Comic Store In Your Future: How One Shop Ordered Those Jim Lee Trading Card Variant Covers

Rod Lamberti of Rodman Comics writes weekly for Bleeding Cool. Find previous columns here.

As many already know, Marvel's variant theme for July is Jim Lee. They're using Jim Lee artwork from a card set that came out in the '90s. I remember the set. Six cards in a pack, if memory holds correctly. Hard to get cool gold foil cards.

I was in high school at the time. I would mow yards, and along with getting comics, I would end up getting enough packs to make up a full set of the regular cards. Collecting comic cards was popular for a while. DC had a set around the same time, if not earlier, with cool foil cards. Marvel had card sets that rocked, also. The packs were pretty inexpensive at the time. I know, because mowing yards and going to high school, I could afford them.

Then as time went on, I got a job and a steady paycheck. Made actual money, though I could no longer afford collecting comic cards. Crazy, right? The cards became expensive. It went from easily getting a box of cheap cards to finding a few packs were now way too expensive compared to a few years before. The cards were no longer made of basic card stock, like old baseball cards when they first came out. The card stock changed to a much more expensive material. The non-sports card market priced itself out of existence.

Thanks, Marvel, for the trip down memory lane.

As a retailer, what do I think of this? It will help their sales. I went through and increased and changed my ordering. My increase of orders on Marvel alone won't matter for their sales, but when multiple comic stores increase their orders because of the variants, it will indeed move their sales needle.

Jim Lee is a superstar artist, no doubt about that. Lee, of course, is with DC and has been for years. Marvel has recently used past artists work for other variant covers — such as George Perez on Patsy Walker, Hellcat and Todd McFarlane for Venom — which tells me that Marvel knows artists can move the sales needle. It's just that they don't have the artists currently to move the sales needle, or they are unwilling to pay the ones they do have to make new art for covers.

Why else use artwork from so long ago?

I did find it odd that while ordering through Diamond there were still "Image Coming Soon" images instead of the actual images of the Jim Lee variant artwork, so I looked them up on other comic-related websites. Obviously, the images are available and out there. To me, if you want to have comic stores ordering more product, including the image would be a good idea.

Another oddity: Some of the listings on Diamond will tell me the actual number I need to order, while some say 90% or more of a previously ordered issue. Showing the number makes things easier, so I like that. Old Man Logan right there shows the number I need order. Quick and easy. Ordering for the Gwenpool #18 variant, however, just states I need to order 90% of Gwenpool #15 to be able to order the Jim Lee X-Men variant. For some reason, it states to get the Cable Jim Lee X Men variant: "MEET OR EXCEED 125% OF ORDERS FOR DEADPOOL #28 (JAN171058) WITH ORDERS FOR CABLE #3 REG CVR, AND THIS VARIANT IS ORDER ALL YOU WANT."

Here is my thought process of ordering these:

Summer has started, so we have new summer customers; ones out of college visiting home, and so forth. We also have new customers due to two stores closing recently. I don't know if these customers are going to be interested in these variants. I do talk to the customers, though I don't want to overdo it. Might be a little soon to ask, "Are you going to be interested in the upcoming Jim Lee covers?"

Here we go with ordering.


All-New Wolverine #22's Jim Lee variant cover is the blue skin Archangel card. I guess Marvel figured in All-New X-Men they are an item, so go with it. Though why no one thought better of it so we could get a Jim Lee old school Wolverine cover, I do not know.

It says "MEET OR EXCEED 90% OF ORDERS FOR ALL-NEW WOLVERINE #19 (FEB170786) WITH ORDERS FOR ALL-NEW WOLVERINE #19 REG CVR, AND THIS VARIANT IS ORDER ALL YOU WANT." A little confusing, since this is for issue #22 and not #19. Typos happen. We easily qualify for the variant. I'm even able to trim down on the regular cover to get half of the regular and half of the variant. Marvel does get one extra copy out of me, though. I'm betting at least one person will want both covers.


Amazing Spider-Man #30, featuring Jim Lee's Bishop from the '90s. What? You didn't hear how close Bishop and Spider-Man are? Sadly, Amazing Spider-Man has been sliding down the sales chart for us. The $9.99 issue was a jumping-off point for some of our customers, which is odd, since the recent $9.99 Deadpool issue sold out quickly for us. We were lucky to get new Deadpool fans, but there were no new Spider-Man fans.

I only ordered two of the Bishop variant and decreased the regular cover by two. While I didn't increase the order, it did stop me from cutting it down had there been no variant. A move I might easily wish I hadn't made come next month. The desire to have on hand what people want vs. playing it safe. I do keep hoping (yes, like a fool) that new people check out the title thanks to the upcoming movie.


Avengers #9, with Jim Lee's Mystique. Avengers Annual #10 where she fought the Avengers, I'm guessing, is why this pairing was done. Regardless, Avengers sales, while not impressive by any means, look to have bottomed out and are currently stable. We ordered the variant and decreased on the regular cover by one. No gain of sales due to us.


Black Panther #16 features Storm by Jim Lee. Storm and Black Panther have history, so it does at least makes sense. Black Panther, like the Avengers, seems to have bottomed out, and is at least stable now. Thanks to the variant, Marvel does get one more copy sold out of me.


Cable #3 featuring Cable! A winner. Though for some reason Diamond lets me know: "MEET OR EXCEED 125% OF ORDERS FOR DEADPOOL #28 WITH ORDERS FOR CABLE #3 REG CVR, AND THIS VARIANT IS ORDER ALL YOU WANT." Well, that means no Jim Lee Cable variant covers for us.

Why other titles have 90% and not this one, I do not know. I don't believe we would sell out at that 125%. That said, Cable having one issue out and this being for issue #3, I'm already guessing what it will sell. Iceman and Jean Grey are looking like they'll be lucky to get up to seven issues, thanks to Marvel producing so many X books. So no increase.


Captain America Steve Rogers #19 featuring Gambit. I guess they did fight during AVX. With Secret Empire having an actual increase in his title, I kept the orders the same and ordered one variant. Marvel gets one extra sale out of me.


Champions #10. Cyclops being featured makes sense. We qualify for the variant and order one copy. Keeps Champions at the same level as the previous issue.


Daredevil #23. Domino. Like Bishop and Spider-Man, Domino has secret team-ups with Daredevil that have yet to be told. Um, sure. Instead of me decreasing by one copy on the issue, the variant ends up keeping the same amount ordered as the previous issue. Only ordering one of the Domino cover. Like Mystique, she isn't a popular enough character.

Deadpool #33, featuring a Jim Lee Deadpool? This could sell. Oddly enough, the Koblish variant for this issue is 100% of Deadpool #28, while the Jim Lee one is only at 90% of Deadpool #30. I have a customer who wants all the Koblish variants, so we're easily able to order the Lee variant. I end up ordering seven Jim Lee variants while ordering what I normally would for the regular cover. So Marvel comes out seven copies ahead this time.

Defenders #3 featuring Jim Lee's Shadow King! Oh my! Diamond lets me know I only need to "Meet or exceed 200% of your orders on Daredevil #19 with your orders on Defenders #3 reg cvr, and this variant is order all you want." I am so all over that — not. Defenders #1 is only coming out this week. I don't have enough sale info to make an informed guess on what to order. 200% of Daredevil #19 makes it a hard pill to swallow. Also, it's the Shadow King. No increase on this issue.

Doctor Strange #23. Mr. Sinister. Why, yes, the Doctor Strange fans will really be interested in a cover with Mr. Sinister — not. It may be ordered at 90% of Doctor Strange #20, so we're able to meet that. I'd gamble that at least one customer will want the variant cover, so I ordered it. By my doing so, Marvel gains a sale.


Generation X #4 with Jubilee. Generation X is having trouble here in store. Just too many X books in such a short time. "Meet or exceed 100% of your orders on All-New X-Men #19 with your orders on Generation X #4 reg cvr, and this variant is order all you want." All-New X-Men #19 outsold the second issue of Generation X here. I'm unwilling to match the order, simply due to the math being I would have too many unsold copies. With Generation X #4, I still decrease the order on this issue. No sales gained for Marvel.


Gwenpool, The Unbelievable #18. Variant cover featuring the White Queen. This one, out of all the issues to order with the variants, is the toughest. Gwenpool has sold the exact same amount for months, which is great. I know exactly what to order. White Queen drawn by Jim Lee? From a card image from years ago. How many guys are going to look at it and go, "She's hot, must buy."? Not trying to be crude, just being honest. Covers, for whatever reason, often times make a book sell. I am going with three. Marvel ends up getting three extra sales on a lower-selling title out of us.


Invincible Iron Man #9, featuring Colossus. Okay, Colossus can turn into metal and Iron Man wears metal, so that is why he made the cover? Thanks to the variant, one extra copy bought by me. Hopefully it doesn't end up in the dollar bin 'til the day I retire.


Iron Fist #5. Sabertooth. All right, Sabertooth first showed up to fight Iron Fist all those years ago, so that makes some sense. Thanks to the variant cover, Iron Fist gets one more copy ordered.

Jean Grey #4. Dark Phoenix. Makes sense, of course. Jean Grey is doing poorly in store — another case of too much X material in such a short amount of time. That said, I'm hoping older fans of the Dark Phoenix story arc and maybe some more "She's hot, must buy," mentality comes into play. Three copies of the variant ordered, giving Marvel four extra copies sold. It wouldn't let me lower my order on Jean Grey if I wanted to order the variants.


Mighty Thor #21. Sentinel. Come on, Marvel. When I think of Thor, I don't exactly think of mutant-killing Sentinel. One copy of the variant ordered. Same amount of copies I would have ordered without the variant.


Ms. Marvel #20. Lady Deathstrike. Again, who doesn't think Lady Deathstrike when they think of Ms. Marvel? Ms. Marvel sells very low here in store. But like Gwenpool, I know how many to order. That said, thanks to the variant, one copy increase on the order.


Old Man Logan #26 featuring Professor X. Professor X does at least have a Wolverine connection. Old Man Logan has seen a bit of an increase sales-wise in store. Thanks to the variant, Marvel does get one more copy sold to us.


Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man #2 featuring Psylocke. Thanks, Marvel. The first issue hasn't even came out yet, and the order cutoff is coming up. Adam Kubert is doing the art, so that should have people interested. Going to hope four variant covers is the magic number. Four more copies for Marvel.


The Punisher #14 with the most popular mutant ever, Wolverine! Oh, I mean, Forge! Forge has guns, so I guess a Punisher cover is where he goes. One extra copy sold, thanks to the variant.

Royals #5 with Magneto. Oh god, I have to order yet another Inhumans title that doesn't sell more than Mockingbird did. No extra sales. Magneto is popular, but for me, how many times have Inhuman-related titles been canceled? It's just too much of a risk. Inhumans has been canceled so many times that Marvel has made the Inhumans brand toxic. Let the Inhumans be in limbo for a year or so; let people miss the characters. With the Inhumans, it just feels like Marvel wants them to take up all of the space in our dollar bin for some reason.


Spider-Man #18 featuring Shadowcat on the cover. Okay. Thanks to the variant, Marvel gets one extra sale out of us.

Thanos #9 with Strong Guy. Remember the time Strong Guy went one on one with Thanos while Polaris watched? Neither do I. That said, Marvel gets yet another one extra sale they normally wouldn't.

Uncanny Avengers #25 featuring Rogue. She is on the team, at least. Two extra copies, thanks to the variant.


Venom #152 with Polaris on the cover. Remember in that same battle Thanos had with Strong Guy, Polaris was taking a break and chatting it up with Venom? No? No one seems to remember it — since it never happened. That said, Marvel does get two extra copies sold.


Weapon X #5, featuring Warpath. Warpath has what to do with the Weapon X program? With the WMD crossover going on, I figure ordering two variants should be all right. That said, the variant did not increase sales — the crossover did.


X Men Blue #7 with Jean Grey on the cover. Her younger version is on the team, at least. The variant does get me to order two more copes that I normally wouldn't. Oh, the pouches on that outfit. So '90s.


X-Men Gold #7. Mojo. Mojo does not have a massive following. Shocking! There would be too many copies above what I think will really sell for me to try for it. No increase on this one.

Whew. That took longer to type up than I thought.

Even though my increases don't look like much, if the average store orders similarly, small increases from hundreds — or even thousands — of comic shops means those numbers add up. Variants still are able to give a sales boost to titles — after all, the Venom-themed variant covers gave a sales boost for Marvel. While I'd rather just have people picking up a comic to read, it's also my job to sell people what they want. Variants mostly get people who are planning to buy the issue anyway, to get both the variant and regular covers. But much like first-issue relaunching, they just prop up sales in the short term and are not a long-term solution.

What were the factors going through my head while ordering these? A lot of internal struggle. Will I have enough to meet our customers' demands? Will I find out the hard way that one of my customers actually loves Mojo and is upset I didn't order it? I do wish Marvel did this differently.

The 90% restriction on some titles and then 200% on others are things that the customers will never know about, and shouldn't have to care about. To apply that to titles not even out yet, or just out before letting stores have some idea how well a title will sell, is asking stores to take too much of a risk. These comics are non-returnable, yet Marvel wants us to take a heck of a risk. This is even more unfair to new or newer stores that are trying to build their customer base and are just getting to know their customers.

Also going through my mind is, "Will people even care that much about the variants?" Older customers might remember the '90s X-Men Jim Lee cards and think, "Oh, cool, I remember these," then pick it up as a link to the past. Will younger customers see the variants and buy them?

I won't be increasing the price on the variants from cover price, so these are all about selling along with the regular covers.

Variants used to be a much bigger deal here in store years ago. But over the years, variant demand has dropped. They have been done so much that people are getting burnt-out. I had one customer getting all the variant covers that had Deadpool on them, then over time stopped getting them all. It got to be too much for him.

As is the way when ordering comics, I will learn the hard way how well I ordered. Roughly a month after they come out, I'll know I over-ordered if a majority are still available. Or if I ordered too low, I'll know by customers letting me know they wanted them.

So there you have it: My ordering and thought process on the Jim Lee variants from Marvel — also known as, "Marvel was too cheap to pay an artist for new artwork."

About Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.

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