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The deluxe edition of this post will cost you a little more.

§ December 13th, 2021 § Filed under variant covers § 10 Comments

Nicholas inquired

“…Can you shed any light on the mid-90’s Marvel newsstand issues? I’m doing a deep dive on the JRJR run of Spider-Man (which had been renamed to “Peter Parker Spider-Man” at that point) and have come across two versions of many of them (they seem to be during the Clone Saga and the run of issues immediately following the end of that storyline). From what I can see, the newsstand versions were printed on newsprint, and cost $1.50, and the direct market versions were on glossy paper, but priced at $1.95? The weird thing is that at a certain point, it looks like the direct market versions stay at $1.95, and the newsstand versions jump to $1.99 BUT were still printed on newsprint? Then eventually, they all go to $1.99 and are printed on newsprint. I’m very confused, and can kind of remember this happening with some other series (specifically Generation X). It seems ridiculous, and I can’t find anything on the internet about it.”

So here’s what I recall about this particular publishing plan of Marvel’s, mostly in relation to their X-Men line at the time:

In the mid-’90s (in the example, I’m using here, cover date November 1994, so actually probably sometime in September), the adjeectiveless X-Men split into two (well, three) distinct versions. For comic shops, you had your choice of the “Deluxe Edition” on nicer paper, with a convenient “DELUXE” tag on the cover, for $1.95:

For readers who didn’t want to dish out an extra 45 cents, a $1.50 version printed on not-glossy paper was also offered to the direct market (note: no “DELUXE” tag on the cover):

And then for newsstands, the Deluxe Edition was offered, but with a standard UPC code (not sure about the paper stock):

Now here’s where we’re going to depend on my memories of these events, because I’m going to point out something and I don’t have a way of backing it up just yet. However, I recall having written about this in a comic forum I ran on a local BBS at the time, which is why it sticks with me.

My recollection is that Marvel sold this new Deluxe format to fans as a more upscale edition of the comic, for folks who wanted a, I don’t know, classier reading experience or something. If, like I said above, they didn’t want to dole out the extra dosh for smooth silky paper they could rub gently on their skin, fans could buy that $1.50 version, and Marvel would look at sales and see which the fans preferred.

ENTER: MY MEMORY I’M WONDERING ABOUT — the catch was, the $1.50 version would be released a couple of weeks later. I distinctly remember writing at the time on a local BBS “of course the $1.95 version is going to sell better, fans don’t want to wait an extra two weeks when they can get the story now.”

Again, I have no way to back that up. I have no solicitation material from the time (at least, that’s easily accessible), no access to any of my long-ago posts on that BBS…the web archive I once pulled from for this site is gone, and while I backed up a lot of material from the site, I inexplicably didn’t save my own section. Didn’t I know I’d need that for a blog post someday? I’m trying to track it down (I have friends who may still have an archive of all that stuff), and I have a bunch of invoices from the previous place of employment that may shed some light, so if any new information magically appears, I’ll add an update.

EDIT: Folks in the comments section are also recalling this shipping schedule for the Deluxe/Not Deluxe editions.

Anyway,whatever time frame in which those were released, the differently-priced editions seemed to go away after the Age of Apocalypse event (in which all the regular X-books were put on hiatus for a few months and replaced with mini-series all priced at $1.95). Issue #42 of X-Men, just prior to the event, was the last of that series to carry those specific $1.95/$1.50 price points.

Now, Nicholas, you mentioned the weird thing where the direct market edition of some of these titles retained a $1.95 price point, whilst the newsstand editions went up to $1.99. I honestly didn’t remember that, but checking on this X-Men run…yep, sure enough. Starting with issue #57 and running through issue #65 (even including the “-1” special), direct issues were $1.95:

And newsstands were $1.99:

After that everything went up to $1.99 and comic prices never rose ever again.

As to the “why” of all this…well, like I said, initially it was offered as an “option” to fans as to whether or not they wanted to pay more for a fancier product or pay less for something a little more “no frills.” Regardless of the timing of releases of these competing editions, it seemed clearly designed to ease readers into a higher price point, possibly framing it as “it was the readers what wanted the higher cost version!”

Once everything moved to the $1.95/$1.99 price point, I think a possible explanation is this. Comics were at too low a price point for newsstands and bookstores and such to really want to bother with. Raising the price on the newsstand edition (even if only by a few cents) may have been just enough to keep newsstand sellers and distributors from cutting the product line entirely. Perhaps more a psychological move than anything else.

As for being printed on cheaper paper: that’s just Marvel keeping the expenses down. Newsstand distribution numbers weren’t nearly as high as they were in the direct market, and newsstands could return unsold product, so the lower the initial production cost, the more money could potentially be made, or at least the lower the losses would be.

It also could just be the competition versus other comic companies were stronger in the direct market, necessitating a higher quality product, believed unnecessary for the newsstands.

And when it comes to both direct and newsstand editions going to the cheaper paper: just line-wide cost cutting is all. Fancy paper costs too much, so it was either that or raise the price, which, as I said, they would never do ever again.

I don’t know the whole financial end of publisher vis-à-vis distributors, or any of the actual reasons behind some of these decisions, so if anyone wants to clear up the above assumptions, be my guest. But I honestly do believe the initial price differences was sold as a “let the reader decide” thing when, in fact, the decision was already made.

A personal memory from the old shop was when it came to restocking the issues of the various series that had the deluxe/regular price split. I honestly could never remember which comics marked “DELUXE” had an accompanying non-deluxe edition. I’d have to make intricate notes as to which versions I had to go looking for in the back room. Yes, I had to do all this restocking manually, this was before robots took over everything.

Nicholas, I hope this answers your questions, or at least gives you some options to consider in regards to these quarter-century old publishing puzzles. If I get new information, I’ll let you know right here on this very site!

The variants, they are a-changin’.

§ December 6th, 2021 § Filed under variant covers § 6 Comments

[REMINDER: yesterday was this site’s 18th anniversary post, in which I included an index to all the variant cover-age posts so far]

The cover above wasn’t part of DC’s first wave of lenticular covers in 2013, but rather the second in 2014. It does give you an idea of what the lenticular covers looked like (though the second wave looked better than the first). And it wasn’t just lenticular images on these covers (making them strictly a “gimmick” cover and not a variant cover) as regular editions were issued as well with static fronts.

I’ve gone on about DC’s lenticular covers in the past…in real time, in fact, As It Was Happening and YOU Were There! As you may recall, DC announced this great month-long gimmick of producing a bunch of villain-centric one shots for most of their titles, all of which would feature fancy lenticular motion with advanced technology that I seem to remember from children’s books I had in the early ’70s. Long story short, even with extra advanced solicitation times, orders were such that the printers could not produce enough of the covers in time, resulting in allocations.

Interestingly, what I’d forgotten was that there were only lenticular covers initially planned for all these comics. It wasn’t until DC announced “Oops, Not Enough Lenticulars” that the “regular” static-imaged covers were offered to “fill out” any orders on the fancy covers that may have been cut short by the allocations. As I recall, you could just order however many you wanted of those.

Here’s a sample of a lenticular cover from this initial 2013 wave (non-animated, sorry):

And here’s the standard edition:

If you want more detail on what was happening at the time, here are my original posts on the matter: 1 2. As I recall, I had enough of the fancy covers to fill pulls, and some people preferred the standard buck-cheaper perhaps-not-as-gimmicky-and-distracting standard ones. I just hoped they wouldn’t pull something like this again.

Then suddenly out of nowhere DC did it again the next year, with the printing kinks worked out, apparently, and with standard cover editions offered from the get-go. You can refer back to my posts on the 2014 wave (1 2) for a more in-depth look, or perhaps “look at it from different angles.” I don’t know, there’s a joke there somewhere. But again, in short…sold fine, no panicked rush on the covers because they were in short supply like that first time.

Now, years later…well, when I ordered those, I was working for my previous place of employment. In fact, that second wave of lenticulars was one of the last Big Things I ordered for that store before opening up my own shop. As such, I don’t have any leftovers from those initial orders in my backstock, and I never ordered them for my own place. I’ve been dependent on acquiring them in collections, and, yes, sure, I have picked up a few over the years.

Oddly enough, I seem to see more from the first “limited in supply” wave than I do from the second “order as many as you want, we’ve got plenty!” wave. My recollection was that both waves sold well…we did have some leftovers on the second wave, but it’s not like we didn’t sell plenty of copies of those, too.

And speaking of the aftermarket…some of those initial lenticular releases, unsurprisingly, got targeted by eBay flippers and were quickly thrown online. In particular, the “Joker’s Daughter” issue (remember her?) of Batman: The Dark Knight (#23.4) was The Hot One, though a quick look at eBay shows you can buy ’em for around $10. That Joker one I pictured above was is another one that acquired a premium price for a bit, though I think that was one of the higher-ordered (and not-as-allocated) issues. On eBay now, about $10 – $15, which is still pretty good.

Most other issues, of both waves, at least in my experience, sell about about $4 to $5. It’s one of those deals, like with many of the ’90s gimmick covers, where people fish ’em out of the back issue bins, say “ooh neat!” and buy it. Not fast sellers, not “in demand” items (no one comes in asking for them) but more often than not they’ll buy ’em when they see ’em.

In 2017, Marvel gave lenticular covers the ol’ college try as part of one of their ongoing series of relaunches of various titles, and, um, well

In my opinion they were biting off a little more than they could chew, there, by trying to switch between two entirely different complicated cover images which 1) weren’t kept distinct enough from each other, making a blurry mess, and 2) would confused customers as to what comic they were actually looking at. “Is that…Giant-Size X-Men? What’s going on?”

They weren’t all that bad, but good gravy, they weren’t all that good, either. These I did end up ordering at my own store, and I’m pretty sure I rid myself of any excess in the dollar bins. Ah well. Oh, and keeping with the variant theme…it’s Marvel, of course there were variants. Here’s the main cover:

…and if you go to this page, you can see the rest of the variants this issue had. I recommend the “How to Draw Ghost Rider” one, which is pretty good.

The only company regularly flying the lenticular banner nowadays is Absolute Comics, and you can see a sample of one here. Looking back through Diamond Comics’ database, I see other publishers tried out lenticulars in recently years, on such titles as Zombie Tramp and Ninjas and Robots.

But DC and Marvel haven’t repeated the line-wide fancy movin’ cover thing since those initial attempts (though DC did spring for one on Doomsday Clock #1 in the true spirit of Watchmen). I wouldn’t mind seeing more in the future…I like them, they look neat on the rack, and the customers seem to like them too. Just…make sure they work, and maybe don’t unload dozens of them on us simultaneously.

Twisted variant theatre.

§ November 29th, 2021 § Filed under variant covers § 1 Comment

So I remembered the just the one action figure cover variant from when DC did ’em a while back, the Batman and Robin #29 from 2014:

…which I kept because of the Swamp Thing appearance, natch. And while I knew there were more, as part of DC’s attempts to boost orders on their New 52 line, I could not for the life of me remember any of the others. I mean, I know I ordered them and carried them at the previous place of employment, but this was during the lead-up to me opening my own shop, so, you know, maybe I had my mind occupied with other things.

Looking at the cover again reminded me this was a tie-in to the Robot Chicken TV show, which animated action figures in humorously irreverent sketches. (Worth noting that the show itself was inspired by similar “photo-funnies” content featuring action figures in Wizard magazine publications…in fact, writers on the feature went on to create the TV show.)

Specifically, the 2014 covers (of which there were 22(!)) were created to tie into a DC Comics-centric Robot Chicken TV special. And in all this Googling about, I discovered this was the second TV special, with the first in 2012 being advertised by DC then on, far as I can tell, one sole variant cover:

Why just Aquaman? Well, he’s apparently the most hilarious of superheroes, an easy punchline for hack writers.

Anyway, like the MAD variants discussed last time, they got a second run with the aforementioned 22(exclamation mark!) variants in 2014, featuring gags like this:

Hm. Well, your mileage may vary I guess, depending on how funny you find the show itself. I’ve never seen it, beyond, I think, some Star Wars gag years ago, and maybe some incidental advertising…but I looked at a few clips on YouTube and it’s fine. And looking at the Wiki entry there’s certainly some impressive voice talent puttin’ in some time there.

But back to the covers: honestly, looking at that gallery I linked above (and will link here again so you don’t have to go searching) I have no recollection of any of these save that Batman and Robin I mentioned. I don’t even remember this Justice League Dark variant:

…even though I surely must have kept one for myself. No way that would have slipped past me.

The 2014 books were 1 in 25 ratio variants…again, a silly thing to do, as making these freely orderable may have resulted in fewer inflated orders for comics that may not sell just to get the special cover, and more copies moved to customers who were amused by the variants. But that does explain the low estimated print runs you saw on that gallery page I’m not going to link to for a third time. Some random eBay checking revealed prices in the $10 range, mostly, but some optimistic chap has the Wonder Woman variant at $85.

I think, though, my favorite gag on all these covers was the one used for Aquaman #29:

Okay, I admit it, Aquaman is hilarious!

Humor in a variant vein.

§ November 23rd, 2021 § Filed under variant covers § 6 Comments

So I think I said at the time, in 2013 when DC Comics was producing MAD Magazine variants for their New 52 line in celebration of April Fool’s Day, that this cover bothered me. I mean, it should have delighted me…it is technically a great drawing, as one would expect from the legendary (and then in his 90s!) Al Jaffee. It’s nicely colored, it certainly stands out on the shelf….

…But what really bugged me is that this wonderful opportunity is marred by burdening Mr. Jaffee with that awful, awful design for Superman’s costume. I know, I know, I’ve gone on about it before, but it baffled man and God as to who actually thought this was a good idea. (As a wise man, me, once said, “if even George Perez can’t make it work….”)

Anyway, Mr. Jaffee did his best, but the costume still looks awkward, unless of course Jaffee himself thought “this costume’s terrible” and played up how terrible the costume was. Thought, I have to admit, when I first saw it, I wondered if he’d been given the instruction “draw a funny Superman cover” and drew Classic Superman, only adding the New 52 outfit’s details later an editor got a look and returned it for regrooving. I mean, I have no idea…the fact that Superman was drawn with obvious trunks, or that the collar seemed a little…off, like it was added after the fact. Or that the body of the costume and even the boots look more like the traditional togs versus the inexplicable armor Supes was saddled with:

That cover just above, by the way, is the “standard” cover for this issue. However, not satisfied with a MAD variant, DC was running gimmick covers as the “non-variant” edition. In this case, it was the thing DC had branded as their “WTF Certified” covers, a gatefold cover where the front would pose some situation, and then you’d fold out the cover and presumably shout “WHAT THE F–” as you saw the amazing surprise that was revealed. Anyway, more on that when I start my “Gimmick Cover” series, after I’m done (if ever) with Variant Cover-age.

Similarly, poor Sergio Aragones had to do his best with that costume for the Justice League variant:

This actually turned out to be the MAD variant for which we had the most requests, and it’s a good thing this was the MAD variant for which we were able to get the most copies, if I recall correctly. A spot check on a number of the MAD variants released that month showed that the majority of them were offered as ratio variants…for every ten copies of the regular cover ordered, a retailer could order one of the special covers.

This always seemed so short-sighted to me. Given that the Justice League variant was offered to retailers…hmm, lemme see how to put this. Retailers were able to order as many copies of that Justice League variant up to their numbers on the lowest ordered New 52 comic for that week. As such, shops ordered as many of that Aragones variant as they did of Sword of Sorcery #7, maybe even raised their orders on the latter to get more of the former, and got a variant that, at least in our case, sold great, even despite that Superman costume. If they’d made the same deal with all the MAD variants, we could have had lots of these to sell:

…and believe me, we would have sold plenty.

Now, these MAD variants must have done well, as DC Comics did it again the following year. Alas, not so much since, though when I was tracking down some images on the eBays I noticed that several of these variants have been going for premium prices. Whether that’s a usual thing or just another example of the current collectible-inventing market boosting prices, I don’t know. I did see someone call that Justice League variant a “1 in 10” cover, which is of course wrong. What, on eBay, what a shock.

I do wish something like this was attempted earlier, with some of the MAD artists that I remember from my early days of reading the mag. Not that there was anything wrong with what we got, but imagine a Don Martin Swamp Thing cover, or a Dave Berg Harley Quinn. I tear up just a little thinking of those wonderful possibilities.

(Here’s a gallery of the 2013 MAD variants, and here are 2014’s offerings.)

More pictures next time, I promise.

§ November 15th, 2021 § Filed under variant covers § 3 Comments

So this week’s installment of variant cover-age is going to be just a little different. I know I said I was going to take a look at the various New 52 variant covers DC started using to shore up sales once the initial excitement for the new publishing strategy ebbed away.

But more on that later. What I want to touch upon here is the recent report that direct market comic sales in the U.S. are on their way up. A friend (who now has a suspended account there due to stupid reasons involving Twitter’s algorithms) responded on the Twitter thread there asking about the impact of variant covers on that increase, and the response was that the inflated prices on variant covers were not considered, only cover prices on all releases.

Which is fine, of course, those shouldn’t be considered. But there is something to be said about variant covers boosting the amount of money retailers spend on new comic product. I tried to argue the point in that thread, but Twitter’s not a platform for nuance, and things kept getting off track, so let me try again here.

As I’ve mentioned many a time in this ongoing series of variant cover posts (running three-quarters of the year now!), variants exist to improve sales. On the retail end, they offer varying images to appeal to a wider range of customers…if they don’t like one cover, maybe they’ll find the other appealling. Or, more cynically, it’s a way to get a customer to double/triple/quattuorvigintuple-dip and buy more than one cover of the same comic. Or, of course, if it’s a “rare”-ish variant, you can charge a premium price.

What the main focus here, though, is what retailers are buying, and how variant covers can affect those purchasing decisions.

As you may have noticed, or at least noticed me taking about, the collector/speculator demand increasing over the last couple of years. I won’t try to go into the reasons why here (aside from noting that it’s seemingly connected to everyone being stuck at home during peak pandemic times). Demand for anything that even smells of eBay flipability just shot through the roof (which I don’t need as frankly my shop’s had enough roof problems lately). Mostly it’s focused on ’60s Marvel, which is red hot, and the mercurial demand for comics that have even the slightest, and occasionally even spurious, tie-ins to events in the many Marvel TV shows and movies. And don’t even get me started about everyone looking for this comic featuring a character named “Corona.”

Anyway, increased demand from consumers will trigger increased ordering from retailers…and when a portion of that demand is coming from speculators, the temptation is there to go after the manufactured rarity of the ratio variants. You know, where for every 25, or 50, or 200 of something you order, you can order one copy of a special cover.

The argument I was making in the Twitter thread was solely this: an increased incidence of retailers bumping up orders to get ratio variants is a contributor to the overall increase in the direct market. How many times have I been near one of the ratio plateaus when ordering a book, and decided “ah, I’ll get the [x] number of extra copies to get that variant.” And I’m sure I’m not the only one. And with the increase in speculation, the temptation to bump those orders up only increases. Instead of only bumping up, say, three or four copies to get that variant, maybe you’re getting an extra ten since you’re sure whatever you charge on it and sell it for will more than make up for the additional copies.

The specific example I used in that thread was King Spawn #1. Now, I’m just a little ol’ rinky-dink shop. I don’t sell a lot of Spawn normally. I did order a larger-than-normal amount of King Spawn #1 (and the other new Spawn books) because interest seemed to be high in them. But there’s no way, under normal circumstances, I would sell anywhere close to 250 copies, which is what you had to order to get the 1/250 variant cover signed by Todd McFarlane his own self.

As it turned out, I had a customer who really wanted that signed King Spawn, so the amount he prepaid for it essentially covered the the extra expenditure I had to make ordering additional copies of that #1 to get that comic for him. The end result is that I have a boatload of regular King Spawn #1s that I can afford to sell at a special discounted price of a whole 99 cents, to the delight and occasional alarm of my customers.

But that’s neither here nor there. The point is that I ordered waaaay above and beyond what I normally would have ordered of King Spawn #1, for the sake of a variant. That is absolutely, 100% a case of a variant impacting the direct market’s increase in money spent on product. And certainly more retailers ordered 250, or multiples of 250, of that comic in order to get the autograph, even if expected rack sales where nowhere close to what they received.

And yes, that King Spawn stuff all happened this year, and thus not part of the market report, but it simply writ large the sort of impact variants can have on overall sales. It’s easier to see the effect with King Spawn, versus trying to determine how many retailers added a couple of copies here and there to reach much lower ratio variant order plateaus.

On top of that, there are of course the “free-to-order” variants, where you’re second guessing demand on specific covers. Which is hard to do, as Artist [A]’s variant may have been the Hot One on a book last month, but may no longer be the in thing when Artist [A]’s cover for the next book shows up. Plus when there are a lot of variants, you don’t want to miss out on the one people are looking for, so sometimes you perhaps order more than you would have if there was just the one cover. There were cases in the last year or two where Marvel put out comics with literally more variant covers than copies I expected to sell at the shop (cough Eternals #1 cough). For titles like that I certainly didn’t order every cover…but I probably ordered more than I ordinarily would have anyway.

Also there’s ordering extra copies of each variant to accommodate the customers who want more than one cover for the same comic. Another case of the variant boosting sales…especially in the current marketplace, where some customers want every version of each new hot book that comes along.

And really, that’s the only point I was trying to make. The increase in the comics market was contributed to by the presence of variant covers. As I admit in that Twitter thread, I don’t know how much of an impact variants had, but it definitely wasn’t “none.” Again, not talking premium pricing or what have you, just literally sheer numbers of units shipped from distributors to retailers. Seems self evident, but didn’t stop me from going on about it for over 1100 words, did it?

Okay, next time, back to just plain ol’ “lookit dese variant covers.” Thanks for reading, pals.

What’s black and white and variant all over?

§ November 1st, 2021 § Filed under dc comics, variant covers § 3 Comments

So it dawned on me that I might be opening up bit of a can of worms here, as DC’s New 52 publishing initiative was rife with variant covers. Initially, I was just going to talk about these black and white variants DC offered early on in the initial months of New 52. Like, for example that Swamp Thing one above, which I removed from the formerly vast Mikester Comic Archives to photograph. (Er, pardon the glare.)

As I recalled, several DC titles around this time had this particular style of variant, taking the regular cover, flipping it on its side and stripping it of its coloring. This Swamp Thing issue (#5, March 2012) was offered in a 1:25 ratio, meaning a retailer would have to buy 25 copies of the main cover to order one of these. …Look, I know most of you know how ratio variants work, but someone reading this might not.

In looking at other DC titles, it appears Batman #5 also had a similar variant, but it was a 1:200 ratio book…which makes sense, since Batman is nearly always a top seller for DC. Aquaman #5’s variant, another 1:25. Same with Superman #5. Even Detective Comics #5 was only 1 in 25.

I’m not going to look up every 5th issue of the initial New 52 series to check the ordering plateaus for these black and white wraparounds (and not all of them had ’em…sorry, Blackhawks #5), but I’m going to hazard a guess and say the main Batman title was the one series with the highest “ask” to get that variant. If I’m wrong, I’m sure I’ll hear about it.

These black and white variants are kinda neat. It’s like you’re getting your own reproduction of the original art, in varying stages of development: fully inked, like on the Swamp Thing cover, or just the pencils, like on that Aquaman cover. Which is nothing particularly new or innovative, as black and white “sketch” covers had been a thing already, but by turning it on its side, wrapping the image around the front and back covers, now it more closely approximates the size of what we generally think of original art pages. (Yes, not exactly, hence my use of the word “approximates.”)

I don’t have specific retail stories about these black and white variants, beyond me unsurprisingly glomming onto the Swamp Thing one as soon as I cracked open the Diamond delivery boxes. But what I do want to talk about is DC’s increasing reliance on variant covers over the history of the New 52’s lifespan, as alternate and gimmick covers were prodcuced to shore up the orders after the initial excitement over the relaunch started to fade away.

Variant covers were there from the very beginning of the New 52, with some titles (like Batman and Superman offering other covers based on your lowest DC order for the week. For example, if your lowest order for a DC title coinciding with Batman‘s release was only 20 copies, then you were limited to 20 copies of that one Batman variant. Thus from the get-go, they weren’t even waiting for numbers to drop. They were trying to get you to order more of a comic in which you didn’t have as much faith so you could get yer mitts on more of that Batman variant. Very sneaky.

And there were more variants than that from launch, especially for Batman, not even counting 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, making this a bit of a series inside the variant cover-age series already in progress, as it’s clear I’m never going to squeeze all these into one post. I mean, I suppose I could, but I don’t really want to be up ’til 4 AM writing a blog post, like I used to do when I was a young and spritely 34 years of age when I started this site nearly two decades ago.

So hang onto your butts, as this variant ride is going to be taking on the New 52 variants over the next few weeks. I of course reserve the right to interrupt the run with breaking variant news, but we’ll see how it goes.

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.

John Goodman’s finest role.

§ October 20th, 2021 § Filed under cartoons, retailing, undergrounds, variant covers § 6 Comments

So in Monday’s post, where I was talking about variant covers in the “real” non-comics world, I brought up the multiple foil covers used for the Raiders of the Lost Ark novelization. I did say at the end of the post I didn’t think many people were actually buying all the different covers to be completists, but I’m sure it’s not nobody.

Well, Turan swooped in with some bookstore-sellin’ experience, to inform that book publishers weren’t producing multiple covers for their titles as a means of encouraging multiple sales. It was more for encouraging displays from sellers, or for offering more options possibly to attract different demographics by using different cover images/designs.

When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail, and my comics retailing hammer may have been aimed at those old Raiders books. To be fair to me, I didn’t necessarily say that book publishers were doing multiple covers for the same reasons comic publishers seem to do so…at least, maybe not back then. But discussing those books in close proximity to comics probably implied as such, for which I apologize. But I’m sure there are still book collectors out there snapping up all variations of a new book’s release. C’mon, have you met book collectors?

Anyway, back to the comics…while I’ve been hitting the “variants are there to get multiple sales from the same customer” nail fairly hard around these parts, Turan does bring up other possibilities that I haven’t really considered. There is always the possibility of a comic publisher trying to attract a buyer that may not care for one cover, but definitely like another. I have over the years had customers walk up to the counter buying a comic they wouldn’t normally because of a specific image used on one of the many variants. In fact, a certain still-extant comics blogger of some note may have bought a variant cover or two simply because it had an unnamed swampy gentleman thereupon. So, basically, I should’ve pointed out this reason for variants long ago.

As for variants being issued to inspire creation of in-store displays…well, sure, comic stores could do, and have done, that. I don’t know if that was the explicit intent of comic publishers, but more a natural extrapolation by more clever shops to take advantage of the material offered. I mean, who knows. And again, this is something I’ve sort of done in the past…I mean, I try to display all covers on my racks anyway, but I haven’t gone out of the way to make a specific separate display of just variants in a long time (we did way back when with the 1990s X-Men and Spider-Man #1s). I don’t know if my racking these books like this counts:

…but boy, it almost got me to buy both covers. I do have to admit I was very tempted to display these covers on opposite sides just to annoy everyone, but cooler heads prevailed.

• • •

To follow up on some other previous posts, I received my newest shipment of weekly Marvel comics from their new distributor Penguin Random House. As I’d expected from how some replacement damages were shipped to me last week, PRH has responded to widespread criticism of their piss-poor packaging and the excessive damages of comics that resulted.

Like Lunar (DC’s distributor) PRH is now packaging their books inside a cardboard box, surrounded by bubble wrap inside another cardboard box. Frankly, the outer box isn’t quite sturdy enough (or large enough to allow for more wrap) to my tastes, but it’s definitely a step up from the last couple of weeks. I did experience some damages, but they were fairly minor dings on six comics, and to be honest I don’t know if these came from their time in transit or before (or as) they were packed in the boxes.

Also, replacements for all of my damages from last week (and there were a lot) arrived early this week. (I initially thought I was missing one, but that’s only because I didn’t recognize the variant cover as being a certain title. AGAIN WITH THE VARIANT COVERS.)

Here’s hoping things continue to improve, and that a certain other distributor who shall go unnamed here will begin to feel at least some pressure to step up their own game. To be fair, I only received two damaged books from them this week, but in the past that just meant I was due for a real problem the following week. We’ll see.

Now I hadn’t heard about this, but on this week’s episode of the Longbox Heroes podcast (being listened to even as I type this), apparently there have been other odd problems with PRH…such as filling an entire order of a book, not with the regular cover, but with the 1/25 or 1/100 ratio variants, which is pretty wild (and possibly quite the windfall for the less scrupulous retailers). I haven’t experienced that particular problem yet, thankfully.

• • •

And now, some good news…the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers is finally going to series, airing on the free TV app Tubi:

As has been noted, the styles of “Characters Created by Gilbert Shelton” and “Characters Not Created by Gilbert Shelton” do, um, clash quite a bit, but given the premise of the series (the Freak Bros. are spirited away from their ’60s/’70s stomping grounds into the world of today) that seems only fitting. I’ve seen a few of the shorts they did with this voice cast (which is great, by the way) on YouTube, so I’m looking forward to some full-length episodes.

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!

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