By Benjamin Nobel, April 11, 2018
Thanks to the help of users of The 2018 Price Guide for 1980’s Marvel & DC Newsstand Canadian Cover Price Variants (Type 1A), we have gotten reports of titles that we missed — one of those titles really surprised me and motivated me to make this post!
Surprise #1: Blip #1 (Marvel, 2/83)!
First, what is Blip and why might the title give us something interesting to collect? Blip, while physically sized as a comic book, was marketed as “Blip: The Video Games Magazine” (my emphasis here on “Magazine”). And when we look up the CGC census entry for issue #1, we see this interesting key comments note:
This issue is credited with the first comic book appearances of Mario and Donkey Kong — that’s interesting indeed! And the publication date, February 1983, places it right smack within Marvel’s 1980’s Canadian price variant window where newsstand copies of their comic books carried a single price (i.e. Marvel produced a small batch with higher cover price for the Canadian newsstand market, and a big batch with lower cover price for the US newsstand market). So what about the cover prices for Blip, self-described as a magazine, not a comic book?
Let’s go looking for a newsstand copy to find out! If we go hunting for a copy of Blip #1 on eBay… what do we find as far as direct editions vs. newsstand copies? We find direct editions out there — they have a Blip logo in place of a bar code — and depending on what’s listed at the time, we might also find newsstand copies when we look. At the particular time I went hunting on eBay, I found this:
We can tell the newsstand copies from their bar codes, but what do the cover price boxes of newsstand copies look like? Will we find a single price? Or, both US and Canadian prices? Let’s take a look… here’s a newsstand copy of #1, from that second eBay listing:
Let’s zoom in on that price box, shall we?
As we can see, this newsstand copy carries a $1.00 cover price, and “CAN. $1.25” beneath it, covering both the US and Canada. With newsstand copies covering both countries in this way, there would be no need for Marvel to have produced single-price copies, right? Right? Well SURPRISE: $1.25 cover price variants actually exist too! Take a look:
By publication window, it is possible that cover price variants for issues #1 through #7 of Blip exist (if any readers can personally verify other issues beyond #1 and #2 which we’ve already verified, please chime in!)
This fascinating situation for Blip #1 actually reminds me of an oldie-but-goodie which sure did surprise me in a very similar fashion when I first learned of it, and shares an interesting similarity with Blip — the similarity of being a Magazine (but in this case actually sized as one):
Surprise #2: Spectacular Spider-Man Magazine #1 (Marvel, 7/68)
Published all the way back in July of 1968, with an awesome cover by John Romita and with story written by Stan Lee himself, Spectacular Spider-Man Magazine #1 pre-dates the advent of direct editions and back in 1968 did not carry a bar code on the cover like we saw on the Blip cover.
The cover price of this magazine? The vast majority of copies carry a 35 cent cover price along with the small print “40¢ in CAN”… So with both countries covered in this way, there would be no need for Marvel to have produced any single-price copies, right? Right? Well SURPRISE:
Yep: single-price 40 cent cover price copies actually exist too! And interestingly, CGC kept it simple when it came to categorizing these into their system… With 1980’s comics, as we know, their current policy is to pretend there are only 2 types for each issue, instead of 3 — lumping together US newsstand and direct edition copies, and then breaking out Canadian price variant newsstand copies, as “Canadian Edition” in their system/labeling. But for Spectacular Spider-Man Magazine #1? They kept it simple: as you can see from the screenshot below, the 40¢ cover price copies are simply denoted “40 Cent Price Variant” (wouldn’t it have been nice had CGC used similar labeling terminology on the 1980’s Canadian price variants, i.e. “75 Cent Price Variant” etc.?):
If the regular copies carried US and Canadian prices, it would stand to reason that such copies were sold in the US and Canada (why bother to include the Canadian price otherwise). So if part of the market demand from Canada was satisfied by the copies with both prices on them, then only some remaining part of the market demand from Canada was satisfied by the single-price copies. How this split looked between the types — for both Spectacular Spider-Man and for Blip — is something I think we’re going to have to file under unsolved mysteries for now, but the CGC census data over time will be a great help in observing the relative rarity between the types (even though graded copies only represent a small sliver of what was sold to the public, CGC census data can tell us a lot about relative rarity between comics, much like election polling or television ratings are done with just a small sliver of the population but inform us about relative popularity).
Tangent Surprise: Zatanna Special #1 (DC, 1987)
Before I proceed to the third surprising variant I had in mind for this post, I want to go on a slight tangent and mention something else that has surprised me since the publication of our guide: we received reports of comics we had included in the guide, as actually being direct edition exclusives (that we should thus remove) — i.e. cases where collectors had concluded that newsstand copies simply do not exist and that only direct edition copies were ever sold for the given issue. One of the issues reported to us in this way (i.e. reported as being a direct edition exclusive that we should thus remove) was Zatanna Special #1 (published by DC in 1987).
Now normally, when we observe a direct edition comic book from the 1980’s that has one of these…
… i.e. a box on the cover containing something other than a bar code, I’d naturally assume that newsstand copies were also produced for that issue (because why bother having a box included at all otherwise). The use of these boxes in the design made it easy to run off the different batches, where only the black/key plate needed to be changed to transition between the direct edition and newsstand batches. By contrast, take a comic from the 80’s that was a direct edition exclusive, like Omega Men #3 (too bad there was no newsstand distribution of that key, that would have been fun to collect if there was!), and there was simply no need for such a logo box because there was just the one print run batch… and so the cover simply doesn’t have a logo box:
But Zatanna Special #1 does have a logo box on its cover. So, shouldn’t newsstand copies also exist? Despite the existence of a logo box in the design of Zatanna Special #1, it was reported to us as being a direct edition exclusive, i.e. it was reported to us that no newsstand copies whatsoever exist of the issue, which was surprising for me to hear when it was reported. I was eventually able to hunt down a newsstand copy (finding a US priced one):
They exist! This is a US priced newsstand copy, and I haven’t seen a Canadian price variant yet, but you can see in the picture above that it carries a single price… [An expensive price that may have kept sales on the lower side — and up in Canada a full $2.85 was demanded!] Thus, knowing newsstand copies do exist and seeing the single price, we simply must presume that its Canadian Price Variant counterpart exists too!
[The approach our team decided to take on the guide when considering reports of possible direct edition exclusives is that if the direct editions carry a logo box — like Zatanna Special #1 does — we must in turn assume newsstand distribution also occurred as our baseline assumption, even if the newsstand numbers were so extremely small that it might seem as though newsstand distribution did not occur by the difficulty of finding one.]
Interesting side note: DC has plenty of examples too, of comics where direct editions do not carry a logo box and yet newsstand editions still exist! One example like this which I collected recently is Detective Comics #583. Here’s an example direct edition pictured below… where’s the logo box? Surprise: It isn’t there!
And yet, newsstand copies of Detective #583 do in fact exist too; here’s an example of the Canadian Price Variant:
And now to move on to the final comic I wanted to touch upon in this post:
Surprise #3: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures #1 (Archie, 8/88)
This post started with Blip #1, which is interesting to consider as a collectible because it is credited with the first appearance in comics of Mario and Donkey Kong, characters that made their debut on screens, in video games. Similarly, over in the world of the TMNT, there were certain characters that were freshly created for the television cartoon when it came out and therefore appeared for the first time on screens, meaning those characters only appeared in comics for the first time when that TV cartoon was adapted back over to comics!
For Krang, Bebop, and Rocksteady, that adaptation back over to comics occurred in Archie’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures mini-series of 1988 [the “it’s complicated” story of Krang’s first appearance is a very interesting one which I’ve written about in more detail here (part I) and here (part II)], with CGC crediting issue #1 with the “1st comic book appearance of, Krang, Bebop & Rocksteady” as you can see in the key comments note screen-captured below:
And what surprised me when I went looking for the Canadian price variant of this particular TMNT issue is that I didn’t find the price variant… SURPRISE: I found there were two price variant versions! Breaking the mold of direct editions carrying both US and CAN pricing, Archie published these with single-price newsstand editions and single-price direct editions! So if you go looking for a $1.25 cover price variant of this key issue, you actually have your pick: there exist newsstand copies with $1.25 cover price and there exist direct edition copies with $1.25 cover price — and similar to the Detective Comics direct edition example shown earlier, there is no logo box on the direct editions of this TMNT issue either! Take a look:
So how does CGC treat these two different $1.25 cover price versions, do they differentiate them? As of this writing, the answer to that question is no: what CGC has decided to do is “lump together” the direct edition and newsstand types by cover price alone — in other words, there is one entry covering all $1.00 cover price copies (newsstand and direct), and then there is a variant entry covering all the $1.25 cover price copies (newsstand and direct). The variant census entry is labeled as “Canadian Edition” as you can see in the screenshot below:
It would have been nice to know how each entry actually breaks down between newsstand and direct, but at least we will be able to observe something else that’s interesting from the census for TMNTA #1: for this issue, because of this phenomenon where both newsstand and direct editions exist with variant cover price, meaning the full Canadian market got $1.25 cover price copies (not just a portion of the Canadian market), we can make a prediction about the relative rarity and see if the census data over time supports that prediction as it accumulates.
The prediction would go like this: because the full ~10% of the North American comic book market by size that Canada represented at time of publication got $1.25 cover price copies (instead of only the newsstand portion of the Canadian market getting variants as was the case with Marvel and DC in the 80’s), versus the US market getting $1.00 cover price copies, over time we might expect to see about 10% of the census copies for this issue land in that Canadian Edition variant census entry. As of this writing the sample size is still pretty tiny for this issue at just 218 grand total copies graded to date, but ~11% of those copies on record carry the $1.25 cover price.
[Happily, I’m personally responsible for submitting a nice handful of those variants, having found a comic shop in Toronto with a bunch of CGC-worthy copies (all direct editions) and I bought the whole bunch and submitted them all. This was one of the rare cases where I actually achieved a grade of CGC 9.8 on a Canadian price variant, all on account of those direct editions having been so well preserved — the experience really drove home for me how comparably difficult it is to find one of the newsstand-exclusive Canadian price variants that actually comes back in that grade!]
I wish CGC would start breaking out the census between newsstand and direct for all comics where different types exist — if they did, we could then see how many copies are direct edition vs. newsstand (and in which grades), and I for one hope that CGC will improve upon not just their Canadian price variant labeling in the future (read more of my thoughts on that subject here), but I also hope CGC will eventually expand their differentiation of newsstand versions from direct editions to encompass all cases where multiple types exist, and not just break out newsstand copies in select special situations they deem “variant worthy” (but at least they’re breaking out those special situations at all, one of which is our 1980’s Type 1A price variants on account of the higher cover price!).
Happy Collecting! 🙂