By Todd Allen

It was quietly announced to retailers yesterday that Marvel will be changing the all their $2.99 titles to the “self-cover” format, starting in April.  “Self-cover” meaning that the paper of the cover is the same as the paper of the internal pages.  Truth be told, this sounds like a bigger change than it is.

Marvel has been printing the insides of their comics on glossy paper for awhile now.  The cover is just a slightly heavier stock than the interior.  Further, it was pointed out to me that Marvel has already been experimenting with this format.  Fantastic Four and FF have both been printed in that format, with practically nobody noticing.  I compared the feel of the “self-covers” to “normal covers.”  Yes, there was a small difference to the touch, but I likely wouldn’t have noticed if it hadn’t already been pointed out to me.  I could not tell any difference by looking at the covers.

I was further told that Image had been doing this for some time.  I handled a couple Image books and, sure enough, it was the case and it was not something I had previously noticed.

If Vertigo went to “self-cover,” this would have more consumer impact, as Vertigo isn’t on glossy paper.  I’m not sure how many people will notice this on shelves.

The real story here is Marvel going back for another round of cost-cutting.  There have been layoffs.  Pages have previously been reduced.  Now the cover stock has been reduced.  If trends don’t reverse themselves, it isn’t unreasonable to wonder if a downgrading of interior paper stock will be next.  Marvel has been very aggressive about cutting costs in the last year and seems to have a lot invested in the success of Avengers Vs. X-Men.


  1. I don’t understand why comics companies just go back to the cheaper formats of yesteryear.

    Even if you don’t want to go back as far as newsprint (but why not, really?) Just dial it back and drop the cover price.

    I understand wanting a higher quality product, but if the market can’t sustain it (it can’t) is it really necessary for a random issue of FF or Spider-man to be a high-end glossy keepsake?

  2. I’m told newsprint isn’t as cheap as it used to be, (which could be one reason why no one suggest going back to it).

    I can remember in the 80’s when comics started experimenting with better paper, as a high school student with limited cash I was really annoyed when the Teen Titans doubled in price because the paper was better, I would have been perfectly happy to read the same stories on newsprint for half the price.

  3. Many Dark Horse comics have been published entirely on the same cover-like stock.

    I would imagine one benefit is that there isn’t a separate set-up charge for the covers; another is that you can go from a 32-page interior to a 28-page interior. You have to hit a certain page count (usually divisible by 16) for the signatures to work.

    Much rarer are the comics which were fully on newsprint, with a newsprint cover. The most recent I can recall were the Disney Penny Pinchers from Gladstone. I don’t think those went over that well — customers might accept a step backward into an earlier format, but newsprint covers were something comics never really had.

  4. If that means not increasing the prices for Thunderbolts, Punisher and X-Factor… hang on, too late – didn’t they just increase the price of X-Factor!! Cause at 3.99 its getting cancelled.

  5. X-Factor has low but steady sales, seems crazy to raise the price. Honestly, I have no problems with the FF, Image, and Dark Horse books that do this, so this sounds fine to me.

    And paper stock was never really the reason for the recent price raises anyway.

  6. “How safely will the thinner comic ship? Is there a greater risk of retailer returns due to damage?”

    The last two (three?) issues of FANTASTIC FOUR and FF have already had these self-covers, so go and see!

    (answer: no different)


  7. The most expensive component in printing is paper, and there is A LOT more to cost than how it looks and feels. You can save a lot of money with paper changes that you can barely notice.

    The second most expensive component in printing is buying time on the press. Using one paper SIGNIFICANTLY cuts down on set up and assembly costs. Self covered comics are some of the cheapest printed publications you can produce.

    Newsprint is too expensive and almost impossible to use with the type of highly detailed and rendered computer coloring used in todays comics. It would be impossible to quality control with all that ink seeping into the uncoated paper on one side let alone two.

    The paper used today in comics is the same as magazines, coupons, direct mail etc, so its very cheap to use. Its one of the last stops on the paper food chain and is just a bunch of recycled stuff held together with a plastic coating that holds ink and detail well. Its amazing technology designed to be fast and cheap, but not necessarily last very long.

  8. I disgree, there is a difference… at least for the Marvel ones (their “self-covers” seem to be of a lesser paper stock as compared to the Dark Horse “self-covers”). The Marvel titles definitely seem to suffer from more damages — spine damage, stress marks and random creases from the printing presses. And then there is the issue of everyday customer handing (seeing an increase in cover damage due to this… of course, your mileage may vary in this regard).

  9. Self-covers are not something I’m crazy about, but hardly anything I can get upset about either. Actually, fewer ads because of fewer interior pages doesn’t sound so bad at all.

    And they did NOT raise the price on X-Factor. There was one tiny typo in solicitation material followed by one giant panic on the Internet.

  10. @Neils – you got a link to where they said it was a typo???? Because I haven’t read anywhere where they said it was. Only David on twitter/facebook saying he didn’t know there was a price rise, but asking us to still support it.

  11. The reason why nobody has been noticing it is because most comic book news reporters don`t read modern comic books. A shame because a lot of good comic books have been done by Image lately.
    respectfully Stam.

  12. In a few years nobody will care about this new policy. Be thankful they still make comic books. Remeber Marvel is owned by Disney now. They could pull the plug at any time. They bought Marvel for the movies,action figures and videogame potential.

  13. Um, why is it called “Self cover”? Is that a technical or publishing term?

    Is it because the book covers itself…? So the book doesn’t need anyone’s help in covering itself…? :-)


  14. Working as a comic shop clerk, I definitely felt the difference of the new cover stock. We have a bin with dividers for our subscription customers, and when you are putting away dozens of issues at a time for people, you get a good feel for speed, accuracy, and being careful with the comics. When I came across Fantastic Four the other week, I could feel the cover almost coming right off unlike every other comic in the box as I put it into files. I really look forward to tearing shit by accident, costing us more money, and saving Marvel lots!

    Of course, except for one guy that shops with us, no one really cares about comics being ‘mint’ now anyway.

  15. Interesting..Just recently Bongo Comics (Simpsons books) just made their covers much thicker, near cereal box paperboard quality.

  16. Hated Marvel’s stock card covers just so they came have the $3.99 price tag.

    Glad that is going away. I might by some books from them.

  17. @Neils & Patrick – Thanks Guys, pleased it hasn’t got an increase after all. I would of hated to cancel it. But I just refuse to buy 3.99 books from Marvel for 18-20 pgs of story.

    This sounds more legit:

    “Some people, combining conspiracy theories with self-aggrandizement, decided that it hadn’t been a typo at all, but rather a trial balloon, and that the fan responses had deterred Marvel from raising the price. Saying it was a typo was allegedly only a cover story.”


  18. ‘Self cover’ is a printing term, meaning that the book is printed on the same paper stock throughout, including the cover.

    It reduces cost, as there is only one paper stock to purchase. Otherwise the comic insides would all be printed on one stock, then the covers all printed on another press run on a thicker stock. The cost savings could be substantial.

    Of course, the unit price could drop even further if more copies of a comic were to be printed at one time. The incremental cost to add a few thousand copies once the press is running is very slight. All the upfront costs of proofs and makereadies have been covered.

  19. I’ve worked in printing for several years and yes, “self-cover” is a common term bandied about by pressmen. Everyone’s descriptions of it above are spot-on, so there’s no need for me to go into it.

    Also mentioned above, and it was correct the last time I priced paper, newsprint ain’t so cheap any more. These coated stocks do a much better job of holding ink and detail than the paper used back in the “good old days.” I’m cataloging my collection right now and have been enjoying a LOT of old comics lately, and some of them have not held up that well. Either my eyes are getting a lot weaker (which is a distinct possibility), or some of those old comics have faded with time over the years. The print just looks a little blurry to me now, particularly some of the lettering. The word balloons just seem to have a smudgy look to them.

    As some of you said, I’m concerned about tearing, though. I think that could be a real problem in a comic shop. Nevertheless, I’m glad to see Marvel doing what it has to do to keep costs down so they can stay in business. It’s a very competitive market out there and I’m concerned about the viability of this as a commercial format.