COMIC BOOK COVER VARIANTS: ORIGINS TO PHYGITAL POPULARITY
Marvel and DC Comics, through their licensing partnerships with VeVe and DCNFT, are revolutionizing the world of comic book collecting with their exclusive digital comic book covers, crafted by renowned artists. These scarce, blockchain-secured variants are selling like hotcakes, sparking a fervent debate among physical comic collectors as to the future value of these digital treasures, or if they are even worth pursuing at all.
First, What Are Comic Book Variant Covers and Their Origins?
Comic book variant covers are alternative cover designs for a single comic book issue. These variants feature different artwork, layouts, or even special finishes compared to the standard cover. Variant covers have become a staple in the comic book industry, capturing the attention of both collectors and enthusiasts.
The origins of modern variant covers can be traced back to the 1980s when comic publishers began experimenting with different cover designs to boost sales. It is generally accepted that 1986’s first issue of The Man of Steel featured two different covers by writer/artist John Byrne. Variant covers became more common during the “speculator boom” of the 1990s when more collectors became interested in the storage and preservation of their comic books with the goal of future financial gain rather than reading the comics themselves.
What Makes Variant Covers Popular and Valuable?
Artistic Appeal: Many variant covers often feature artwork from renowned artists, providing collectors with visually stunning and unique pieces of art. These can be exciting pieces to display in showrooms, wall panels and so forth.
Limited Availability: Most variant covers are printed in limited quantities, making them rare and sought after. Some variants have extremely low print runs, which adds to their exclusivity.
Thematic Significance: Variants are sometimes released to coincide with special events or anniversaries. Collectors often seek these covers for their relevant themes, such as Marvel Zombies, Black History Month, Street Level vs. Cosmic, etc.
Key Issues: Variants are sometimes associated with significant story arcs or key moments in a character’s history, or elevate value in completing sets, increasing their desirability. For instance, Avengers #4 is the revival of Captain America (after being frozen in the Arctic), and his first Silver Age appearance. This was a key storyline of course, written into the MCU.
Retailer and Convention Exclusives: Some variants are exclusive to particular retailers or conventions such as ComicCons, making them even harder to obtain. These exclusives often feature unique art or designs.
Signatures & Grading: Collectors may have variant covers signed by artists or writers, and these signed copies can command higher prices. Additionally, professionally graded comics in excellent condition can fetch premium prices.
PHYGITAL collector ‘CleverJerk’ was kind enough to offer his perspectives on why he enjoys particular variants:
“People have different tastes and my go to comic artist is Skottie Young. Just like there are Eric Tan Disney art fans and classical music fans who like Debussy over Dvorak. It’s just what we all gravitate towards. McDonald’s easily sells the most burgers, but we all have our favorite burger joint. As far as my Skottie Young Fandom, his style is very much comical. It can be sarcastic, a play on the characters personalities/powers, and it’s always a fun take on a situation (theme). I appreciate the humour, and the shite-eating grin of most of his drawings is humorous.”
Conversely, Why do some Variant Covers Never Become Popular?
Oversaturation: When publishers flood the market with too many variants for a single issue, it can dilute their desirability. Collectors may become overwhelmed and disinterested as the scarcity equation is removed.
Lack of Significance: Variants without a clear connection to the story, theme or character may fail to resonate. Consumers can smell a fleece job miles away…
Art Quality: No question, weak artwork can be a big turn-off, as a big appeal of variant covers often lies in its visual appeal.
Inaccessibility: Some variants are only available through specific retailers, conventions or venues, making them hard for collectors to acquire. This exclusivity can limit their popularity (however, it can also mean that rarity holds high value too!)
Speculation Bubble: Collectors who buy variant covers solely as investments can create a speculative bubble, causing prices to inflate and later crash, leaving many disappointed.
The Rise of Exclusive Digital Variants on VeVe & DCNFT
Marvel-Licensed DAREDEVIL #1 Digital Comics & Variants, available on the VeVe Digital Collectibles App
“Founded in 2018, VeVe was created by collectors, for collectors to bring premium-licensed NFT digital collectibles to the mass market. Now, with over 8 million NFTs sold, VeVe is the largest mobile-first, 100% carbon neutral digital collectibles platform and one of the top grossing Entertainment Apps in the Google Play and Apple stores.” (Per VeVe LinkedIn Page)
VeVe’s initial (and ongoing) success stems significantly from their early partnership with Alfred Khan, the man behind Pokemon and Cabbage Patch Kids. VeVe CEO David Yu saw a gap in the collecting industry, as EVERYONE is online today, but early digital entrants in their 2D formats lacked the appeal and security of more nostalgic, major brand IP.
Al Khan, being familiar with amplifying collectible opportunities in the physical realm, was a huge boost to VeVe’s early days. This led to an early partnership with MARVEL, who ran with the concept of sharing ownership rights to these DIGITAL FIRSTS, which has paid off in spades.
Just Imagine…it’s several years from now, VeVe has moved into mainstream adoption and now has millions of global users (actually, this is part of their business plan!). What would owning THE FIRST Marvel-Created Digital Comic Variant ever minted to the Blockchain mean? (See Fantastic Four #13, with Pencils & inks by Will Sliney, colours by Rachelle Rosenberg.) Or how about THE FIRST Marvel-created digital Comic Variant of Daredevil #1, crafted for New York Comic Con in 2021? (Commissioned exclusively for VeVe with pencils and inks by Creees Lee and colors by Chris Sotomayor.)
For October 2023’s NEW YORK COMIC CON, VeVe released some BEYOND INCREDIBLE “firsts” for comic enthusiasts. Please read more for more information, but as an overview, these included Marvel FA Digital Collectibles such as THE KINGPIN, Professor X, and UNCANNY X-MEN #1, a book physically valued over $1,000,000 releasing as a Marvel-Licensed digital comic collectible, again with Exclusive VeVe Rare & Ultra Rare covers.
Further, VeVe launched its FIRST-EVER PHYGITAL comic “The Addiction,” partnering none other than METROPOLIS COMICS. The Addiction was co-created by Vincent Zurzolo, president of Metropolis Collectibles and ComicConnect, and David Quinn, the comic book writer behind such titles as “Faust” and Marvel’s “Doctor Strange: Sorcerer Supreme.” It’s drawn by Claudia Balboni, the Italian comic book artist and Eisner Award nominee for “Killer Queens” (Dark Horse).
Those attending NYCC will be able to purchase a limited release (6850 total physical books), which comes with a unique code to download its digital equivalent from the VeVe app.
And how about this one MARVEL FANS — VeVe’s 1st EVER PHYSICAL BOOK COVER VARIANTS! Marvel‘s The Superior Spider-Man Returns (2023) #1 one-shot by @DanSlott will be available with the FIRST EVER VeVe PHYSICAL cover variants! (Available at the SHARED VeVe / Marvel Booth, #2153)
Similarly, newer entrant DCNFT is a platform created by DC Comics focused exclusively on offering its own-branded digital comic book variants as NFTs. (NOTE: DCNFT recently moved to the CANDY NFT Platform (https://www.candy.com/dc)
DCNFT collaborates with various artists and writers like JIM LEE to create exclusive digital covers and collectibles.
VeVe & DCNFT offer a myriad of digital collectibles collectors can purchase, own, or sell, as officially licensed NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens / unique digital assets that use blockchain technology to verify authenticity and ownership), but lately, their EXCLUSIVE comic book variant covers have been a large focus within the app.
The Appeal of Digital Comic Variants Lies in their Unique Advantages:
Accessibility: Digital variants are accessible to anyone with an Internet connection, eliminating the need for physical storage or shipping costs. Simply download the app, and some of the most iconic comics in history are available for purchase. So too are the original covers, where many collectors are pairing their edition numbers, focusing on specific artistic appeal (such as white backgrounds, yellow themes, or their favourite heroes or teams)
Scarcity: Just like physical variants, digital variants on VeVe are often released in limited quantities, adding to their exclusivity. For example, Guardians of the Galaxy #1 offers both a Rare Variant (only 1,000 editions) and an Ultra Rare Variant (just 500). Its SECRET RARE variant has just 250 copies minted!
Interactivity: VeVe’s digital comics include interactive features like cover animations and 3D / Animated Reality reading, buying & selling, enhancing the collector’s experience. Owners are now collecting & pairing key edition numbers then showing off their collections via Socials, and soon to be launched, a full-fledged metaverse environment called the VeVeVerse where all kinds of experiences are about to hit the mainstream.
Exclusivity: Of course, key to this conversation is the fact that VeVe Rare & Ultra Rare covers are 100% exclusive to the app. They are simply unavailable anywhere else! Better still, the artistic talent behind them is exceptional. Current artists include Nicoletta Baldari, Alex Saviuk, Will Sliney, Crees Lee, David Lopez, David Yarden, Edgar Delgado, Chris Sotomayor & many more. Each has their own artistic style, each appealing to a variety of audiences.
In fact, VeVe just held its first-ever EXCLUSIVE COVERS AWARDS in October 2023, voted on by its community of over 300,000 members. You’ll need to watch HERE to see which artists took home this DIGITAL FIRST!
Digital cover variant popularity can be attributed to several factors:
NFT Technology: NFTs provide a secure and transparent way to verify the authenticity and ownership of digital assets, addressing concerns about piracy and counterfeiting. Blockchain technology ensures the scarcity and provenance of digital variants, making them attractive to collectors who value rarity and authenticity. Further, Eco-Friendly Digital variants have a smaller environmental footprint than physical comics, as they don’t require paper, plastic bags, or printing.
Virtual Collecting: Collectors can showcase their digital variants in virtual galleries and showrooms, adding a new layer of personalization to their collections. The VeVeVerse (metaverse) has current owners salivating with showroom anticipation! Further, digital assets are just FUN to play with & can be placed into any sort of scene, which is hard to do with physicals…
Cross-Media Appeal: NFTs have garnered interest from collectors outside the traditional comic book community, expanding the market for digital variants. However, it does seem that many NEW digital comic collectors are heading back to their LCS’ to match their digital books with physical. If anything, the rise of digital comic collecting is having a very positive impact on the comic collecting industry as a whole.
The rise of exclusive digital variants on platforms like VeVe and DCNFT (among others) marks a new chapter in the world of comic book collecting.
These digital variants offer unique advantages, and as technology continues to evolve, the world of comic book variant covers will likely see further innovation and expansion, providing collectors with exciting new opportunities to enhance their collections.