To ‘Variant’ or not to ‘Variant’…

the Pros and Cons of Variant Comic Covers

Variant Comic Covers, yay or nay?

Let me just get one thing out of the way right off the bat here, this blog spot is not in any way shape or form bashing collectors who seek out and purchase variant comic covers. I enjoy them as much as the next person. Within the text, in this blog, you will find some pros and cons regarding variant comic book covers as seen by yours truly. Focusing more on the speculative, money side (expense) of the comics.

Pretty things always cost more money. A pretty car, home, clothes, diamonds and onward, you get the idea. The same concept applies to the pretty comic book variant cover. The prettier it is, the more eye balls it’ll get, thus generating an interest and driving pricing up. This works the same for the home, car, clothes, etc. Although the variant comic does not work this way all the time, it does lend a hand in the sales and aftermarket. Pretty does not always equal money when it comes to variant comics. There are several mitigating factors that go into a variant comic cover in order to draw big bills in the aftermarket. Let’s take a look at some, shall we?

First and foremost, the character being variant-ized (a totally made up word here!) plays an obvious big part of generating an interest within the aftermarket. Yes, there are variants of lesser known characters that rock, but we’re talking strictly the ones that many fans know, these pop and cost more to buy on actual new comic book day (which is a bit absurd in itself, more on this in a bit).

A Venom variant, which is the hottest things on the market right now, will always draw more attention than the She-Hulk variant cover. It’s the way it is. This is an obvious observation that many if not all collectors know. That said, put Venom on that She-Hulk variant and we’re on to something. That ‘regular’ Nova variant will sit in the long box with a ten dollar price sticker on it while that Hawkeye Venom variant flies off the shelf for fifteen bucks.

The well-known artist plays a significant role in setting off interest in the market. Once a variant collector reads or hears the name J. Scott Campbell, their ears perk up as though someone sounded the bell for dinner time. Some up and coming artist or artist that aren’t as a known as the Greg Capullo’s of the world have to make their impression in order to take things next level for themselves and the variant collector. Case in point; John Tyler Christopher. Once he began his Star Wars action figure variants, everyone knew who he was. He hit the right stride and is now a premiere variant cover artist, ala Greg Horn or Gabrielle Dell Otto. The prettier the variant and the prettier the artist (not literally), the more expensive that comic will be. Again, there are some mitigating factors that play in, but I will cover some in this blog.

One factor that my website InvestComics LLC has pointed out for many years is the ‘upper right corner’ factor. Let me explain. When a variant comic is sent in to be graded by either CBCS or CGC, the top label contains all the information of the particular comic being graded. One of, if not the most important part of either one of the comic grading companies label is the upper right-hand side. It’s in this area the whole story is foretold. What significance does this comic book serve to the masses? Is it a key issue? Is there a major story, status quo change? A death? A birth? A new costume? An Amazing Spider-Man #678 Venom variant, graded 9.6, sold for over $2600 on eBay a couple of weeks ago. Yes, $2600. So what ‘significance’ does this graded comic present to us in that right-hand side? “Venom” variant cover. That’s it. A Venom variant cover. Some say this is Mary Jane’s first appearance as Venom. This goes unnoticed by the grading companies because it’s completely insignificant. A one in fifty variant that cost a buyer over $2600. With absolutely no barring significance of a ‘key’ issue what’s so ever. $2600. A Fantastic Four #52 (1966), graded 8.5, the FIRST appearance of Black Panther. Story by Stan Lee, Art by Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott sold the same week as the Amazing Spider-Man #678 Venom Variant for $2400. Let this sink in here. The history behind the comic (first Marvel African America Super-Hero), the hard to find upper grades (due to the black cover), the creative legends on the book, a key first appearance, a fifty one year old comic sold for less than a 5 year old comic because it’s not a 9.6 Venom variant? Really? The InvestComics LLC moniker reads like this ‘Invest wisely. Read comics’, this my friends is not investing wisely 101 at all. Please understand, not knocking the buyer or anyone who wants to buy these comics at this price, money is money and it’s all good, but please refrain from thinking that a modern variant comic will pay dividends in 51 years. It’s not. Besides the ‘upper right corner’ factor, InvestComics LLC speaks about, it’s also the ‘guts’ of a comic. The ‘guts’ are the blood and lifeline of the value for your comic. The idea here coincides with the ‘upper right corner’ factor. There has to be an important event going on inside a variant comic that sells for $500 or $1000 on new comic book Wednesday to warrant a high price tag. If there isn’t, a speculator needs to stay clear. The only reason for a high price tag is the ratio. So that’s why you’d plunk down $500 on a brand new comic with nothing going on in the guts, but a good story? A ‘rare’ comic? Really? How about buying the first appearance of Deathstroke instead? Or that Silver age book that holds a second rate characters first appearance drawn by Kirby? This is a wise and sound investment.

An original creator signature on a variant will always sell at a higher price. Again, obvious stuff here. But does that signature really bring anything else to the table other than the sig? The ‘upper right hand’ corner should say something of importance if you’re about to lay big money down, otherwise, you’ll have an insignificant comic with a cool Stan Lee sig on it. Nothing wrong with this at all, just don’t go bankrupt buying the book and especially do not assume you have a valuable book like a Fantastic Four #52. You don’t. Signatures could be a difference between $100 to more on a non-signed variant. Get those hot variants signed and graded if you want to make more money!

Variant comics on new comic book Wednesday are an absolute travesty when it comes to certain shops too. Too many shops overcharge the consumer into believing a book is worth more than it really is. This is a bad tactic by some shops and should be noted by the buyer if they see the comic either elsewhere or on eBay for less. Do not get suckered into being told ‘cool cover’ or ‘ratio’ equals money. A modern book has to have many things to swing in its favor in order to sustain any longevity within the speculative market.

The next time you see a brand new variant comic costing $100, ask yourself if the variant has any significance to sustain its value for one year or even one month. If that $100 book does not contain a key first appearance or anything else mentioned on this blog, look to spend your money on a key Bronze Age or Silver Age comic. THAT is where the real money lies, not in a hyped, amped upped useless pretty variant. Remember, if you cannot install a pool in it, the comic with no significance will always be a comic with just a pretty cover. Nothing else.

I can go on about this for the next hour, but space and time are limited, I pointed out a few things to get the juices flowing and to begin some intelligent banter among the collectors here. What do you think about variant covers? Leave a comment below.

-Jay Katz

Jay Katz, a comic book collector since 1983, is the owner/creator of InvestComics LLC since 2005. InvestComics LLC was originally a magazine before the website launched in 2005.

InvestComics LLC is the number one speculative/entertainment comic book source on the internet. Their motto is: Invest wisely. Read comics.

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  1. two things: the ASM 678 is now “the first Venomized cover” since we have had so many others done, and it’s also a very low print run (1:50 back then? pshaw, less than some designed-to-be-limited stuff). that being said, i’d rather have the high grade FF 52 instead of a super-high-grade ASM 678B, any day. i do like some variants, but only if i like the artist/art being presented. but you’re missing a HUGE part of the picture. when a comic book is a 1:100 variant, that means the comic store had to order 100 copies of the other covers, in order to get the one (which actually makes it a 1:101 variant…but you know). that means the comic store had to BUY 100 copies before getting this. that’s what sets Day 1 prices. for example, if a store has a 50% discount off cover, when they buy a book and regular price is 2.99, they’re paying 1.50 per copy. buying 100 copies to get that variant? they’re paying $150 and they’re HOPING to sell at least as many normal copies as possible, so if they normally order 50 copies, they’ve paid an extra $75 just to get that 1:100 variant. they have to initially sell that book at $75 to break-even, and the $100 price allows for a small profit margin (yes, 25% on a comic is a small margin). this is the single biggest determination factor of pricing for variants. after 1 week, a shop might lower the price, if not sold yet, and the sales on eBay (for example) are poor. but usually it is based on how many copies of the regular cover book are left…