Creator Confessions: The Ups And Downs Of Variants

by Frank Martin

The comics industry loves gimmick covers. Doesn’t matter if it is for fans or creators, there’s always a craze when a new style of cover bursts onto the scene. The most basic type of gimmick is the variant cover. Yes, variants are gimmick. Although prose novels and physical home media are sometimes released with an alternate cover for the sake of collectors, it is a comparatively rare practice in those markets. In comics, releasing variants of a given issue has become something of the norm. And like anything, there are pros and cons to the phenomenon. Fans and creators alike can have raging debates for hours about whether or not variants are good or bad for the industry. So it would be helpful to dive into the issue and see both sides.

The pros of variant covers is fairly obvious. They are fun and a chance for comic fans to own something that might be more scarce. The artwork is also often a step up from the standard release version. They also act as a boon to the industry, giving artists more opportunities to work. This also extends to retailers, as they book more and more exclusive variants to which they can sell at a markup and cover some of the extraneous costs that come with running a comic shop.
The downside, though, is that in the long run they might do more harm than good. Environmental factors of printing extra books aside, the existence of variant covers actually fractures the industry into two different markets. There are comic readers who buy a book because of the content. They are interested in the story, an intangible product that comes with the physical book. Then there are comic collectors who purchase a book either based on speculation or from a purely artistic standpoint of owning a product. The variant cover, therefore, morphs the comic book from an intellectual property to a physical product whose market is far more volatile.
Variants aren’t going away anytime soon. The big comic publishers absolutely relish in them and there are plenty of independent creators that eagerly jump into this market. As a comic creator interested in crowdfunding, it might be easy to get distracted by the variant cover craze. I myself might offer a variant or two as part of a campaign, but I also understand that first and foremost the creator needs to be focused on their creation. Ultimately, a cover is just window dressing. It can be fun, but for readers, it’s what’s on the inside that counts.

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