October 14, 2013
A Quick Note Or Two About Variant Covers
Fantagraphics Associate Publisher Eric Reynolds wrote into the site last week
to upbraid me a bit for tacitly endorsing the recent Walking Dead
variant cover bonanza. He's always welcome to write: I love getting letters, and I love getting them from smart industry people. Eric and I sat next to one another in the office of The Comics Journal
for about 18 months near the tail end of the Image Doing Damage era, and worked at Fantagraphics together during the time that company was aggressively negotiating the market damage inflicted by Image and other large publishers. It was not a happy time. I think a lot of that behavior was abominable, short-sighted and stupid. The whole comics industry nearly collapsed and a lot of people lost their jobs and/or businesses -- I was a Halley's Comix customer, and that Chicago location was maybe the most prominent store in North America to suffer massive internal bleeding from the Deathmate fiasco
. I share Eric's concern with and contempt for a similarly cavalier attitude that puts comics in the make-as-much-money-right-now business as opposed to strategies that support long-term growth.
I will say that even though I strongly wish they didn't exist
, I'm not as concerned for today's stunts as I was worried about the publishing shenanigans as they existed almost two decades ago now. The major expressions of short-term profit and pass-the-risk disdain in that era were late-shipping books and a flood of material on the stands far ahead of any reasonable attempt at line cohesion or, really, minimal professional standards. Those were fundamentally poisonous activities, and I think even more so for a market with so many young and/or new businesses involved in trying to sell comics. The routine practice of variant covers now with things like the various Adventure Time
series and the occasional big push for a book like last year's 100th issue and this year's 10th anniversary issue of Walking Dead
, those things are eye-rolling instead of gut-churning, at least for me. We learned this month as sales rolled in for DC's openly screwed-up Villains Month promotion just how primed the system of Direct Market stores is to move event books of one type or another, comics that marry a desirable story moment with some sort of collectible impulse -- the comics that imprint as need-to-buy for one reason or another. When I see publishers and creators with a lot to offer in terms of story and a wider health for that market indulge in this kind of thing, I think of it more as a lost opportunity, a way of doing something now that may not be as harmful to the fabric of the industry as it was then but may be even more depressing for the resources that could be funneled into playing a longer, grander, more important game. I don't blame them; I hope to god they're careful; I dearly wish they'd stop.
posted 8:27 am PST
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