Mike Gold: Money For Nothing

I was having lunch with www.getthepointradio.com’s Mike Raub yesterday and we were deep in discussion about our favorite topic, what the hell is wrong with the planet and why we are the only ones smart enough to realize it. Before long we were ranting about the lameness of most mainstream comics and the various attempts the sundry marketing departments make to boost sales.

As always, this discussion came to the point where I started in on my favorite seething rage, which, in short form, goes like this: “Screw this variant cover shit; it has nothing to do with getting people excited to actually read the comic book.”

Variant covers became amazingly popular among comics retailers and a handful of wealthy consumers some 20 years ago. In fact, while packaging some books for Image Comics, I wanted to publish a variant cover printed on chewable bubble gum. Image vetoed that one; I strongly suspect they got the joke and had an understandable aversion to biting the hands that feeds them.

But as I was about to babble on and on, I came to a quick stop. A 25-watt light bulb (LED, of course) went off over my head. Indeed, I had an epiphany! It dawned on me there are at least three types of comic book covers being published today: the regular cover, the variant covers that are celebrity-drawn and/or way too cute for words, and the blank cover variant.

You’ve probably seen a few of them. Ostensibly, readers are supposed to get an artist at some convention to draw the cover for you, often in exchange for a stipend. Maybe you’ll just get autographs. Fine. Audience participation is cool. But variant covers generally go for a premium, or in exchange for purchasing X number of comics. What does this mean?

It means many comic book publishers have figured out a way to soak the reader for an “exclusive” that, in fact, costs the publisher next-to-nothing to produce.

That, my friends, is a business model.

Mind you, I may have been the first to publish a blank cover. It was DC’s Wasteland #6, and we did that because the printer screwed up massively and put the wrong cover on the issue. They reprinted it with a blank cover; my idea, as I wanted to alert the reader and the retailer that this was something different. I designed this cover, but I didn’t get paid for it for three reasons: 1) I was on staff, 2) Publisher Paul Levitz knows sarcasm when he hears it, and 3) the damn cover was blank!!!

Same thing with these contemporary blank variants. They are blank! You, the reader/collector/dealer, are spending money for nothing.

And your chicks for free.

To paraphrase Yakov Smirnoff, Comics – what a business!

Someday, somebody will try to sell a comic book based upon its merits and not rely on stunt marketing to do the heavy lifting.

If the business lives that long.