There are no biopsies of jokes, only autopsies.

§ April 25th, 2022 § Filed under variant covers § 7 Comments

So for whatever reason I was chatting with pal Matt at the shop about John Byrne, wondering what his last published job in comics was (it was Matt who noted those weird Star Trek fumetti books may have been it). Anyway, this necessitated bringing up the ol’ Wikipedia entry on Byrne (which he would have wholeheartedly disapproved of me doing) which included the following tidbit:

“Byrne also facilitated the 1986 relaunch of DC Comics’ Superman franchise, the first issue of which featured comics’ first variant cover.”

Well well well, the eleven people out there who still read this site, and especially are reading the variant cover-age posts, know this isn’t necessarily the case. And I’m not even talking about the whole Whitman thing, or the Lone Ranger recoloring which may or may not exist. Or any of the other minor differences that were more publishing/distribution things than deliberate marketing gimmicks (like changing cover prices, or distributor marks, across print runs).

I’m talking about straight-up simultaneously publishing different covers on the same comic book to either 1) make the consumer choose which cover s/he wanted, or 2) tempt the consumer into buy each version. Byrne’s Man of Steel #1 (discussed here) is certainly the comic that introduced the idea to comic publishers “hold on, we can do that?” But I still contend MAD Magazine #123 from 1968 (with its four different covers) is the first “variant cover” comic book in the sense we mean it today: a single issue specifically published and marketed with alternate covers.

I did argue in that post that the publisher likely didn’t expect anyone to really buy multiple copies, though almost certainly somebody did. The express purpose of the varying serial numbers was to get a laugh from anyone perusing copies on the stands, before even (hopefully) buying the mag. Or from friends comparing copies, maybe. But still, those are variant covers, and a cover blurb does command you to “COLLECT THEM ALL” (technically a joke based on the idea of buying millions of these), so, you know, close enough for horseshoes.

The out, I suppose, is whether or not you consider MAD Magazine a “comic book.” And there are plenty of other workarounds/explanations/excuses, I’m sure…”oh it doesn’t count because that was just a joke, and Man of Steel is SERIOUS BIZ-NESS,” like that. But I guess calling Man of Steel #1 “the first standard-sized comic book to be purposefully published and marketed with more than one cover in order to get you rubes to buy multiple copies” is bit of a mouthful, despite being more accurate a description.

Man, I haven’t yet even touched on some of those Dell Comics from the 1950s/60s that had variant back covers on some of their releases. Again, more to do with distribution/other vagaries of publishing than anything else, but still, them’s is variants!

Okay, I know this post is mostly rehashing older posts in the variant cover-age series. Sorry about that. New content in this line of postings will happen again shortly. Thanks for reading, pals, and I’ll see you Wednesday.

7 Responses to “There are no biopsies of jokes, only autopsies.”

  • Snark Shark says:

    “John Byrne, wondering what his last published job in comics was (it was Matt who noted those weird Star Trek fumetti books may have been it).”

    If so, what a WEIRD way to end a career.

  • Daniel T says:

    No, the truly weird way to end your career is to write and pencil full issues of an X-Men fanfic series that continues from when you left the book–31 issues so far.

  • Ray Cornwall says:

    No, no, the truly, truly weird way is to have Marvel offer to publish and pay for your full issues of X-Men fanfic and turn the offer down because whatever.

    Is Man of Steel the first Big 2 variant? Did Marvel or DC ever try a previous program with two significantly different cover images?

  • Thom H. says:

    @Ray: Did he really do that?

    Also, that X-Men fanfic is AMAZING. So many strange choices. I wouldn’t pay for it, but I’m very glad it’s free.

  • MisterJayEm says:

    Can someone provide the terminally-out-of-it me with a link to the Byrne X-Men fan fic?

    Many thanks.

    — MrJM

  • Thom H. says:

    @MrJM: They’re posted to the forum at Byrne’s official site. They’re in the “fan fic” forum.

  • Snark Shark says:

    Daniel T: “The truly weird way to end your career is to write and pencil full issues of an X-Men fanfic series that continues from when you left the book–31 issues so far.”

    Yup, that’s WEIRD.

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