Lost in the Longbox [Special Edition]: Variant Covers

Lost In The Longbox - Variant Covers

Have you ever been on eBay, or going through a price guide in an attempt to find out the value of a particular piece you own, only to find out the version you own is worth slightly less than the same issue with a slightly different cover? There’s a reason for this… it’s because that issue had what is called a “variant cover” and those variants are USUALLY printed in smaller runs.

variant-covers-retailerYou see, the majority of retailers all order from the same source and when selecting the titles they’re given an option to purchase these variant covers in addition to the regular issue. For example, let’s say there’s a shop owner ordering some titles for next month’s stock. As he’s going to place his order for SKC Magazine #5 (Editor’s Note: coming soon), he sees a note in the description saying that the issue can ship with two covers. For every 25 standard issues he purchases, he’s eligible to order one variant cover. Thus, there are fewer prints of these versions and pricing for them become a game of supply and demand.

That’s not always the case for an alternate covers, though. High demand books will often go into 2nd and 3rd printings and the publishers will place variations in the artwork to determine which printing of that book it is. The Killing Joke, for example, featured lime green and embossed lettering on the cover during its first print run, while the THIRTEENTH (like I said, popular books get more printings) has more saturated purples and the title letters are now yellow while Joker’s tie is now green. Small variations in cover artwork like this help determine later printings and usually these variants aren’t worth what their original counterparts are.

Killing Joke variant covers

Now, I’m not exactly an expert comic guru BUT I know my material well enough so allow me to impart a little advice to those of you aspiring collector’s out there. Here’s how you can snag some of these harder-to-get variant covers:

Early Bird Gets The Worm

Your best bet is to get to your local pulp pusher early. If they ordered enough copies and are willing to sell the variant, it’s going to go fast.


If you’re a DIY kind of person who doesn’t want help, before asking if a variant is available, check to see how many copies they ordered of a title.

Popularity Counts

Not every book you’re into and read is going to have a variant cover. The trend tends to stick to your fan favorites titles, and it isn’t always every month they get one.


Dealers know what they have, they know it’s rare on day one and they’re going to charge a little more. ALSO, if your local shop doesn’t have pre poly-bagged backers at the counter, take some of your own and place it in there when you get it and DON’T READ IT. That’s what your standard cover is for!


We have a place in my town that has a rack set aside just for variants they get on shipping day which helps in my personal hunt, but sometimes people beat me to the punch. So for those of you not near a comic shop there’s always eBay. Just be cautious… the prices on ebay tend to be way higher than what you’re going to pay first day at your local shop. Just follow my tips and you’re going to have variants with no “issue.”

Written by Christopher Bacon

Mister Bacon tries really hard to define the line between collector and hoarder. Between comics , cards , video games , metal and horror movies the only thing he likes more than obtaining them is talking about them. Beer is good too.

66 posts