I just sent this e-mail to a bunch of comics-industry websites. duck2ducks suggests I put it here for posterity.
I have yet to see any outcry over this, so I'm guessing no one has noticed yet:
Paging through Marvel Previews late Friday evening just before close, I found the line at the bottom of the ULTIMATES 2 #1 solicitation which read "RETAILERS: Check your Diamond Order Form for Details on the ULTIMATES 2 #1 Sketch Variant!" Being an industrious sort, I tracked down the details, which read:
"The Ultimates 2 #1 (OCT041716) - already the ultimate in comic book entertainment - will provide the Ultimate Retailer Incentive when it arrives in stores 12/1/04 with a special 50/50 Sketch Variant. When retail accounts place their orders for the best-selling return of The Ultimates this December, they will have their orders fulfilled with both the full color regular edition and black-and-white sketch variant (interiors and cover), designed to showcase the incredible artwork by Bryan Hitch!
A sample order: 200 copies of The Ultimates 2 #1 will be fulfilled with 100 copies of The Ultimates 2 #1 (Regular Edition) and 100 copies of The Ultimates 2 #1 (Variant, featuring B&W Sketch Cover AND B&W SKETCH INTERIORS)." (emphasis at the end mine).
In other words, half of the copies I (and everyone else) order will be in uninked black & white. It's fairly obvious that what they're trying to do is get retailers to double their orders on the book, just to have enough regular (i.e., colored) copies for their customers.
My jaw dropped. I quickly got on the phone to some of the other store managers in my chain, whose reactions included things like "Now I need to go vomit blood", "What the hell are they trying to pull?!?" and "AAARRRGH!!!"
A sketch cover is a fine idea, and a 50/50 split is a fair way to make sure each buyer/reader gets a choice, but sketch interiors are an idea whose time will never come. If anyone at Marvel reads this, please reconsider this naked attempt to drive up your numbers. The retailing community (at least this member of it) will thank you.