Don’t take any wooden variants.

§ September 20th, 2021 § Filed under variant covers § 3 Comments

So I’ve written about publishers test-marketing variations on their comics before, specifically when DC tried out more kid-friendly covers on a couple of their titles. I experienced those (well, at least one of those) in the wild, in real time as it happened, so I have a little more direct understanding of what was happening there (even if I had some initial confusion over “whoa, Firestorm looks different this month).

Some of the 1970s test-marketing, however, I only really experienced in the secondary market, during my extensive tenure at the previous place of employment. At some point, we began to realize that there was an increase in demand for some price variations of certain 1970s Marvel books. In particular, the 35-cent covers on comics that were at the time normally 30 cents. As an example (using scans borrowed from the immensely useful resource, the Grand Comics Database), this issue of 2001: A Space Odyssey #7, cover-dated June 1977.

First off, the widely available 30 cent cover, as acquired by the hoi polloi:

And the 35-cent variant, obtained off the newsstands by a few select elite for whom we must all show reverence:

And apparently there’s a British price variation, too, but I’ll get to those some other day if I have anything to say about them aside from a “look at that weird space money they’re charging on those covers” take:

I was trying to pin down exactly when we realized “hold on, people are spending crazy money on these,” thus spurring us on to scour the many, many “end-of-Raiders-of-the-Lost-Ark-esque” boxes in our backroom looking for them. I want to say it coincided with our late-1990s move to eBay, where it was easier to see as it was happening countrywide, and worldwide, trends in comic collecting demand. And I feel like there was also an uptick in customers dropping by and specifically asking for those 35-centers as well.

I did a little research (okay, I Googled) and as it turns out, an Overstreet adviser was catching on and starting spreading the word about these variations. This would jibe with my memory of when we started experiencing increased demand for them. Now I’m sure folks running comic shops and tabling at conventions must have noticed when they had copies of an issue of something-or-other and each had two different prices, but it took this enterprising person to catalog just how widespread this was. And once word got out and it made it into Overstreet, well, that was that.

Now this test-marketing went on for a few months in 1977 (and including Star Wars #1, which is almost an entire variant cover-age article in its own right). The previous year, however, also saw some test-marketing from Marvel on price points, by trying out 30-cent prices on their 25-cent comic line. Behold Howard the Duck #3 (May 1976), first in its 25 cent configuration:

…and then in its shocking 30 cent glory:

(A hint to any readers from decades ago seeing my site with their future-scopes: once a comic starts saying “Still Only” in front of their prices, get ready for that price to go up.)

Now this website actually identifies the six areas where these higher priced books were distributed (c’mon, Boston, you can afford that extra nickel!). One of those spots was San Jose, CA, which is relatively close-ish, so I’m sure at the old job we must have at least some of these variations come through. I don’t remember anyone making a particularly big deal out of those at any point, not like with the 35 cent comics, but the latter certainly had a lot more publicity at the time.

It’s weird to think of a period of time where comic book companies would go through that much effort to discover how much kids would balk at dropping a few extra cents on their funnybooks. (And as my former boss Ralph reminded me the other day, Dell Comics did it too, and I’m sure they weren’t the only ones.) Of course, comics had much larger readerships then, and wider distribution in general marketplaces, rather than being restricted to a small-ish number of specialty shops today that only cover a portion of the sales areas comics used to reach. Now it feels like the test-marketing of prices is just done to everyone at once, with Marvel and DC seeing how many $4.99 and $5.99 and $9.99 books their print audiences will tolerate.

3 Responses to “Don’t take any wooden variants.”

  • Snark Shark says:

    Twitter: “Last issue of BETTY AND VERONICA”

    Aw! And only 3 issues before they woulda hit #350!

    “with Marvel and DC seeing how many $4.99 and $5.99 and $9.99 books their print audiences will tolerate”

    SERIOUSLY! I know it’s not going to change, but that really is a LOT for a new comic book!

    ” Star Wars #1″

    I’m thankful for all the early reprints, that was th eonly way I could afford and READ those first few issues, before Trade Paperbacks came along!

  • Thelonious_Nick says:

    The way those “Still only 25 cents” or “30 cents” spiky balloons are set up, it looks like Howard is announcing the price.

    I don’t remember noticing that on other issues from the era. It must be just how Howard is positioned in relation to the balloon in that particular corner box.

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