Thursday, October 30, 2014

It's All In The Presentation

Back in the early '60s, when Marvel was trying to get its mags off the ground and trying to tempt children from the sales rack, 12¢ was probably a lot of change in a kid's pocket. In fact, if you were to look at other items from the time, it was easy to understand why Marvel turned the sales pitch into an art form. A comic book cost two cents more than a soft drink, or a call from a pay phone (remember those?), or a newspaper--while popcorn at the movie or a hamburger (20¢ each), a movie ticket (50¢), or a pack of gum or a candy bar (5¢ each) were all in competition for those few coins a kid was carrying around in his or her pocket. And if you wanted a comic book when Mom needed a loaf of bread (20¢), you were probably out of luck.

So imagine if Marvel had thought of pushing a sales gimmick like comics with variant covers on those poor kids. If the notion had been brought up, it would likely have been rejected, given how Marvel was constantly touting its image of identifying with the average Joe. It would have looked too self-serving at the time for Marvel to entice its customers to buy a virtually brand-new concept multiple times while only giving them a different front cover to show for it--especially people whose pennies could be buying essentials. The hard-core collectors who would dig deep into their pockets were still a market yet to emerge; also, by then, the FF were a known quantity.

In the Silver Age books, there were a number of instances where original covers were rejected or significantly altered for sales purposes--and with variant covers still a ways off from being introduced, those covers were simply put aside in-house. In the case of Fantastic Four #3, though, we get a very early look at what might have reached the sales rack alongside the now-famous "bathtub" cover:

For me, the official cover wins the comparison hands-down, accomplishing most of the things the rejected cover is going for but using a far better method of presentation. Despite the FF's action poses in the "battle" cover, the official cover makes the team much more appealing, particularly since they're still new characters to the reader--and there's a "high-tech" flyer involved, which is going to have practically any kid wanting to take a closer look. The official cover also has the benefit of not having Sue in a terrified, helpless pose as she's pictured on the rejected cover (where you can't help but notice that her three partners are hardly recoiling in fright).

In addition, the official cover's captions do a better job of selling the book by the clean and distinctive way in which they're formatted. Both the art and the captions are so scattered on the other cover--whereas the bathtub cover brings much more information to the page while still looking uncluttered.  The second cover only tells us of the Miracle Man, with room for nothing else--while on the official cover? The Fantasti-Car!  New, official costumes!  Info inside about the FF's headquarters!  It's a win-win-win--and it's still a good guess that there's going to be a bad guy in there for them to battle.

Which of these covers do you think would have sold more books? And which would have the higher value today? I'd bet my bathtub that the answer to both questions is the same.


B Smith said...

Wonder if Jack was paid for that rejected cover...?

david_b said...

I was never EVER a fan of those covers with multiple scenes..

Just too busy, distracting and ruins the artistic intent of a cover.

Not to get pompous, but did Van Gogh or anyone paint multiple scenes on one canvas..?

Just the simple themes, like this, Hulk 121 (the recently-mentioned Glob cover), Steranko's stuff, etc are typically the most iconic and best.

Iron Man ish 1, anyone..?

Or the oneshot IM/Namor cover..?

How about those awesome Kirby Thor covers..?

Granted you want to excite the reader as mush as possible, when it's sitting on a rotating rack with 20 issues of the competition, but to me, simpleness is the best approach.

Colin Jones said...

My favourite bit of both covers is the bold statement that FF is "The Greatest Comic Magazine In The World !!" even though it's only the third issue (and the rejected cover has an extra exclamation mark after "World") - you've got to admire that self-confidence !! Over at DC comics they must have been thinking who are these uppity Marvel bunch - they won't amount to much.

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