Sunday, October 20, 2013

A Modest Proposal--No More Variant Covers

A few days ago, after noting an amazingly huge number of variant covers in someone's solicitations, I tweeted this:
Well, some of you probably thought I was just being my cantankerous old self, hating on variant covers just because I don't like them personally.

Au contraire, my friends. I'm a live and let live kind of guy, and if it were just a matter of taste, I really wouldn't care whether these covers existed or not.

But I seriously believe that the overabundance of these "bonus" covers is hurting the industry, especially the smaller players. Allow me to explain.

I went through the January 2014 solicitations DC, Marvel, Valiant, Boom, Dark Horse, IDW, and Image. Dynamite hasn't released their January solicits yet, so I used December 2013. I counted only original "floppies"--no trades or reprints (most of which don't have alternate covers, anyway).

More caveats: These are just "back of the envelope" calculations (and yes, I did literally use the back of an envelope). I may have missed some, and I certainly may have accidentally double-counted some. Some companies are not as clear about how many cover there are (I'm looking at you, Boom!). Plans will change, some covers will be cancelled, some will be added.

But I made a good faith effort to honestly count each "bonus," "incentive," "chase," "sketch," "extra," "subscriber incentive," and every other kind of extra cover for January (or December in Dynamite's case). And I'm at least in the ballpark.

The results?

Dark Horse has only 2 variant covers (Bravo!). Image has only 8, which is kind of slow for them--this month they had 9 extra just for Walking Dead.Valiant has only 13...but the flip side is that every single one of their titles has variants. Boom! has 18.

Dynamite has 29 variant covers for their titles. IDW has 47.

DC has 42 variant covers solicited.

And Marvel? Marvel has 76 variant covers solicited for January. Seventy-six. Not 76 covers--76 EXTRA covers. Hell, Miracleman #1 alone has 7 variant covers. SEVEN!! (Marvel also has several "Variant by TBD"--uh, isn't the point of a solicitation to tell us what you're selling, so the stores can order it? How the hell is anyone supposed to order extra product based on "To Be Determined?")

Add it all together, and that's 235 variant covers hitting store shelves that month. 235.

Regarding my tweet above, wouldn't we rather all of those artists drew actual comic books rather than pointless incentive covers? 235 pages is what, eleven or twelve comics? And yes, I know, drawing one cover is not necessarily the same as drawing one page full of detailed panels. Still, the general point remains. Skottie Young, for example, is drawing at least 5 variant covers for Marvel in January. Is there anybody who would really rather have that than a 4 or five page story drawn by Young? And several artists who don't seem to have the time or wherewithal to meet monthly deadlines do seem to have time to churn out variant covers. It just seems a terrible way to allocate artistic resources.

But the most important point I think is this: Dollars and shelf space. 235 variants. Stores will need to order multiple copies of those, and for some of those they'll need to order dozens, or hundreds, of extra copies of the regular cover version in order to get the variants.

And having to buy all of those extra comics--just because of variants--means that your LCS has to spend gosh knows how many hundreds or thousands of extra dollars each month for comic titles we were already going to buy anyway! That's money they could be using to buy and promote other worthy books. If your comics shoppe doesn't order enough of some book you're looking for, part of the reason is that they have to tie up large amounts of their limited funds each month to buy ridiculous amounts of "bonus" covers that nobody really needs. They have to buy sketch variant or ridiculous "blank" covers, so they have to skimp on smaller titles. How many times have you gotten to your LCS and found them sold out of something because they only ordered one or two copies, yet they had tons of extra copies of Miracleman or Forever Evil laying around, because they had to order them to get the rare 1:100 drawn-by-someone-who-has-nothing-to-do-with-the-damned-comic variant?

If not for the overwhelming glut of variants, comic stores would have more funds available to buy more copies of comics that deserve your attention--both from smaller publishers and smaller-selling titles form the larger ones. More shelf space could be given to those comics, too. Comic stores would be able to take risks and spread their dollars around to more titles. That would be a good thing, right?

It will never happen. The strategy is too entrenched, the opportunity to artificially increase sales and market share too tempting--even if it does seem to be inevitably pushing things towards a 1990s-style collapse, because there's no sign it will end at 235.

Still, a Monstrobot can dream...


SpaceBooger said...

I find it funny that the incentive covers and such ruined the industry in the 90's and we joke about it... you would have to think that those in charge of the companies wouldn't find it so funny.

Mr. Whiskas said...

Well said!

Gummboote said...

No argument here. Variant covers always have been and always will be a waste of time.

Kathryn Crenshaw said...

Bravo. this didn't really work in the 90's and I don't see why it's revived now. Every now and again a variant cover is fun, but this is just sillyness at this point. I would never buy more than one of the same comic just for different covers, especially as so often- the variant covers are the ONLY thing extra in the trade.

Dan said...

Variant covers are ultimately worthless. I haven't forgotten the 90s!