Blogger Dome: Direct Editions VS Variants

by Harry Stone III

Blogger-Dome-Direct-VS-Variants-300x157 Blogger Dome: Direct Editions VS VariantsWelcome back to the Blogger Dome! Here, bloggers will argue different topics involving the comic book market and industry.  This will be a combination of the Big Bang Theory meets the WWE.  Smack talk mixed with comic book debates.  Bloggers going at each other to amuse and educate our readers.  And we want to hear what YOU have to say about it. Today’s topic is “Direct Editions VS Variant Editions.” So tune in, get comfy, and let’s go!

 

Ding ding! Allow me to present your newest fighters in the Blogger Dome ring… HARRY AND ALAN! Fight!

HARRY: This week I am arguing the benefits of investing in direct edition comics instead of their variant brethren. Fellow GoCollectIMG_3123-219x300 Blogger Dome: Direct Editions VS Variants writer, Alan Harper, takes the opposing (and losing) side of buying these gimmicky attempts at stealing your hard-earned bucks. Do you want to know why direct editions are the move to make? Keep reading and let’s see if I can convince you why Alan is flat-out wrong.

ALAN: Harry, Harry, Harry ( Sigh).  Variant covers have been around longer than you think.  The first widely recognized variant cover is Man of Steel #1 (1986), an issue where one of the very best artists of the 1980s, John Byrne, did two covers.  For the next twenty years, it is safe to say variant covers were not a huge deal. But the last ten years have seen an explosion of excellence in variant cover art.  Time has passed Harry by and there is no doubt that by the end of this Blogger Dome, you will agree that variants are an exciting part of comic book collecting that is, thankfully, here to stay.

Round #1   First Blood!

Harry: FOMO Thirst Traps

I first started collecting comics when I was 5 years old, way back in the late ’80s. There was really no such thing as a variant edition back then. Then came the Christmas of 1990, when my parents gifted me the gold variant edition of Todd McFarlane’s Spider-Man #1. They also gave me several packs of Marvel Cards and the very first card I pulled was a Cosmic Spider-Man hologram. Needless to say, I was addicted to the hunt from there on out.

The direct edition comics I had been collecting up until that point were no longer enough. I needed the poly-bagged, purple-webbed version and the silver edition too. I needed all of the holograms in that Marvel Card series, not just the base set. What type of collector would I be IMG_3188-194x300 Blogger Dome: Direct Editions VS Variantsif I missed out? I had officially taken Marvel’s bait, to the detriment of my parents’ modest pockets.

Marvel, DC, Valiant, and Image knew they had a new hustle to grift your bucks. The foil, hologram, and variant covers brought an air of exclusivity and flew off the presses and shelves. Print runs hit the roof. I, like most who lived through this period, ate up these “Collector’s Item Issues”.

The Crash

Eventually, the comic industry’s greed with these flagrant gimmicks backfired. They spread themselves too thin, readership dropped, and the comic market collapsed. Even as a kid, I could tell the quality of the art and writing had taken a back seat to snazzy covers. I stopped collecting for years, only coming back to collecting when the MCU debuted and my son became interested in comics. And guess what I did then? I went right back to my childhood habits, scooping up any and all variants I came across before they sold out. Big sigh.

My apologies for the long-winded backstory into my collecting, but there’s a point to it. All of those “hard to find” and “must-have” variants I scooped up when I was a kid, or impulsively purchased decades later upon my return? They’re either tucked away in a box somewhere or I sold them at a loss. Alan probably hasn’t made the mistakes that I have comic collecting. Good for him. I have no problem telling you about my steep and painful learning curve and the many, many errors I have made on my collecting journey. Most are because of FOMO. Manufactured rarity and FOMO are not to your benefit, but to the benefit of the “Big Three’s” bottom line.

Think of comic collecting like the stock market. Don’t trade or buy comics emotionally. Good, profitable collecting requires discipline, and variants are meant to throw you off your game, plain and simple. Alan wants you in these comic streets recklessly throwing haymakers & hoping you hit something. I’m trying to turn you into a mean, lean comic collecting machine. Blogger Dome!

Alan: Learn to Love the Game

Sure, Harry did a fantastic job in the First Blogger Dome (some people even say that he won it, but most of them are in his immediate family).  But does Harry really deserve an entire back-story here to make his point?  Clearly, there is a lot of fear in Harry’s life.

Harry complains that he has no choice but to buy variant covers.  Have some self-control, my friend!  Part of the beauty ofWolverine-the-best-there-is-1-dell-otto-variant-198x300 Blogger Dome: Direct Editions VS Variants collecting is deciding what to buy.  Harry rails against too many choices.  As ‘NYC Harry’ knows, there are always more options for collectors in big cities or those with direct access to bigger LCS, where a store gets a certain number of variants depending on the number of issues they order from the publisher.  Having spent most of the 1980s searching Portland for even direct issues of books (before discovering great local comic stores), scarcity is nothing new to most of us.

This is Art, People!

Instead of being frozen by FOMO, embrace being part of a new age of comic collecting. Gradually, it is becoming art collecting.  Amazing variant cover art may cost more than the $4 cover price, but it costs far less than collecting this level of artwork in any other format.  Harry, you already have the book that you will read sitting in your subscription box, so if you want a variant cover, seek it out and collect it for the art that it is.  There are lots of websites specializing in variant covers. It is becoming an entire game of investment speculation all its own.  This is only building the market and popularity of comics beyond the fans connected to storylines or characters.  This is a good thing!

Round #2: Second Swing…

Harry: The Sure Thing

IMG_3193-197x300 Blogger Dome: Direct Editions VS VariantsLet’s say you weren’t programmed for FOMO as a child and you’re not as impulsive as I am. You methodically pick the comics you’re going to buy, as you should. You won’t buy up every variant that comes out because you never get hustled. Venom #3 is about to drop, there’s a lot of hype surrounding it because of a new character, Knull. There are ratio variants, convention variants, and store exclusive variants coming out. You rarely buy variants but you’re in the mood to gamble, so you decide to pick up one direct copy, the Skan Variant, the Kirkham variant, and the San Diego Comic-Con variant.

Of the four editions, guess which one is worth the most? The direct version of Venom #3 has doubled and even tripled in price compared to the others in the past year, hitting almost $600 dollars at one point in 2020.

But But But…

I know what you’re saying if you’re Alan or a Venom fan. I conveniently left out the Molina variant. But that’s exactly the point, you never know which variant is going to hit and break into quadruple digits in a 9.8. If there is a first appearance or key issue you are speculating on as an investment, a direct edition is always the surest bet. While a coveted first appearance will always hold value in a direct edition, that can’t be said for variants.

In the first Battle Dome, I argued against raw comics because they are a roll of the dice. The same argument applies here. I always want to minimize risk and maximize value when it comes to collecting and investing in comics. If you bought 4 direct copies of Venom #3 instead of a mess of variants, you’d have made more than if you bought numerous variants seeing which one would hit. Buying multiple copies is also price-prohibitive for most.

If you can only buy one copy, make sure that one copy is the direct edition. Crazy variant sales are outliers, so why wager? For every Ultimate Fall Out #4 Djurdjevic variant, you have thousands of variants worth significantly less than their direct counterparts. Comic companies know that you want to hit the comic lottery. They want you to chase the variants. Don’t let Alan or Marvel turn you into degenerate gamblers. I’ll take the safe bet with a direct copy every time. Thank you.

Alan: Level-Up Your Collection

You should know when anyone says ’sure thing’ you instantly run the other way, right?
Here is where we get the expected rant against the fact that variant covers are just a way for publishers to weasel more money outclean-198x300 Blogger Dome: Direct Editions VS Variants of collectors for the same story.  Of course, publishers are finding ways to sell more books and of course, our LCS is finding ways to benefit.  If your LCS is holding the best variants for themselves and not giving opportunities to loyal customers and subscribers, you may want to vote with your dollars and find a new LCS.  In the end, the story still has to be great.  Variant covers are more popular than ever, not just for the FOMO investment potential but because we love them and will pay for them.

If you are going to invest in variant covers speculating on what will grow in value, hoping to find the latest lottery ticket like Amazing Spider-Man #667 (Dell’Otto variant) which currently has values from $2,400 to $20,000 for a 9.8 graded book, you will need a keen eye for the right art and access to buy it. The average investor doesn’t get in on the ground floor of a hot new stock like AirBnB either.  Isn’t a great variant cover better than trying to find the next Gamestop stock bubble?  Unlike a share of Airbnb, a great variant cover can be not just an investment, but something you love as well.

Harry clearly has a stock portfolio of Boeing, AT&T, and GE stock, which is awesome if you’re 85 years old.  The stock market and comic investing are not degenerate gambling (except for that Gamestop stock run thing). All joking aside, the biggest reason that this is true is that investment gains are not random. This is not putting your money on Black-23 at the roulette wheel in Vegas, this is finding great art with epic storylines and iconic characters.  If every book had the same random chance of being a great investment, it would be gambling. That isn’t the case.  Finding the best variant artwork for an amazing story has just added another level of sophistication to the game.  Come on Harry, love the game.

Round #3: Third Strike!

Harry: Don’t F’ up Your Runs

IMG_3206-195x300 Blogger Dome: Direct Editions VS VariantsIf it’s not apparently obvious, I don’t just invest in comic books. I also read a ton of them. Like most of us, loving to read comics inevitably lead to me selling them. After I finish a run, I usually sell it off because stacks of flammable paper in a small NYC apartment are a death trap. Speaking from experience, if you want to sell a run, variants will typically mess with your resale value and turnaround time.

There’s a reason my pull list is all direct editions. Selling a run with variants is essentially the same as selling a run with missing issues. No one wants that lenticular homage or Cosmic Ghost Rider variant you thought was badass. So, not only are you losing out on the reliable value of a direct edition by buying variants, you’re screwing with the value of the entire series. It also makes that stack of comics harder to sell, which means issues become obstacles in your home.

I think the saying is don’t let your possessions posses you. That’s a little hard to do when you’re picking up four issues of Spawn every month that no one will want if you decide to resell them. The negative effects of investing in too many variants will bleed into other areas of your collecting and your life. Basically, what I’m saying is that Alan wants to ruin your life. Not nice, Alan.

Alan: Stop Being Afraid of ChangeRocket-Raccoon-Guardians-of-The-Galaxy-Original-Artwork-Brooklyn-Comic-Shop-Joshua-Stulman-2-196x300 Blogger Dome: Direct Editions VS Variants

Sadly, Harry lives in a very unsafe situation, but I have to give him props for this point. In Oregon, we have space. So I, like my other Pacific Northwest collectors, have lots and lots of paper stored at our homes and rarely face the prospect of selling off a run of books just to make space.  I think I may have your solution – buy the direct edition and a great variant and then hang the variant on your wall!
Embrace this era of great art and celebrate it!  For most of the last 35 years, comic books have not been graded and slabbed.  Unless you owned a comic store and had your collection covering your shop, the rest of us have all had to wonder how to display our collections.  Today we grade our very best books, locking them in time but also closing the door on reading them again.  Cover art has never been so important.  Get your direct edition for reading or resale of a run (if that is a real thing) and buy, slab, and display the epic variants.
One of the most interesting twists about variants is the massive popularity of sketch covers.  Why buy the coloring book version of a piece of art over the full professional coloring?  Because you will get to take that book to an artist (or even the original artist) and have it turned into something truly unique.  This didn’t exist twenty years ago and is creating a whole new product for us to enjoy. We call that innovation, and innovation is (almost always) good.

Finish Him!!

Harry: The Best Bang For Your Buck

IMG_3186-1-198x300 Blogger Dome: Direct Editions VS Variants

So far, I’ve talked to you about variants being mechanisms for FOMO, generally being worth less than direct editions, and negatively affecting the value of your comic collection. The biggest problem I have with variants is their oftentime ridiculous price tags. For instance, the general rule of thumb for a ratio variant is if it’s 1:1000, it will cost close to $1000 dollars, if it’s 1:500, it will cost $500, and so on and so forth. Go to Midtown comics and see the crazy price tags they have thrown on some of these variants if you don’t believe me. What a scam.

Let’s take the Ditko Remastered variant for Spider-Man #800. Awesome cover. There is nothing better than Ditko on Spider-Man; I don’t care what records Todd McFarlane’s art has broken lately. GoCollect data shows us that a 9.8 has a fair market value of $475. That’s hundreds of dollars less than its raw price tag when it first came out. That’s a terrible return on your investment. Let’s say you bought one to get a Stan Lee signature and then he passed away before you had the chance to make your money back. Maybe you’re even still a little bitter to this day about it. The point being, not only are these gambles less likely to hit than direct editions, but they are also much more expensive most of the time.

Worst case scenario? If you speculate with a direct edition, you lose a few bucks. With variants, it can cost you hundreds. If you grab variants for the cover art, great. I always say first and foremost buy what you love. But if you’re looking to make an investment AND buy what you love, I suggest sticking to direct copies. Variants are like playing a $100 slot machine that rarely pays out, while directs are $5 dollars and pay out all the time. Alan is out here acting like Marge Simpson loose in the Casino. Where’s Homer when you need him!?!

IMG_3235-300x300 Blogger Dome: Direct Editions VS VariantsIn closing, my dad paid $20 for the gold Spider-Man #1 that I just had to have back in 1990. Guess how much a raw copy goes for now over 30 years later? $20. Good luck debating that Alan. *mic drop*

Alan: Don’t Fear the Variant

Hold the phone – did Harry just argue that variants are no good because he has a variant (which clearly scarred him as a child) that has not gone up in value?!  I have a shed full of comics that have not gone up in value.  I bet you do, too.  The point of this isn’t that every variant should be a blue-chip investment.  It is that some are and some aren’t. But isn’t it fun that you get to choose?
It is time to celebrate the huge array of great art that you can own for as little as $4.  If there is a glut of an artist variant that you love but is not in high demand, you may have a chance of finding art you love (which is the definition of great art) for even greater bargains!  What is not to love about that?  Buy variants that you enjoy but remember, as with any collectible investment, forces of supply and demand are hard to anticipate.  Comic print numbers are notoriously difficult to know.  Storylines still have to be great to create the demand. Buy books you are excited to keep, and celebrate amazing artists who do variant covers.  It’s all good.  Don’t fear the variant.

Post-Fight Cool-Down

Harry & Alan: Thanks to everyone that read Round 1 of the Battle Dome and to everyone back for Round 2. Drop some comments with ideas for future battles so we can continue to learn from one another! Apes together strong.

Have you checked out GoCollect’s Ambassador Program yet?

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6 comments

Joseph Overaitis February 22, 2021 - 4:59 pm

Harry and Alan..what can I say? This was like watching Hearns vs Hagler. I love Harry’s arguments because I agree with him on this topic. I hate that fact there are so many variants and you have to take that roll of the dice and pick one. What is worst, the LCS has to pick what loyal customers get those variants and what loyal customers do not. Harry you always bring your A game

What was great Alan is that you exposed me to the opposite side that made me learn something I would not have but for this blog. Alan the comment about the LCS hoarding issues until they know the winners is great. I must admit that I never saw that haymaker thrown where you equated variants to art.

What a great fight!!!! You both made us proud.

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Harry Stone III February 23, 2021 - 2:11 pm

You guys whooped me. I’m done for the month lol.

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drdanawilliamson February 23, 2021 - 12:18 pm

This fight was clearly a draw! Good arguments from both sides. I agree with you both. All in all, it’s part of the game I love to play!

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Harry Stone III February 23, 2021 - 2:04 pm

Thanks for reading!For the sake of transparency, I love the occasional variant. That Gold Spider-Man is my most prized possession.

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octoberland February 24, 2021 - 10:24 am

I came in biased and I suppose I still am. I’m with Harry on this. I think variants are fine, but I only go after books with an important first inside them. Else, I usually pass unless I just like the art. But at that point it’s a PC purchase and not an investment / speculation piece. In my mind those are two totally different things.

I would mention that “variant” does not absolutely mean “good” in the art sense. Yes art is subjective. Companies are now putting out some banging art on the cover a / b that are display worthy. You do not have to pay extra just for good art all the time. I know cover B is technically a variant but I looked at this debate as Cover A -v- Ratio Variants. If the A/B are the same price I do not care/worry about which I get. I see this debate more of “pay cover or chase an inflated price point.”

That said, Alan did make two very nice points for me: slabs and blank cover OA. With everything going into cases (guilty) I can see how the contents are not as important at that point. Cover is all you see. I’m not sure that justifies some of the prices for essentially art prints. Frequently limited art print runs are far fewer pieces in total than the printed number of most variant copies. However, it does help me a bit to see them not directly as comics but limited prints once they get slabbed.

I was not thinking of sketches/original art on blank covers as variants, but I see how they would be. That should up the cost of the book. However, at that point I think you are more buying a sketch by an artist you like and less buying a “variant” cover. Semantics aside, that’s a pretty strong motive for variants of that nature.

Another solid battle in the books. This one I already had strong feelings on which are not changed, but maybe a touch softened. I definitely learned a few things from the opposing side and that’s all I can hope for. I’m all about collecting more information and better making / refining decisions!

– Craig Coffman

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Alan Harper February 25, 2021 - 11:38 pm

Craig, I’ll take that. Harry and I had to arm wrestle for who got to take the ‘not crazy about variants’ side of things. Clearly he is bigger and stronger. The point Harry didn’t make that hits me all the time is that it is now harder than ever, to just know a book by looking at it. I love the fact that many of us just know and can talk about a certain book by looking at it but honestly, I have variant books where I love the art but totally forget the book title and number!

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