Welcome 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 get ready to rumble!
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 GoCollect 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 if 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”.
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
Harry complains that he has no choice but to buy variant covers. Have some self-control, my friend! Part of the beauty of 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
Let’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
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.
Round #3: Third Strike!
Harry: Don’t F’ up Your Runs
If 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 Change
Harry: The Best Bang For Your Buck
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!?!
In 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*