The Comic Queen

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Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Queenly Declarations: An End to Variant Covers

Occasionaly, we “Comic Queens” get a little peeved at bits of news from the comics universe and become less than ladylike. Instead of being vengeful and pestilent rulers, we put our self-proclaimed titles to use and make a declaration. This is sure to benefit all of comic fandom, not just us, because we care about you, our royal subjects. We here at The Comic Queen have your needs in mind.

Flipping through the October issue of Previews, I noticed a disturbing new trend. Small publishers are putting out variant covers, where an issue is released with a number of different covers, at an alarming rate. While we are used to seeing this wasteful practice from the big guys, it is now catching on with the smaller publishing houses as well. This is not something that the Comic Queens approve of, so we therefore declare that variant covers will henceforth be banned.

The two instances in Previews – Unholy #1 and Army of Darkness: Shop ‘til you Drop (Dead) #1, that drove us to this declaration are both quite ridiculous. Unholy has five different cover choices: the regular one, one by a different artist, and the wrap-around are all regular price; a premium cover is $9.99, and the leather cover (Yes, actual leather!) is $24.99. Our insatiable lust for comics is getting out of hand and now, not only do we have to kill trees to get our beloved comics, but we also insist on taking out cows as well.

Army of Darkness also comes with five cover choices: the regular one and four others by guest artists. Thankfully all are regular price. To make the special variants more collectable, they are limited to small runs. For example the regular cover of the Army of Darkness book will appear on 50% of the issues released and the four special covers are to be split equally over the other 50%.

At a time when the comics industry is desperately trying to attract new and younger readers, there doesn’t need to be confusion in the form of variant covers on the racks. It is already hard enough for new readers to find a jumping on point without trying to figure out why a bunch of issues look different, but contain the same story. Even for longtime fans, variant covers sometimes feel like a ploy to get even more of our money. While I realize that there are hard-core collectors who don’t read the books they buy, in our ranks, there can’t be enough to warrant this extravagance.

What do companies hope to accomplish by selling variant covers? Of course, they make a quick buck, but what keeps that boom going on to the next issue? It certainly doesn’t add to the fan base, because the people who are buying the variants most likely aren’t even reading them. Variant covers are a guaranteed bust-inducing phenomenon. This is one part of the nineties that we won’t soon forget. Other than crowding the market, it just doesn’t make long-term business sense at all.

And if individual comic buyers think keeping track of variant covers is a pain, then comic shop owners must really be suffering. The small publishers are most likely not doing this, but Marvel, for instance, is infamous for its incentive variants. Incentive variants require shops to buy a certain number of several titles to get just one of the coveted variant covers. This forces shops that want to please their customers to often buy more than they want of certain titles, limiting the amount of money they have to take a chance on small-run titles.

Let’s not let the publishers get the best of us. This scheme doesn’t work in any other industry. No matter the wrapper on a candy bar, the treat inside tastes the same. This inside, what the wrapper protects and serves to attract snackers to the product, is what consumers are really buying. If anyone told me they spent $24.99 on a candy bar because it was individually numbered and sealed in a limited edition full color naugahyde wrapper, I would know they had lost their mind. Changing that analogy to comics doesn’t make much difference to me. It’s crazy to spend that much on a standard 32-page book because it’s sheathed in leather. It’s crazy to buy three copies of the same book, because the covers are different.

If the industry really wants to be accessible to all, like it professes to, then publishers will have to stop all the shenanigans and work on being a hobby that is easy to understand and quick to pick up. Comic collecting and reading needs to make good economic sense. Limiting or even banishing variant covers is a good start. Therefore, all publishers large and small let it be so.

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