Look at it. Take a good look.
No, this isn’t my monthly installment in my great comic book covers series. A new cover will be declared great next week. My regular readers – do I have regular readers? – know it’s the first week of each month when I feature a great cover. This cover, although pretty good, is significant for another reason…
It is the very first variant comic book cover.
In 1986, someone at DC Comics hit upon the idea that if a variant cover was made available, collectors would buy two copies: One regular cover and one variant. That means more sales. They called it a “special collector’s edition.” Here’s a fun fact: Anything labelled as a “collector’s item” or “collector’s edition” probably isn’t going to be very collectable.
The sales must have increased, because by the 1990s the number of variant cover editions skyrocketed! Jim Lee’s new X-Men series for Marvel Comics, premiering in 1991, had five different covers for its first issue. One was a gatefold combination of the other four.
Well, a serious collector just had to buy all five.
One good aspect of the variant cover mania was that collectors couldn’t get the variants from the newsstands or from drugstores. They had to buy them from their local comic book stores or through mail order dealers. This was good for those dealers, because it would bring in customers.
But then the mania went even deeper. The comic book publishers came up with the idea to make very limited amounts of variants that comic book dealers could get if they ordered a certain number of the regular cover issues. So, if a store ordered 20 copies of a certain comic, they would receive one particular variant. If they ordered 25, they’d get a different variant and so on depending on how many copies were ordered. The more copies ordered the more limited the variant. Order enough copies and the store could get their name on the variant issue. In some cases, order an insane amount of copies and the store could get a variant with original art drawn directly on the variant cover. Oh, but of course, the stores still had to pay for the variant copies.
The variants would get progressively more limited in print runs the more regular issues were ordered. This led to comic book stores having buttloads of regular issues in order to get the rarest of variants. Chances were pretty good the dealers would be stuck with several regular copies, because not enough customers would buy them. So, the variants might have some value, but the value of the regular issues would be driven down and the stores could end up losing money. However, the comic book companies could claim big sales numbers, despite the fact those sales were to dealers rather than to collectors.
Personally, when I was still an active new issue collector, I did buy into getting the variant covers. For a while. Then the comic prices began to go up and up. (The next two lines should be read in cranky old man voice.) Why in my day, a kid could buy five comic books for a dollar! Now they’re lucky if they can get one for five dollars!
So, I didn’t stick with the “get those variants” practice. It was just too expensive. I soon lost interest in collecting the new comic books and, sometime in the early 2000s, I stopped buying them.
For the better part of the last two years, I have been working part time for Nostalgia Zone, an excellent comic shop in Minneapolis. Nostalgia Zone made the decision not to be a dealer of new comic books, instead we deal in back issues. You can get the newer books, but not as they are issued and we’re limited to what we can pick up through shows or customers selling to us.
My main job is to enter inventory into our online catalogue. I enjoy the work, especially when entering Marvel silver and bronze age issues. There are plenty modern age books that I enter along the way, and I discovered something about variant covers:
I hate them.
Oh, sure, there are plenty of excellent illustrations. And I’m all for artists getting work. (Hint, hint: dimland.com) But, when you are entering information for a comic book and you have to search and search to figure out which cover it is, it gets frustrating and time-consuming.
The other day, while entering some newer comic books, I came across Archie Comics’ Afterlife With Archie. I’m told it’s an excellent series. Well, that’s cool, but it didn’t help me when Comics.org listed 71 different covers for issue number one. SEVENTY-FREAKING-ONE! (Comics.org doesn’t even have all the covers scanned yet!)
But hold on there, Sparky! Marvel’s Star Wars series from 2015, for its first issue comics.org lists 77 covers! SEVENTY-FLIPPING-SEVEN!
Oh, for the love of Mike.
Check those bargain bins, kids. There’s bound to be dozens of the regular cover editions. For cheap!
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