Verily! Very Vivacious Variants! By Luke Simkins
I was only alive for 2 years in the 90’s, and I wasn’t super into comics at 2 years old. However, from what I have learned about 90’s comics, variants were all the rage! What are variants you ask? Variants are comic covers with different art on them than the main cover, or the cover that everyone usually gets. Sometimes variants are made out of a different material than the main cover. Sometimes variants play off of other variant covers from different series. Sometimes, in order to get the variant, comic shops have to order a certain number of the main cover to qualify ordering 1 copy of a variant. The main thing to know about variants is that the insides are all the same, it’s just the cover that’s different.
Personally, I really like variants. I like seeing the different art on different covers, and sometimes I really dislike the main covers. Overall, I think variant covers are a good idea if they’re done right. Right now, a lot of companies are not doing variants right. Back in the 90’s, every book had a variant cover. Before this, there were variants, but most of the time it was only a difference in say the price of the book, or maybe it had a barcode instead of a picture in the UPC box. But once the 90’s hit, you could buy 6 covers for one issue and they would all be different! One of the prime examples of this is X-Men #1. One of the largest print runs of any comic, mostly because of the many covers this book had. Because of the success of X-Men #1’s variants, other comics followed suit. Every book having 2-12 covers sounded like a great idea to publishers. They could make a bundle on being able to sell the same book multiple times. However, this and a slew of other factors, led to the comic crash of the 90’s and almost killed the entire industry.
Fast forward to now. Like I said, I like variant covers, but it’s getting ridiculous. I get a fair amount of books each week, and a majority of them are variants. Sometimes, I even get multiple variant covers for the same book! But as a retailer, variants have started to become a headache more than anything. Many companies (*coughcough*marvel*cough*dynamite) put waaaaay too many variants on books for no reason. And sometimes, even if there is a reason, they still put too many variants on a book! Like I keep saying, I like variants, and many club members at my location do too. I even have a few customers that get every variant for every issue of certain series. But even my die hard X-Men people are getting tired of too many covers.
Variety is usually a good thing, even in comics. If someone doesn’t like the main cover, they can always get the variant. If a retailer thinks the main cover is super ugly and doesn’t want it on their shelf, but still wants to carry the book in general, they can just order a variant to replace the number they would have ordered of the main cover. But here’s where the core problem with companies making too many variant covers starts to show. It seems like more and more, companies are soliciting covers without them being completed. This isn’t super uncommon, maybe the artist got delayed in making the piece, maybe there’s a spoiler on the cover the publisher wants to keep secret until the last minute. But these reasons seem to be low on the list of why we aren’t seeing covers of books before they come out. In my opinion, it seems like companies are setting up variants before they even figure out who is drawing the cover. It feels like they’re just trying to hit a quota, or like the in the 90’s, trying to sell the same book 12 times to maximize profits. Not showing retailers or customers the covers before they even come out makes it hard to order them, because retailers don’t want to play into something that will potentially loose them money and customers don’t want to blindly commit to buying something they can’t even see yet.
Now I don’t want this to turn into a full blown rant, so I’ll end with this. I still love variants. Yes there is a huge problem of oversaturation, lack of quality, and lack of consistency when it comes to variants, but that doesn’t mean that there still aren’t some fantastic covers out there. I guess the biggest takeaway from all of this is if you see a cover you like, buy it. If you know this cover is coming out, ask your local shop to preorder that cover for you. I know that all of the managers and employees of Graham Crackers will be happy to have solid numbers to put in for their orders instead of just blindly guessing what cover will sell the best. I’m still going to buy variants, and yeah, maybe I’ll even buy multiple variants of the same book if I like them enough. But I know that I won’t be ordering every variant blindly on the off chance someone wants it. Until the consistency of covers being quality and shown to customers and retailers before ordering occurs improves, I don’t see much getting better in the way of variants. But hey, that’s just my thoughts on it. To make myself feel better I’ve just put some of my favorite recent variants in between my probably too long paragraphs for everyone to enjoy.