A Guide to Store Exclusive Variants

by Richard Brown

sabrina1-195x300 A Guide to Store Exclusive VariantsOne of the profit centers for some comic book shops are custom variant covers available only through their storefront. Some of the most attractive, and most elusive, covers are available solely through this limited market. Variant covers help drive the collector market today and are the main cause of collectors purchasing more than one copy of a comic.  These covers help spotlight certain artists, and add to the level of collectability to the hobby.  Today, we’re going to discuss some of the more popular covers available.

What are Variant Covers?

Comic book variant covers have been a staple of the collector market for years. Variants are simply additional issues of an original title with different cover art.  The story is the same, but each variant offers different artwork to differentiate it from other copies.  Collectors blame variants for the downfall of the comic book industry in the 90s. But in reality, the practice of variant covers gives your local comic book store more opportunities to sell comics.

Store Exclusive Covers

gwenstacy2-195x300 A Guide to Store Exclusive VariantsSeveral online comic vendors commission exclusive cover art for their customers. These limited books have a limited print run and can be very collectible. Many of these books sell out quickly, making them great books to resell on eBay if you’re quick enough to capitalize on their popularity.

One of the practices utilized by these stores is the selling of “virgin variants.” These covers lack the “trade dress” (the branding and title on the comic) which highlights the artwork. The virgin covers have a smaller print run, making them immediately more exclusive, but many times the only way you can purchase a virgin copy is by buying a set along with the issue with trade dress.

The recent issue of Gwen Stacy #2 has several variants available through the usual channels, but also several store exclusives available solely through Frankie’s Comics. There is a regular trade dress version, a virgin variant, and an “unmasked” variant with an increasing level of rarity. These covers are gorgeous and are in high demand. The virgin variant set sold out almost immediately.  You can buy these on eBay for between $30 and $70 on auction sites today.

Controversial Variants

alexandria1-169x300 A Guide to Store Exclusive VariantsPossibly one of the most infamous variant covers of recent times is the Carla Cohen cover done for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Freshman Force #1. This book was available exclusively through Big Time Collectibles and limited to a print run of 250 copies. The cover portrayed the young congresswoman dressed in a Wonder Woman costume, draped with an American flag.

DC Comics was said to have ordered a halt to production of the book as they saw it as copyright infringement, but unfortunately, the books had already made it into the hands of collectors around the world. These books come up for auction occasionally and have recorded sales of over $1,000 at a 9.8 graded.

Favorite Artist Variants

Sabrina the Teenage Witch was initially released in 2019 by Archie Comics. A gorgeous version of this book is available from Stadium Comics, featuring art by one of my favorite artists, Adam Hughes. Adam’s covers come alive and convey Sabrina’s playful energy.

There are several variations of the cover, some with trade dress, others in black and white. Again, the store offered a variety of collectible covers as options to buyers. My favorite version is the color virgin copy, which runs around $200 for a graded 9.8 example.  Sabrina #1 is available on the Stadium Comics’ website.

Award for the Most Confusing Variant

xmenred1-194x300 A Guide to Store Exclusive VariantsX-23 is a popular Marvel character. She’s a clone of Wolverine and has had several titles of her own over the years. One of the rarest of her covers is the hard-to-find Dell’otto cover for issue #1 of her 2011 series. This book sells for over $1,000 at a 9.8 grade consistently and may have had less than 1,000 copies sold into circulation.

Now to make things confusing, Unknown Comic Books uses the same cover for their store exclusive of X-Men Red #1 in 2018. The art is the same Dell’otto piece, just without trade dress.  The difference is the variant sells for less than $100 and can be easily mistaken for its more expensive cousin.

The practice of store exclusivity is an excellent way to offer value to your customers. It’s also an excellent avenue for collectors to come by limited edition variants that will retain or increase in value over time.

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John Hughes April 20, 2020 - 7:52 pm

Good stuff – thanks for flagging the X23 confusion.

schweizerdavid April 21, 2020 - 9:28 am

My favorite variant is the Star Wars 1 Stan Sakai store exclusive cover. It is not worth much, but features a Darth Vader/Yoda duel.

D2C ? (@D_2754) April 21, 2020 - 3:42 pm

Undiscovered Country #1 has to have around a dozen variants. All seem to go for cover price


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