Programmer by day, comic nerd by night. My official job title is "Director of Janitorial Engineering"
The "Custom" Variant Craze
For the longest time it has been that if you wanted an exclusive variant cover for your store/website you would have to place an order of at least a thousand copies plus pay for the artwork. IDW started the "custom" variant cover craze when they allowed retailers to order 500 copies of the new Godzilla. If they did they would get a custom cover with Godzilla smashing their store. There were almost 100 store variant covers.
Boundless was the next into the game and they upped the ante. If you ordered 350 you would get a 100% unique custom cover. ComicBookRealm.com took advantage of this offer to get our first ever exclusive cover. This was not as popular as the Godzilla one for a few reasons. One is that it is not as popular a title, and the other is that it was right on the heals of the Godzilla variant and most retailers still had numerous copies on their shelf.
Shortly after this Marvel announced that they were going to have an Amazing Spider-Man exclusive variant cover for #666. The first thought among collectors was how many retailers would take advantage of this? This is an A-list title and retailers shouldn't have a hard time in getting rid of them to completionists. Of course one thing we didn't realize is the amount of outlay it would take for a retailer to get a cover. They had to place an order of at least 150% of their normal Amazing Spider-Man order. So if they normally ordered 100, they now had to order 150 regular covers. Then they would be allowed to order at least 500 copies of either a Bugle Variant or Store Variant cover. So now they had a minimum of 650 copies to unload.
Completionists to the Rescue
I previously mentioned the word "completionist". These individuals are one's that must have every cover to a particular series. Unfortunately I am one of these "sick" individuals and when Marvel announced this offer it litterally made me sick. I was thinking hundreds and hundreds of retailers would take advantage of the offer. The more that did the greater chance that no one would ever be able to assemble a complete set on their own.
Think about it...every store that participated did so to primarily reward their regular customers. If even one store ordered the minimum 500 copies then at most there could only be 500 completionists in the world that could ever own them all. Ever copy that store sold to their regular customers would mean one less possible complete set. To me at least time is of the essence.
The completionist is actually a retailers best friend in helping them to try and unload any extra copies they might have.
I personally began the chase on July 22nd. I wasn't sure how I was going to go about it, but I knew that I needed to buy copies as they became available. Initially I turned to feeBay to see which retailers had participated (Marvel hadn't announced the complete list yet) and to start ordering those that I came across. I had ordered probably a dozen or so when a new member to ComicBookRealm.com approached me about working together. Basically we would split the list and he would order 2 copies and I would order 2 copies. Then one we had them all in we would mail the other person's copies to them.
This allowed for 2 things. One is that it made it easier to quickly contact all of the stores. Having to contact/order only around 70 was easier to manage versus the 140+. The other thing is that all of the retailers would combine shipping. So instead of having to pay shipping on all 140+ comics, I would only have to pay for half of the shipping on all 140 comics, thus making the per comic cost cheaper. Running ComicBookRealm.com also afforded me a "leg up" on getting things accomplished as several members offered to procure their LCS variant and mail it to me.
One thing became clear during the chase...retailers for the most part were not prepared for the onslaut of communications from completionists. I contacted numerous retailers who said they would get back with me whom never did, or did so after a month. It was great to contact most retailers who understood the desire to own them all and they were more than happy to sell a copy at a reasonable rate and ship it.
There were some retailers who would refuse to communicate with non-local consumers, some retailers who would not mail under any circumstance, and some retailers who decided they were going to jack their cost way up to take advantage of the completionists.
Probably the hardest comic to come by was the Blister comic out of Japan. They would only ship to a Japan address...not international. One ComicBookRealm.com member found a unique way to get around this and was able to procure their copy for $35. I went the old school route and contacted my network of friends on Facebook asking for help. Ultimately a friend of a friend hooked me up and allowed me to ultimately get my copy for only $10 shipped.
Another retailer (Comics America) decided to giveaway the comic to anyone who placed a $50 order. If you placed a $75 order you would get free shipping. You would place your order and include a bunch of extra items incase your first choices were sold out. I think this was a good idea as they can make more money on the sale than just selling the variant outright. My one problem with this is that there is no way to know if they are you over or not. Basically they can take your first choice and second choice list and send you any comic they want based upon their highest margins. For instance if I wanted comic A that cost $10 and I had a backup comic B for $10, they could send me whichever ultimately cost them less. Maybe they paid $5 for A, and $1 for B...they send me B so they can make $4 more in profit. Of course they could do it just the opposite and send me their higher cost comic as it might not sell...or drop in value later on.
One retailer (Jetpack Comics) decided that they were going to sell both of their copies (and the original) for $40 total. Most retailers were around $5-$10 per copy so this was a pretty high price to pay. My Dad was even going to be close (3 hours) and offered to go grab me some. Ultimately a regular at their store decided to buy the comic at cost for a regular customer and then resell them and undercut their store.
Probably the most frustrating retailer was Mac's Comics out of Florida. They initially started selling their comics for $20 on feeBay. They then listed them for $40 and were not moving. Basically they decided to take advantage of comic collectors...I will remember this and make sure I never visit them.
But...I am happy to say that as of September 30th I am now one of probably only a handful of people that can claim to own the complete set.
By the Numbers
So I am sure everyone wants to know the brass tax...what were the numbers. All told there are 144 covers to #666 spread across 10 countries.
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