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.

Small Press Saturday #1.

§ October 23rd, 2021 § Filed under saturday, wood eye § 3 Comments

So as I’ve mentioned several times in the past, the name of this website comes from a mini-comics digest I published in 1998 (under the “Full Frontal Harvey” banner, a shared local comics ‘zine thing that former coworker Rob started up…name explained in my first anniversary post).

And come to think of it, my date of “death” on the tombstone becomes increasingly less humorous as the years dart by. But anyway, this was a collection of comics ‘n’ stuff I drew for the FFH flagship anthology title Wood-Eye, a scattering of pages from my solo mini-comic Lookit! along with some new material. (Here’s a sample.)

Some of what counted, I think, as new material, and what counted for sure as extra work for me, was the “Your Special Monster Friend” back cover, where I would draw and name an original monster on each and every distributed copy of Mike Sterling’s Progressive Ruin the printed-on-dead-trees comical book.

However, this being 1998 and not having regular access to a scanner or even a digital camera, I did not document the many, many monsters I drew on these back covers. I do remember that there were monsters named after me, former coworker Rob, our pal and FFH member Fred, and other friends, but I retain no memory of what any of them look like. The monsters, not my friends and me.

But in swoops old pal William (who probably also had a monster named after him) to the rescue, as he dug out his copy and sent me a pic of the monster I drew thereupon. BEHOLD…CHAD:

Thus, at long last, I have at least one catalogued example of a Special Monster Friend in my records, 23 years after the fact.

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.

Floors sticky with X-Men comics.

§ October 15th, 2021 § Filed under publishing, question time, retailing § 7 Comments

So in answering Alan’s question about what the comic industry might have been like with the success of superhero (read: Marvel) movies, I completely missed the forest for all them cut-down-to-print-Unstoppable Wasp trees. Chris V points out

“I’m pretty sure that if the superhero movie craze was a flop, Disney would have never bought Marvel and Marvel Comics may be on the verge of bankruptcy by 2020, if not already bankrupt before 2020.”

Er, yeah. Marvel was pretty much selling office furniture to keep the lights on in the mid-1990s. There was a very good chance they would have been dead and gone without income from films, and as has been said, “as goes Marvel, so goes the comics industry.” The comics market as we know it might have survived, but almost certainly it would have changed drastically. Well, drastic for people like me working in direct market retail, not so much for all the manga being sold through regular bookstores I’d imagine. At the very least, I wouldn’t have that giant cardboard Groot standup in my store’s front window.

There was also a lot of talk in Wednesday’s comments about what Disney could and should do in regards to helping direct people going to their Avengers movies into stores to find Avengers comics.

There are a couple of things to note about that. First, there’s the thing I said in Wednesday’s post, and that I’ve said plenty of times before: reading serialized comics is pretty much a lifestyle choice. It requires coming to a shop on a regular basis to pick up each new installment. (Or, heaven forfend, if you’re getting them digitally, it requires accessing them on your tablet/phone/whatever and keeping up with them.) That’s not necessarily a habit that comes naturally to people who aren’t already in a comic book reading mindset.

The other issue is another I’ve pointed out from time to time, that for most folks, all the superheroin’ they need is about one movie every few months. They don’t need a regular print diet of of Thor when a Thor movie every few years does ’em fine. They might enjoy paging through a single comic as a novelty, but they’re not going to set up a pull list or anything.


…there is a non-zero percentage of folks introduced to comics via the movies who do become comic fans. I know. I sell comics to some. We’re not going to get an influx of millions into comic shops because people liked Ant-Man, but we’ll get a few people. And a few is better than none. Maybe some fraction of those will become weekly regular funnybook fans. Maybe some will just pop in to try out a graphic novel or two on occasion (or maybe even once). Or maybe they’ll just become aware there is such a thing as comic book stores, and they’ll know where to go when they need comic-related stuff (for gifts or whatnot).

Disney itself doing anything to directly help comic shops beyond not shuttering Marvel’s publishing division entirely and giving the IP to the merchandising department is, well, unlikely. Like I said in a comment in Wednesday’s post, they’d be more likely to open their own Marvel-exclusive comic stores. And by “more likely” I mean “when pigs fly above a frozen-over Hell.” Any cross promotion between theaters showing superhero movies and comic shops will have to be done on their own. I’m sure some folks have had success giving away comics at theaters, but I’m just imagining that much more stuff for those poor theater employees to clean up off the floors between showings.

A couple things Marvel tried to do to get some of that Marvel movie audience to pay attention to the comics: one was a short X-Men comic in the July 2000 issue of TV Guide:

…and I gotta be honest, I don’t recall that working very well, mostly just being derided a bit. And though I know I read it, I don’t remember anything about the comic itself beyond thinking “this probably isn’t a good introduction to the X-Men.” Ah, well.

The other thing Marvel did was create the “Ultimate” line of books, basically giving fresh starts (and the occasional goatee) to their mainline characters for anyone new to the medium.

I don’t know how many new-to-comics readers they acquired, or if they just gave already-committed Marvel fans more books to read per month.

This all sounds sorta bitter and negative, and…well, okay, maybe I am being so. But all this isn’t to say outreach via movies and such does no good…just probably not as much good as you think it would.

Not to mention we never would have had Frank Miller’s The Spirit movie.

§ October 13th, 2021 § Filed under question time § 13 Comments

Okay, let’s take another question, this time from the ever eternal Alan David Doane:

“Hey Mike!”


“How would you assess the effect on comic sales and/or the general direction of the industry in the wake of 20 years now of spectacularly popular superhero movies? Would comics retailing look any different in a world where the Sony and Fox Marvel movies and the MCU had no more impact than David Hasselhoff’s SHIELD TV movie?”

Y’know, I never did ever see that Hasselhoff Nick Fury show. Most I ever saw was a promo still with the Hoff in an eyepatch. I’m sure I missed a vital cultural artifact.

Anyway, Alan, I’d been thinking about your question ever since I saw it posted. It’s a tough one.

My initial kneejerk response would be “barely any effect at all.” It’s not like everyone who saw, say, Iron Man suddenly ran into shops to start reading Iron Man comics, pushing its print run into the 20 millions and making it the most successful American comic book of all time. Heading to the shop once a week to pick up your new funnybooks is, as I’ve said many times before, a lifestyle choice, a commitment to following the serialized adventures of the characters you like, plus associated spin-offs, etc. For most people, for whom one Marvel movie every few months is all the superheroin’ they need, that level of involvement is a pretty big ask.

That said…it’s not as if the movies or TV shows have had no effect. People have come in looking for comics…not in that they became regular customers with pull lists or anything, but sometimes they’ll have seen some superhero media and want to see a little more in its original stapled-paper context. The most popular trend of late is folks looking for anything Wandavision-related, so of course all those trades are out of print. Luckily I had plenty of back issues featuring Vision and/or the Scarlet Witch to satisfy those cravings.

Another phenomenon I’ve noticed is old comic readers returning to the fold after decades out of the hobby, specifically citing the prevalence of superhero media for their comeback. Not being able to swing a dead Uncle Ben around without hitting something broadcasting a Marvel movie at you can’t help but remind some folks of the comics they thought they’d left behind. I’ve had more than one customer who’d once collected in the ’90s (including a few to whom I used to sell) tell me the Marvel movies got them poking through their old comics out in the garage or wherever, and the next thing they knew they were back haunting Ye Olde Comick Shoppe every week.

And plus, there’s just general increased awareness of comic books and their characters out there in the “real” world now. I didn’t expect to live in a time where grandmas knew who Rocket Raccoon was, but here we are. But that awareness means more people seeing comic books as an entertainment option…maybe not a regular every Wednesday thing, like I said above, but I’m certainly more likely to see a parent pop in with a kid looking for a Black Panther comic than I ever was in the previous decades I’ve been in this business.

So my initial kneejerk, and somewhat cynical, reaction of “nah, made no difference” is wrong, in that the business did see benefit from the films and TV shows…just not in the way that we comic book lifers are used to interacting with the medium. Also, personally I keep judging things by how the 1989 Batman film really shoved people into comic shops in droves, which is a mistake. That was a faddish influx caused the film’s novelty which went away almost as fast as it came. The slow and steady influx of new readers and returning fans is, I would think, a healthier reaction. A gradual build of interest and goodwill is better for the industry as a whole.

How would comics retailing look in a world without these successful Marvel movies? Well, I imagine a lot of the effects I just noted would not have come into play. Certainly no one would recognize my giant cardboard Groot cut-out in the window…in fact, that cardboard Groot wouldn’t even exist!

As far as other effects for retailing…hard to say, really. Fewer shops due to less demand/awareness of comics? Fewer comics published for the sole purpose of tying into the movies, even just barely? Less tail wagging the dog, with characters avoiding arbitrary change to more closely resemble their multimedia counterparts?

This is something that’ll require a little more pondering, I believe. Maybe look for a part two of an answer down the line.

Thanks, Alan…and if you want to submit a question, just drop it here in the comments and I will get to it!

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!

Usually titles just come to me, but I’m stuck on this one for some reason.

§ October 8th, 2021 § Filed under retailing § 2 Comments

So a bit of a follow-up on Wednesday’s post:

First, if you read it first thing Wednesday morning, and wondered why it felt like a chunk of it was missing, that’s because a chunk of it was missing. A small HTML error wiped out a paragraph or two, which is now fixed. So please, go back and read my now-unexpurgated words of unsurpassed wisdom and be enlightened.

Second, in regards to the shipping woes faced by retailers during Penguin Random House’s first week of handling Marvel’s comics: as I noted, I only had four comics damaged enough to where I didn’t feel comfortable selling them. I reported them to the distributor Monday, and received replacements on Thursday. Via Next Day Air UPS. In a box that was wrapped with bubblewrap and placed inside another box.

Needless to say, I was amazed. I’m certainly not used to receiving replacements that quickly. And I think the only reason they took as long as they did to get to me is that PRH was apparently slammed with complaints and it took them time to get everything sorted out.

The distributor also sent out an email, essentially apologizing for dropping the ball with their insufficient packaging and they they were taking steps to improve the quality of their shipments. Which is good to hear…I’m willing to give them the benefit of a doubt as they at least acknowledged this is a problem and it needs to be fixed, which is more than I get from some distributors.

(Speaking of which…said distributor shorted me my entire order of Star Wars: High Republic Adventures and about 1/6th of my order of the Bad Idea comic Pyrate Queen, in case you’re wondering how they’re putting their best foot forward the same week they lost a massive chunk of their business.)

Also, I saw that my initial tweets on the week’s shipment had been “favorited” by a certain comics columnist, which told me what I wrote there was eventually going to end up filling some column inches on another site. And yes, I predicted correctly, so if you happen to see the article while perusing the site for some reason, you don’t need to tell me you saw my name there. I already know where it is.

Lastly, nothing to do with Wednesday’s post, but I wanted to remind you I’m still taking your questions! Chime in and let me know your one question about comics! I promise to give you as good an answer as I can…or maybe just make a cheap joke. WE’LL FIND OUT!

We are the walking distributor.

§ October 6th, 2021 § Filed under retailing, this week's comics § 7 Comments

What’s great about this newest issue of Walking Dead‘s color reprints is how they just lean into the somewhat notorious “we ARE the Walking Dead!” declaration Rick makes in the issue. All but one of the variant covers features the phrase itself or a paraphrasing thereof, giving a hearty “take that, haters” to everyone who razzed the…on-the-noseness of it all.

I don’t know how the actual regular readers of The Walking Dead responded to the issue at the time. The color reprints also include the original letter columns, so I suppose I’ll find out myself in a month or two. My guess is that the fans invested in the book found it profound, while the comicsblogosphere of late 2005 probably happily snarked away at it out of its regular context. And while I don’t think I commented on it then, I would occasionally reference it for a gag, such as this recent tweet.

I’m pretty sure I’ve noted before that I am now reading The Walking Dead in its color reprint form, as I missed out on the series the first time. I mean, sure, not like there wasn’t plenty of ways to catch up on the book, what with all the trade paperback/hardcover/omnibus options, but I never seemed to get around to it. And now that it’s coming out in single issue form again every fortnight or so, it’s easy for me to just grab ‘n’ read them as they arrive.

Aaaaaaand…even in context, after having read issues #1 through #23, the “WE ARE THE WALKING DEAD!” exclamation at the end of #24 still comes across as perhaps just a tad overwrought. Too much Cochrane in First Contact saying “you’re all astronauts on some kind of star trek?” level of forced, dragging what should be subtext into just straight up text. On the other hand, if I wanted subtlety, I suppose I wouldn’t be reading a comic book called “The Walking Dead.”

All that said, it does come at the end of an effective extended speech from Rick, marking a turning point for our characters in this series. It’s essentially Rick emphasizing over and over that the old world, the old ways of doing things, are over, that everything you were used to is gone, and that they were going to have to get accustomed to doing things that were previously unthinkable in order to stay alive…not that “living” really means much of anything anymore. It’s bleak, it’s hopeless, and yet you still kinda want to see where things go from here, which was probably a hard trick to pull off.

Then there’s the two-page spread of Rick capping everything off with…well, you know, and I guess if you’re determined to get the title of the comic into the actual story somewhere, this is as good a way as any. Like I said, still a bit hokey, but, you know, what the hell, worse things happen at sea.

Also, if you’re wondering, of the many variants, the one pictured above is what I picked for myself, because it made me laugh.

• • •

A brief retailing update: I received my first order of Marvel periodicals from Penguin Random House this week. For me, anyway, it was a fairly auspicious debut, as everything I was expecting was actually in the boxes, which was a nice change of pace. There were damages, with four comics having some pretty badly dinged corners, but I couldn’t tell if it happened in transit, during the packing process, or maybe they just came that way from the printers, who knew?

Now, I think I may have been lucky, as the boxes used to ship the comics didn’t seem to be as sturdy, or as sizable, as they needed to be to safely transport comics. The boxes were small, just barely large enough to surround the comics, and honestly one big bump along the way on a conveyor belt in the sorting plant, or being bounced aaround on the delivery truck, could have easily damaged whatever was inside. However, each box was packed with instructions on how to report any shortages or damages, and also had an actual packing slip with the name of the person who did that packing — certainly not anything I was used to.

By contrast, the regular distributor’s shipment…shorted me entirely on a Star Wars comic, shorted me about 1/6th my order of one of the new Bad Idea comics, and had a few plainly avoidable damages. You’d think having fewer books to sort and pack would cut down on that sort of thing, but, well, habits die hard I guess.

The shipment from my DC Comics distributor was exemplary as usual, though I keep hearing tales of other stores having immense problems with them. Maybe I’ve just been lucky so far. Once I had all my copies of one title not get packed, and there’s been the very rare single copy damage or shortage, but 99% of the time, the shipment is flawless. It’s nice to not have to worry about at least one distributor…I mean, not yet.

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.

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