By Benjamin Nobel, January 13, 2017
Throughout my blog, I use different commonly-seen names/phrases “interchangeably” to describe different “classes” of variants in different contexts. For example if I’m talking about a rare 75¢ cover price copy of Thor #337 (1st Beta Ray Bill appearance), and that copy has been graded by CGC, in that context I might refer to it as a “Canadian Edition” because that’s simply how CGC labels such copies — while in a different context I might call such a copy a “Canadian Price Variant” or a “Canadian Newsstand Edition” or a “75 Cent Variant”… and obviously with any of these phrases I’d still be talking about the same actual variant version of this comic, the one shown at right.
Stepping back, what is a “Comic Book Variant” anyway? Here’s a great definition put forward by Jon McClure (of 35 cent variant fame) as a starting point:
For McClure’s definitions of “Type 1 Price Variants” and “Type 1A Price Variants” we’re talking about just that first category: a non-standard edition created for distribution with a unique purpose.
Type 1 Price Variants
One particular “unique purpose” a publisher might have had in mind for cover price variant copies would be test marketing — i.e. distributing higher-than-normal priced copies in order to measure market reaction to that higher price-point.
Type 1A Price Variants
Another “unique purpose” a publisher might have had in mind for cover price variant copies would be selling them into a specific foreign market.
What’s In A Variant Name?
With the 1980’s Canadian price variants, collectors (and CGC) can know the Canadian newsstand price that would have been charged for any given issue by a quick look at the price box of a direct edition copy of that given issue… Direct edition copies are “multi-country” in pricing, so they can thereby inform us what price we’d expect to see charged to US buyers versus Canadian buyers (and then if we’re during the “publication window” when higher priced newsstand variants exist, and if there was newsstand distribution for that particular comic in the first place [some comics were direct edition exclusives], then we’ll know how to spot the rare variant by cover price for that particular issue).
But absent this issue-by-issue pricing knowledge, any given encapsulated Marvel 1980’s Canadian price variant newsstand copy could pass for a “regular” copy, i.e. if you didn’t know in advance what the cover price was supposed to be for a given issue, you could turn that slab over and over and look at it from every angle, but there’s nothing visually that would give the comic away as a variant without your having a further reference point for what the price is supposed to be. As an example of this point, consider the 75¢ copy of Rocket Raccoon #1 at right… This is a 75 cent variant, correct? Or is it? If you already knew what the price was supposed to be, then you’d know the answer to that question… But without that advance knowledge (and without now pausing to go look up a direct edition copy for reference), you don’t really know from this picture, do you, which version you’re looking at? If you didn’t already know the expected price, and I now told you it was a variant, that would sound reasonable to you… but if I told you it wasn’t a variant, you’d also have every reason to believe me. So which is it in this case? You can’t know from this picture I’ve shown you on a standalone basis; you need that further reference point of what the price is supposed to be. And that’s the whole point I’m trying to make with this example: Marvel’s 1980’s variants do not “self-identify” from a picture unless you already know the expected cover price in advance. [I’m going to leave the Rocket Raccoon #1 question unanswered but I’ll teach you my foolproof method for how to answer it yourself in three quick steps, in: a practical guide: how to spot Canadian price variants].
Said another way: “The indicia and all other aspects of the book, except for the cover price, are identical to regular editions” — this part of McClure’s “Type 1 Price Variant” definition holds true for the Canadian price variants of the 1980’s. You could snip out just the cover price with a pair of scissors, submit the resulting copy to CGC, and they’d have absolutely no way to know it used to be a variant… the indicia and everything else about the book would then identify it as a “regular” copy and it would be graded as such (by the way, I hope it goes without saying that this is just a thought exercise, please don’t anybody actually snip up any 75 cent variant covers, keep those rare treasures of yours intact!).
So given that an encapsulated Marvel price variant comic from the 1980’s would be impossible to identify as a variant on a “standalone basis” in this way (i.e. without advance knowledge of expected cover price), it makes great sense that CGC identifies them for us on their labels [most of the time… the variants are so practically-identical to regular copies that they sometimes go unnoticed both by the collector submitting them and then by CGC!].
Precious few categories of newsstand comic books are actually “broken out” by CGC in this way where a newsstand version is counted distinctly from its direct edition counterparts — in fact, for the vast majority of comic book issues out there, the direct edition and newsstand versions are simply “lumped together” by issue number by CGC. So we’re extremely fortunate as collectors, that CGC does break out Canadian price variant newsstand copies separately and we therefore can actually see the copy count and grades online on their census! [For example, for Rocket Raccoon #1, as of this writing, there are 366 “regular” copies and 4 variants on census; here by the way are some other special case “categories” where CGC will break out newsstand comics].
Comparing the Marvel newsstand price variants of the 1980’s to the Marvel AUS cover price variants from the 1990’s (for example, New Mutants #98 $1.50 Cover Price variants), those 90’s variants are different from the 80’s variants in several ways. For one thing, direct edition copies do not serve as a reference point for the price charged on Australian newsstands, because the direct edition copies of this time period just have the US, Canada, and the UK on them… no Australian price is listed. So for any given issue, there’s literally no reference point we could use to predict with pinpoint accuracy what price would have been charged on the newsstands in Australia issue by issue — we could guess, especially if we knew the AUS price on the issue immediately before or immediately after, but that would just be a guess… we wouldn’t know for sure just what price they really chose to charge issue by issue, or even be able to confirm that AUS priced copies even exist for that issue, until we actually laid eyes on one.
And then another difference is that the AUS newsstand variants self-identify themselves from their front covers (notice that immediately after the $1.50 price tag on the New Mutants #98 variant, it says AUS), so even without prior pricing knowledge we know just by looking at a picture of one of these that we’ve got an AUS-priced copy on our hands. CGC therefore didn’t actually need to identify them for us in that sense — but happily they did elect to “break them out” on census (as “Australian Edition”). Is “Australian Edition” the best phrase to define this class of 1990’s variants? Probably the best “official definition” for these AUS price variant copies would be the “Type 1A Variants” category, under the definition we saw earlier, which I’ll repeat again below (but note this time the word I’ve placed in bold — that’s a fit for the AUS variants which all got shipped off to the Land Down Under and couldn’t be found in the USA [probably shipped in a container on a slow boat, explaining the different cover date so as not to make them seem out of date when they finally hit the stands there] but I want to discuss that highlighted word a little further with regard to the Canadian variants of the 1980’s):
“Type 1a Variants: Cover Price Variants intended for foreign distribution with limited regional distribution, published simultaneously with standard or ‘regular’ editions. The indicia and all aspects of the book, except for the cover price and sometimes the company logo, are identical to regular U.S. editions.”
That type 1A price variant definition seems to fit quite well for the Marvel 1990’s AUS variants, but for Marvel’s 1980’s Canadian price variant copies, because of that word I pointed out in bold, we arguably have to stretch the definition much like an ill-fitting glove to really make it fit properly (we can get the glove on but the comfort of our hand is less than ideal) — because the phrase limited regional distribution is appropriate in this case only if the word “limited” is allowed to describe consistent cross-border availability in US towns close to the border, and is further allowed to describe widespread US availability of some of the variants in Whitman packs like this example sold right in a Toys R Us, and is yet further allowed to describe usage of the variants for test-marketing US reaction to price increases. I’d argue that the word “widespread” could just as easily be used in place of “limited” in the case of these variants in the sentence and describe them accurately… So, the word “limited” is, at best, a stretch as applied to these 1980’s variants given these circumstances: Marvel was very smart in the way they designed their 1980’s price variants, designing them in a way that gave Marvel purposeful optionality for multi-purpose usage instead of single-purpose usage. And the definitions for Type 1 and Type 1A are essentially single-purpose usage definitions.
McClure’s “Type 1” definition doesn’t fit our 1980’s variants like a glove either, because their existence wasn’t driven by test-marketing even if they may have been used for that purpose from time to time [within Canada, DC’s $1.00 variants are believed to be test-marketing a nickel price increase], but rather, their origin and reason for existence was driven by currency fluctuation and a smart business decision about how to handle that problem once it was thrown at them — where their two-batch-newsstand-solution gave them optionality on how to use the smaller batch of higher priced copies. So in McClure’s official definition for Type 1 price variants, while everything else in the definition would fit, the word “because” (pointed out in bold below) would need to be stretched to make this definition fit our 1980’s variants like a glove: “Type 1 Variants: Cover Price Test Market Variants with regional or otherwise limited distribution, published simultaneously with standard or “regular” editions. Such variants exist because the publishers want to test the market prior to raising prices. The indicia and all aspects of the book, except for the cover price, are identical to regular editions.”
Marvel and DC didn’t create them because they wanted to test market a price increase, even if they were used that way from time to time as a secondary purpose. Which glove is the easier stretch — ‘limited’ or ‘because’…? McClure himself, when he originally wrote about the 30/35 cent variants, said at the time: “And we haven’t yet investigated the 75¢ price variants that are known to exist” — which indicates to me that even McClure at that point in time hadn’t concluded they were Canadian price variants, but simply recognized there were some copies with higher prices on them [and from a look at 95¢ and $1.00 DC Price Variants the per-issue price isn’t even spelled out in the indicia, let alone the price in Canada, so we can only conclude that these copies were Canadian price variants by logic and using other reference information]. But in the end, we don’t really need to pigeon-hole any given class of variants into one narrow definition, do we? Type 1 or 1A or somewhere in between, I say: Let’s just appreciate them for what they are first and foremost: rare newsstand exclusives that I for one want to collect!
One consistent point across both the Type 1 and Type 1A price variant definitions put forward by McClure is how the indicia and all other aspects of the book — except some difference on the cover — are identical. So the insides of the comics are the same. But once encapsulated in a CGC slab, all you can see is the cover, you can’t see the inside pages anymore. When you think about it, the interior indicia page is what proves whether a given comic was published in the USA at the same time as the rest of the print run… but once that indicia is encased in plastic (i.e. once it has been slabbed), that critical line from the indicia is forever out of view. You’d literally have to crack the CGC case back open (or find an alternate copy to use as an example, a tall order with the New Mutants #98 variant for example which is next-to-impossible to find) to prove to someone that it was published in the USA by showing them that line from the indicia page. Also out of view for the AUS variants is the line listing the conflicting publication month (for New Mutants #98 for example the indicia states February while the front cover shows May). So with this information buried deep within the slab, the variant name and other information on the label of an encapsulated comic is going to be pretty important in describing what it is and making a “first impression” on a collector who sees one of these CGC graded copies.
Overstreet Advisor Bill Alexander has a negative opinion on the variant names that CGC applies for comics that were published in the USA but purposed for other markets with alternate price tags, on account of the impression the chosen name leaves for someone who may not know just what these comics are (and what’s inside them) — an impression might be given that they were produced on foreign soil… and for AUS variants a further impression might be given that they are later-month reprints… when they were most definitely not. Here’s what Bill had to say on this point:
“Marvel Australian cover price variant copies of New Mutants #98 are actually cover price/month variants and a 2/91 issue as stated on the book’s indicia not a 5/91 month issue as CGC shows on their census. It should be 2/91 to match the indicia.
CGC labels these copies as an ‘Australian Edition’ but they were published by Marvel Comics, New York, U.S.A. All U.S. published comic books sold into a foreign market are true ‘U.S. editions’ and are not foreign editions of a country. The names applied by CGC in this and other similar cases like Canadian Editions are a misidentification of type 1A cover price variants from all publishers. CGC’s descriptions are not ideal because they are what collectors would expect to see for foreign Editions.”
— Bill Alexander, Overstreet Advisor
On the one hand, I see Bill’s point completely — if you didn’t know anything about these type 1A cover price variant comics, you’d get the feel of a foreign-sounding variant name when looking at a CGC label and might jump to the conclusion that they are reprints produced abroad, especially since there isn’t any reference anywhere on the CGC label to the fact that these were printed in the USA… knowing that USA origin would therefore rely on common knowledge among collectors, and I doubt many out there have actually even heard of these Australian newsstand variants today much less know anything about them (I only just heard of them myself when Bill recently brought them to my attention).
If Your Name Was Different, Would You Still Be You?
On the other hand, when it comes to the terminology used to describe these variants, there’s that famous quote from Shakespeare: “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
|Name A||Name B||My Conclusion|
|Freedom Fries||French Fries||Still fried potatoes|
|I say “tomayto”||You say “tomahto”||Still goes in my salad|
|Rose||Any other name||Still smells as sweet|
|“Edition”||“Price Variant”||Still gonna collect it|
As long as CGC increments the count of graded copies distinctly on census, does it really matter all that much what CGC calls them when they break them out? I’m just primarily happy they’re actually breaking them out so we can study the relative rarity data over time! Remember, for the vast majority of comics they simply lump together direct edition and newsstand versions with no distinction — I wish they’d have broken out all newsstand comics and not just do so in certain special situations! So there’s definitely an element here of being grateful CGC breaks these out for us at all. And, ultimately, if CGC separately breaks something out on Census, that’s now a CGC-RECOGNIZED VARIANT VERSION we’re now talking about, so regardless of what it is named it is still a unique variant of the comic in question and we can refer to it as such.
Initially at CGC they called newsstand copies of Amazing Spider-Man #600 “Newsstand Variant” but changed over in 2016 to calling them “$6.99 Newsstand Edition”… What, exactly, changed about the comic itself in that particular case? The answer is nothing changed… the name they apply is all that changed, while everything unique and interesting about the comic itself, from the UPC code mis-identifying the comic as the Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man title [read more about this fascinating phenomenon about the codes used on later modern ASM’s], to the variant cover price, remained just as it was. Canadian priced copies of Marvel Graphic Novel #4 are just called “$5.95 Cover Price“ by CGC — does the name they chose matter to the actual rarity of the comic or change my collecting conclusion one iota? Nope.
For the 1980’s variants, believe it or not, you’ll actually find some collectors out there demanding that all others in the hobby should refer to them as Canadian Editions (as CGC has done on their labels), and still other collectors adamantly arguing that the proper name is Canadian Price Variant — as prominent sellers such as MyComicShop have applied to all of their listings of such comics. Can’t we be allowed to use the various common phrases interchangeably depending on the context? From the looks of eBay listings, the “Price Variant” camp is actually winning the lion’s share of terminology usage out there in the marketplace. Here is CGC’s present position on the terminology subject, which as you can see relies on common knowledge among collectors to understand how they were printed alongside the rest of the print run (thank you to CGC for granting me permission to quote this publicly):
If one was to take the above statement by CGC and replace the word “Canadian” with “Australian” I don’t think the common knowledge part (the “most collectors understand” sentence) would hold true because I don’t think most collectors have even heard of that type of variant. But if CGC were to apply “Australian Price Variant” instead, then collectors would in turn demand they change Canadian Edition to Canadian Price Variant… and that’s 15+ years of data entry they’d have to devote staff hours to changing [Amazing Spider-Man #252 75¢ Canadian Edition Variant data goes back to 2001 on the CGC Census so we know they’ve been cataloging and labeling Canadian Editions for the past decade and a half]. What business benefit would CGC get in exchange for expending the man hours it would cost to change all those entries? It is a tall order to ask of CGC for sure. So I think these variant names at CGC aren’t going to change any time soon, and collectors will have to just get used to the idea that there are various definitions and phrases floating around out there to describe the rare variants we like to collect.
My personal feeling is that for any of these highly-interesting newsstand-exclusive cover price variants I’ve discussed on my Rare Comics blog, whatever you want to call them, the most important thing for collectors like us is to learn about the comic inside whatever plastic presently protects its condition. Then, no matter what it gets called by the “authorities” out there today (or by the authorities of tomorrow), or by fellow collectors who are adamant about applying one phrase or another, the incredible rarity of the comic itself is still just as sweet to those of us who collect it. 🙂