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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.

Just lay back and think of variants.

§ October 11th, 2021 § Filed under variant covers § 8 Comments

I’ve been trying, for the most part, to focus on variant covers that were available simultaneously to the same market, forcing customers to chose to buy one or the other (or the other or the other or the other, if it’s a Marvel book). Or, preferably, to buy every offered cover, and hope the excess of choice doesn’t turn in a no-sale.

For today’s variant cover-age discussion, I just wanted to point a virtual index finger at U.S. comics printed in distant lands with cover prices in their currencies. Which bums me out just a tad as I had a number of UK editions of Silver Age Marvel books show up in a collection a while back.

Said collection came from a lady had been a child in England during the 1960s, and had bought her fair share of funnybooks off the stands there at the time. When she came to the U.S., the comics made the move with her, and she held onto them for all the time before deciding to bring them to me for sale. Lots of Marvels (Avengers and Fantastic Four, mostly, including the first appearance in FF of the Black Panther), all preprinted with the pence price, like so:

And for comparison, the U.S. edition:

The collection also contains a number of DCs, mostly Flash and Green Lantern, that, instead of already having the proper price in the local currency printed thereon, were ink-stamped instead:

A few of the Marvels in the collection were stamped like this, but mostly they were printed with the alternative coinage.

Anyway, the reason I said my having these “bums me out” is because the Marvels in that collection, like pretty much any Silver Age Marvel that I acquire, sold almost immediately. I don’t have them in my hands for direct inspection, requiring me to once again mooch off the Grand Comic Database for a couple of the above images. (The Flash, I still had floatin’ around.) If memory serves, the comics were identical to their U.S. counterparts save for the pricing. The indicia, the block of text inside with all the copyright and printing information, I think was the same, but I’m not 100% on that.

To the best of my iknowledge, the two versions were printed and released at the same time, so technically I suppose any jetsetting kid could have the quandary of either buying the one with the American price or waiting for the trip overseas to buy the British version. But by and large, the comic marketing twain did not meet.

The main point I wanted to make about these comics printed with the UK prices is the change in perception towards them that we’ve seen over the years. For the longest time, a UK edition, identical in every other way, was deemed “inferior” to the U.S. edition in the collector’s market. It wasn’t the “real” version, or simply a “reprint” and thus commanded less demand and lower prices, generally speaking.

Well, as we’ve seen in recent years, especially in the last year and a half, the demand for anything that can be deemed “hot” and “collectible” has absolutely skyrocketed. Just the other day I was looking at one online marketplace, shocked at the prices for old Comic Reader fanzines…things I used to buy in bulk at a dozen for ten bucks, now being offered at $80 to $150 each. Whether they’re realizing those prices with actual sales, I don’t know, but it’s definitely part of how things are trending of late.

When that collection of UK books came in, my research (along with some consultation with former boss Ralph) revealed that most UK editions are now pricing at least equal with their U.S. counterparts, if not more. And a quick look at eBay and elsewhere can see them being hyped as “RARE!” “VARIANTS!” to attract eyeballs. Quite the change from the vague disdain (at worst) to mild amused novelty that the UK editions used to receive. I mean, I guess they’re in a bit shorter supply than the U.S. comics, since fewer copies were required for the UK newsstands. And they are harder to find in the States, since they were never distributed here. It’s still strange to see them ballyhooed like this.

Which of course had me wondering if the versions printed with U.S. prices are the oddity in the UK. My guess is probably “not as such,” giving the larger print runs of the American editions and the likely flow of books from here in the UK market via collectors. But I bet someone out there can set me straight.

So there you go…yet another type of variant you need to worry about. Didn’t have much to say about it, aside from the nearly 800 words above, but I found the shift in collecting perception interesting. And it wasn’t just the current rush for collectibles we’re seeing that did it, as I acquired, and blew out the door, all these UK Marvels before the madness really set in.

Not sure what’s next in the ol’ variant cover-age, aside from continuing to make the phrase “variant cover-age” a thing, but I appreciate you reading all these and I hope I can cook up more next week!

The Legend of Bagged Variants.

§ October 4th, 2021 § Filed under variant covers § 7 Comments

So back in this post I made note about publishers polybagging for safe display comics containing adult material. Specifically I was talking about Barry Blair’s Leather and Lace from 1989, but I also made note of Howard Chaykin’s very adults only Black Kiss from the previous year.

Now I don’t recall if Black Kiss was the first modern(-ish) comic book to be bagged for content reason. I’m reasonably certain there had been comics pre-bagged before (were there 3-D comics that were bagged with glasses? there must have been) but I feel like the polybag covering of Black Kiss was enough of a novelty to drive attention to it. I mean, even more attention above and beyond “dirty comic by Howard Chaykin.” (And of course the factory-bagging continued some non-adult issues of note later on.)

Now Black Kiss didn’t have any variants as such for its individual issues, which may have you wonder why it’s in this variant cover-age post. Gettin’ to that, honest, but it does have to do with what eventually happened with some of the Black Kiss covers. A couple of issues in, the covers on the title started to get a tad too racy for general display in a store, so rather than see them relegated to that curtained area in the back of the shop behind the shelves of Rolemaster games and Ral Partha miniatures, an opaque overlay was inserted into the bag with the comic to cover its shame:

(Image liberated from an eBay auction, not because I couldn’t scan it if I had a sealed one, but because I don’t have a sealed one…all my copies of this are opened, though I still retain those card inserts because I’m a weirdo.)

Now the reason I mentioned all that is this style of protective covering was an inspiration later on for current marketing gimmicks in relation to, yes, variant covers. Take, for example, the currently-in-release series The Last Book You’ll Ever Read from Vault Comics. Each issue so far has had multiple variant covers…a couple of which are laid bare to public viewing, acceptable for all ages, and one filthy dirty filthy variant sealed for America’s protection in a polybag and opaque cardboard covering:

This of course isn’t the only comic to use this strategy of “what you see is what you got, what you don’t see might be hot!”* to entice readers into picking it up and ripping open the package to see what’s been hidden from them. Preferably after they pay for it, naturally. The most famous recent example is the uncomfortably-titled Sex Criminals:

…which went all out on their bags to get you to drop the extra 70 cents to buy this version instead of the plain ol’ ordinary covers recommended by schools and churches.

And other comics are doing this, too…the slightly less uncomforatbly-named Money Shot from Oni Press started with the bagged and boarded naughty cover variants relatively recently. And the Bettie Page comics from Dynamite are eschewing the board altogether and issuing “black bag” variants, where, as the name implies, the bag itself is opaque and you can’t see Bettie…I don’t know, gardening on that particular variant. I bet that’s it, she’s probably gardening.

There have been the occasional packaging issues with these variants in the past. I think there was a Sex Criminals where the bag was insufficiently opaque or manufactured in some way that inadvertently revealed the cover. Plus, there was at least one comic recently where the covering board was inserted on the wrong side of the bag, leaving the sexy side unveiled for all. (I honestly can’t remember which comic that was now…was it Money Shot? “Here, let me type ‘money shot’ into Google….” “MIKE, NO”)

It’s a little amusing that a protective packaging strategy from an era where comics where under fire from folks “concerned” for their content (but mostly just trying to get their names in papers by hitching themselves to something popular) continues today as part of a marketing gimmick to sell alternative versions of comics for higher pricetags. Not that it wasn’t a gimmick in the first place, but it certainly saved us a bit of time at the shop having to bag ’em up ourselves. Having an open Black Kiss, or Faust, or something similar, just sitting on the shelf within the grasp of kids would have been a bit much. It became enough of an issue that “privacy bags” (black with a small window at the top for logos) began to be marketed for retail use.

Now, does the “bagged adult variant” thing work, saleswise? …I’d think “yes,” more or less. For the most part, when people have titles that have these variants on their pull lists at my shop, they specify the bagged editions. When I have the Bettie Page black bag variants available, they sail off the racks, I’m guessing to gardening fans. By and large, they do what they’re supposed to do, and that’s grab attention. But not too much attention from the wrong (i.e. too young) eyes, which seem to just pass right over them in favor of more dynamic covers on Amazing Spider-Man or whatever.

And that’s another variant style down, after nearly six months of talking about ’em (almost) every Monday! I’m not done yet, so tune in next Monday to see what else I’m cooking up. If you have anything to add to today’s discussion, or have a request, be sure to let me know!

* Attributed to Jamie Farr, from an episode of The Gong Show, according to my old pal Rob. Never heard it for my own self, but surely it must be true as it’s too good not to be.

Isn’t platinum a little more whitish in color than that?

§ September 27th, 2021 § Filed under death of superman, variant covers § 3 Comments

The only platinum edition comic I personally own is, as should come as no surprise, this “Collector’s Edition” (no, really, it is, it says right at the top) of Swamp Thing #140 (March 1994):

In addition to having the silvery-ink sidebar, logo, and other cover highlights, this edition replaced the ad normally on the back cover with this Swampy image by Phil Hester:

You’ll have to forgive me, it’s been (urgh) about 27 years since I got my mitts on this particular variant, so I forget the exact details surrounding its release. I thought maybe it was a Vertigo anniversary thing, or commemorating some soft relaunch of the imprint, or something along those lines. But no, a little digging showed DC doing a number of platinum editions around this time, just signifying some new notable title launch or storyline or whatnot.

Generally distributed one per store, these platinum variants carried some secondary market value as I vaguely recall, though a look at eBay nowadays shows plenty of copies of most platinum editions available for sale, and mostly not very expensive at that. Someone’s got a Books of Magic #1 (May 1994) platinum edition up for a Buy It Now of five bucks, as I type this.

To be fair, there were a lot of platinum editions in the Vertigo line. I’d remembered that Books of Magic issue, and, oddly enough, the platinum edition for the slightly more obscure Extremist #1 (September 1993). But I forgot about this particularly nice-looking platinum Black Orchid #1 (September 1993).

Of course it wasn’t just the Vertigo titles that got this treatment, however. Check out this platinum cover for Milestone Media’s Hardware #1 (April 1993) that I don’t think ever knew existed:

And there was a platinum edition of Static #1 (June 1993) as well.

Most famously, though, and I don’t know why I didn’t put the Vertigo “platinum” trend at DC together with this in my head, were the Death of Superman-related “collector’s editions.” There was of course the actual Death of Superman issue, Superman #75 (January 1993), in a black bag that replaced the bloody “S” logo with a silvery one, and slapped the words “PLATINUM EDITION” along the bottom:

A search of copies on eBay showed plenty of graded ‘n’ slabbed copies out of the polybag*, and the front of the comic itself looks no different from the platinum one. However, the back covers feature a big white space and a serial number:

The Grand Comic Database entry states these were possibly numbered between 1,000 and 11,000, though there’s been no official confirmation from DC. This excerpt from a retailer letter I posted a couple of years back definitively states that it was a limited edition of 10,000. Also, you had to send in your business card and a copy of your resale certificate. Here, I’ll save you a click and just post the scan again:

Back in the old days, you had to work for your special platinum variants, they weren’t just handed out to stores willy-nilly!

DC later released a platinum edition of the white-bagged Adventures of Superman #500 (June 1993), which as you may remember kicked off the whole “Return of Superman” hoohar.

Black-bagged instead of white, silver non-bloody “S” logo on the front, “PLATINUM EDITION” along the bottom…don’t get it mixed up with the #75 above!

Unlike the actual cover of #75, which isn’t immediately apparent that it’s any different from the regular edition unitl you turn it over and see the serial number, ADV500 is instantly identifiable with its…whatever that color is cover instead of black:

I mean, is that “light mint?” What would you call that? Or is that just white in weird lighting? I honestly can’t tell, and it could just be my eyes. And it’s been so long since I’ve seen one in person I can’t tell you from memory.

Anyway, don’t think this one was serially numbered, at least as far as I can tell. And I think this was just sent out to folks who carried the comic, as perhaps DC didn’t want to further aggravate retailers already stuck with copies by making them jump through hoops to get…yet another copy.

I’m sure I missed mentioning a few…I wasn’t trying to be absolutely comprehensive here, but perhaps I can append a list later of all of DC’s platinum editions if necessary. But man, considering I didn’t even know about a couple of them is going to make it tricky to track down. And I didn’t even touch on platinum editions for other publishers. But it felt like such a weirdly DC thing I decided to just focus on them.

Plus, I got to show off my Swamp Thing comic.

* And yes, there’s perhaps some minor debate over the value of bagged comics and their opening or not opening thereof. I know the price guide allows for a bagged comic to be neatly opened and all contents retained to keep that high price and grade, but in the wild…man, sealed copies always sell for more than even the most neatly-opened copies. What can I tell you.

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.

It’s more fun to play the variants way.

§ September 13th, 2021 § Filed under variant covers § 8 Comments

John asked

“What about Superman The Man of Steel #30, the vinyl cling/’colorform[®]’ cover. Would that make it the ultimate variant cover? Apologies if this has already been mentioned. I’ve been following the site and haven’t seen it. Keep up the great work!”

Ah, yes, what about Superman: The Man of Steel #30 indeed? Let us take a gander at this comic, cover dated February 1994, released December 1993:

Here is the front of the “collector’s edition,” sealed in a polybag:

The back cover, showing the Colorforms® er, “vinyl clings” that John mentioned:

Here’s a better look at them, without the printing on the polybag:

And here’s what the cover looks like out of the polybag, front:

And back:

And for comparison, here is the “regular” edition of the issue, AKA the “newsstand” edition (though pictured is the one sold through comic shops, as per the “direct sales” tag in the UPC):

Now I just totally stole all these images from the eBays, because 1) my own copy of the collector’s edition, still with the polybag (neatly trimmed open along the top so I could pull it out and read it) and clings, is currently inaccessible due to some current house rearranging-type stuff, and 2) I don’t currently have a working scanner at home and haven’t quite made the time, or loosened up the cash, to get a new one, so, hence, the liberating of scans from elsewhere.

And as John noted…the Collector’s Edition sort of is the Ultimate Variant Cover, as you make whatever design you want affixing your clings however you’d like, removing them and moving them around. If you’re not familiar with Colorforms® and similar toys, these aren’t stickers as such, but rather, as we keep saying, “vinyl clings” (hey, don’t blame me, the quotation marks are on the packaging) that are reusable and can stick to the slick, thick cover of the comic, then peel ’em off and move ’em around as you see fit. And when you lay the comic flat and opened, you get that nice shot of Metropolis on that wraparound cover by Jon Bogdanove and Dennis Janke, which makes for a nice playfield for your clings.

It’s a very clever gimmick…and yes, we’re straddling the line between “gimmick cover” and “variant cover” here, but the gimmick is a “Do-It-Yerself” cover as noted on the polybag, so I think we’re…er, covered. Now, I was going to say this was a unique gimmick, as I couldn’t recall anyone attempting such a weird thing again, However, a quick Googling reveals that writin’-about-funnybooks pal Brian Cronin just talked about this very comic only a few months ago, so, um, oops, sorry Brian, hope I’m not stepping on any virtual toes here. But he noted that DC itself repeated the gimmick for the Worlds Collide Milestone/DC crossover event which I didn’t remember (I mean, I remembered the crossover, not the clings). Anyway, read Brian’s article as he goes deeper into the history of Colorforms® and the reasons why gimmick covers such as this were so prevalent in the ’90s.

I remember this selling pretty well for us at the time…Superman sales were still pretty strong post-Death of, even in those ’90s crash days. But this particular edition with the clings was just odd enough to attract extra attention, and it continued to be a good back issue seller for years afterwards. Even now, when I get a copy in, it tends to go out again in relatively short order. I’m not even sure if I have one in stock right now.

What’s great is that, as I recall, the slick cover stock used for Man of Steel #30 is identical, or close enough, to the “cardstock variants” DC is currently burdening offering on nearly all of their current releases. Thus, imagine having this Lobo cling:

…just leaping in on, oh, say, this cover:

Or God help us, this:

being used on this:

The possibilities are endless. Everything (or at least everything with the proper paper type as a cover) is a variant now. I HOPE YOU’RE HAPPY, JOHN.

Now, my secret shame: I never played with the clings on my own copy of Man of Steel #30. Not sure why…not like I’m planning on reselling any of my Superman comics, no reason to worry if everything’s in “mint” or not. And I’ve played with this sort of toy as a kid…I was the proud owner of the 1974 Evel Knievel Colorforms® set, after all:

…and I do still have my Swamp Thing Presto Magix Totally Not Colorforms® set. Hey, that’s an idea…Evel and Lobo racing their respective cycles while Superman goes toe to toe with Arcane and his Un-Men, all over the streets of Metropolis! Okay, now I have good reason to regain access to my Superman boxes and dig out that issue! GREATEST SUPERHERO BATTLE EVER, HERE WE COME.

In which I use a couple hundred words to tell you I’m not posting.

§ September 6th, 2021 § Filed under low content mode, variant covers § 2 Comments

Blogging is still (mostly) on hold for just a bit longer, while my evening blogging time is occupied by other responsibilities. I should be up and running again later this week, so thank you for your patience!

In the meantime, in talking with former boss Ralph, while specifically discussing my variant cover-age series, he mentioned a couple of other comics that I didn’t realize had variant covers, so I’ll be looking into those for a future post or two.

Also, I asked Ralph about his orders on Deadworld, as in my post discussing that title I presumed we probably ordered more of the “gory” cover versus the “tame” cover. It’s Ralph’s recollection that while he ordered fairly heavily on the earlier issues, farther down the line he was only ordering a very few for the rack, and he’s pretty sure he was getting equal numbers of each version. Now overall, I still guess the printrun was maybe a little larger on the gross cover versus the not-so-gross cover, but at my previous place of employment, at least in the latter days of that title, that may not have been the case.

Okay, that’s it for now, I should be back in action by Friday…or maybe even Wednesday, if things work out. Thanks for reading, pals, and I’ll be yapping at you again soon.

Covert Variant Teams.

§ August 30th, 2021 § Filed under variant covers § 8 Comments

So I picked up a collection the other day, where the fella selling prefaced his offering with “they’re all from the early ’90s.” I replied “well, don’t get your hopes up, I probably won’t need much,” and then I proceeded to purchase everything he had as I indeed did “need much.” Nothing super-spectacular, just lots of X-Men and Spider-Man stuff, other Marvels of the period I could use…lots of books that aren’t jumping out of those “key collecting” apps everyone’s got their noses stuck to, but remain consistent sellers.

Many of the comics in this collection were “newsstand” editions, with the standard UPC codes. As noted before, there seems to be increased collector interest in newsstand editions, as they’re seen as “rare variants” and the like, in a market newly desperate for readily available “collectibles.”

And thus, yes, I’m bumping up prices on some of the newsstand books I acquired…hey, baby needs formula, don’t look at me like that. But of particular note in this collection was a comic I’d never actually seen before in its newsstand form, 1994’s Spawn-Batman:

Aside from the UPC code on the back, the primary difference is that instead of the stiff covers of the direct market version, it has floppy paper covers, as seen in this Instagram video I made. (And if you think I’m being too rough on it in that clip…it ain’t high grade, it can take a little manhandling.)

Pricing the book was a bit of a bear…I don’t believe it’s in the current price guide (at least, it’s not in the two-year-old guide I have at home), and online prices are all over the map. Some eBay sellers had it in the $5 to $10 range, which seemed too cheap, and on mail order house had a midrange copy for hundreds of dollars, which seemed miles too high. I ultimately skewed lower-end, assuming a mint copy to be ~$20 and working it out from there. Sometimes…you just gotta make stuff up.

Also in the collection was a newsstand edition of an Image book I did know about…in fact, I’d seen it racked in a downtown newsstand back when it was new: WildC.A.T.s #2:

The all-white background on regular paper made it stand out, given that the direct sales edition I was used to was the stiff-covered, foil-enhanced version:

There were two copies of this one in the collection, in beautiful NM shape, both of which ended up selling to the same fella for $15 a pop. Again, a price I researched and ultimately had to work out on my own.

There were also lots of just plain ol’ Spawn in the UPC-burdened newsstand flavor:

…not the #1 pictured here, alas, but scattered issues running from about 2 to 27. I seem to recall seeing a few Spawns on newsstand racks at the time, too.

Now I don’t know how long this newsstand push of Image’s lasted. On the Grand Comic Database, the latest newsstand Spawn they had was #134 from 2004. That’s far later than I expected, though after about #52 GCD only shows a handful of newsstand Spawns here and there. I presume those editions do exist, as it seems like a lot of trouble to only sporadically distribute your issues through certain venues.

Another Image title, Savage Dragon, had newsstand editions listed up through 26 in 1996. No idea if there are more after that…didn’t spot any in an eBay search, though I did spot lots of other Image books I didn’t suspect would have had newsstand distribution: Savage Dragon Vs. Savage Megaton Man anybody? Plus, I imagine recent issues of Savage Dragon would be quite the trick to rack in a convenience store, given the uptick in “special hugging” the book’s seen of late.

These are…interesting novelties, I think, and, especially in Spawn‘s case, published for much longer than I realized. I figured for sure the newsstand distribution was an early artifact of Image’s launch, but nope, there’s that 2004 newsstand issue of Spawn. And yes, I bumped up the prices on these Spawns I picked up in the collection, too..a little extra percentage over the guide. Yeah, I know, what can I tell you…I’m part of the problem.

Give to me your variants, take from me my lace.

§ August 23rd, 2021 § Filed under variant covers § 7 Comments

So y’all remember my last variant cover-age post? You know, the one way back when? Well, in response to that, Sam T Goostree noted

“Deadworld used to have tame and gory covers if I recall.”

Sam T Goostree, that “T” must stand for “Truth” because you just dropped some on us. Deadworld was sort of The Walking Dead of its day, an extended humans vs. zombies narrative in funnybook form that began at Arrow Comics in 1986 during the black and white boom, continued on at Caliber Comics, and is still being reprinted today in new paperback volumes.

It was during the Arrow run that the split covers began to be offered. From what I can see on the Grand Comic Database, #5 in 1987 was the first, with the “tame” cover appearing as so:

…and the graphic cover, if you want to see it, linked here. (WARNING: image features blood, guts, and veins in teeth.)

This continued through the end of the Caliber run in 1993. Caliber relaunched Deadworld with a new #1 that same year, and more series, including some IDW minis, would continue to pop up through the 2000s. However, while there were variants here and there, it doesn’t appear the “graphic” and “tame” distinctions carried on. Most of the later covers appear to lean more “tame” than “graphic,” at least as far as I saw.

Anyway, if you want to see more of the “grahic vs. tame” imagery that appeared on these comics, the Grand Comic Database has cover galleries for the Arrow and the Caliber portions of that series.

I’m trying to dredge up any recollections of the series and its sales, given that the initial run mostly overlapped with my beginnings in comics retail. My presumption is that the “graphic” cover sold better, or at least was ordered in higher quantities, than the “tame” cover, and I don’t recall taking any special precautions to make sure the “graphic” cover wasn’t displayed in a way to offend those of a delicate demeanor. Honestly, I don’t think we had to, as the racks we had at the time would overlap the covers and thus obscure most of the horror. My only specific memory was a coworker pointing out this cover:

…and being somewhat disdainful of it for some reason. Not sure why she didn’t like it…I thought it was a funny image, though to this day I have no idea how it ties into what I presume is the serious and violent story it’s telling. I’ve not read a single page of this comic…not a moral or critical judgement, I just can’t read everything…but that cover sure came close to getting me to pick it up solely to figure out “what’s going on here, exactly?” Which, of course, is the goal of any cover.

The option of letting the reader decide if s/he wanted a full on gory image or a relatively innocuous one on the cover that s/he took home was an interesting gimmick (and one that likely encouraged some double-dipping by at least a handful of completists who bought both), which reminded me of something else.

Aircel’s Leather and Lace by the late Barry Blair was an “adult” comic book, which meant sex scenes interspersed among what was presumably something resembling a story. Howard Chaykin’s Black Kiss, another dirty filthy dirty comic, had a great deal of success the year before Leather and Lace‘s debut in 1989, and that each issue came out sealed in a polybag was an attention grabber. As such, Leather and Lace was also factory sealed in polybags, a little larger and looser than the comparatively tight-fitting ones on Black Kiss, to help get even more attention on the rack (on purpose or not).

The deal with this series was that, to accommodate Blair’s “younger fans” (as the reasoning went, if I’m recalling correctly), this Adults Only comic would also come in an General Audiences version:

…with all the naughty bits excised out. I believe there were some replacement story pages or such…I mean, there would have had to be, right? At any rate, we’re not only getting variant covers on each issue, but the dreaded variant interiors as well. It brings to mind a Robert Smigel skit for TV Funhouse, the name of which I’d rather not repeat here for search engine reasons, in which a pornographic film is reedited for an all-ages audience, and it becomes just two people briefly speaking in a room before the credits roll.

Presumably the younger fans didn’t show up in droves for the version of Leather and Lace made especially for them, as the General Audiences editions were dropped after eight issues. And to be frank…the covers on the “general” versions weren’t much less adult than the “adult” versions, sometimes, and neither were the interiors. Even with the sex scenes excised, there was still a…salaciousness about it that made us not want to sell that version to non-adults. Not that we had to worry, because I don’t think anyone who wasn’t an adult expressed any interest in it.

Okay, the comparison between Deadworld and Leather and Lace is slight (and possibly never made before), but each series giving you an option of either an extreme visual or a supposedly more staid one was the tiniest thread that connected the two in my mind. Certainly not that I was writing to each company asking for a crossover of the two. Nope, certainly not, never did it.

And knowing is 37.5% of the battle.

§ August 4th, 2021 § Filed under collecting, retailing, this week's comics, variant covers § 5 Comments

It’s a Special Album Issue, just like the good old days! Full-page illustrations combined with prose appearing in your otherwise regular Marvel funnybook…not a thing I’d like to see on a regular basis, but okay once in a while, especially if done well, like it is here, taking what could have been yet another Hulk-versus-heroes battle and applying some of the book’s usual levels of gravitas. One thing I liked is the opening (and continuing) comparisions between Bruce Banner and the Hulk with the Fantastic Four.

In an interesting confluence of events, Adam Warren, in his notes to Tuesday’s serialized page of Empowered, says

“…This does seem to represent a bit of a lost opportunity for superhero storytelling—that is, conveying how BLUDGEONING AND EARPIERCINGLY G-D LOUD that most cape-related conflict would be. Of course, the use of giant frickin’ sound FX and the like would burn up pagecount in a hurry, but this still seems like a narrative avenue worth exploring on occasion….”

And this issue of Immortal Hulk does just that, emphasizing the sounds of conflict, the drowned-out voices, et cetera…and given the illustrated text format of the issue, it manages to get around the sound effects problem that Warren posited. Thought that was a nice coincidence!

• • •

Joe mentions, like I probably should have in Monday’s post, that the double-covered #2s had been a prominent feature during the “Heroes Reborn” year-long experiment with the Image Comics artists. Not just on the Reborn books, but on new title launches like Thunderbolts (which I remembered) and he also mentions Deadpool, which I didn’t remember and can’t find that it had a second cover (beyond having a newsstand “variant” with the standard UPC…am I missing something? Wouldn’t surprise me! ). Anyway, I should have noted when the two covers for the second issue started, and thank you Joe for stepping in.

Matthew asks

“Years ago I remember reading that for some period of time the second issue of the GI Joe series that Marvel put out was actually more valuable than the first issue because there were so many fewer issues printed. Was that ever true? Is it still true?”

Other commenters provided their answers, but I thought I’d answer here, too. Yes, there was a time when the second issue of Marvel’s G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero was commanding higher prices than the first.

Now I’m just working off my memories instead of, you know, doing research, but I believe the common belief was, true or not, that the second issue had a smaller print run that the first. And given that G.I. Joe was a relatively popular commodity at the time, it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that the first issue was in higher demand than expected, and retailers lowering the order on the second issue (without yet knowing how #1 would be received) resulted in the higher demand and comparative scarcity.

Contributing to this disparity in cover prices. Issue #1 was extra-sized and printed on nicer paper, selling at $1.50:

…and then #2 was the standard format comic at 60 cents:

If I had to hazard a guess, backed up by literally no evidence whatsoever (though maybe I can peek through my fanzines from the period and see what sales on these were actually like) beyond my own proclivities as a comics retailer…I’d say that $1.50 price tag on a cartoon ‘n’ toy tie-in, two and half times the price of a standard comic, may have kept orders lower on the first issue. I mean, no matter how popular the property may have been at the time, there was no guarantee that would translate to comic sales of any note, and that high a price tag might have made the buying decision for anyone on the fence about it. And with that seeming barrier to entry, there was no reason to expect much repeat business for the second issue, even at the lower price.

Now please note that at no time am I saying the comic wouldn’t have had strong orders, or that it didn’t…just that the cover price may have kept them from being even stronger. And as it turned out, the first issue was very popular, enough so that there wasn’t enough of the second issue to go around, therefore low supply + high demand = $$$ for somebody. As a result, the price guide regularly had #2 listed at a higher price than #1.

But enough time has passed, with most early G.I. Joes being in less reliable availability at your local comics emporium, that the whole “lower print run” thing, if it ever actually was a thing, is of negligible importance in today’s market. #1 and #2 are both equally difficult to come across, and with the back issue market becoming increasingly focused on “number ones” and “key issues,” it’s not much of a surprise that prices for that first G.I. Joe have zipped on past those for the second.

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