So What’s The Deal With Variant Covers?

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Variant covers are a large part of comic book collecting with each cover giving readers something new to collect. Depending on who you talk to these covers can be seen as a positive or a negative to the comic book industry, with many arguments on both sides of the fence. This guide will give a general overview of variant comic book covers – from the varieties, where you can find them and the eligibility for ordering.

Flashpoint #1 wraparound variant cover

At their essence, variant covers are comics that that have a different cover to that of the regular shipping cover while still have the same contents. They offer up a level of choice for your purchase with the reader being able to choose which cover he/she likes the best when buying comics. The also create collectablity as including variant covers makes a collection more complete than just having all the regular covers.

There are many people who have a negative opinion of variant covers who say that their existence is pandering to the OCD aspect of some comic collectors. Their argument is that it is just another way for the publishers to get readers to purchase the same comic multiple times. The other thing that gives variant covers a bad name is the method in which they are order with retailers sometimes having to jump through hoops in order to be eligible for them.

Vibrant Varieties of Variant Covers

Variant covers come in all varieties from different artists to a variety of gimmicks. The most common form of variant cover is the use a different piece of artwork, generally done by a different artists. Many times these variant covers are used to try different ideas that might not suit the regular cover. This might be through parody or even using an art-style that is not commonly associated with the publisher or title. Fan favourite artists are often used on variant covers as they have a devoted fan-base and generate collectability. Marvel often create a series of variants that follow a particular theme or milestone with art history, Marvel’s 50th anniversary or even LEGO being ones they have used in the past.

Hulk Lego variant cover by Leo Castellani

Hulk Lego variant cover by Leo Castellani

Another popular variant is the sketch cover, in which the process of pencil art or ink work are shown. Most of the time these covers are based off the regular cover and are used for incentives for retailers. Although what makes these covers interesting is that you get to see the artist’s process and the pencil or ink stage. For many, showcasing these stages of the creative process is a behind the scene look at the artist at work.

Sometimes an issue is under-ordered and due to demand is forced to go in additional printing and with these new printings come a new cover. Publishers do this as a way of differentiating printing editions but in doing so have created another way of collecting. Generally these additional printing covers are variations of the first printing. A great example of this were the second printings of DC Comics’ New 52 first issues which had the backgrounds recoloured red. While Fatale #1 had 5 printings and for each different printing repurposed existing artwork in different ways.

Then we start getting into fancier forms of variant covers which to many have been seen as a gimmick. These variant covers come in a variety of forms including glow-in-the-dark, foil cover, embossed/debossed and die-cut and often sold at a higher price than the regular cover. A great example of this is the Walking Dead #100 Chromium cover which had a foil trading card property and sold for $9.99. Gimmick variant covers were very popular during the 1990’s but were also see to be excessive as they were released too regularly. Due to this, many people have negative opinions on these particular variant covers. I personally don’t mind them as long as they are used only for special occasions.

Walking Dead #100 Chromium variant cover by Charlie Adlard

Walking Dead #100 Chromium variant cover by Charlie Adlard

Finally, there is one kind of variant cover that has been slowly increasing in popularity – the blank cover. Called so as it has no artwork on the cover but instead the thicker card stock encourages for artwork to be created on the cover. These covers are less about collecting and more about creation as many people use these covers as a way of obtaining original artwork from their favourite artists.

How Do Stores Qualify for Variant Covers?

There are many ways that stores can qualify for variant covers which are set by the publisher. The most common way, which the majority of publisher do, is use variant covers as incentives to order more copies of an issue. This could be for every 10, 25, 50 or even 200 copies a retailer orders they are eligible for a particular variant cover.

One variety that IDW has been popularising lately is the subscription variant, which are only available to those who have a particular series in their standing order/pull list. The variant cover acts as a reward for those who buy the series every month but is also a helpful for retailers as by having that title in a standing order/pull list helps with their ordering process.

Every now and then publishers will offer particular stores the opportunity for an exclusive variant. This is one that can only be acquired exclusively through that retailer. Most of the time these variant covers are offered to larger stores who order large amounts of comics on a monthly basis.

My Little Pony Ghost Variant cover by Melanie Tingdahl

My Little Pony Ghost Variant cover by Melanie Tingdahl

Although, there has been a new trend that appeared out of nowhere late last year know as the Ghost or Phantom Variants. These are variants that are only available with a select group of retailers but the thing about these are you wont know they exist until a few days before release. You can find out more information about these variants here.

Hunting for Variant Covers

So now you know all about the kinds of variant covers there are you might be asking “Where can I find these?” The best place to start is by asking your local retailers and ask them what variants they have in stock and what variants they are most likely to be getting in. You will more likely be more successful with the larger stores because they generally order in more stock. If you are not near a large store you could try their website. Some good places to start would be Things From Another World, Midtown Comics and Forbidden Planet.

Speaking of online, another place to look for variant covers would be eBay. Keep in mind that prices might fluctuate depending on demand and that first one you see might not always be the cheapest.

Adventure Time: Summer Special 2013 #1 cover by Sina Grace - SDCC Exclusive cover

Adventure Time: Summer Special 2013 #1 SDCC exclusive cover by Sina Grace

Finally, conventions are always a great place to track down variant covers. Not only are many retailers present but artists and publisher may be as well. Depending on the event there might also be variants covers that can only be bought at the convention.

The Cost

The price of variant covers will depend on where you purchase them from, the rarity of the cover as well as demand. The best thing to do is get in contact with your local retailer and see what is the best price they can do.

Have Your Say

Have you found this helpful? Have you got any great tips that should be shared? Let me know in the comments below or on Facebook or Twitter.

Trevor Van As

Trevor Van As is the founder of How to Love Comics and has loved comics all his life. When he's not reading or talking about comics he can be found eating frozen yogurt and dancing like no one is watching.

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Comments (15)

  • Deliberate variant covers have flooded the markets. They are losing alot of financial value. Let me ask a question…. what is Captain America vol. 19 issue 11 variant J going to be worth? the real answer will probably be worthless nothing.. why? because who is going to care when Captain america is on volume 28? no one is going to care. This goes for all of the titles Not all variants are created equal. When the variant comes through non- deliberate forces, the variants hold their value. If we want to add the most value to our comic collection, we need to focus on copper age books and/or older.. I looked at a 1:100 variants and found there were still over 6000 copies. why because the comic book companies say “OF THE REGULAR ISSUES” they dont include the other 26 variants created. when you start to do the actual numbers; the 1:100 variants might not even be categorized as uncommon.. Look at Low print runs on modern Newsstands (Archie) Look at the 70s and 80s price variants…. I would strongly suggest getting 75 cent star wars price variants.

    Lets suppose we have a print run of 300000 of regular issues,
    1x 1:100 3000 issues
    3x 1:50 18000 issues
    20 1:25 240000 issues
    “what would 52 variants look like? there will be more variants then the regular issues”

    variant issues total = 261,000 issues
    regular issues total =300,000 issues

    Its not as special as people might think. The truth is people are seeing little return on investment, because people are waking up to the actual rarity of these variants…. even with 3000 copies whos going to want it in 20 years? no one.
    Happy Collecting Cheers

    • Hi Allen, thanks for the passionate cooment. This article is more about what variant covers are than an opinion piece on variant covers.

  • Thanks, Trevor; for this very informative article about Variant covers! I recently acquired 75-100 Mint Star Wars comic book; each one sealed in cellophane with a cardboard backing to protect the integrity. I also got a stack of sealed Mint Ant-Man comics. A lot of them are marked “Variant”, and not having collected comics before, I needed to learn what it meant – and thanks to you, now I do! I just don’t know what is the ideal venue in which to sell them that will render a fair price for both the buyer and myself.

    • Hi Sandra, Thanks! eBay is probably the way to go when it comes to selling variants like those. You can see how much they have sold for in the past and mark accordingly. Another venue are buy/sell/swap Facebook groups, who are full of avid collectors looking for collectables like those.

  • As an enthusiastic bargain bin hunter (i.e. cheap bastard), variant covers are the bane of my existence. It’s hard enough trying to tell which ones I already have, living as we do in this age when so many comic covers are just portraits of one of the heroes that may or may not be inside, and there aren’t enough hours in the day to list EVERY comic I might like on the “Out of Milk” app on my phone. But it takes a little piece out of my heart every time I dig up what I think is a new treasure only to get it home, crack it open, and realize, “Aww, that’s 50¢/$1 I could have spent on something else.” (Just this past weekend, X-men Legacy #236 and Power Girl #2 bit me on the butt–Poor pitiful me!)

  • I just found you and I must say you give a rounded view to an otherwise sharp debate. I, personally, find variant covers more of a bother than a collecting tool. Yes, some of them have cool art. Yes, some of them are follow a theme. The bottom line, though, is that I buy comics to READ not to stare at the cover. I collect them purely for the joy that the storytelling brings me; the excitement that the art evokes. I know that every company has a bottom line to meet and if baiting readers with multiple covers accomplishes that then bully for them. I do hope that the books I purchase will grow in value and perhaps one day if, God forbid, there’s a family crisis that I would be able to turn a tidy buck on my collection. That is NOT why I buy them. On top of all this is that most of the variant covers cost more. If the creators were giving that to a charity I might be inclined to shell out an extra dollar but they are not. Since I like to spend my money on me and not them I do not find a need to feed their kitties. On the other hand, if you have cash to blow for no apparent reason other than to say that you did then I encourage you to buy as many variant covers as you can get your hands on.

    • Hi David, any collection is only worth anything if there’s enough demand so it would dependent on if there were demand for the variant covers.

    • Who cares we are not writing books or papers. If the truth is important, these DELIBERATE variants are going to implode the whole deliberate variant comic world….there is tooooooooooooooooooooooooo much info to deliver here to explain and sit here correcting people….so instead come back to this in 10 years, and we will all have a laugh at how true this is. Variants that were created with non intension to sell multiple issues of the same comic, are the only variants that will be worth anything… Eg. 80s price variants, and the 70s price variants..even the silverage variants. They where created for test markets, and using them to sell in USA and Canada depending on the shortages of issues. 75 cent and 95 cent variants were sold in the US and Canada…..these price variants were not intended to make people to buy more, but to simply supply a store with perticular issues that are estimated that would sell at general stores. Etc… Today people refer to comics as covers……Real comic readers refer to them as stories……interesting how it works today…..If you want to increase value in your collection get cent copy variants. Like in the 70s and 80s… I would look for 80s price variants right now….if you don’t, this will be one of those collecting regrets. Guarantied!! Mile high comics