By Benjamin Nobel, October 25, 2017
Last week, a team of collaborators (including myself) published The 2018 Price Guide for 1980’s Marvel & DC Newsstand Canadian Cover Price Variants (Type 1A), and one of the very first questions we had tackled when we initially embarked on the project was: “what do we call this guide”?
In our hobby, there is no one standard-setting “independent board” or “consortium” or “panel” to set standards that the various authorities in the hobby must then all follow… instead, every individual company sets its own standards. In this way, our hobby is less organized than phone emojis. There’s an independent non-profit consortium that sets the standards by committee that the whole world’s cell phones use for each of these:
… but there’s no one standard of terminology in our hobby that has been set to describe each of these:
The above picture shows the three different types of copies that Marvel produced for Amazing Spider-Man #238. All three types are 100% identical on the inside (same indicia, same interior pages), and also identical on the outside except for the two differences I’m sure you can spot: (a) one of the three examples has a Spider-Man Logo in place of a bar code, and then (b) all three have different price boxes — lets zoom in on those price boxes and take a closer look:
As you can see, one says 75¢ for the cover price (and no other price is shown), one says 60¢ for the cover price (and no other price is shown), and finally the last one (the one that had the Spider-Man Logo), says 60¢ and then beneath that says “U.K. 25p” and then beneath that, says “CAN. 75¢”. One of the names for this last copy that you’ll find widely used in the hobby is “Direct Edition” and such copies were priced to be sold in 3 countries: the United States, the U.K., and Canada.
The two types with bar codes are meanwhile what are widely known in the hobby as “Newsstand Edition” copies. But among those two newsstand versions, there are two different cover prices. Both were distributed across the North American newsstand distribution channel (where unsold copies were returnable), but one of them — with the 60¢ cover price — was targeted to U.S. newsstands, and the other — with the 75¢ cover price — was targeted to newsstands in Canada (a much smaller market with a total population similar in size to California alone).
If you were to take either of these newsstand types, snip out the price box with scissors, and hand me that edited comic, I would not be able to tell you which type it originally was — because beyond that price box, which you snipped out, the comic is 100% identical to its other newsstand siblings.
Why is this price-box-snipped copy 100% identical to the other newsstand copies, you ask? Because all three types were published by Marvel Comics, all three types were printed simultaneously, with the same ink, with the same paper, with the same content, on the same manufacturing equipment, and all three types were born together as siblings — think of the three types as triplets from the same parents. If you were to also snip out the Logo and bar codes too, then I couldn’t tell any of the edited triplets apart from one another.
Being published by Marvel Comics (based right here in the United States), all three types are from the USA. If we were to borrow wisdom from citizenship laws surrounding US birthright, as applied to these comics the three types would all pass the U.S. citizenship test by birthright — show me a direct edition copy born here that “grew up” in the UK, and I’ll tell you it is just as much a U.S. Edition as a newsstand copy born here that “grew up” in Canada, because the indicia of a comic is a bit like the comic’s “birth certificate” and the indicia across all three types are 100% identical (as are all interior pages 100% identical).
Since my “scissors test” shows that the only difference between the 60¢ type and the 75¢ type is the cover price, then the only thing that varies between those types on a “physical basis” is the cover price. Hence, it makes perfect sense to refer to such 75¢ comics as a “Cover Price Variant” — because the cover price is what varies. Since the 75 cent cover price type is a tiny minority of newsstand copies out there, it makes sense to refer to that minority type as the variant… hence, “75¢ Cover Price Variant” is an ideal phrase to describe 75¢ copies of this specific issue.
Jon McClure coined the phrase “Type 1A Cover Price Variant” as a classification standard under which the hobby can think about any such comics that have identical indicia pages and identical interiors to the rest of the print run, but happened to be published to serve a specific foreign market. This is a wise and useful definition, because there also exist out there in our hobby, comics that were published outside of the U.S., and this is a critical difference: Type 1A has identical indicia and was produced simultaneously along-side the other first print copies, by the same U.S. publisher. That’s a far different situation from a foreign edition of another country, such as a “Canadian Edition” of the 1940’s and 1950’s.
Let’s examine an example of a “Canadian Edition” comic of that era and compare it to the corresponding “regular” copy: consider Marvel Tales #94, from the year 1949. Here is what a “regular” copy looks like front and back:
Next, here is what a “Canadian Edition” copy looks like front and back:
I’m sure you noticed right away that the advertisement on the back cover is different. But there’s another give-away on the front cover I’d like to zoom in on and show you (and it isn’t the cover price, which was 10 cents in both cases):
As you can see, the “Canadian Edition” copy at right actually says “Can. Ed.” on it… And when we open the Can. Ed. book we see this:
This Book Was Born In Canada! It was published by Bell Features And Publishing Company Limited, 165 York Street, Toronto, Ontario.
Back to our ASM #238 example, for contrast, the 75¢ copies were published By Marvel Comics Group, New York, NY:
Why did Marvel publish this 1980’s example for Canadian newsstands, but did not publish the Marvel Tales example? Here’s where the historians in our hobby have a veritable feast of fascinating circumstances and interesting history. I’ll quote Jon McClure below (from A History of Publisher Experimentation and Variant Comic Books):
“…Canadian Editions exist of many U.S. books that were published in the same or near same time period that contain the entire U.S. book along with new art and text, new and/or altered covers and different ads, and can be identified by the words Canadian Edition on the cover, in the indicia, or both. Other examples exist that are identical to U.S. editions except for the Canadian Edition notation in the indicia and different ads. Such Canadian Editions of U.S. comics exist from the late 1940s to mid 1950s because the distribution of U.S. comics into Canada was restricted or not allowed, with ads being one of the points of contention. Printing plates were sent to Canada to bypass the rules, pushing U.S. products into the market faster without having to cross the border…”
Isn’t that fascinating? Another historian on our Price Guide team, Angelo Virone, has studied the history here as well, learning that during the second World War, a law was passed in Canada that effectively made it impossible for a publisher like Marvel to publish its regular comics and then cross them over the border and sell them into Canada. The regular edition you saw earlier couldn’t have crossed the border!
So instead, Marvel literally sent the printing plates North… The Canadian Edition was therefore not published simultaneously by the same publisher, it was published at a different time, in a different place, by a different publisher. And since advertisements were one of the problems, the local Canadian publisher switched out the ads. Hence the different back cover we see on the Marvel Tales example I showed you. But fast-forward to the 1980’s when the ASM #238 variant occurred and by then the laws had long since changed and this was no longer a problem; Marvel could publish the 75¢ variant here.
So let’s review: the Marvel Tales example says “Canadian Edition” on it, was published on different equipment, by a different publisher, at a different time, with different content, and a different indicia. It was “born abroad.” It is “from Canada.” That comic book didn’t cross the border up into Canada, it was up there in Canada to begin with. What crossed the border was the printing plates. Meanwhile, the Amazing Spider-Man #238 example was published by Marvel, and on the same equipment as the rest of the copies produced, simultaneously, with identical content and identical indicia… it was “born here”… it is “from the USA.” To get up to Canada, that 75¢ cover price comic book had to cross the border.
There are lots of differences between these two example comics sold in Canada from different eras, but what they have in common is that you could find them for sale in Canada. They were both for Canada. Their purpose for existence was to tap into the Canadian market for comic books. But notice that the Direct Edition copy of ASM #238 was sold in Canada too… hence the “Can 75c” at the bottom of the direct edition price box. Canada received both types… there is not one “Canadian version”… you cannot say that the 75 cent cover price type is “the” version sold in Canada.
Remember how I mentioned there is one “governing body” that sets standards for emojis, but nothing similar exists in our hobby? So when it comes to what to call the following three types of Amazing Spider-Man #238 that we started out looking at in the beginning….
… there is no single consensus today; no single answer as to what they should be called.
Suppose we were to approach the three above versions of Amazing Spider-Man #238 with emphasis purely on the target market, i.e. we say “OK, these were created to be sold in various countries, so as our classification standard, let’s organize them that way, by the target market that drove their creation.”
In taking such an approach, we might call the three from left to right “Canadian Edition” (75¢ copies having been created to serve Canadian newsstands), “U.S. Edition” (60¢ copies having been created to serve U.S. newsstands), and finally “International Edition” serving three countries (the U.S., the U.K., and Canada, with two out of those three being “foreign” to the USA).
But that organizational approach would focus solely on the target market and pays zero attention to the contents within… is that really the best approach? Why should we focus on the market and not the comic itself? If I am born in a New York hospital and my parents immediately buckle me into the car seat and drive up to Montreal where I spend my childhood, where am I originally from? My birth certificate answers: New York. If I later apply for a job in Atlanta, does my prospective employer consider me a U.S. citizen? My birth certificate answers again: Yes. I may have grown up rooting for the Montreal Expos, and later in life may root for the Atlanta Braves, but nothing changes who my parents are, or where I was born.
I think the best approach to comics is arguably to start with the “birth certificate” of the comic — the indicia page and the stated location of the publisher. And the indicia for all three types of Amazing Spider-Man #238 copies are identical, all types were “born here” and published by Marvel — all three types have the same parents and the same place of birth. And among the Newsstand twins, as we saw from the “scissors test” the only physical feature that varies between them and therefore the important feature we should be talking about is the cover price.
The ideal term for such 1980’s 75 cent (and other cover price) comics is thus “Cover Price Variant” and then an additional descriptor should be applied to be able to confer which comic we’re talking about out of the pair… Because if you placed copies of the two newsstand types of ASM #238 on a table, asked me which one I wanted, and I replied to you “the one with the different cover price” then you wouldn’t really know for sure which one I was talking about (they differ from each other). If all of the comics I’ve talked about in this post were on the table, maybe you would have guessed, but it still would have been a little confusing and you probably would have asked for clarification.
Hence, a further descriptor, like “75¢ Cover Price Variant” lets you know exactly what I’m talking about, exactly which comic on the table I’m referring to. I could also have said “Type 1A Cover Price Variant” to confer which comic I meant and you would have understood me, or, since 75 cents was the intended price for Canada, I could also have said “Canadian Price Variant” and you would have understood — but if I had instead said “I’d like the Canadian Edition” then you might think I was switching topics away from the Amazing Spider-Man books and back to Marvel Tales, and you would instead pick up and hand me the Marvel Tales Can. Ed. example off the table, thinking that is the book I must be talking about in our context, would you not?
CGC has taken the approach of calling 1980’s Canadian Cover Price Variants like the 75¢ cover price copies of ASM #238 “Canadian Edition” on their labels, apparently focusing not on the indicia and interior, not on where the comic was from as its place of birth, but rather apparently focusing on the market that the publisher had in mind when they produced them. [And then CGC actually “lumps together” the two types that carry the 60¢ cover price on them — the U.S. newsstand type and the Direct Edition type are not differentiated from one another — so on the CGC census today there are only two types: “regular” and “Canadian Edition”]. But focusing on the market is arguably the wrong approach, because that approach implies that Canadian price variants were only sold in Canada… But that’s purely an assumption and there is lots of information that runs counter to that notion.
First and foremost, there is the stream of first-hand reports from collectors who found 75¢ comics on the stands in border states right here in the US. It certainly makes sense that the newsstand distribution logistics would have been strained to get it exactly right — plus, if additional demand is there in a certain place but only one type is left available to meet that demand, why throw away a perfectly saleable copy? Marvel may have had that exact question in mind when it came to newsstand returns for certain of their comics… Because we see Marvel selling “Whitman packs” containing 75¢ variants in toy stores like Toys R’ Us (note the sticker on this pack and note the cover price of the comic within the pack), which may very well be newsstand returns judging by the typical condition of the comics inside such packs:
And then there is the idea of test-marketing. Collectors have reported instances of 75¢ variants having been used for test marketing, Jon McClure himself has cited Dell as a publisher known with certainty to have sold Type 1A Canadian priced comics in the U.S. as a test, and then over at DC there is quite an interesting situation to consider as well:
DC initially placed the word “Canadian” under the 75¢ price tag on their Type 1A comics (where clearly, the word Canadian was referring to the Canadian price — customers in Canada would be paying with Canadian currency and the exchange rate at the time meant DC needed to charge a higher Canadian price). Emphasis on the word “initially” — because they later changed their design when the price rose to 95 cents, and maintained that design when the price was raised to $1.00 (which is yet another case where test marketing might have been in play). Not only was the word “Canadian” removed from the cover itself, but all indication of single-issue price was removed from the indicia! Here’s an example indicia from Batman #423 to show you — read this indicia through and try to figure out what the $1.00 cover price is for… the answer is they don’t actually tell us!:
In the above example, you can see that DC isn’t actually spelling out what the $1.00 price is for… So to reach a definitive conclusion that such a copy was only for sale in Canada would not be a FACT but rather would be a hypothesis. The hypothesis would go like this: “Hypothesis: Direct edition copies of Batman #423 specify a $1.00 Canadian price in small print, and therefore, the separate $1.00 cover price newsstand copies we see out there were sold only in Canada.”
And that’s a strong hypothesis, which fits all the facts. But let me ask you a question: doesn’t the following alternate hypothesis also fit the facts equally well? “Hypothesis: When DC re-designed their comics in connection with a cover price increase, they gave themselves purposeful optionality on where they could sell the separate batch of higher cover price copies, and ended up selling them not only in Canada but also to selectively meet high US demand when it occurred, as well as selectively test US reaction to a higher price-point in certain markets.”
The hobby currently does not have the facts to prove nor disprove either of these alternate hypotheses, because the only things we know for sure are what the publishers have revealed to us and what the comics themselves show. Should our hobby not therefore be focusing first and foremost on the comics themselves? Should this attention on the comics not draw us to the indicia information? Finding the indicia to be identical and the cover price being what varies, should this not definitively land us at Jon McClure’s Type 1A Price Variant standard?
As the “Type 1A” definition advances as the hobby’s standard terminology for such variants, we’ll have appropriate terminology to describe different Canadian comic book situations — where all of the comics laying on the table that I’ve presented in this post can be identified without being confused with one another.
When I send you a smiley face emoji, I know because of the independent standards, that you aren’t going to actually get a frowny face. Over in our comic book hobby, when I send a Type 1A 75¢ Cover Price Variant copy of Amazing Spider-Man #238 in to, say, PGX to be graded, I get back a “Canadian Price Variant” label but if I send the identical book to CGC to be graded, I get back a “Canadian Edition” label… Such a label, instead of being an impartial facts-based description of the comic book itself, instead reflects a classification standard with a focus on determining where such comics were sold, instead of where they are from; and any answer to the question of where such variants were “exclusively sold” is a hypothesis only (unable to be proven based on the information the hobby knows today), whereas the answer to the “from” question is an indicia-based FACT (published in the USA, by Marvel Comics, New York, NY, as it states definitively).
Although the label atop a CGC slab changes nothing about the book itself inside the slab — it is still the rare variant I want to collect, no matter what you choose to call it — such labeling does create confusion among collectors who haven’t yet learned about such 1980’s variants, because it conflates the 1980’s US-published comics with the era when the printing plates were what crossed the border. I therefore urge all in the hobby including CGC to consider that the “Canadian Edition” terminology currently in use for slab labels atop 75¢ variant copies of Amazing Spider-Man #238 (and other similar Type 1A comics) needs improvement and ideally should conform to Jon McClure’s well-thought-out standard. A change from “Canadian Edition” to “75¢ Cover Price Variant” might be more time-consuming to accomplish (necessitating each variant cover price be individually inputted for each of the many variants presently on the CGC census), but perhaps CGC would find it less burdensome to do a more simple “find/replace” and go from “Canadian Edition” to “Type 1A Price Variant” in one fell swoop.
Happy Collecting! 🙂
– Ben p.s. The Introduction section to our price guide gives Jon’s full Type 1 and Type 1A definitions and introduces the variants further. Also, it may be helpful to see Jon’s definition for what a “VARIANT” is in the first place — here is his definition below:
“The best definition I know for a Variant comic book is (1) any non-standard edition created for distribution with a unique purpose, (2) anything reprinted for distribution under the same title with some changes to the cover and/or contents, and (3) any non-standard edition created for distribution in an unplanned or imperfect way. The primary characteristic of a Variant is a strong similarity to the regular or standard edition.”
In thinking about Jon’s VARIANT definition above, I believe it is useful to consider what characteristics make a given comic the “standard” or “regular” edition — I propose an “Orange Cat Test” inspired by the fact that 80% of orange cats are male, and people frequently ask “are all orange cats male?” If 80% or more of the surviving copies of a given comic are a particular type, that overwhelming majority type is without question the “regular” edition of the issue number in my view.
Which for 1980’s comics actually makes the Direct Edition type the “regular” edition… In my opinion CGC should be “breaking out” both newsstand versions on census, rather than just the one; and even after the point at which the 1980’s cover price variant window closes at Marvel and DC and we’re back to one newsstand edition covering both the US and Canada, in my opinion CGC should continue “breaking out” newsstand comics broadly, like CBCS has recently decided to do. The percentage of comic book sales that took place on newsstands only continued to dwindle after the 1980’s, so I believe that among copper and modern age comics, collectors will come to view direct edition copies as “the regular copies” and the more rare newsstand copies as “the variant” of a given issue in cases where those are the only two types.
Happy Collecting! 🙂