Why do some Comics have 10 Different Covers?
Comic books are clearly a visual medium. The art of a comic is just as important as the story, and the most important image is arguably the cover. The broken-down visage of Tony Stark from Iron Man #128. The tattered red and yellow cape from Superman #75. The sickening grin of the Joker from The Killing Joke, a story so iconic we had to cover it in a previous episode. The images are engaging, captivating, and (in some cases) valuable. A good cover is also the best piece of advertising a book can have. An eye-catching image can convince someone to buy a book they may not have normally. Some artists have such a following that fans will buy any cover they create, whether those fans are reading that book or not. Herein lies the problem of variant covers: when the right artist or image guarantees sales, how should a comic publisher use these covers to their advantage while still being ethical.
The biggest “offender” of questionable variant cover use is Marvel, with their newly announced "Legacy Covers" series being the source of much controversy. Lenticular images are 2 separate images printed with a layer of ridged plastic making 1 of the 2 images visible depending on the angle you from which you view the image from. For Legacy, the lenticular covers are mashing-up famous covers with reimagined versions for the modern issues and the images are being drawn by some of Marvel’s most popular artists. Since classic images and big-name artist always guarantee buys, Marvel is setting order requirements for retailers to gain access to these guaranteed sellers. If a comic shop wants to order the lenticular covers, they must order 200% of their normal order first. If a retailer sells 10 copies of a particular book, they must order 20 copies just to be able to order the lenticular covers. If all the customers want the lenticular cover, the comic store could have as many as 20 unsold copies if not other customers are interested in buying. This has many store owners unable to order the lenticular covers, driving their customers to other stores. Many stores have decided to take a stand and intentionally not order these covers, but some are claiming its “too little too late” since the market has allowed Marvel to behave this way for years and has rewarded them with inflated orders.
Is Marvel at fault? It’s the publisher’s job to sell as many copies as they can. It’s the comic shops and fans that keep buying these issues, but there’s also an argument for not taking advantage of your customers. There are significant indicators that Marvel’s treatment of variant covers are what’s causing some of the problems with their slowly declining sales. The important thing to remember is that the consumer can speak volumes with his dollar. If you don’t agree with how variant covers are handled, don’t buy them. If a store’s customer base doesn’t buy the variant covers, the store won’t buy them. If enough stores don’t buy, publishers will have to reevaluate how they treat these covers.