Is This C2E2 Ultimate Fallout Crain Acetate Variant a Bootleg?

by Matt Kennedy

081022B-1024x536 Is This C2E2 Ultimate Fallout Crain Acetate Variant a Bootleg?According to Marvel, a vendor at C2EC sold an unauthorized variant that quickly entered the Top Ten Hottest Comics of the week and commanded very high prices amid substantial controversy.  

A Funnybook Fiasco

If you have read virtually any comic book blogs, tweets, IG posts, or checked in on any comic-centric youtube channels this week, you are probably somewhat familiar with a controversy some are calling #AcetateGate.

Just ahead of the annual C2E2 convention in Chicago this past weekend, Lexington, South Carolina’s Black Flag Comics announced that they would be dropping 750 copies of an exclusive “acetate” variant of their previously released Ultimate Fallout #4 Clayton Crain Facsimile Variant, priced $85 each (raw). They were completely sold out before the majority of fans (many of whom had traveled great distances specifically for this one comic) had even entered the building.

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What makes this different from a standard convention-exclusive feeding frenzy is that the entire run of 750 Sold Out, mostly to Exhibitors, before the convention doors opened. This is because Black Flag Comics had set no limit to the quantity attendees could purchase. This is the first time I’ve ever heard of a convention exclusive that allowed more than a couple of copies per person. With an announced price of $85 each, raw, that generated a minimum of $63,750. More on that in a moment.

No Limits

Bystanders and those in the queue have reported across multiple social media accounts that no limit was in place and “Influencers” were allowed to cut the line.

Youtuber White Shadow (real name: Chip) reported in a vlog on Saturday evening that he witnessed a number of Whatnot sellers and IG Influencers cutting the line to purchase entire shortboxes of this rare variant. Instagram reseller Danielle of Nerdy Girl Comics posted on her own account that she had managed to pick up 75 copies for which she paid at the booth. Several other supposed bystanders had corroborated Chip’s accusations that these influencers had been allowed to forego waiting, but a photo taken by Nomasss Comics (at 8:51 AM, local time) shows that Hive Comics, Nerdy Girl, Spectral Comics, Your Comic Corner, Everything Batman, Doyle Comic Art and Illest-uminati were all waiting in line from at least that point. Similarly, Skeff of Youtube Channel Skeff’s Comic Knowledge was erroneously alleged to have circumvented the line, but there is no doubt that he was allowed to purchase 125 copies, which according to a long Facebook Live post from Black Flag owner Jason Wallace, were also being held from prior communications.

The bigger gripe is that all were allowed to purchase as many issues as they wanted.


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When those standing in queue saw these large quantities changing hands without limit, they started buying quantities of 10, 20, 40, or even 85 copies at a time. By the time Chip was about 15 people from the front of the line, a Black Flag employee announced that while they were starting to run low on raw copies, there were a handful of CGC graded copies; a couple of 9.8s for $500, a couple 9.9s for $1,250 and a 10.0 for $2,500. When he was four bodies from the front, it was clear that there was a single, loosely-filled, short box of raw copies remaining, but the person actually at the front was another Youtuber/IG/Whatnot Influencer who bought all of those and wanted even more.

At that point, Jason Wallace announced that all raw copies had been sold. The people in line went ballistic. After much haranguing, a shortbox (which according to Wallace had already been promised to another collector) was located and Black Flag began selling from that. There was now a limit of two per person and the price was raised from $85 to $100, but even that supply was completely gone in a matter of minutes.


It took no time at all for many social media accounts to start calling out Black Flag Comics for what most considered to be a very poorly handled release as well as for price gouging, but there was also an online pitchfork march for the Whatnot Sellers and Social Media Influencers who were allowed to buy in bulk seemingly without having to stand and wait. The blogosphere became an echo chamber of accusations.

Since very few of the so-called “influencers” were named, many people who were not in attendance cast speculation about who they “must” have been. This resulted in some of the resellers posting in defense of themselves and each other to ill effect.

Gem Mint took to IG and YouTube to address his own purchase, but in an attempt to defend some of his fellow influencers ended up confirming their identities for the blogosphere. After hundreds of critical comments, he removed the post and video. Nerdy Girl deleted her post, as well.

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Jason Wallace had posted a Facebook Live Stream via the Black Flag Comics account on Saturday afternoon celebrating the successful sellout of the Clayton Crain Acetate Variant while walking the C2E2 convention floor. In it, he confirmed that large quantities had been set aside for bulk purchases –which was seen to skirt the definition of  a “convention exclusive.”

He claimed that all the copies set aside had been pre-paid, but that claim runs counter to Nerdy Girl’s own account of her large bulk purchase. Since, by this point, conventioneers were seeing these books marked up 200-300% at other booths and frustrated that Black Flag had sold out before the doors opened, Wallace addressed his motivation for allowing bulk purchases:

I see business opportunities, I take it… Our books are dope, our books make people money.

In the rather long scattershot 25-minute live stream, he would go on to state his intention of setting up a fine art gallery in which, “there might even be a little mouse involved,” inferring that he was exploring some kind of partnership with Disney. As one might assume, his explanation did not go over well and he took it down along with every other reference on his various social media accounts to the Acetate Variant.

The Kicker

Clayton Crain (who created the facsimile cover) was not in attendance at C2E2 when the drama unfolded, and he has not posted any commentary about it as of this writing. Black Flag announced in a post that has since been removed that they will have two more Acetate Exclusives at Boston Comic Con this weekend for over $100 apiece: A Ghost Rider and a Venom –both Crain Variants.

Which one of each was not specified, just that they were old. In Wallace’s Live Stream he suggested that there would be two lines: one for “influencers and resellers” and a one-per-person “fan line” for which he’ll reserve 100 total copies of each. There was no explanation about who would qualify as an influencer or what their limit would be.  But –in what transpires as the most bizarre part of this story, Bleeding Cool was able to confirm that these Acetates are not Marvel Approved!

And as we all know, an unapproved edition is otherwise known as a Counterfeit or a Bootleg.

The announcement of an exclusive with a print run of only 750 immediately raised flags since Marvel has a minimum purchase of 3000 copies per exclusive. Since the only difference between the prior Clayton Crain Facsimile Variant and the C2E2 exclusive is a printed acetate wrap, it stands to reason that Black Flag Comics paid Crain to design a clear cover as an incentive to sell their left-over stock. But Marvel has very strict policies in place for approving exclusive variants, and while no course of action has yet been announced, penalties seem imminent since this one is confirmed as unapproved.

But this raises an even more serious question:

Why did CGC grade an unapproved, after-market alteration? These “Acetate Variants” have a second set of staples because this unapproved transparency has merely been stapled onto an existing comic. By CGC’s own posted grading criteria, any aftermarket adjustment should get a Green label, not a Blue label. But more importantly, how on earth can a comic with four extra staple holes in it receive a 10.0 grade? CGC actually posted an official statement on the matter.

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“We apologize for the short response yesterday and wanted to follow up with an explanation of our thought process behind the grade assignments. We treated them as we would any other variant cover that’s attached with an extra set of staples after the book was printed, and at times these books included the original cover as well.

“There is a precedent for acetate covers being attached to a printed book, and then graded by CGC. An example is Stray Dogs #1 from last year. An acetate variant cover was attached with an extra set of staples, to which CGC assigned a Universal grade and a notation of “acetate cover” on the label. The extra set of staples were part of the manufacturing process of attaching the acetate cover, and not considered a defect.”

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Of course the Stray Dogs #1 Acetate Variant was manufactured and released by Image Comics –not by a third party, so the extra staples that appear in that issue are an original production design and not a defect, making the justification given by CGC for the Crain Acetate odd at best and disingenuous at worst.

Prior Precedent

While there were previous policies against grading Fake comics, there are several high-profile Counterfeits that were common enough in their day to have earned a certain collectibility. At least one counterfeit copy of Cerebus #1 has been graded by CGC in a blue label, but it has COUNTERFEIT listed three times on the label, including in the title. There are also high-profile and collectible counterfeits of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 and Flaming Carrot Comics #1, but I am unaware of any actually graded copies of those latter two on the census. How is the Crain Acetate any different from these? An hour after the previous statement went live on the CGC Chatboards, this post appeared:

Screen-Shot-2022-08-09-at-5.29.25-PM-1024x270 Is This C2E2 Ultimate Fallout Crain Acetate Variant a Bootleg?

“CGC graded these comics only because the acetate cover was created by the artist himself.”

This statement seemingly empowers any artist whose work graces any comic cover the right to add an acetate sheet and call it a variant. Just imagine the can of worms this opens. We haven’t seen it yet, but it would be rather simple to take existing Blank Sketch Covers and print directly onto the covers to produce an edition variant rather than a unique sketch cover. And if CGC refuses to grade them they open themselves up to litigation for discriminatory business practices –especially now that they have been acquired by Blackstone, a publicly traded company under SEC governance.

I don’t think anyone imagined that a homemade variant would change the entire grading model within the comic collecting industry, but that is very possibly what has happened here.

Keep up with more industry analysis:

This blog is written by freelance blogger Matt Kennedy: Matt Kennedy is owner of Gallery 30 South and author of Pop Sequentialism: The Art of Comics. The first comic he bought on the newsstand was Werewolf by Night #32 which he somehow managed to keep in good enough condition to get it graded 9.0 forty years later. Please follow him @popsequentialism on Instagram & Twitter and visit his website:

AAA-Matt-Kennedy-Blogger-Footers Is This C2E2 Ultimate Fallout Crain Acetate Variant a Bootleg?*Any perceived investment advice is that of the freelance blogger and does not reflect advice on behalf of GoCollect

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intralect4681 August 11, 2022 - 10:21 am

Great article Matt,

I practically live on Whatnot and watched this go down live across like 7 shows. I could sense throughout the day that something was not kosher with that book as folks were getting nervous and the price kept climbing.

Bottom line, this is all about greed and a lack of procedure. I don’t think these ‘influencers’ intended to create the drama but they should know that the hobby is watching hard and super quick to call out anything that looks shady. They just saw an opportunity and these guys don’t make much money, so makes sense.

CGC and C2E2 really screwed up here and they need to do better. They have a responsibility as well – CBCS and PSA would be smart to call them out. But sh!t happens. That book is a counterfeit in my mind but will now be infamous and will unfortunately have a place in the hobby as a relic of what happened. Long term value-wise it will be junk but still unique. A symbol of that time CGC and C2E2 screwed up, got greedy and the hobby got pissed.

Matt Kennedy August 11, 2022 - 12:37 pm

Thanks for reading my column!
The realization that platforms like Whatnot provide a means for influencers to flourish with pump-and-dump schemes has started a massive backlash against all involved. It is possible that this single fiasco has killed the recovery from the recession that was starting to build momentum after the heights of last year in the hobby. Most of the people I know are completely done with Variants and several more are leaving the hobby. This is a real shame.

KokoUnlimited August 11, 2022 - 11:44 am

There is no debate on whether this is a “bootleg,” or whatever other connotation of fraud you want to label it. It was not approved by the publisher, therefore it’s not a true variant. It’s just a book that a third party decided to alter. It doesn’t matter who that third party is, even if it’s the artist themself. It’s not an approved variant.

Now playing devil’s advocate, you could say, well I don’t care if it’s “approved,” I buy what I like and it’s collectible if there’s a “want” for it. That’s fair, you can’t dictate to anyone what they like to collect. But he crux of this entire fiasco is CGC. They are trying so desperately to come up with a valid excuse as to why they graded these books and each time they make a statement, they just dig the grave a little deeper. And it’s because they are being held to their own previous standards.

Adding a signature to a book is altering it as well, but in order for CGC to grade it with a yellow label they need to witness it, otherwise it gets the Green with “Name written on cover in marker” treatment. The last Hail Mary they threw out was that they only graded it because Crain supposedly created the designs on the acetate cover. So did CGC witness Clayton Crain stapling 750 acetate covers to these books? And even then, it would not be akin to a “remark” as the acetates are merely reproductions of his original art that is now being added to an already released publication.

CGC has only one good way out of all this… just admit you fucked up.

It’s happened to all of us, you get into a situation, and you try and find some kind of way out that doesn’t make you look completely and totally at fault. But sometimes, that’s the only viable door.
Stop doubling down, it only makes things worse. Most people will respect a sincere apology and efforts to make sure it doesn’t happen again. The CGC brand is literally everything to their credibility, they need to protect it.

Matt Kennedy August 11, 2022 - 12:32 pm

Agreed. This sequence of events is likely to irrevocably diminish the Variant market and has already tarnished CGC’s reputation among a lot of collectors.

Matt Kennedy August 11, 2022 - 12:49 pm

I think it’s fair to say that without the massive and immediate backlash from convention attendees about the poor release of this “exclusive”, we might not have seen such a reaction to the slabbed 9.8, 9.9, and 10.0s. While this seems like common sense to me, I’ll post it anyhow:

1. The announced price of $85 each for a convention exclusive has got be unprecedented, but when Black Flag raised the price on the last remaining box to $100 each, they became villains.

2. Don’t call something a convention exclusive if you have accepted pre-sales.

3. If you are carving out a quantity, do it before the show and don’t broadcast that you have more than you actually have. Intuitively, most sellers underreport the qty to create a greater impression of scarcity.

4. Monitor your line, set a qty limit based on the number of people in that line, and cap the line when it becomes evident that your stock is low.

And most importantly:

Anthony August 13, 2022 - 9:51 am

Clayton Crain WAS at c2e2. I was there, he was only there Friday and was supposed to remain all weekend, but after all the drama, he didn’t come back Saturday or Sunday, and the guys at CGC specifically told me he wouldn’t be back all weekend on Saturday morning.

Kenloi August 15, 2022 - 12:34 pm

Supposedly this Craine variant is being put up for sale by these people for tens of 1000’s of dollars. Absolutely not worth it. Wouldn’t it be great if sold copy monies are donated to the nurses and doctors that have helped us(you) over the last 3 years, I dare you social influencers do the right thing..You will get the correct response with love hits not hatred

Marcel Munro August 16, 2022 - 12:59 am

My favorite part: the comic production company that did this is a company owned by Crain and Black Flag (infinite Black)

Matt Kennedy August 16, 2022 - 2:10 pm

There were two statements issued this weekend. One from Marvel, and one from CGC.

Here is the email that Marvel publisher, David Gabriel sent out to retailers who have participated in their exclusive variant program.
Subject: Clarification of Exclusive variants

“As you all continue to expand your businesses, we want to thank you for continuing to explore exclusive opportunities with Marvel through our exclusive retailer variant program.

“By participating in our program, please remember that all cover artwork must be created and approved by Marvel. Once submitted and accepted, no retailer has permission to use these comics or art to create new products, edit, or change the published comic in any way. This of course pertains to all past and current comics. We have updated our deal sheets for all retailer variant cover requests moving forward to emphasize these points.

“As always, thank you for everything you do, and we appreciate your cooperation and continued support!”

And here is the Admin post by CGC Mike on the CGC boards:

“We feel it is important to provide transparency on how CGC arrived at our method of certifying Clayton Crain’s Ultimate Fallout comics with the attached acetate covers. For us, this was an unprecedented item to grade. After Mr. Crain spoke with us prior to C2E2, the rules we applied to his books:

The additional cover had to be created by an established artist in the industry.
The comic to which the cover was attached had to contain a cover by that same artist.
A copy of the comic with the attached cover had to be submitted to us for inspection prior to certifying any copies.

Given the recent circumstances, we have made adjustments to the labeling originally used for the Ultimate Fallout exhibiting the acetate cover. Going forward, any copies submitted to CGC will display in the label text: “In God We Intrust” Acetate Artist Cover attached with 2 staples after manufacturing. The books will still be allowed to receive a Universal label. This will also apply to Mr. Crain’s forthcoming copies of Ghost Rider #1 and Deadpool Nerdy 30 #1 that contain an acetate cover.”

Clearly Marvel and CGC are not on the same page since David Gabriel’s statement is a reminder that these after-market alterations are not sanctioned.

Worth noting: Black Flag Comics did not have acetate editions of Ghost Rider nor Deadpool openly for sale to the public at the Boston Comic Con this past weekend, but instead allowed a handful of dealers to purchase them quietly. Thus far none have hit Whatnot.

Darrell August 16, 2022 - 5:31 pm

Another one of those cheap ways of trying to make a bunch of money quick. To play Devil’s Advocate though, I have to say Jason Wallace has a point, you got a line of people willing to give you $85 for an unsold comic with an added cover, you don’t care where you get it from, your main goal is to sell ’em all before the resellers realize the only ones they can resell to are the one who were in line that didn’t get one.
And, absolutely, if you’re going to do a show exclusive, it should be one to a person and no presale, period.

Kenloi August 17, 2022 - 4:15 am

DARRELL Good points…. “And, absolutely, if you’re going to do a show exclusive, it should be one to a person and no presale, period.”.. Agreed. Otherwise defeats the object of turning up to a show to grab an exclusive as a fan. Comic shops take note. Don’t neglect the walk in customers….

Kenloi August 18, 2022 - 5:30 am

Social media and influencers have finally infitrated the comic scene with big sponsors that see comics only as a commodity- a pretty cover. Publishers are embracing this as they see this technology with new marketing techniques to sell new comics with exaggerated profit. Creating a false value on a physical product short term.The influencers make their money, the sponsors make their money on a short term only. Knowing within weeks many of these exclusives will be worthless. The punter (us) will usually suffer. Perhaps some of these exclusives will be collected down the line when the value has dropped. Traditional comic fans (readers) are being left behind as their main goal was to collect or hoard with possible profits in retirement or hard times. The social media ‘stars’ have large egos to announce their missions and expect their followers to listen.This is the way now. Indeed i watch many of their you tube videos and love them. I suspect the back issue market has never been richer as new comics are beginning to suck big time. Lots of new small time characters every week out of nowhere never to be seen again. Too many variant covers on certain lines. It does produce an income for the cover artists however. Too much encouragement by media sites to sell, sell, sell for profit with no interest in the stories. Variant covers are only an alternative cover with an artist in demand. Keep the prices low. A and B covers only with a publisher approved variant only. Exclusive shop variants are too many and should be reigned back.. Concentrate on the contents of a comic rather than just the cover which obviously is important as it draws people to the product. Perhaps alternating comic releases every 2 weeks so comic shops still get their income and punters get their caffeine kick. The Craine variant is the poinnacle of these practices.. Very shady indeed….I still wish i knew what this age of comics is as i beleive we have crossed 2 new eras since the end of the modern age, which will also need to be renamed. The Craine Ult 4 is i believe the start of a new unwarranted era……..

Matt Kennedy August 18, 2022 - 12:44 pm

Thanks for reading and commenting.

the impasse here is that Variants are good business for the publisher. So as long as they can milk an extra 3000 copies out of a one-way retailer sale (and across sometime dozens of retailers) they are going to keep doing it –and for continuously less consequential issues. The truth is that while collectors bitch about this, there are still enough of them spending the money. If a retailer gets stuck with overstock (as Black Flag clearly did) it should lead to a decline in interest overall in participating in the retailer exclusive variant program. But because Black Flag went ahead and did this unauthorized repackage and made out so well on it, we are going to see an explosion of this sort of thing.

The only way to punish companies is by hitting their bank accounts. If people continue to buy these, we’ll keep seeing them. And while it’s easy to say that they ALL drop in value soon after streeting, that’s just not true. Exceptions make the rule and we can point to many variants that have become very valuable –even increasingly so. They are by percentage rarer than those that get pumped and dumped, but the quantity is sufficient to provide a common case study in FOMO.

It’s complicated. Partly because it does represent a better income for the artists than what they get paid by Marvel, and because all artists have fans that want to collect everything you do.

Unfortunately, the only people that can end this have a financially vested interest in continuing.

Joe August 30, 2022 - 5:50 am

Sucks I got mentioned in this column, as I was making my rounds around the convention that morning, and saw the line and jumped in for a picture. Oh well. 🙃

Matt Kennedy August 30, 2022 - 9:12 am

I’m sure a lot folks have photobombed themselves into controversy over the years. I ran the actual photo in the AcetateGate Update, and I only mentioned you here because Nomasss Comics tagged you in the photo. Ironically, my intent was to reference that there is photographic evidence that some people accused of NOT waiting in line were at least in line by the time indicated.

Your explanation here helps to explain why people further back in the line thought people were cutting in front of them –even if it was only for a photo op.


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