The color out of variants.

§ February 28th, 2022 § Filed under collecting, variant covers § 14 Comments

So the other day, customer Ryan asked me if I’d heard about a particular error (or dare we say, variant?) cover that’s been making the rounds lately. “I have not,” sez I, and he goes on to inform me about this issue of Amazing Spider-Man, #194 from 1979:

Well, okay, not this version specifically (which is a direct-sales edition, as noted by the slash through the UPC code, as opposed to a newsstand edition), but rather this one:

See the difference? Take a closer look:

Apparently there was a problem in the printing process somewhere along the line leaving that miscolored strip on the Marvel Comics banner. At some point early in the process the problem was noticed and fixed (reminding me a little of this), making the majority of the books printed with the solid red bar, but the handful with the error were kept and passed along into distribution, since, you know, it’s such a minor thing. Doesn’t affect the readability of the book at all, who’s gonna care?

Well, cut to the 2020s, where there is a whole new market out there of folks looking for just about any reason to make any comic into a desired collectible. Given the huge emphasis of late on speculation in regards to first appearances of characters (whether or not that character has any real impact, (cough Gold Lantern cough*), one would think it’s enough that this specific issue is the first appearance of longtime Spider-Man frenemy the Black Cat, already skyrocketing in price as-is with eBay auctions titles including things like “Marvel comic KEY” and “Black Cat MCU Sony.”

However, this “error” variant is demanding a little extra chunk of change on the secondary market (“RARE YELLOW ERROR PRINT! MCU SOON!”)…to the tune of about a couple of hundred extra bucks at the high end, if the Hot Comic App is to be believed.

I can’t say if I’d ever come across one of those over the decades. It’s possible I haven’t, if the item is as rare as being ballyhooed. But even if I had, I doubt any of us at the shop would have paid it any mind…or possibly, in those early days of youthful optimism and/or ignorance, even marked the price down in the hopes of countering any initial buyer reluctance toward buying a book with such a sorely-visible misprint. Well, time and the current marketplace has surely corrected that oversight.

Anyway, thought this was an interestingly extreme example of the lengths the back issue market has gone through to make a fancier silk purse out of a plain ol’ silk purse. Mark my words, when the Ka-Zar movie happens, all those copies of Ka-Zar comic with the missing panel I’ve been stockpiling will make me rich, rich I tell you.

* Yes, I know he’s involved in that JLA/Legion of Super-Heroes thing.

14 Responses to “The color out of variants.”

  • Thom H. says:

    How dare you! Gold Lantern is the character find of the CENTURY!

    Seriously, though, is there a chance that all of this speculation will lead to another comic industry crash like the 90s? It feels different to me this time, maybe because the scale seems smaller? Anyway, just wondering what a comic pro’s take on the situation might be.

  • Joe Gualtieri says:

    Thank goodness it apparently wasn’t a yellow variant SNL destroyed this weekend.

  • Chris V says:

    Thom-I doubt it. So much of the current speculating involves trying to overinflate random back-issues, which doesn’t effect the market for new comics which involves the comic publishers. No one is rushing out to buy twenty copies of the newly released Punisher (vol. 18) #1 simply because it’s a first issue and so obviously is going to be worth $1,000 one day. Every so often, speculators create artificial scarcity by pointing to a “hot” issue like the Gold Lantern thing. This isn’t happening with half the comics being published every week though. The real speculator boom this time tends to involve actually rare comics, like that incredibly rare variant cover of the new Superman issue where Superman is pictured as a cannibal and there are only one hundred copies being produced. There is actual scarcity with some of these variants and it’s a specialized clientele who are willing to spend hundreds of dollars on the secondary market to own one from a speculator. It’s not a case like X-Force #1 where people are going to quickly figure out there are a million copies floating around, so how can it be worth $100?
    This is nothing like the early-1990s speculator boom days. There I remember going to the comic book store on a Friday (I think new comics were released on Fridays, not Weds, back then) and there would be a line-up around the store waiting to enter. Everyone wanted to buy multiple copies of all the “hot” new comics coming out that week…like the soon to be incredibly valuable Cage #1…no way would copies be filling up quarter boxes in a few years. A few years later, those lines were a thing of the past and with it went the fly-by-night comic book stores. There were five comic book stores located near me at the height of the comic boom, slowly they faded away until there are two left and both of them have been there since the early-1980s. Today, I go to my local comic book store on a Wednesday and there’s no one around. I mean, that’s not exactly healthy for a market either, but it’s not a new bubble.

  • Thom H. says:

    Chris V — Good point. Publishers aren’t overproducing “hot” issues like they were back then, so any speculator bubble-pop couldn’t start that way.

    And most of the new issues with inflated interest/prices seem to attract attention right as or right after they’ve been released. Publishers actually don’t have time to capitalize on the buzz even if they wanted to.

    They are still publishing lots of variants, though. I wonder how much of their popularity is driven by speculation v. collectors who really want to own a rare cover by their favorite artist. I imagine that would be a blow to comic shops’ bottom lines.

    Not to be a downer or anything. I just want to assess how much the current speculation is threatening my favorite hobby.

  • Chris V says:

    I’m sure a lot of it is driven by speculators, but I think there are two big differences. One is that speculators are trying to unload the rare variant covers almost immediately after they purchase them, and I think they are being bought on the second-hand market by collectors who want to own work by their favourite artist. Plus, these variants are going to retain their value.
    In the case of something like Cage #1, when the second-hand market marked the value of the issue up to $10 the week after it was printed, in a few months, the price would immediately drop back to cover price for the comic. Cage #1 was never a valuable comic.
    These rare variant covers really are scarce. Only so many were produced and they’re not easy to acquire.

    I guess the biggest question is if it’s worth it to the comic store to order X amount of a certain comic book just so they can get the rare variant edition. I think the value of the rare variant is enough to cover the cost to the retailer.
    There is some trepidation that stores over-ordering in order to get a copy of the rare variant edition could be creating a bubble, but I think a majority of the comic stores that remain are run by people who understand the business.
    In the early-1990s, all these people who used to collect comics wanted to open a store because they expected they were going to be able to retire at a young age due to “every comic is going to be worth a fortune in the future”. The market became oversaturated. Most of those stores went out of business in a few years after speculators figured out that buying fifty copies of X-Force #1 was stupid, not a smart way to retire early. I don’t think in today’s comic market random people are opening stores expecting to get rich quick selling comics. As I said, the two remaining comic stores near me have been in business since the early-1980s. I don’t see them making poor business decisions based around variant covers.

  • Steven R says:

    People used to pay big money for tulip bulbs too, so there’s no telling what people will pay – and no telling how long they’ll pay that. Considering how little quality control World Color had in their later comics printing, I would guess one can find many more of these – I recall people checking to make sure their new copies were printed correctly, and placing the bad one back on the racks. Finding differences in covers would be easier though.

  • Chris V says:

    I mean, the same thing can be said about comic books, in general. People are willing to pay $4 and more per comic. There’s no telling how long people will be willing to pay that amount of money either…and, in fact, a ton of people have already said “enough is enough”, which is why the local comic book store tends to be empty when I visit. They obviously do have customers or they wouldn’t be in business, but the amount of customers seems to be decreasing by the year.
    I’m concerned about the state of the comic industry as it currently exists, but more from a lack of collectors rather than from speculation .

  • Allan Hoffman says:

    @Chris V
    Keep in mind that our impression of the customer base of a shop is based solely on what we see when we are there, which on average would probably 10-20 minutes on one day. Mike has often noted how his store can be dead at one moment followed by a crowd of people buying stuff.

  • Andrew Davison says:

    Mike, I was sure you meant the swear word on the cover of Kazar #1, but of course that was on every copy.

  • Thom H. says:

    Not sure if anyone will actually see this, but I just realized my copy of Miracleman #23 has a printing error. Some of the art is cut off at the top and some is cut off at the bottom, depending on the page. Does that make it worth a lot more money now?

  • […] In my post about the “variant” for Amazing Spider-Man #194 (the first Black Cat), Joe replied […]

  • […] I sort skipped over the comments to my Amazing Spider-Man #194 variant post, but there’s a lot there and I’m not sure where to start addressing what you folks said. So let me start with Chris V talking about this: […]

  • […] I wanted to address this exchange in the comments to this post. It starts with Chris V. noting the relative dearth of customers in his local comic shop and its […]

  • […] around a bit addressing some of your recent questions left in my comments sections, starting with this one that Thom H. though nobody would notice. I SEE ALL, […]