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There is an art to creating a good variant cover, although it’s not one that is altogether followed or heeded. Comic companies have been using variant covers to pull up sales since it became even the littlest bit feasible to sell them. Although the most intense days of variants lay in the 90’s, the amount of usage hasn’t really flagged in the least, and might have even gotten somewhat more aggravating. While in the 90’s they might have been a bigger novelty, in current times they are just something done out of tradition.
The problem with this is that it seems ludicrous to pay more than the normal amount for tradition, especially if they are used as incentives to order more. The first rule in the art of making a variant cover is, therefore, the price range with regards to the retailers. The second rule is easier – if you’re going to try and fleece people with variants, you might as well try to make it worth the hassle. There are so many needless variants that go to print, which are just there for no reason other than to do something with trees, it seems. This includes, but is not limited to, such things as the following:
A type of variant that plagued Marvel a while back with unceasing regularity. What did Deadpool bring to the table in order to make a good variant other than lame at best, horrible at worst, jokes? It’s not as though DC is any better at this either – only recently did they release a Sinestro variant where he was quite honestly just “Grumpy Cat”. The fact that this does sell, and seemingly consistently, is beside the point – the best variants are those that don’t rely on such paltry gimmicks. In a few years who will care about Grumpy Cat? Who will care about Deadpool outside the balanced melancholic-comedy that his fans love him for?
This approaches the third rule in the art of variants – make an extravaganza out of it. This can be accomplished in many ways, either connecting it to the series/story arc or to the mythology of the franchise in general. This can be accomplished in many ways, either by playfully weaving an image that fulfills the requirements or by looking into the past and dredging it into the modern day with a new sheen. Examples of both can be seen below. With the Action Comics cover it makes great use of a “movie poster” gimmick to poke fun at a large swath of the series’ past. Both things that entice readers and look good doing it.
Then there’s the other kind, best exemplified with Alan Moore’s Providence series. Jacen Burrow’s variants go way beyond the call of duty and reach far back into the past in terms of style and content. It’s not a warranted variant, no variant is, but it justifies itself in all the best ways.
In the end, why get a variant cover that either isn’t interesting or even connected in a way that fans and readers in general can enjoy? Why pay for that when it’s not even going to be a little show piece or something of actually novel value? It’s a waste of paper and that it even manages to sell is more than a little disheartening. Of course, you might be wondering if a cover with no connection to the series at hand can be good – and the answer is yes. If it’s engaging enough, and with that I will leave you with such an example:
Thoughts and comments would be appreciated below.