So! David Hunky Harper over at SKTCHD wrote a great piece about variant covers and the comic industry. Why is it a great piece? Because I’m in it, DUH.
Now, okay, I should probably explain what “variants” are to people like my mommy and daddy and mommy-in-law and daddy-in-law who maybe don’t know what I’m talking about.
OH BOY HERE WE GO
VARIANT COVERS are copies of a comic that have a different cover than the main cover. This is done because it’s a relatively cheap way to create a new, distinct product for sale since the interiors are the same. The real costs lie in the new cover art and the setup fee to swap out the printing plate for just the cover.
Easy, right? The tricky part lies in the ordering!
OPEN ORDER is just as it sounds! Retailers look at the ordering catalogue and see COVER A and COVER B and can order as many as they want of either. Sounds nice!
OKAY CASE CLOSED
Sure! But it’s not always just “COVER A” and “COVER B.” Some books can have MANY covers and it can be hard for a retailer to determine which ones to order. And, honestly, I feel bad for collectors who NEED to have every cover. At that point the interiors, the story pages, are redundant. Just printed to be collected and not read, which, honestly, doesn’t feel very good!
OH YOU’RE SOOOO PURE OF AN “ARTIST”
I’m not! But man, maybe it’s living in my weird forest but if I’m going to send trees to ye olde pulp mill I kind of want them to be for reading? Anyhoo, let’s look at another kind of variant!
INCENTIVE VARIANTS are tied to your orders of the main cover. Basically, you have to order a certain number of COVER A to qualify for ordering COVER B. Which means you have retailers doing the math to figure out if it’s worth increasing those orders on COVER A to sell COVER B at a jacked up price, and how much that price could possibly be.
I hate this because it generally means you’re buying a lot of excess stock that you won’t be able to sell in order to get the cover that you CAN sell (hopefully!).
This means a lot of printed books with no homes. But it gets really tricky when it’s…
MANY INCENTIVE VARIANTS! This is when you have a bunch of variant covers all tied to different ordering numbers on your main cover. So, you have to order 50 of COVER A to order 1 of COVER B, but 100 of COVER A to get 1 of COVER C and 200 of COVER A to get COVER D, etc. etc.
This can create super rare variants which are worth a lot of money. I mean, “worth” if someone actually pays what’s asked. I did this variant for a DARTH VADER miniseries years ago at what felt like the height of the Marvel/DC incentive race:
It was fun! Look at those stair carrots! I’m a GENIUS!! But Marvel then did a VARIANT of the VARIANT (which is also a thing), a black & white version where retailers had to order FIVE THOUSAND of the main cover to order the below cover:
That’s fucking bonkers.
I genuinely don’t know how retailers do it. Recently I was talking to a retailer about variants and they said that they love SAGA so much because there’s no variants, which means they know exactly what to order month to month. But we all can’t be SAGA!
Anyway, there’s still another option for retailers…
RETAILER VARIANTS! These are variants specifically made for the individual retailer! They have input into art, can brand it for their store, it’s an exclusive! But to do this they need to order a minimum number of copies, which can be quite high, usually in the thousands. They sell them for an increased price to cover their costs, but are often stuck with a lot of copies. It’s a big gamble and it doesn’t always work out financially for them.
So, yeah! Those are VARIANTS! At this point they’re so woven into the industry that I genuinely don’t think many comic shops would survive without them and the concocted rarity of the “incentive variants." It’s a weird thing. I don’t really care for it, but it is what it is. I want readers! But also, I want to be able to make these stories and put food on the table, so playing the game just feels inevitable, like death and taxes and Marvel movies.
However, besides financial solvency, there’s actualy a thing about variants I really like! The ART! There’s generally more freedom when working on variants and you can get some really cooly art and design out of them. I love that part. I’m taking a break from illustrating variants but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I miss it. They can be a lot of fun to make!
Fuck, I don’t know where I was going with all of this …
YOU WERE EXPLAINING VARIANTS TO YOUR MOMMY AND DADDY
Oh yeah! So they could go read David’s article!
In my next newsletter I’m going to post my favourite variants I’ve had the pleasure to create over the years! That’ll be more fun than what I just did!!
But if you want fun TODAY, here’s our latest KAPTARA guest strip by the wonderful Casey Gilly and Sarah Stern! Today is Casey’s birthday and she got YOU a gift?? That doesn’t seem right!
Check out the wonderful uiy7 below!
This was a genuinely excellent explanation of variants! Also thank you for sharing my article, and calling me hunky, which unfortunately made my wife laugh when I read it to her.
this is great.
if this comment gets 5,000 likes, i'll leave another one.
(also might do that anyway.)
PS have you thought about doing variant artwork for your newsletter banner?