Not Every Variant Needs a Virgin Cover!

Sorry, but it's true. I don't know about most people, but who wants to pay a premium for a cover that looks worst without the trade dressing it was designed for. Sooner or later, if shops insist on doing virgin covers, they better learn how to request different crops of the image. Let's start with some examples of covers that look pretty cool with and without Trade Dressing.

Astonishing X-Men #1 Mark Brooks Variant. I love this virgin cover, I won't lie. It even looks pretty slick with the trade dressing too… But ultimately I held onto the virgin.

Here's an example of another virgin and trade dressing.

All New Wolverine #19 Artgerm. This cover works well both ways… really wish they had just done a straight virgin color on this rather than the copic virgin. Still, not bad either way.

X-23 #1 Dell'otto variant vs X-men Red #1 Virgin Dell'otto. Ok STOP. Stop and read, before jumping to the bottom and commenting. I'm not saying which should be more valuable. I'm simply talking about whether or not it works better visually as a virgin cover or with trade dressing… Sorry, there's always one in every crowd, so just wanted to make that clear.

Both covers work well. There's nothing wrong with the trade dressing placement. The virgin version works really well, because of how the composition fills the cover area. I like this virgin version, however I completely understand why people are upset that it's a virgin version of a cover for a different book. The real question is why did it take so long for someone to decide to reprint this cover? I'm surprised someone didn't think of it sooner.

In the opening I mentioned getting a different “crop” if you want to do a virgin. This Metal 3 virgin Mattina cover is a great example of that. While it's not the only store exclusive variants to use a different crop. It really is a small number of virgin variants that have bothered with it. It exemplifies how in some cases a different crop can making it truly special and sought after cover.

Granted, the black and white version of the Metal 3 Mattina could have benefited from someone with even a remedial understanding of how levels or curves in photoshop work. That seems to be a recurring problem with black and white covers that do not start as lineart. They always print too dark.

Obviously, these examples are not the only ones out there. These were just the ones that sprung to mind. If you have a favorite virgin variant cover, shout them out in the comments below.

OK, now let's look at one that's probably… no definitely, didn't need to be a virgin cover… much less 3 virgin covers.

Spectacular Spider-Man #300 Adam Hughes variant. This is a nice cover with the trade dressing. It's a little different for Adam Hughes, a nice change of pace and was clearly designed to work with the trade dressing. The hard facts here is this image does not work without the dressing… UNLESS, you go out and get every relevant signature you can to fill up the top and bottom areas. Even then, it's a stretch. The trade dressing is the clear winner even though it's got a 3k print run.

With some images the negative space does works, it's not always going to look terrible without the trade dressing. Just like a black and white cover isn't always bad either. Every artist, every image, every character is different. Some artist are more adept at certain characters and compositions. I love Dell'otto's painted style, but typically it doesn't work as well on certain characters and almost never as a greyscale. There's some things that work and some that just don't.

For some odd reason, some virgin exclusives make comics feel more like a short sighted cryptocurrency pyramid scheme, as opposed to something with any longevity or stability. Not all crypto coin is a scam, just like not every virgin is worth buying at cover price, much less a premium.

Case in point, these Amazing Spider-man not red goblin 2nd prints. 3 of them at least wouldn't have looked bad as just lineart with the trade dressing, instead of these ridiculous virgins.  I comprehend taking advantage of the Red Goblin FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) but seriously, most of these reprint virgins just look sad.

Some would say in defense, “Exclusive variants are a great way to promote your shop!”. Which, look, I'm all for… And might actually believe if it was just once a monthly at $9.99-$12. Yes, absolutely, doing a single variant is a cool way to help promote your business. What comic shop wouldn't want to do a store exclusive. However, the second you add in that limited virgin cover, well that argument becomes a whole lot tougher to swallow. It's obvious what's really going on, it's become part of your business model, it's about the money.

I get it, making money's great, that's how a business works after all. But let's be honest… Not every store exclusive cover needs to be a set of 2, 3 or 4 books. Seriously, take a sober look at some of the covers out there. Most store exclusive don't need an expensive companion book with a slight alteration and a lower print run… just like most collector will figure out they don't need to buy them.

Till next time.


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    Wow what a refreshing take on the variant scheme. Congratulations on this great piece of writing.

  • UltraMaximus

    I agree, the trends of the store variants cause some things we used to love seeing every now and then, to be almost beaten to death. I personally choose the virgin incentives on a basis if I like the artwork enough to not have the trade dress obscure the picture. I also find myself selling the trade dress versions and keeping the virgin covers for my personal collection if I get a certain store variant set by an artist I like.

    • Skot Whitman

      Thanks for commenting Ultra Maximus.

      I pick and choose which to buy also. It’s got to be by an artist whose work i really like. One of the point I’m trying to make is with the vast major of variant covers, the logos are not really obstructing anything because comic covers are typically designed with the logos in mind.

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    Glad someone put it in writing!

  • Clint Joslin

    Great piece Skot! You always have a good way in articulating things for consumption for the most seasoned vet or newbie. I’m addition, everything you said was spot on – more is not always better!

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    THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!! This article should be blasted to every social media platform and comic related site in existence. Love this!

    • Skot Whitman

      Thanks for reading and commenting. While I agree people can benefit greatly from reading it, that doesn’t mean it will make any difference. Ultimately collectors need to stop getting sucked into the FOMO, until that happens, nothings really going to change.

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    I agree that not all need the virgin treatment but the virgin variants are what sell for the $$$ when compared to their dressed counterparts.

    • Skot Whitman

      Sure but why is that? There’s a completely false perspective that because basically 250 people are buying up the 1000 virgin books they are in demand. They are slowly released back into the market labeled as sold out. Then FOMO kicks in over on ebay and everyone who was late to the party gets gouged… or more apt, caught holding a book that was never actually valuable.

      If the variants were being limited to one per person and not packaged with tradedressing or whatever we’d have a better idea of what’s really going on. It’s a false impression of what the true supply vs demand is. It’s also interesting that the solution is to raise the price rather than limit the number of copies an individual can buy. Also factor in people who are solely in this game to make money, rather than actual comic book fans. That’s how the perception of what’s really necessary has become so out of whack.

      There was a time when 3k or higher trade dressing books did sell out and went for big bucks on the aftermarket. JTC Star Wars #4 Boba fett action figure variant is a great example… which is also a whole other part of the equation I won’t get into.

      Look, I have no qualms with people making money, but what’s happening right now is completely out of control and going to lead to some serious damage to the market. This is no different than the 90’s. Instead of talking about 800K copies of a $2 book, now we’re talking about 1000 or 3000 copies at $25-$???. When too many people get burned, they leave and markets crash. It’s that simple.

  • Comickaze

    What a great article! I am guilty too of searching for “Virgin Variant” covers and when there are three in a set, I always pull the virgin copy for slabbing and immediately list the two “lesser” copies.

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    Some virgin variant deserve the variant treatment, perfect example that Batman who laughs Mattina, however most of these are store exclusives and I stay away from those. Not just because They are a blatant cash grab but because very rarely does a store variant hold value.

  • Keith S.

    great article Skot!

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    I’m looking forward to your next article: “Not Every Book Needs a Scotty Young Baby Variant.” ?

    • Skot Whitman

      lol, yeah when he first started doing those variant it was kinda fun. I have a few that i still like… but man, talk about beating a dead horse into the ground with a 2×4. I guess we should all be happy they haven’t started doing multiple variant version of those lol

  • Chacho

    When the very first virgin covers came out, I was “Wow, what a great look”. But now that it’s saturated, it’s become the new gimmick. Now I actually still buy the cover sets, if it’s a book I like, but I’m actually keeping the one with the trade dressing and selling the virgin. The virgin sells for more money and I’m happy with the trade dress. Case in point.. the new Dell’Otto fan expo spider with the white cover… I much preffer it with the dressing. Now if it was done as smart as the Metal with the slight change in art and crop… then it’s magic.

    • Skot Whitman

      Thanks for reading and commenting. I like the metal 3, it’s not secret. There’s some covers that really look stunning as a virgin and some that look great in black and white. I thinks there’s a bit of herd mentality also. One shop or group does a book with a virgin than everyone started doing it.

  • Chacho

    Skot, loved the article by the way.

  • Clint Joslin

    Skot this is a great piece I wish the Publishers could read as well! There is nothing in moderation anymore. I also learned a new acronym to put in my vocabulary too – FOMO! ??

  • longballburrell

    I agree with the author. Virgin variants can look great, but I hate purchasing virgin and trade dress versions of the same book at ludicrous prices. It’s shameful.

    I was an ASM completionist until the variant game crushed my soul and destroyed any chance I ever had of owning every variant. The virgin variants add one more impossible obstacle.

  • Lebednik

    great article. totally agree.

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    With the recent annoucement of the release of foil versions of TT 12 and Metal 3 Mattina “fishhook,” this article couldn’t be any more timely. I agree with Skot, it’s time to sit back and reflect on buying decisions.

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    Love this article! I’ll admit that I’m as guilty as the next guy, buying a lot of these store exclusives. But when I look at my PC and find tons of money tied up in modern virgin covers, I get bummed out thinking of the Silver and Bronze age beauties I could’ve bought with the same money. That said, I’m thrilled with my Metal 3 virgin cover. But Metal 6 did not need 2 different sets of books with three books per set. I’m thankful for that kind of blatant money grab, because it has helped me reset my goals and focus on the stuff I love – old books with a smattering of new stuff. Not the other way around.

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