Thursday, July 9, 2009

On the definition of "foil" as "enemy, antagonist"

Back when I worked in a bookstore in the 80's, publishers started coming up with ways to make book covers more attractive. One of the things they started doing were more than one cover for a book. In some cases they'd just change the background color of the cover, and in same cases they'd do different art, as they did for the Stephen King collection "Different Seasons". Now bear in mind, this was done SOLELY to give the bookstores something more attractive to stack in the windows - four different color covers allowed you to do a more appealing display.

Once in a while someone would come along and ask if they were four different books; one person asked if the four covers meant the books were different languages. We'd assure them they were all the same interior, it was just a display thing. So they'd pick their favorite cover, and buy their copy.

Their one copy.
Cut to the release of the first issue of Legends of the Dark Knight. First new Bat-title in decades - a big deal. So DC decided to take a page from the book publishers' playbook and put out four different covers. Now bear in mind, this was effectively a two-color cover - black and one of four background colors. No special art, noting. Designed SOLELY to allow the store to put them in the window in a cool way. IMS, it didn't even get solicited as anything special cover-wise.

But a very odd thing started to happen. I saw it with my own eyes. Without any prodding, fans began asking the owner at the shop I frequented, "Which one is the rare one?" The proprietor, no fool, answered, "Pink". People bought the pink one. People bought all four covers. Sales of the issues effectively increased fourfold.

Now, the comics industry doesn't need a bridge to fall on them.

Multiple covers almost immediately became the standard, at least for "special" issues. Even mainstream magazines started doing them - TV Guide and Entertainment Weekly do them on occasion now, usually for genre shows and movies, ones that have a heavy "collector mentality" following.

Again, in the desire to make their books pop out of the stack, publishers started adding more printing techniques to their covers. Foil, holograms, extra colors, all designed to catch the average readers' eye. But there was a major point - the book publishers never asked the reader to pay more for a foil cover.

Not so for comics companies. A foil cover meant an extra buck on the cost of the book, easy. And usually there'd be a foil and a non-foil cover, which of course meant you "had to" buy both covers to keep your collection complete.

Now all of this was spurred along by the addlepated idea that somehow ALL comics were a great investment, and a comic you paid MORE for must be a BETTER investment. People would not and could not grasp that the reason Action Comics #1 was worth thousands and thousands of dollars is because there's like seven of them. There will never be a similar demand for one of the million copies of Spawn or X-Force.

Eventually the speculators left, people woke up and realized that they were being very foolish, and all the gimmick covers and million-copy print runs went away. The market shrank back to what it was before the boom, maybe even a little less as readers just gave up on comics altogether.

And we assumed we had learned.


Marvel just announced they will be doing a foil cover for the new Ultimate #1 issues.

Here's the paragraph everyone's quoting...
This is Marvel doing the nineties right," explained David Gabriel, Marvel Comics Senior Vice President of Sales & Circulation. "We’re taking two of the most popular cover treatments of all time—foil and holograms—to create an all new kind of cover, as a 'thank-you' to fans who’ve been demanding this kind of variant! Retailers and fans don't need to worry. We're only doing this on a limited basis. You won't see one on Ms Marvel #46 or Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers #4. We're using them to mark very special occasions...such as the launch of Ultimate Comics line.
Let's break this down...

"This is Marvel doing the nineties right"

This is like trying to to the Dresden bombings right. Or perhaps they mean "right" as "Better for us".

"fans who’ve been demanding this kind of variant"

My kid "demands" candy all the time, but I don't give it to her. Peter David gave the fans "What they demanded" in the last issue of X-factor, and has learned the price of giving the public what they want.

"We're only doing this on a limited basis"

"Limited" is one of those words that gets a lot of use. Like in "Limited warfare".

I have the advantage that I don't read the Ultimate titles, so this won't affect me. But this kind of thing spreads like wildfire, especially if it's successful.

I beg the industry to remember. Remember the cases of unsold comics in your back rooms. Remember the speculators dumping "hot" books at half cover while you were trying to get twice cover two booths away. Remember that moment that you realized that you just bought five copies of a comic book, all pre-sealed in bags, and a sixth one that you could open and read.

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