By Benjamin Nobel, December 14, 2016
The credit for 1st appearance of the New Mutants isn’t held by a regular-sized comic book… Rather, it is a graphic novel, by the name of “Marvel Graphic Novel,” issue #4. If you submit one of these to CGC, you do so under their magazine tier. Here’s something interesting you may have noticed, if you’ve looked to collect this book: there is a $5.95 cover price variant. Shown at right is an example CGC label (note the part of the label I am pointing out with an arrow). CGC denotes these variants with “$5.95 Cover Price” (and counts them separately on their online census).
Having noticed this variant out there in the marketplace, you’ve probably then wondered: what is this variant? And just how rare is it (and why)? By the end of this post you will have learned the answers to these questions. First, I need to give you some background knowledge.
Long-time readers of this blog already know all about 75 Cent Variants (Canadian Newsstand Editions) over in the comic book category. To summarize and give you the “cliff notes version” as relates to this post:
During a particular publication “window” in the 1980’s, we find that all direct edition copies of Marvel’s comics carry multiple prices on the cover, with a US price in bold and a smaller Canadian price underneath [learn the difference between direct edition and newsstand copies if you’re not already in the know]. This is because in the 1980’s, the currency exchange rate moved fairly sharply, and publishers started to demand a higher price if the buyer was paying in Canadian currency.
BUT: for newsstand distribution, there was a “window” of time where, instead of placing both prices on all newsstand copies (as they eventually did), Marvel instead printed out two batches, one batch for each price tag. [These were manufactured simultaneously on the same equipment, here in the USA, and simply involved a change of the black/key plate — the rest of the book itself, including the all-important indicia page, is fully identical across the different versions].
The larger newsstand batch was destined for distribution on US newsstands, and the smaller batch was destined for distribution on Canadian newsstands [the distribution appears to have been “imperfect” in that various readers have shared their personal experience with me, of their having consistently found the Canadian type on newsstands in towns in the USA close to the border, and also that the US type was regularly found in Canada — it makes sense that having two types would have “strained the newsstand distribution logistics” in this way, where the different types “spilled over,” especially along the border].
Why would the Canadian newsstand batch have been smaller, you ask?
Because Canada is a dramatically smaller market by population size. In the 1980’s, Canada’s population represented about 9.8% of the total North American market for Marvel’s English language comic books (the USA being the other 90.2% of that market). So when they sized the different print run batches, they had this market size discrepancy in mind — along with the fact that part of that Canadian market would be purchasing the direct edition version (the kind sold in comic shops), so the newsstand demand was only a portion of that 9.8%…
What kind of portion are we talking about, you ask?
Sometime during the mid-1980’s, around 1985/1986, industry insiders and book authors have told us that direct edition sales began to surpass newsstand sales at Marvel. If you think about how this would have divided the comic book market in general, and the Canadian comic book market specifically, at the 50/50 point as applied to the Canadian market, that 9.8% figure starting with population size, would then have been divided in half: i.e. we’re now assuming 4.9% direct edition sales at Canadian comic shops (those copies being identical to the direct edition copies sold in the USA), to 4.9% newsstand sales (those copies being the variants), with those halves totaling to 9.8%. (Thinking about the 50/50 point, whenever that happened to have precisely occurred, makes for easy math we can do in our heads; the rarity before and after is then some percentage more or less, depending on how we divide up that market between direct edition and newsstand [here’s a discussion of how it might have broken down year by year during the variant window]).
So for the newsstand-exclusive cover price variants over in the world of comic books published by Marvel, we’re starting from that ballpark 4.9% figure at time of original distribution (give or take, depending on how close we are to the 50/50 point chronologically, i.e. how we split up the 9.8% starting point into direct:newsstand), and other variables would then play into the surviving rarity ratio (leading to the relative numbers of each type that we therefore observe on the CGC census sitting here today in 2016) — variables like how well each particular issue sold through on the newsstands (the newsstand model called for unsold copies to be returned to the publisher for a refund), and the fate of the newsstand returns (often they were recycled/pulped, but other times the publisher re-sold the returns into a secondary market, such as Whitman packs, or test-marketing US reaction to a higher cover-price-point — the returned Canadian newsstand copies already had a higher price tag number on their covers so they were perfect for this task).
And then there’s the critical variables of the behavior of the staff and the behavior of the buyer, i.e. how they treated the comics. At newsstands, the staff had no training to preserve condition or handle the comics with care — they were simply treated like the magazines next to them on the rack (a publication meant to be read). Meanwhile over at the comic shops, store owners were careful to preserve collectible condition, knowing that the pristine condition was important to their customers. And that’s true: the customers at comic shops tended to be collectors who cared greatly about condition… Bagging and boarding the treasures they took home from the comic shop was the common behavior. But over at the newsstands, the typical buyer wasn’t a collector, but rather was a reader. Newsstand comics are notorious for being “read to death” and often simply discarded.
So with the newsstand-exclusive cover price variants in the comic book category we see very low variant percentages showing up on the CGC census. An example of a particularly abundant supply of cover price variants relative to the total CGC has graded, is issue #252 of Amazing Spider-Man. In other words, this particular issue is a stand-out for having a relatively high percentage of variants show up, versus the percentage we see for other comics in the 1980’s price variant category — which may very well have to do with those variables I talked about, like the fate of the newsstand returns.
And that relatively-ultra-high percentage we see in the census numbers for ASM #252 — want to guess what the figure is? About 2% variants, to 98% “regular” copies. Based on the distribution math at time of publication we’d expect somewhere around 5-6% of that issue to be variants, before those other variables play into things, and the “notorious newsstand destruction rate” variable may be partly responsible for slicing the percentage down further from there (versus direct edition copies which were meanwhile extraordinarily well preserved). It is also possible that the newsstand-to-direct-edition ratio tilted differently in Canada… the largest city there, Toronto, has a population that is only about a third of the population of New York City for example — so with smaller cities, the concentration of newsstand outlets across Canada versus comic shop outlets could very well have differed as compared to the US market, resulting in a different ratio there (but absent perfect information such as that data, I believe the starting-point assumption I’ve argued here is reasonable and if anything probably conservative, i.e. understating the expected rarity instead of overstating it).
Marvel Graphic Novel #4 —$5.95 Cover Price
So now with this background information laid down, let’s turn our attention to Marvel Graphic Novel #4. That one is not in the comic book CGC tier, it is in the magazine tier, and when it came to the distribution, it was also different than how they distributed their comics: There weren’t multiple prices on some copies, but one price on others, like we see on their comics of this time period…
There weren’t two distinct distribution channels to “sort” the buyers of Marvel Graphic Novel #4 into a mostly-collector-group (as was the case with direct edition comics), versus a mostly-reader-group (as was the case with newsstand comics). Rather, these were graphic novels, and distributed as such. And for the pricing, the U.S. copies simply carried a single price of $4.95 on the cover, while the copies destined for Canada carried a $5.95 cover price.
If we think about what this might mean for the rarity percentage that we’d expect to see showing up in the CGC census data for variant copies of Marvel Graphic Novel #4, I’d propose we consider the following observations:
(1) Since the price variant was distributed the same way as the “regular” copies, the buying groups of each type would have been similar in their collector:reader ratio. Therefore we’d probably not see a meaningful difference in “destruction rate” between the cover price variant and the regular copies, because the behavior of the buyers who took each type home would have been similar.
(2) Since the distribution was that of a graphic novel, there was no division of the Canadian market between direct edition and newsstand the way there was with comics. Therefore we’d probably see the ratio of cover price variants be closer to the full 9.8% of the market that Canada’s population represented, for graphic novels.
Based on these two observations let’s make a prediction: We’d probably expect about 9.8% of CGC submissions of Marvel Graphic Novel #4, to be the $5.95 cover price variant that was produced for the Canadian market.
As I type this sentence on December 14, 2016, looking at the present CGC census data, there are a grand total of 431 first print copies of Marvel Graphic Novel #4 that have been turned in to CGC for grading. Based on the logic I’ve argued above, our prediction would be that about 9.8% of those copies would be the $5.95 cover price variant, or 42 copies, versus 389 “regular” copies.
Does our prediction match the reality? Here’s a screenshot of today’s census data. As you can see, there are 41 variant copies and 390 regular copies. We came pretty darn close!
If you have recently collected the $5.95 cover price variant for Marvel Graphic Novel #4, now you know why it has the rarity it does. And by collecting this highly interesting variant, you’ve just stepped through the open door to a whole category of even-more-rare cover price variants (due to the same phenomenon causing your Marvel Graphic Novel #4 to be so rare, but then also applying newsstand-exclusivity to the equation). For example, next, you should try to hunt down a 75 cent copy of New Mutants #1 (their second appearance, and also featuring the origin of Karma), and compare how difficult it is to find one, versus finding your Marvel Graphic Novel #4 variant.
For most collectors today, as you step through this door, you’ve found a world of rare cover price variants that you probably didn’t even know existed before (they are rarely in the marketplace in any great number, and when they do appear their listings are often not titled in a way that you’d ever find or notice them, so the principle of “out of sight, out of mind” definitely applies here).
If you’re interested in further exploring the world of rare 80’s cover price variants you just stepped into by collecting your $5.95 copy of Marvel Graphic Novel #4, may I suggest the following links to read next:
- 75 Cent Variants (Canadian Newsstand Editions)
- Canadian Price Variants — How To Spot Them
- The 75¢ Price Puzzle: Parallels To 35¢ Variants
- D.C. Comics Canadian Editions — Likely Only 2-7%
- Rare 1980’s Price Variants To Collect
- 95¢ and $1.00 DC Price Variants: How Do We Know What They Are?
Happy Collecting! 🙂