Friday, June 5, 2009

Variants, who needs them?

I see over at Newsarama they interviewed a few retailers about variant covers. I thought I would weigh in, since I too am a retailer with opinions about just about everything in the industry. The images I have at the top of this post are examples of some recent variant covers. (I have NO idea why Blogger/Blogspot didn't put all three pics in a row. I tried, but I gave up trying to get it to do what I wanted). Are they cool? Sure, variants USUALLY look pretty cool. Are they necessary? Hell no! These things give me a headache every frickin month when I place my Previews order. As a rule, I don't normally mark up variants when they first ship. I will usually hold them for whoever asks for them. As long as you a subscriber in good standing, you have a chance to get the variant of your dreams. Your chances can increase if you bring me chocolate or cookies. (I had to come up with some way to decide who gets these things!) If you are greedy and ask me for every variant, you won't get them all, not even by a long shot. If you occasionally ask me for the ones you REALLY want, I much more likely to be able to help you out. I try to spread variants out to as many people as possible. Also, if you come in and want ONLY variants and nothing else, that's not going to happen because I like to spread them out as far as possible. It is sort of like when ASM Obama stuff shipped, I was limiting people to one of each of the first prints (the one with Spidey and MJ on the cover) to one per person. This way the largest number of people that were looking to get a copy where made happy. If I sell ALL of said book to ONE person, only one person is happy, and then we end up with MANY disgruntled customers. That is a bad thing when you are retailer. I am of the opinion, that variants are a fun little ADDITION to someone's collection. Your entire collection should not be made up entirely of variants, because I hate to the be the bearer of bad news, but your collection will most likely go DOWN in price, not up. Why is that? Because variants are what is HOT at the moment, not what will be hot in the long term. So, as we always say at the shop, buy what you want to READ, not what you think will be worth money. Because if you are investing in current issues of comics to pay for your child's education, you will be in trouble down the road. Want to invest in comics? Ok, buy some high grade Silver Age or early Bronze Age, key appearances, etc. Buy the first appearance of the Punisher in high grade, and you are almost guaranteed to see your investment go up in value. Of course, as with any collectible, an item is worth exactly what someone is willing to pay you for it. So, if some price guide somewhere says it's worth "one million dollars" you may not be able to find a buyer at that price, maybe the highest you can get is "1/2 million dollars". Whatever the case is, value is all relative in the eyes of the buyer. Ebay works sometimes if you are trying to sell something for "perceived" value, but watch out, sometimes no one bids on it and then you end up selling it for a tiny fraction of what you thought it was worth. I'm sure everyone knows the pitfalls of selling on ebay. I won't go into the ins and outs of that because I could spend many paragraphs discussing that, and who the hell cares? Back to variants and how much I really dislike them. Marvel and DC make a lot of variants and to get said variants I have to order "X" of a particular title to "qualify" to order said variant. 9 out 10 times if I have to up my order by 2 or 3 copies, I MAY consider it,but if I have to up my order by a ton, by 10 or 20 or more, it's just not going to happen. Especially since I don't normally mark up a variant. Each of our stores works the variant thing a little different. So if you are looking for a particular variant,your best bet on getting said variant is to ask for it BEFORE it ships, and again I don't mean the day before it ships, but when you first hear about it. Now, it is very possible that even if you think are telling us when you first heard about it, the copies we will be getting are already spoken for, it happens. If you ever REALLY want a particular variant, the hands down, absolute BEST way to insure you get it is to pre-order however many copies we as retailers have to order to qualify for said variant. For example, if you wanted the super rare variant for Batman and Robin (not the one pictured above) but the OTHER one, we had to order 250 copies of the regular Batman and Robin #1. You REALLY want the level 250 variant that is the ONLY way to insure you get it. Really. I'm not going to order an extra 100 or 50 just to get that one variant. So if you want to buy 250 copies, then yes you will get it, without it, expect to pay a boatload. IF I wanted to order the extra copies of Batman and Robin to qualify I then would have to jack up the price up on the variant to make up for the unsold copies of Batman and Robin #1 that I will have lying around. When a variant is a 50/50 split, then you can easily find the version of the cover you want, in case that isn't totally obvious. Many customers aren't aware of the various hoops that the retailer has to jump through to get a particular variant. They just see the picture in Previews with the blurb "ask your retailer how YOU can get this variant". I would love to see variants go away all together with a few KEY variants throughout the year. Such as a variant on "Batman and Robin" #1 makes sense. Anytime there is a new number one, it make sense, unless it is a throw-away mini that no one will read or few will read. I would like to see variants on BIG new ongoing titles and #1's of big EVENT mini-series. Such as "Final Crisis" and "Secret Invasion". Variants on those two make sense,but only for the first issue. Odds are good they are going to go to a second or third print on those type of books, so a variant cover then makes sense, but from a publishing point of view, it doesn't make sense to commission new art for a book that is a second print that may sell 1/4 of the original issue or 1/2 of the original issue. When they go back to press on those kind of books it makes sense for a color variant or a sketch cover variant, then the publisher isn't paying for extra art. And some books have variants if you order "x" amount and they do that for EVERY issue of said series, such as most of, but not all of the IDW licensed books, like Star Trek, GI Joe, and Dr. Who. I would rather see variants on number 1's only, IMO. Sometimes it feels like 1992-1993 ALL OVER again. The only thing that we are really missing are the "foil" covers or "holofoil" covers or "diecut". Again, for a SPECIAL event, and I mean like maybe one of these a year, sure go ahead do something crazy and fun, but not all the time. If it's the norm, it loses its charm, and what good does any of it do in the long run? It's not like variants create new readers. If it did, I would be all for it, all retailers would be, but all it really does is bring out the completest in some folks. Some folks just HAVE to have ALL of the covers, they just can't help themselves, lol. Let's face it, many of us fans have OCD to some extent, you have to to be a "collector." I know I've got it. Only the folks out there that don't feel the need to have EVERY issue of the titles they read, they don't have OCD, but the rest of us do, there is no denying it. Sorry folks. I think it would be GREAT if all publishers banned variants altogether, but I know it won't happen, because it DOES work to a certain extent from the publisher's point of view, but if we could just see it LESS often, I would be happy. First and foremost I want people to READ the comics they buy, not just hoard them, gloating over what they managed to snag that their buddy didn't, or the folks that do everything in their power to get as many variants as possible, at the best price possible, these folks do NOT want to pay more than cover price because they turn around and sell that stuff on ebay to OTHER folks that think the variants will be worth a mint in coming years. Ebayers of variants are the absolute worse. You know the guys I'm talking about, the ones that only buy variants in quantity so they can scam someone out of their hard earned dollar, either on ebay or at a con, whatever. If you really like a particular artist and want a variant they did, that makes sense, I can understand or even rationalize that, but buying them just because they are a variant makes less sense IMO. Also, most of the times, I don't even understand how some of the publishers come up with the various plateaus, Marvel is the worst. They are always pulling some crap or other about "if you meet or exceed your order of say x with y you will quality to order as many copies of variant z." It becomes a confusing mess, which is why many retailers missed out on the Obama first print variant of ASM. Many times Marvel doesn't actually give concrete examples of whatever their equation is to get a certain variant, which means retailers THINK they will be getting x copies of said fancy variant but it turns out teh retailer was WRONG and nobody bothered to tell them that the order they have in the system for a particular variant will be zeroed out on the day the item is suppose to ship. I tell you, the fun never ends when it comes to understanding Marvel's latest bullshit. I don't mean to pick on Marvel so much, it's just that the variant equations that they come up with get old real fast. Half the times I don't even bother trying to figure out what they are talking about, because it always comes down to "just order more of x title" and you will get "rewarded" with variants. Diamond has tried to crack down on variant shenanigans from publishers, which is great, but it appears that the big two, Marvel and DC, are immune from these new rules.

WOW, can you tell that this stuff drives me NUTS? I'm done talking variants for now, until the next time Marvel pulls some crap that, or maybe it will be a different publisher that gives me the headache. Anything is possible!


  1. 9 time out of 10 I could care less about the variants. If I notice I have a choice I pick the one I like most or more often than not I just buy the one my friendly neighborhood retailer has pulled for me. I don't care how rare the cover is and I'm only going to read it once so why should I buy it more than once?

    Once in a while however, I do find a variant done by an artist that I especially like and I'll make an effort to obtain those issues instead of the standard cover. What really gets me is when the company decides to use a painted cover (usually a bad one) as the standard cover and the rare variant is the cover done by the artist that has actually done the interior art. As far as I'm concerned the cover should be the one that was done by the interior artist (assuming that artist has done one) and the variant should be the painted cover. Then we fans of that artist have to do back flips to get the cover that should have rightfully been on the book. I empathize with the poor retailers trying too fill the demand for these things.

    Personally I would vote for no variants at all or very few, it's more of an irritation than a fun collectible. As a long term collector I think the comics value should be determined only by the quality of the art and writing inside and not by the rarity of it's cover. I stopped buying price guides years ago because I don't read comics for their collectors value but rather for enjoyment.

  2. Hmmm... I had always wondered how Amazing Fantasy handled variants, but had never bothered to ask because I personally am not interested in them. The first come, first serve system doesn't seem so bad. I seem to recall reading an article at some point where a comic shop proprietor said he handled the ultra-rare variants by holding a drawing amongst the subscribers to that title, which seemed to be a fairly innovative and fun way to do it as well.

  3. With variants, it really depends on the cover art and how I respond to it. With the Street Fighter books, for example, I like having all the covers that go for cover price (don't want to pay more than that) because I am a long time Street Fighter fan and really enjoy all the different montages that the artists put the characters in. That is not the main reason they sell the books with alternate covers, I know, but that is the enjoyment I get out of it.

    With something like Street Fighter, where the game's chacter designers are constantly releasing art pieces of the characters in unusual and clever situations, it almost becomes a form of art appreciation separate from the source material from which it's derived. By extension, the variant covers of the SF comics are, for me, touching that same part of me that likes perusing/purchasing all those Street Fighter art books.

    But with most comic books, it's not like we're getting anything quirky or unusual out of the variants. For all of the wonderful cover variants of the current issue of Red Sonja, it's still the same basic premise: Red Sojna beheading/stabbing/chopping/gutting/bashing someone or something to death. The same could be said of Thor, Cap, Spidey or all the rest: they're just different picteresque images of them engaged in the same basic activities we have long since associated with them.

    By way of contrast, and also to offer a bit of context as to why I feel some variants are acceptable while others aren't, one cover of Chun Li might have her in her traditional Chinese acrobat costume in a battle stance. Another cover of Chun Li might showcase her walking out of a department store dressed in every day clothes and struggling with carrying seven bags of bought swag.

    There's a different side of the character we're seeing with this piece and this single piece of art creates a scenario all by itself. It's not just Cable holding a gun or Superman flying through the air with doves all around him. The imagination wanders and I start to think about what kind of day Chun Li was having. The cover becomes its own story because I'm seeing the character in a different light than I'm accustomed to.

    This creates an extra sense of appreciaton in me, as the consumer choosing what to spend his money on, and I have no problem buying a variant cover because I'm getting something that I can truly enjoy.

    But you know, I'd happily accept the banning of ALL variant covers, even the few I like, as I think it would just be healthier for the art form of comic books as a whole.

    Who knows, maybe that would force Marvel and DC to release art books similar to the ones Capcom releases for Street Fighter. It's not like they wouldn't be able to cash in on such a concept.