Subject 8.1: Exclusive Variants Part 2


This is sort of a follow-up to my  store exclusives article from over the summer.

So I’m sure you’ve all noticed this new trend of pre-sales on store exclusive variants. Pre-sales starting before the cover artwork is shown. It's a dangerous gamble for collectors in many cases. Some are going to be safe bets. Like honestly, when's the last time Dell’Otto really did a bad cover? Sure some may not be as spectacular as others, but Dell’Otto’s pretty much going to be a safe bet on these blind pre-orders… Maybe JSC, Hughes, Artgerm. Not all of them are going to hit. There's going to be risk.venom_01

Now some of you may be wondering “why” this trend is starting. There’s a few things happening here and I don’t really want to pull back the curtain too much. The reason these are blind pre-orders is partially because Marvel isn’t allowing the stores to show any of the preliminary art or sketches. The stores have to start taking pre-orders on these books as soon as possible.

Let's face it. Have you ever tried to sell 3,000 copies of a book? Probably not. It’s no small task even today with the internet… Especially with so many different variants competing for your attention.

smryv_variants_01From an investment standpoint it’s important to also keep in mind that in some cases you’re tying up money 2-3 months in advance before you even have the book in hand, much less seen the cover. Depending on your financial state, is that something you can afford to do? Sure if it sells out you could pre-sell your copies. As discussed before on the podcast, pre-selling something you don’t have “in hand” is unwise.

There’s definitely pros and cons to this new trend. It’s going to be a gamble for the fan/collector when having to buy blind. Both the Dell’Otto Venom’s have sold out in an hour. Waiting is also a gamble since once the image is released they could disappear in seconds, or not at all.jlvsss_001

Some of these blind variants have finally been revealed. The Venom's, Doctor Aphra and now the Justice League vs Suicide Squad #1's have started popping up.

Like most variants, some are cool, some overpriced and some probably would have been better saved for a later issue. Just look at all the store variants out there collecting dust. That's right, looking at you Secret Wars 2015. Some of the Venom #1's and JL vs SS #1's will be too. Which brings me to this thought…

There is no way on earth anyone will ever convince me that the world needed 500K copies of Harley Quinn #1 or DK3 #1 printed with 20 odd covers!

Or that there will ever be 500K comic readers to buy them all. It's just not happening… Marvel and DC should NEVER allow 500K copies of any single issue of a book to be produced in a single print run. At least not until we have more than half of that buying and reading comics every week.


If I sell 3,000 copies of Harley Quinn #1 at $20 a book, my problems are over!

Do you sell 3,000 copies of Harley Quinn regular covers? No?! So let me get this straight, you can't move more than 25 of something at $4 but you're going to magically move 3K of a book at $20 because it has a special cover? Not to mention at the same time 20 other stores are trying to do the exact same thing? Yeah, you totally deserve to eat that mistake.

I have no sympathy for a shop that goes under because of DKIII #1 or Harley Quinn #1 variants they thought they could bank on. To be honest, the market will be stronger without them…


Which brings me to the “Glut”. Marvel and DC don’t care how many copies of a book are out there. That’s why DC was happy to sell an exclusive variant to any store who wanted to do a Harley or DKIII. Was it wise, HELL NO! They would have been way better off trying to get people to do a later issue. Like issue #3 or #4. They would have been far better off setting a cut off and retailers would have done better with a future issue and less competition. It would have provided a 3rd cover option. It's a lot easier to move 4,500 copies of something when you're the only “exclusive” variant for that issue.

As someone said on the Google + page, “When everything is special, nothing is” sadly that's true.

Harley Quinn Issue #4 sold only 73,678 copies, roughly. Pretty steep drop from the issue #1 with roughly 500K. Granted issue 4's typically have a lower print run. Now imagine if Harley's #1 500K print run was spread out. Would have worked better for everyone in my opinion. DC got a huge price break on printing that number #1 but would it have been better than selling 100K or 200K copies of each of the later issues over the next 6 months?

champions_variants_01I’m not trying to throw salt in anyone's variant game here… But something's gotta give and folks need to wake up. When Marvel calls up everyone and their brother who has ever done a store exclusive, asking them to do a Champions #1 exclusive, there's something seriously wrong. The world doesn't need 329K copies of this book. If you need proof, check how many copies your LCS still has on the rack today. Half that number of copies would still have been overkill.


When I compare today to the 90's this is what I'm talking about…

A market flooded with books nobody wants and buyers leaving in mass.

That's the end result of the 90's crash. It doesn't matter if it's regular covers back then or variant covers today. When the market becomes flooded, people take their money elsewhere. The result is the same…

People not spending money on comics!

Which to some people isn’t an issue. However for the people who got stuck with them, paid double for what these books end up being worth…that’s going to sour people real quick. They will take their money and spend it on something else. Fewer people playing the game makes it harder to move books. A smaller pool of buyers equals less money, that hurts everyone long-term.


Is this new variant trend good or bad?

I don’t know that this is a good or bad question. It's more of a retailers and publishers needing to collectively smarten the hell up quick type situation. If they do, then it's good. If they blindly stumble down the path of shortsighted greed they are currently on… I think it's obviously bad.

One of the things that sunk the ship in the 90's was this equation. “If I sell out of Valiant books every month when I order 20 copies of each, if I order 200 copies of each it will solve all my problems.”

Pretty stupid logic, but there was a point in the 90's when that equation was very real and shops would do exactly that… Then wonder why they went out of business.

That's the same logic a single shop ordering 3,000 copies or more of an exclusive variant is using… Regardless of whatever rationality they've conned themselves into believing.

Shops with multiple locations should be able to swing it, shops working together as a group definitely can. However a single shop using eBay ain't going to cut it when everyone's doing it… Unless that cover was done by JS Campbell, Adam Hughes or Dell'Otto, Artgerm. You're fooling yourself getting a cover by “some random artist name on the approved list” and thinking you're selling out at $20 each, unless that cover is just the greatest thing since sliced bread. You're better off playing the lottery.spider-gwen_variants_01

I said this over the summer in my article on store variants but I think it bears repeating.

Retailers need to start working together and not have upteen variants for issue #1's all at once. Spread it out and work together. One guy does issue one, another guy does issue 2, rinse and repeat. Some shops and online sellers are working together (you know who you are) and I think it's going to work out really well for them… And everyone long term. There's enough money in the market for everyone if some people would stop being so short sighted.

Till next week… Really, I'll be back next week.


  • Avatar

    Great article as usual, thanks man.

    I do think greed is at the centre of this problem, but also a big “what if I miss the boat?” mentality. I didn’t get hold of any Dell’otto Venom #1 Frankie’s Comics Secret Variant set, they have pre-sold for around £300 on ebay UK and the only one up for sale at the moment is BIN at £375. So yeah I am kicking myself for not getting at least one, but I have the Ghostrider secret set coming, so some comfort there, although I don’t think it will hit the Venom levels. And I think that’s what some retailers think, they panic, don’t want to miss the boat (again) and then make stupid decisions. So yeah they probably deserve what they get, but it’s sad that things are coming to this (apparently.)

    And DC and Marvel really don’t give a sh*t about the state of the comic industry as a whole, they are now both minor divisions of major corporations, they undoubtedly make more money off their movie and TV shows, the actual comics are almost an irrelevancy to them, (IMHO.)

    • Skot Whitman

      DC and Marvel need to start giving a shit, if self preservation is an instinct the executives possess.

      Your correct, greed is the root of the problem.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      • Avatar

        This point I agree with. I feel like there is a growing sentiment with people starting to see the cracks in Marvel and DC. We’re starting to tire of the cyclical nature of their publishing plan and the recycling and gender swapping of their characters and them calling it ‘new’. The poor story telling, and the inorganic diversity for diversity’s sake. Neither Marvel nor DC seem to be pushing the medium forward, and I absolutely agree that it’s because they don’t care about the comics anymore. Comics used to inform movies, and not the other way around. So I think they now view them as just advertisements for the movies. And this influx of variant covers we’re talking about are just serving as billboards of the comic book world.

        • Skot Whitman

          I think you hit the nail on the head. That pretty much how I see it also. They don’t care anymore that’s why books now are considered profitable enough to print at 25k copies a month. With a $4 price tag. Why bother to improve the actual product when you can just give it a different wrapper and call it limited.

  • Avatar

    Excellent work. I do not really think things are gonna change until people start speaking with their wallet. If you can make $20 a pop you don’t need to sell out to make money. I think that is the heart of the problem. Until people decide $20 off the shelf for a comic off the shelf is too much them retailers are gonna continue to jump at the chance to do these variants.

    • Skot Whitman

      Your exactly right. If they sell enough at $20 they can blow out the remainder at $5.00 or $2.50 when they get tired of tripping over them and it doesn’t matter. Midtown does that. They start at $10 -$12 and if they haven’t sold out in a year or two you can grab them at $2.50 on clearance. Like ASMv3#2 JSC covers a couple months back as an example.

      People do need to start voting with their wallets. I think most of these HQ#1, DK3 #1, Venom #1 and JLvsSS#1 store variants are going to be worthless come the first of the year. Because there will be something else people are chasing and don’t care anymore.

      There’s also the another problem for stores who do exclusives. Do you want to sell out at $10 and then watch people put them on eBay at $50 or $100? That what was happening. So naturally you want to get some of that money if you’re a store, I would.

      That’s why pre-sales in waves can work out well too. Sell 1k copies at a reasonable price. sell out. Start a second wave at an increased price and sell out of that. Then a 3rd wave at whatever current e-bay pricing is. Or something along those lines. Some retailers are doing that and it seems like a good middle ground to me.

  • Keith S.

    very good points and analogies. The only problem I see about spreading out the variants to issues 2,3,4, etc. is that retailers all know that issue #1 is what sells, and they will have a harder time selling variants to the following issues. That’s why marvel reboots every 2 weeks and sells the issues #1.

    • Skot Whitman

      Your right, Marvel reboots every other month because they believe that a moderate (25k -35k copies roughly) bump is worth restarting the series. Only to have it drop right back to at or below the numbers of the previous volume. Problem with that is both retailers and collectors are getting wise. Secret Wars 2015 was a real eye opener for people paying attention. Many books did worst after the rebooting, selling less copies of the new number 1 than the previous volumes issue 3.

      Later issue variants can do well if there isn’t a flood of them. Spider-Gwen volume 1’s later store variants did well in the secondary market. Depending on the initial buy in price and during the months leading up to volume 2 anyways. This was in part because only two stores had later issues variants and there was no ratio variants after issue #3. That’s an example of it working. A store exclusive can work on later issues with little or no competition just for being a variant.

      • Keith S.

        I guess, but it just seems more risky from the stores perspective, especially since its been ingrained in them that #1 issues sell well, and that the further you get away from it the volume drops off.

        Good job though, I have been seeing an over saturation of store variants ever since Star wars, and it’s only going to get worse until we vote with our wallets and these stores start to lose money off these.

  • Avatar

    I agree with most your points! Good article!

  • Avatar

    Skot I agree with you 100% & as a relatively new collector, reader, Amateur speculator (started 5 yrs ago) it really sucks. Thank you for writing this – someone needed to address it! I have stopped giving my money to Marvel & DC –

    • Skot Whitman

      I give Marvel a lot less of my money than I used to. DC is doing a lot of things I like for the most part. I like that there is an A and B cover for most of their $2.99 books. It’s cover price and not a ratio which I think is very cool. I like that $2.99 cover price at Dc as opposed to the $3.99 price on Marvel books. I can count on 1 hand with fingers left to spare the number of Marvel books I feel were worth the $3.99 cover price.

  • Avatar

    Really well written. As a buyer and seller its really hard not to pull the trigger on that up and coming variant. Do you want to be the guy who didnt buy that variant for whatever the store cost was and miss your chance to flip it for double or triple the original cost? I have been burned more times than Ive made a profit but its got to pay off eventually… Right?

    • Skot Whitman

      That’s just it, it might. It might not. It might take 20 years to pay out or not at all.

      I’m finding it harder TO pull the trigger on this stuff. Mostly because I know how few and far between those Pink Harley’s, Virgin Venom’s and Turner Batman first prints are. It’s lighting in a bottle. Not everything’s going to be a hit. Which is all fine since it’s a gamble.

      The part that’s not ok is there’s no restraint or thought to how this all affects the market long term.

  • gooniecomics

    Somebody needed to say it. I keep buying into these things hoping to catch that next Harley pink I missed and I’m losing money left and right. I’ve got a really cool PC going, but I was hoping to make a little cash. It’s hard not to pull the trigger though, especially when you’ve got great Dell’Otto, Dodsen, Brooks, JSC, etc. books coming out. But I think it’s time to stop. Invest in the smaller companies and books that might actually run for 100 issues. Seems easier said than done for me though

    • Skot Whitman

      I just buy what I like for the PC. I flip extra copies of what I like that I think other people will buy. Which doesn’t always work out so well.

      I don’t know that indy publishers are the best alternatives. I prefer to invest my money in older books that haven’t hit yet. Things people will want when movie casting news breaks or trailers are released. Buying 10 copies of something old is way more fun than dropping money on one store variants.

  • Avatar

    Great Article Brother

  • DrunkWooky

    After Aspen’s Harley Quinn debacle, I just threw in the towel. I buy one copy of each book I am actually reading at cover price from my LCS now. If they get a 1:100 and somebody hasn’t already requested it, I’ll buy it (at cover believe it or not), but the market is saturated with store exclusives. This happened in the last two years. I know because I have only rejoined the collecting market in that time. When I came back to comic stores there were a few: Phantom, Midtown, Dynamic Forces. Now it’s “Jim-Bob’s Comics in BumrushNowhere, Illinois’s exclusive Squadron Supreme #1 art by Jim-Bob’s cousin!”

    • Skot Whitman

      I think the Aspen fiasco is what brought attention to the 1000 super limited stuff and cause the shift. I buy the cover I like if they are not too pricy for the pc, i don’t mind 5 bucks if I really like the variant that much better. The best is when the regular cover is cooler than the variants.

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