Maybe the hardest market to determine in comic book collecting is the variant cover fad, which continues to increase all the time. The variant covers you get at your LCS are often difficult to gauge on their market value until the Monday or Tuesday before Wednesday’s new comic book release date, which plays in part to the rarity of the comic. Marvel Comics especially is difficult to judge because they offer more variants a month than the all other publishers combined; often having many different variants for a single issue. Specialty issues can have over a dozen different variants for LCS’s to choose from and most LCS’s aren’t buying a large quantity of each variant for everyone. Many of Marvel’s variants are only available based on the number of regular covered issues they purchase, or past comic purchases. For instances, the LCS may be required to purchase 50 regular covers of comic X in order to get 1 copy of variant X. Therefore, that one variant will likely cost more than a typical variant. In instances such as this, the average incentive-based variant’s cost is one-to-one dollar-to-issue required. So in the above example, which issue tends to be around $50. However, many times that issue is a dud or an unlikely stud, so it’s important to know what to look for when buying.
DC Comics variants are typically sold to LCS’s at a purchase all you want of this variant basis. DC rarely has more than one variant for a comic, unless in rare instances when it’s a specialty issue. DC has also begun focusing their attention to quality writing and spending less time to novelty covers. However, once in a while, DC has a really cool variant for a common issue that is worth purchasing.
Image Comics also typically sells their variants to LCS’s at a purchase all you want of this variant basis. However, many of their variant covers are really well done, but because a majority of the comic book market belongs to Marvel and DC, the demand can be lower than expected for a great looking variant. However, Image has a large turnover of popular new titles and their variants are often worth picking up. Many speculators will pick up every Image #1 issue in hopes that it becomes the next Walking Dead #1 or Saga #1, so the value of the variants and first issues can fall quickly as issues three and four come out. When it comes to Image variants, when to sell is typically based on the long-term quality of the series. If you know the series is going to be a miniseries, selling quickly may be wise. For example, God Country was met with great hype. People loved the storyline concept and the art, so the #1 issue and its variants flew off the shelves. But by issue numbers three and four, people had moved on to other Image storylines and the six-issue miniseries ended with few people finishing the series. While at present date the first print #1 issues are still being sold at auction for above market value their prices have declined, and within a year will likely find its level. If the series is brought back to print, in the next year or two, you could see those prices move back up (such as Rat Queens), but otherwise, many will forget in a year that God Country existed and turn their attention to other titles.
Independent titles have their variants too. Zenescope Comics, Vampirella, and Red Sonja typically sell multiple variants, and while their fan bases aren’t large, their fans are typically passionate. And all three often put out quality covers that have value.
Other independent publishers put out occasional variants too, but usually don’t have great ROI. Dark Horse and IDW are the most notable at trying to put out enticing variant covers, but you don’t often see a great ROI on them. They tend to be more geared towards collectors than investors.