up for at the moment. There’s a lot to unpack there, along with varying distributor marks, and the larger direct sales vs. newsstand editions secondary marketplace…I’ll get to it all eventually.

3 Responses to “The Department of Variants.”

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    So, you did not think you could sell enough of the retailer’s variant to make a profit. I do deeply hope that you explained this to the distributor, and he responded with…

    “You can’t handle the Truth!”

  • Donald G says:

    They need to make a VOOTIE variant.

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