No tights, no flights, some variants.

§ October 18th, 2021 § Filed under variant covers § 6 Comments

The very first variant cover I remember being confronted with a young’un, where I had to choose “which one do I buy and have to look at for the rest of my life” was the novelization of Raiders of the Lost Ark released in 1981. I can remember the rack at the local Waldenbooks (or was it B. Dalton?) that had multiple copies of this book in a variety of shiny foil coverings. Here are a couple of samples stolen from eBay listings (like, ahem, pretty much every illustration in today’s post):

Not pictured is the variation I did buy, which had a silver cover. You know, like “Sterling Silver.” Say, that’d be a good name for a store.

Anyway, it’s weird to see how prevalent variant covers for publications has become, and not just in the funnybook biz. TV Guide had gone fairly hogwild with the variants over the last decade or two, perhaps (like comic books themselves) trying to shore up some dropping circulation numbers by encouraging multiple purchases of the same issue by collectors. (EDIT: Turan explains the reason for variant covers for actual books…more for encouraging in-store displays and appealing to different audiences, not so much for collectors.)

While TV Guide did this for a variety of shows, I’m going to focus on a couple of instances where its variants crossed over with our particular focus here at Progressively Ruinated. I mentioned in my previous post, there was some attempt at outreach by Marvel by including a short comic in a 2000 TV Guide promoting the…well, movie, not a TV show, but whatever. The sample cover I showed you was this:

…but there were five additional covers, each featuring one of your favorite X-Men, and also Cyclops.

Like I said, I had to hunt down these pics on eBay, where active listings seemed to have a lot of “apple pie in the sky” hopes in their pricing, but looking at the sold listings, they mostly sold for only a few dollars each at most.

The only one that seemed to command any kind of higher price was the Storm cover, and even then it was only about $15. Which doesn’t come as too much of a a surprise…though I’m sure circulation wasn’t what it was, there were still plenty of these printed. And with the comic book tie-in, I wonder how many comic fans squirreled away one (or all six!) of these into their collections.

By the way, I did see at least one of these X-Men issues sealed in a graded slab, and it was the Jean Grey cover:

And all I have to say about the Wolverine cover is “just look at that cherubic face.”

Now the comic inside was intended to get people interested in the X-Men comics, and while it certainly put comics in front of a lot of faces, I have no idea how effective it was. I know at the time, like I said in the previous post, comic folks weren’t terribly impressed with the included story and its potential to attract new readers. I barely remember it myself, so I can’t speak personally as to how good or…less good it may have been. I do know I never had a single person (or even a married one) come into the shop and say to me “wow, I loved that X-Men story in TV Guide, gimme more of that!”

If you were a person who was turned onto the X-Men by the comic in this issue, and statistically speaking I feel like there must be someone…and you’re reading this blog, which is statistically unlikely, let me know! That X-Men comic was a lot of people’s first X-Men comic, and it was probably almost as many people’s only X-Men comic. I want to know who continued from there.

Another TV Guide comic book tie-in with variant covers was 2001’s Smallville issues, featuring four (connecting) covers by Alex Ross. And inside was a short Smallville comic story. Here’s the first cover, featuring Tom Welling as Clark Kent:

…and here’s a pic of all four covers together (this one grabbed from Reddit, I think):

I do recall a small amount of chatter at the time from Superman fans picking up copies of this issue, and trying to get a complete set. I even grabbed a copy, longtime Superman fan that I am, opting for the fourth cover with the Man of Steel himself. Perhaps inadvertently wisely prescient: no Chloe cover.

It’s the Smallville issues I’ve seen more often turning up in collections (though it’s been a while). I can’t ever recall seeing an X-Men cover show up in someone’s hands, looking to sell. A look on eBay shows, again, some high hopes for active listing pricing, but virtually no completed sales. Either they’re all priced too high or nobody wants them. And given that the show is long off the air, and basically supplanted by other superhero shows, maybe that’s not a surprise. Or maybe all the Smallville fans got theirs already and ain’t giving them up. I mean, I still have mine.

It’s be a long time since I’ve paid any attention to TV Guide, and with the increasing emphasis on streaming on-demand television, I’m sure its relevance is hurting a bit. A look at this archive of TV Guide covers shows they did variant covers as last year (not for any comic book related properties that I see), but none for this year as of yet. I was also semi-surprised to see the mag is biweekly now.

It is interesting to see how other media have latched onto the variant gimmick to get increased sales…possibly inspired by comics, but, like that Raiders of the Lost Ark book, not necessarily. But magazines, books, CDs and records…all going for that collector dollar by feeding on completist impulses. Even though I have a hard time picturing someone grabbing one of each of those Raiders books…but I bet someone did.

6 Responses to “No tights, no flights, some variants.”

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    You understate the amount of variation with RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. What you are showing is actually the second edition, issued at the same time the film was released. The book actually preceded the film by a few months, and was originally released with a photograph of Harrison Ford and Karen Allen on the cover. It was therefore common for bookstores to still have the original version in stock when they got, and so the buyer got to choose whether he wanted a photo or a painting of Ford.

    As a retired bookseller, I can assure you that books are (or were, anyway; maybe the situation has changed since my day) often released with the front cover or dustjacket printed in multiple covers, and this has nothing whatsoever with taking advantage of people’s completist tendencies. No one expects anyone to buy six copies of the latest Danielle Steel merely because there are six varieties of jacket. No, the idea is to encourage the store to make a display of the books rather than simply slide them onto the designated spot on the shelves. There is also the hope that a multi-colored display will get more attention from the customers than a monochromatic one.

    A rarer thing is the book with actual variant covers–that is, different cover illustrations or designs issued at the same–but this, too, happens occasionally. The earliest I can remember is the paperback edition of THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP, which had covers featuring different characters. The logic here is mostly the same as with the variant covers–encourage the store to make a display, capture customer attention–but sometimes the different covers were used to appeal to different audiences. For example, the paperback of THE WHITE HOTEL by D.M. Thomas had one cover that made it look like a love story, and another that made it look like a war adventure (thus guaranteeing some disappointed readers).

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    As to how TV GUIDE survives: Every second or third issue now has a cover story on NCIS, and the issues that do not have NCIS on the cover nonetheless always have stories about NCIS inside. According to the Washington POST, the median age of an NCIS viewer is sixty. So, there you have it. TV GUIDE is bought exclusively by senior citizens who continue to buy it out of long-established habit, or because they have never figured out how to look up TV schedules on-line.

  • Chris V says:

    Turan-You mean disappointing every reader who picked up The White Hotel based on those covers?
    I wasn’t even aware those covers existed for the White Hotel.

    I own the Penguin (early-1980s) edition with the surreal-style cover (Peter Till art), and I was not disappointed.

  • Allan Hoffman says:

    My Raiders book had the blue foil.

  • […] in Monday’s post, where I was talking about variant covers in the “real” non-comics world, I brought up […]

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    I will throw in this bit of trivia, that the situation with the RAIDERS novelization–i.e., an edition with a photo cover issued months before the release of the film, followed by a more timely release that used the movie poster for the front cover–was repeated with Paul Monette’s novelization of SCARFACE. Usually, when a novelization comes out well in advance of the film, it is because the date of the film’s release was changed at the last minute. In these two cases, however, it was reportedly an effort to cultivate interest in the films, and get people talking about them.