Tag Archives: Marvel Comics

Variants! Variants! Variants! Variants! Variants! Variants! Variants! Variants! Variants! Variants! Variants! Variants! Variants! Variants! Variants!

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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!

Packing Peanuts!

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Gil Kane Strikes Again

For the third time, Gil Kane makes an appearance in my monthly look at great comic book covers series. And how could he not? Mr Kane was one of the greatest comic book illustrators of all time and his covers were consistently fantastic. And this month’s installment is just another example of why he was the master of the comic book cover.

In 1971, beginning with the cover date of November, Marvel Comics decided to change the layout of their covers. Instead of an illustration framed by the edge of the book itself, it was decided to draw a box or a frame on the cover in which the illustration would be placed. It was an experiment that lasted a little over a year. From what I can find, the art-in-a-box cover design went for, at least, a 14 issue run, but some titles went longer.

I didn’t find any reason given for why Marvel’s editors decided to try this experiment. I’m just speculating here, but I think was to be able to break the frame and make the art pop off the page. After all, you can’t break the frame if it is the edge of the comic. Although not all did, most of the covers that I looked at took advantage of this design element.

And, boy! Does this month’s cover break the frame!

It’s the March 1972 issue of Creatures On The Loose (#16). Take a look:

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Isn’t that awesome?

Not only does the cover benefit from Kane’s drawing mastery, but his design takes full advantage of breaking the frame. However, he is doing more than just giving the illusion of three dimensionality, as in the case of Gulliver Jones’ arm and the handle of the bad guy’s spear at the top of the frame. His blue baddie at the bottom of the page elevates this cover to a masterpiece by expanding the scene to what is going on off of the page itself. The viewer has become immersed in the scene.

Kane does this by using the look over the shoulder pose and the appearance of the blue baddie giving a battle cry. This gives the indication that there may be a whole horde of baddies charging in to do battle with our hero. Just maybe not all blue.

It is so awe-inspiring when I see an artist do such great story-telling with simple placement, pose, and the direction of a character’s eyes.

Absolutely brilliant. Gil Kane scores again.

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Here’s this month’s great cover…

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Look at that! Isn’t it wonderful?

This month’s great cover in comic book history comes from the September 1991 issue of Marvel Comics Presents (#84) featuring one of Marvel Comics’ premiere superheroes: Wolverine. The artist behind this masterpiece is Barry Windsor-Smith. He did everything on it – pencils, inks, and color.

Windsor-Smith started working for Marvel in the late 60s, because Stan Lee liked his Jack Kirby-like way of drawing. But, Windsor-Smith soon began to develop his own signature style. Like most comic book artists, he improved greatly upon his early efforts the more he worked. Unlike some comic book artists, he just kept getting better and better and better. Some of the great artists would reach a plateau and then their work began to slip. Not Windsor-Smith. At least not yet. This month’s cover was done more than twenty years after he started in the industry.

We see a blood-spattered Wolverine with his claws partially retracted. He looks peaceful, yet terribly weary. He seems to be, not just exhausted from the completion of a pitched battle, but totally done in by a lifetime of pitched battles. Has he had enough?

What also strikes me about this cover is its sophistication. This isn’t a typical cover of a super-hero heroically battling some super-villain or coming to the rescue of some citizen in imminent peril. This cover is deep with nuance and complexity. This ain’t just some kid’s throw away when finished reading super-hero fantasy. This is art.

I should note I hadn’t seen this comic book when it came out in 1991. I wasn’t buying this title then. I didn’t know this cover existed. In fact, I spotted it for the first time fairly recently when putting away inventory at Nostalgia Zone’s warehouse and I was quite impressed. I made note to include this cover in my great covers series.

And I was in for another surprise! When I searched for an image of the cover today, I discovered the artwork was a wraparound piece. When I spotted that I was even more stunned by the beauty Barry Windsor-Smith had wrought.

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This was the cover I was expecting to find. It’s still a powerful masterpiece.

Bravo, sir!

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This Month’s Great Cover: Fantastic Four 143

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Just look at it. What more could you want from a comic book cover?

You know, one thing I like about this first blog of the month for Warehouse Find is: I don’t really have to write much. The first week of each month I feature what I think is a greatĀ  (or, at least, important) cover from the world of comic books. All that pretty much needs to be done is post the image and say, “Ain’t it great?!”

Well, I’ll give you a little more than that. This month’s cover is the third Fantastic Four cover to be featured. The first was the premier issue of that vitally important comic book. It wasn’t a particularly great cover, but it was a good one by the King, Jack Kirby, and it changed the tone of comic books forevermore. The second cover depicted a desperate Thing searching through fiery debris for the Human Torch as drawn by John Byrne. He’s the Human Torch, why worry about him being in fiery debris? It’s a head scratcher.

This month’s cover is also the second entry drawn by the great Gil Kane. As I noted when I wrote about that other cover by Mr Kane, it is clear why he did so many covers in those days. His work was awesome!

So, we’ve got the First Family of Marvel Comics (sans the Invisible Girl, she may have been on maternity leave or something, so the Inhuman Medusa was filling in for her) battling their arch foe Dr Doom. Dr Doom just might be the greatest comic book villain this side of The Joker and he’s giving the Human Torch quite a blast. The Ever Lovin’ Blue-eyed Thing has just broken his chains and declared it’s clobberin’ time. Sure, he doesn’t say it, but we know he’s saying it. Mr. Fantastic is doing his stretchy thing, while Medusa has that snazzy red hair. All right, that last thing was a tad uncalled for, but I do like red hair. Kane includes a bit of the futuristic machinery Doom always employed. And just what is the button he’s pushing going to do?

“Get set for the greatest battle issue ever!”

What’s not to love?!

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This month’s great cover…

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It’s time once again to write about another excellent comic book cover. This month we are looking at the cover of Sub-Mariner #6 (October 1968). It was drawn by the great John Buscema. I have written about Buscema and his work on The Avengers back in June, but I thought it was time to look at one of his covers. I think he, along with Gil Kane, Neal Adams, and Jim Steranko, was one of the Silver Age’s greatest comic book illustrators.

Beginning in 1968, Buscema was handling the covers as well as the interior art for the first few issues of one Marvel’s more complex characters: Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner. Namor had a love/hate kind of relationship with surface-dwellers. In his early appearances in the Fantastic Four stories, he could just as easily be the villain as the hero. He was complicated.

Of Buscema’s short run on this series there are other covers I could have gone with (and might in future), but I chose issue #6, because it is so dynamic. We find our hero in pitched battle with the villain Tiger Shark. We’re in close and we can see these combatants are evenly matched. The strain of their muscles is as obvious as the looks of determination on their faces. Each man feels he must triumph in a battle that looks to be to the death.

The cover doesn’t need the headline of Death to the Vanquished! The illustration alone tells us that. The use of color sweetens this fantastically dramatic image. As does the close-up view. It being a close-up is what had me pick this cover over the other Buscema Sub-Mariner cover creations.

Bravo! Mr. Buscema! Bravo!

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Another excellent cover…

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In this installment of my monthly look at comic book covers I really like, I’ll be looking at the cover of Fantastic Four #263 (Feb. 1984). The cover was illustrated by one of my favorite comic book artists: John Byrne. When he drew this cover, he had already been both drawing and writing a substantial run of the Fantastic Four series, starting with issue #232.

Bryne was given the task of revamping Marvel Comics‘ signature super-hero family: The Fantastic Four. Some of what he did was to bring the group more in line with their original look. He did away with the super-buff Mister Fantastic and made him thinner, less super-hero, more super scientist. He reworked the look of the Thing, he would even return our ever-lovin’ blue-eyed monster to the lumpy, Jack Kirby original version for a time. The groups’ uniforms no longer appeared painted on, there were folds and creases again as when Kirby designed them.

Byrne even explored the potential of the Invisible Girl. He had her go evil for a time, which seems to be his thing. He was involved with the Dark Phoenix of the X-Men series and her going evil. And he had the Scarlet Witch give into the temptation of evil during his writing and drawing stint on the Avengers. He must really like ELO’s Evil Woman.

Once he was done making the Invisible Girl far more powerful than she had been and put her through her evil phase, he rechristened her the Invisible Woman. Progress! Did I mention this was 1984?

This stint drawing the FF was not Bryne’s first go ’round. He had done the breakdown pencils and layouts for a while earlier. Joe Sinnott, the great inker from the Golden and Silver Ages of comics, but this was the Bronze Age and his inking seemed… meh, did the finished art for those issues. One could barely tell Byrne had anything to do with the art of those stories.

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Sinnott’s inks, not helping.

Be that as it may, when Byrne took over the FF writing and drawing, he churned out some intriguing and entertaining stories and some excellent art. I will say this wasn’t the height of his art, which he achieved on the X-Men with the help of inker Terry Austin, but still very good stuff.

This month’s cover (see above) is very dramatic. The Thing is desperately trying to find Johnny (the Human Torch) in some kind of inferno of debris. I’m not sureĀ  Johnny can be burned, he is the Human Torch, after all. Still, the Thing is determined to rescue his little “brother”.

The high contrast inking and color, using mostly orange and yellow with white highlighting, makes this cover feel very hot. And it makes Ben Grimm’s desperate search more desperate. I also like the dry brush inking (or maybe it’s charcoal) to create the texture of the burning debris and smoke.

It’s a terrific cover. Worthy of high praise. Which I just gave it.

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A favorite web-slinger cover…

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John Romita was one of Marvel Comics’ workhorses in the Silver Age (1956-1969) and into the Bronze Age of comic books (1970-1985). He illustrated a great many covers and stories. He was to Spider-Man as John Buscema was to Conan or Jack Kirby was to the Fantastic Four. He helped to create some of Marvel’s most recognizable characters, including Kingpin, Luke Cage/Power Man, Punisher, and Wolverine. I think Romita and John Buscema were, in a very big way, responsible for the overall look of Marvel Comics from the late 60s into the 70s.

In my opinion, the cover to The Amazing Spider-Man number 151 is one of Romita’s very best. The design is bold and intense. The intensity is a little shocking, because, in those days, Spider-Man had a more joking, light style to his crime-fighting. This cover shows that our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man could go very dark.

The rushing water, his pose, his clutching hands, and his statement that someone is going to die (I’m guessing it ain’t gonna be Spidey) all create the image of Marvel’s most recognizable character is about to go all badass. What? Surely, he wouldn’t let someone die, let alone actually kill them, would he?

Mmmm… There was that whole Gwen Stacy thing

It’s an outstanding cover by one of Marvel Comics’ most important artists.

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