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Most of the Panellists should be known to you but if not, don’t panic. We’ve some information on them towards the bottom of the page. This week’s question comes from Martin, who was once bitten by a chromium covered monster, but never again! The question is: “Do alternative covers, and other similar comic book collectibles, actually help the industry or hinder it?”

Terry Moore: “If you make an alternative cover for creative reasons then I think you should do so without feeling guilty. But if you’re putting them out routinely as a marketing ploy, yeah, it’s a cheap shot at your customer.

The stigma is all about the businessmen using it as a manipulative way of squeezing money from an issue. If your goal is greedy it shows and the fans can tell. It’s in the same category as the Disney merchandise that floods the stores months before the movie comes out (What’s this weird purple toy with my Happy Meal?), the TV commercials calling a new show a hit before first episode has aired (You’re lying to us! It’s NOT a hit! Nobody’s even SEEN IT YET!), Christina Aguilera’s codpiece (the wealthiest stripper on the planet) and Batman’s dead parents (Alright! We GET it, already! They’re dead! It was 50 years ago! Grow up! Get on with your life, you head case!!).

I’m waiting for the day when the new Disney movie is Ariel Does Dallas, the new TV reality show is a naked woman giving you a 1-800 number to send in all your money to the network, Christina Aguilera appears on the MTV Music Awards wearing only a leer and actually has sex with Britney Spears on stage, while Madonna whips them with Michael Jackson, and somebody puts a comic book out with blank pages and 25 variant blank covers with the subtitle: “Let’s cut the bull, just give us all your money!” I fear the business creed of the future might be, “If we could only eliminate the real middle-man… the product!”

Shawna Ervin-Gore: “I’m not much of a fan of alternative covers or novelty “collectable” treatments. There’s certainly nothing wrong with enhancements or fun extras in a comic, but I think some publishers have screwed around with this kind of thing far too much, when we could really use a little more focus on bringing more variety to comics, and making the comics that get published a lot better. If there’s a quick buck to be made by slapping a foil cardstock cover on the same old comic we were reading last week, I know it can be hard for publishers to pass that temptation …but the less of this we see in the industry, the less cluttered the marketplace will be with evidence that comics are a fluffy, insubstantial medium.”

Bill Rosemann: “As long as you give readers a choice of choosing a standard-priced cover, alternate covers — when used selectively — can be fun for fans.”

Alan Grant: “The first alternative covers I can remember were on the first edition of Legends of the Dark Knight; if memory serves, it came in 5 separate covers. Sales were several times what DC had expected–around a million of issue *1. This led to the frenzy of alternative covers in succeeding years (It may have slipped the publishers’ gaze, but a large part of the reason for the initial success of LOTDK was the hype and publicity surrounding the release of Tim Burton’s first Batman movie. In the space of the 3 months surrounding the movie’s release, sales of Detective Comics went up from 75,000 per month to 650,000; sales of Batman monthly went from somewhere over 100,000 to close on a million.

And this happened without any alternative covers.) As a non-comic collector, alternative covers don’t matter much to me. I can see the sense in putting them on special issues– Batman #500, or whatever–but their ubiquitous use cheapened the concept. I guess they must work, though–sales must increase, or companies wouldn’t continue to use the gimmick. As for collectibles–everybody’s entitled to buy what they want. But every time I see a porcelain Lobo priced at $75, I can’t help thinking, “That’s around 40 comics that will never be bought.”

However, I don’t think they cheapen the industry–videos, DVDs, books, CDs and so on are all released in special collector’s editions. My regret is that the gimmicks divert money away from what should be the most important aspect of the industry–the long-term survival of comics–to short-term (and possibly short-sighted) profits”.

Lee Dawson: “I think from time to time collectible covers and things of that nature can be fun, but only in moderation. When we start seeing a glut of these things from numerous publishers then it becomes a clear case of trying to gouge the fans and collectors, as opposed to a fun idea that some fans might enjoy.

Ultimately I don’t think any of this sort of thing really helps the industry in any way other than a temporary spike in sales for a particular publisher.”

Vince Moore: “Having worked on the retail of the comics’ biz during the rise and fall of such things during the 90s, I think alternative covers and other such things really do harm the industry. The collecting nature is already a major part of comics culture. Making items specifically designed for the collector mentality distracts from what should be the reason anyone buys a comic. Namely to read and enjoy the damn thing, and possibly share it with others, thereby growing the hobby. Like most things, these gimmicks should be used in moderation at best.

As Jim Balent does with his Tarot comic, offering two covers in equal numbers for each issue. At least that way, fans have a choice of which one to buy or to buy both. Not the old one out of four or ten situation we had during early 90s. Ugh! The more important thing to do is try to grow one’s audience through producing solid, quality comics. Not by trickery and marketing gags.”

Gary Spencer Millidge: “It depends what you mean by the “industry.” If you’re talking about the collectibles market, then presumably they are a potential money-spinner for the publishers, retailers and distributors; otherwise they would not produce them on such a frequent basis. Perhaps this even helps a number of publishers and stores to actually survive, and you would imagine that this *should* be a good thing for the “industry.” Like the record industry’s flirtation with coloured vinyl and variant sleeve versions of popular records in the 1980s, there is no real logic in owning multiple copies of the same record/book/comic. It’s just an extension of the Wizard collector mentality, turning comics into collectibles like coins, bubblegum cards, stamps, commemorative plates and suchlike, where the items are purchased for their rarity, or for the sake of completing a “set,” rather than for any intrinsic value the item has.

The collecting side of the hobby may add a valid, enjoyable dimension for many readers/collectors and I won’t knock that as I enjoy collecting myself. But it is sad to see that so much money is spent on “limited edition collectors’ items” with embossed gold logos, cover variants and suchlike, with retail prices set for no other reason than to create an artificial rarity. As a comics *reader* I would simply rather purchase two different comics rather than two the same, with some subtle difference that does nothing to enhance the enjoyment of reading it. I just hope that many “collectors” become “readers” rather than simply leaving comics altogether after discovering that their entire collection of mylar-encapsulated, nude variant covers are just so much worthless paper.

Reading comics and collecting them are two different things – you can do both, but don’t confuse them. Don’t forget why you fell in love with comics in the first place.”

Alonzo Washington: “Alternative covers on comic books are a gimmick and nothing more. If fans can’t get enough it’s a good thing. However, it’s mostly just comic book companies wanting to make money”

Alan Donald: “This is a tough question. I like shiny things as much as the next guy, but let’s face it, alternate covers have ruined this industry. I’ve no problem when it’s a special event or something but all this crap with X-Y-Zness #96 having 20 covers just for the sake of it… It is absolute madness. I understand retailers going all out to try and make cash off this but to be honest you can only make that money a few times before the customers wise up and move on to make money elsewhere. It is always far better to make money by selling them comics to read, that way they HAVE to come back for more.

I really love the toys, T-shirts and statues, as far as I’m concerned they are just cool little add-ons, but a comic that is identical to the normal one except that the bit of card around the edge of it maybe slightly different going for anything from $5 – $500 more is just sheer idiocy, and does nothing but ill for the industry. Anything to add, Dawn?

Mmmm! As an ex retailer I remember how sometimes the sale of a couple of shiny covers could rescue a week. But I have to say I agree with the Panel; it has gotten over the top. It would be better for fans to buy comics they can read then come back for more good writing and art, which is much better for the industry. When used selectively they can be good fun for the fans, but not when used to glut the market.

As for collectibles well I’m a bit of a sucker for some of the snow globes and statues, but I won’t buy something if it means I can’t buy my comics. In my experience most fans are the same.

In summary, I think we all agree the industry has gone a bit far on alternative covers and needs to reign it in, as it is not helping at all. Money is being taken away from the mainstream market, which is the industry’s lifeblood.

We welcome a new member to The Panel this week, and hope that you will break him in gently. Gary Spencer Millidge has been self-publishing his acclaimed Strangehaven comic series for eight years. Oldsters include: Terry Moore, the creator of Strangers in Paradise ’nuff said. Alan Grant has had his hands in many pies including Batman and Judge Anderson. Bill Rosemann is CrossGen’s marketing guru. Vince Moore is currently writing material for Platinum Studios. Lee Dawson is the publicist at Dark Horse making sure you are aware of their fine product. Shawna Ervin-Gore is one of Dark Horse’s expert editors. Alonzo Washington is the creator of Omega Man.

Next time: If you ruled the world for the day what would you do to change it?

Previous Questions: Check out the message board where I’ve put up a list of every question the Panel has faced so far (neatly linked to the column it appeared in) to inspire you and let you know what to avoid.

SBC reserves the right to edit questions for reasons of consistency and inclusively.

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