It was a phrase I heard Bob Wayne, Senior VP Sales of DC Comics, use at New York Comic Con. How variant covers should be used as “part of a balanced diet”. It struck me as the truth, (and I nicked it as well), variant covers add a little fun, a little spice, into the collection of comic books, even if you’re committed to following a comic, you get to pick your favourite covers, you can choose a specific style, you can show your devotion by collecting all the covers of a first issue, it can be harmless and help spice up a company’s sales along the way.
But, of late, variant covers, rather than being an occasional hamburger or chocolate sundae, have become a staple diet of many, with more and more retailers chasing them for fewer and fewer dollars. The retailer exclusive cover, where one retailer gets an exclusive cover just for themselves and their friends, has exposed a flaw, the idea that a customer could get all the available covers from their local store, adding to the belief that if they can’t get all the covers, they they might as well not get any. The tiered incentive covers have led to retailers regularly buying more comics than they can sell, just for that variant cover which will make it all worth while. And with launches of big titles getting twenty-odd variant covers and several variants of subsequent issues there is a real danger that the system will come crashing down around our ears again, and taking disillusioned customers, stores, and maybe a publisher with it.
Well, in an interview with ICV2, Bob Wayne seems to be doing something about it. On the back of the fifty-two flag-variant covers for Justice League Of America #1, Wayne stated that regarding the use of variant covers;
Overall we’re running in the zone of Spinal Tap in that we’ve got it up to 11 on that. We’re going to pull back and drop variants from a handful of titles in the next solicitation cycle to pull back that number ourselves, where it didn’t seem the variant was making a substantial difference in the buy-in for the book or the perception of books. We’ll be looking at the remaining titles that have variants the following month.
It’s like having a balanced breakfast in the sense that if you only have variants and you don’t have other aspects of how you try to get the attention of retailers and through retailers to consumers, it would be like only eating pizza. We’re just trying to make sure we keep a balance between the different ways that we can draw attention to books.
What will Marvel make of this? Will they choose to follow DC’s unilateral approach, or figure that there’s now a gap in the market for even more variants, tiered ordering programmes and retailer variants? Especially since there is such a dislike for Bob in the House Of Ideas…
Let’s find out!