To variant or not to variant, that is the question.

§ October 25th, 2021 § Filed under how the sausage is made, variant covers § 8 Comments

Turan said, in response to my Saturday post about my old mini-comic with the various monster drawings on the back:

“You let pass an opportunity to tie this post in with your recent theme, by calling all of those copies with the personalized monsters ‘variants.'”

I did briefly consider making this explicitly one of my variant cover-age posts, but had opted to not cross the streams, as it were. But, well, the seal has been broken, the connection between the two has been noticed, so I might as well touch on this briefly. Or “briefly,” as the case usually is.

Now, what exactly am I talking about when I say “variant comics?” Okay, fair enough, I’d imagine that’s a question that should have been addressed when I started this series of posts, oh, six months ago. Anyway, when I’m talking about variants, I specifically mean “different versions of the same book offered for sale at the same time, giving consumers a choice.” I’ve more or less followed that here, maybe not strictly exclusively (like the international comics purposefully not offered to the same customers), but that was sort of my overall goal.

Mostly that was to differentiate simultaneously-offered variants from reprint variants, where a sold-out comic would be reissued with a new image or altered coloring on the cover. Like, for example, Identity Crisis #1, where the first print looked like this:

And then the later pressings had changed covers, like this fourth printing:


Again, I’ve brought up changes in reprints before here, like for the Robin mini-series. Overall, though, I feel like that’s a somewhat different topic than what I’m covering here. Splitting hairs, I know (and I realize it’s not like the reprints weren’t often offered on the shelves side-by-side with the comics they’re reprinting) but they just weren’t my focus.

Going back to Turan’s comment, where he continues:

“…There was one illustrator who did just that with an issue of BATMAN released with a blank cover–he bought a batch of copies, drew a quick sketch of Batman on each one, and then put them up for sale on eBay as ‘super-rare variant editions,’ priced at thirty dollars apiece. I wonder still how many people fell for this.”

Now “sketch” covers are variant covers, an alternate cover offered at the same time as other covers for the same comic, just with a blank covering made of somewhat-more-amenable-to-drawing-upon paper stock. J. Scott Campbell’s joke “do-it-yourself cover” for Gen13 has become reality, with regular offerings like this:


Usually the paper is white, but sometimes the publishers go for a little novelty.

Thus, while blank sketch covers are themselves “variants” for the purposes of my discussion, I am agreeing with Turan (as I think most people would) that the drawn-upon sketch covers being offered on eBay are not “variants” in the same sense. Yes, technically they are additional versions of the cover, but they are not variations simultaneously marketed by the publisher, but rather made after the fact.

Before you logjam my comments section with “what if” and “actually” and “how ’bout” responses, yes, I know there varying circumstances that could allow for a sketched-upon blank cover to be simultaneously offered with the other variants. “Remarked” books with drawings an’ such are frequently available from official sources…I’m just saying, for the purposes of discussion here, at the moment that doesn’t fit the topic I’m interested in discussing. It’s not Law Engraved in Stone, it’s just drawing a line (ahem, so to speak) on “what is a variant” and “what is not a variant” for my purposes. In this instance, “sketched-upon covers” are basically “autographed comics” — yes, they’re all different, but when I’m talking about actual variant comics, you know what I mean.

Now the reason I did all that typing above is to state that my mini-comic with the different monsters drawn on the back…those do count as variant covers. Only one copy of that comic exists with no handdrawn monster, and that’s the one in my collection. As the fella what created, printed, assembled, stapled, and drew upon a few hundred copies of this comic, I can guarantee every one that went out for sale had a different monster on it. Not done after the fact, where they were sold blank and you had to ask me for a monster. You flipped though the rack, found the monster you liked, and you bought a copy. It was offered by the publisher, Full Frontal Harvey, and the creator, me, only with original drawings on the back cover.

If I may be so bold, I suppose it’s like that issue of RAW Magazine with the torn-off corner (and the corners were then switched around so you got a corner of a different copy taped inside):

Now you could buy a copy of, say, issue #136 of America’s favorite romance comic Unicycle Tragedy, the extra-sized 17th anniversary issue, off the stand, tear off the cover, and declare it a “variant cover” but nobody’s gonna buy into that. But if the publisher did it and offered ’em up for sale as such, like them wacky RAW folks, then yes, I think that counts as a variant in the sense I’ve been using it here.

That’s a lot of words basically discussing “publisher’s intent” versus “after-market fiddlin’ around. As I said, I’m not the Dictator of Comics (yet) laying down edicts. Just trying to define what “counts” and what doesn’t in my little discussions here.

And speaking of variants: the other day I was going through some stock at the store, and in researching a particular comic I found, I discovered the Grand Comics Database didn’t have an image of it in their system. Well, thanks to me, now they do! …The irony of attaching that bit of business to this post is that the comic may have been a later reprint of the issue for sale in other markets (like the Superman Wedding issue I talked about here). So, possibly closer to Identity Crisis above than to, say, X-Men #1. Oh well, you know where to send the complaints.

8 Responses to “To variant or not to variant, that is the question.”

  • Chris V says:

    Awww…I was hoping that the stack of Boris Karloff’s Tales of Mystery comics I picked up years ago each with half the cover missing were really rare variants worth thousands of dollars.
    After reading this, I am pretty sure they were in the quarter box for a reason…

  • philfromgermany says:

    How is #136 the 17th anniversary issue of Unicycle Romance? :D
    I forgot to comment about another variant comic a while back. Remember the New 52 Justice League book with the state flags on the cover? I thought they looked neat.

  • MisterJayEm says:

    “How is #136 the 17th anniversary issue of Unicycle Romance?”

    Their publisher’s motto was “Two New Issues Every Quarter!”

    — MrJM

  • Snark Shark says:

    “I’m not the Dictator of Comics (yet)”

    But maybe SOMEDAY…

  • Smicha1 says:

    So somewhat related to all this variant talk, I just learned that Duran Duran released six variants for their “Wild Boys” single in 1984…one for each member of the band and the sixth was a group shot. I guess that’s a whole other rabbit hole but now I’m really curious about variant album covers.

  • Pedro de Pacas says:

    I’m a huge Chuck Dixon Batman fan, but whoo boy are those first three Robin miniseries stinkers!

  • […] the variations on the several reprintings for this and other New 52 titles (which, as I said last time, is a little outside the range of this overview). I intend to cover more the DC New 52 variants, […]

  • Snark Shark says:

    Pedro de Pacas: “I’m a huge Chuck Dixon Batman fan, but whoo boy are those first three Robin miniseries stinkers!”

    They were SO terrible!

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