Although this is the best time in recent comics history for sales and quality, the current sales success doesn’t come without an asterisk: the huge number of variants that almost every publisher is pumping out. Industry observer Johanna Draper Carlson does some math and concludes “Variant Covers Are Propping Up the Comic Market”. A look at this weeks shipping schedule revealed that nearly half of the periodicals shipping were variants:
This week (tomorrow), there are 167 comic books coming out. I took the list and removed digests, trades, books, magazines, and toys, leaving only comic issues, to get that number. By the way, there are 267 items total, so pity your comic store staff having to sort through all that.
Then I removed all variant and second printing covers, leaving a total of 95 line items. That means that 43% of the new comics for sale tomorrow are duplicates of something already released. Nearly half the market is variant covers.
Carlson also noted publishers that didn’t do variants: Alternative, Bongo, Kenzer & Company, Oni Press, and Titan. On the other hand, the following publishers all had a variant for every comic they published: Archie, Aspen, Avatar, Big Dog Ink, Boom!, IDW, Microcosm, Valiant and Zenescope. She was surprised that Marvel has relatively fewer variants than other publishers, but they make up for it by double and triple shipping.
Is a reliance on variants to boost sales the rotten core at the center of comics current success? It was speculation and variants that brought down the inflated tulip-craze-like comics boom of the early 90s. Is this more of the same?
As we’ve noted here before, we’ve checked in with retailers and they’ve all given a variation on the “I know what I’m doing this time,” response. They point to a stronger, more varied customer base, weeding out retailers who don’t know what they are doing, and some publisher restraint as factors that makes this variant boom less of a danger.
In fact, my gut feeling is that it isn’t the comics business that’s in jeopardy here, but the publishers who rely too much on variants instead of quality material. Is it these companies that are being “propped up?”
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.