Comic Fodder

Why I Don’t Collect More Trades

The trade paperback was a fantabulous idea. Although there had been various kinds of collected editions, graphic novels, and other types of formats put out by various publishers, probably the first person that demonstrated a collection of reprints was a good idea to publish and keep in stock was Dave Sim for his Cerebus series. As the series continued and good word of mouth spread, the trades became the best way to get an entire story and catch up quickly to the ongoing series. Some of these readers caught up and turned into monthly subscribers, while others continued to wait for the trades. Today, we take trades for granted, but it wasn’t until someone relatively small in the business went out on a limb and proved they could be profitable was the path opened for this particular revolution in the comics industry to flourish.

The advantages of trades are numerous:

• Unless you have some kind of fixation on hunting down back issues, putting together your collection one issue at a time (and make no mistake, there are tons of us out there that prefer this method), you can be guaranteed to have the whole story in a trade, and for a much cheaper price, and much less time consumed than trying to get every original issue.

• The trades are slightly more durable, allowing you to make the mistake of setting it down on a table surface, only to find out it is wet. Since the trades are only worth so much, and as a general rule tend not to be treated as a collectible item, you don’t spend nearly as much time checking out your environment to make sure it’s okay to handle or put it somewhere, and you aren’t all that concerned if it gets a little worn and torn. The bonus here is that trades also tend to get loaned out to friends much more often than individual comics, allowing for a wider audience to be exposed to the subject, and with no marketing costs.

• Back to the “complete story” part: if you want to read the entire story all in one sitting, you can! No waiting anywhere between six months to six decades to find out how a particular plot turned out. Suddenly everything happens at your pace, but generally we tend to finish the trades much faster than it takes the creative teams to work on the combined story.

Trades now comprise a substantial part of comic stores’ incomes; in certain places they have already become the major source of a store’s revenue. Major retailers also carry trades but not comics, so the fact that someone might go into Barnes & Noble (but never go into a comic store,) raises the chance that he will be exposed to the comic art form and take a look.

But I have not switched to trades myself, for most series. Part of that is some kind of imprint comics have left on me, that makes me partial to holding and reading the real thing, you know? But there’s more to it than that. The events of the DC and Marvel universes have become so intertwined, it causes too much confusion to wait for an Avengers trade while continuing to buy Iron Man or Captain America on a monthly basis. Between events like 52 and Countdown that permeate the entire DC Universe, or “just” a mega-crossover event like Secret Invasion, if I want to feed my monthly dose of addiction, I need to keep them all at that monthly level, so that the stories weaving throughout the multiple titles continue to make sense, and to avoid having a story in a trade spoiled. If I’m reading Batman and find out a character died, but the character dies over in Robin, which I haven’t read yet because the trade isn’t even out yet, it’s spoiled for me.

The second drawback to trades? Take a storyline like Endangered Species, which was spread over a number of the X-titles. It would be better as a three-issue miniseries, or a two-issue 32-page spectacular. Instead, we are charged an entire dollar extra for only eight more pages for each of those monthly comic books. Thanks a lot, Marvel. It does no good to wait for the trade, because by then the rest of all of the Marvel-wide interlocking story elements will be done and gone.

The third drawback to trades? No more surprises. In the age of the internet, any new surprise or special event is splashed across web pages within hours, or sometimes even leaked in advance. Why bother to read a murder-mystery trade when the killer was revealed three months ago while you were browsing Yahoo’s front page? While some comic sites have gotten wise and put spoiler warnings first, making you consciously click first to read further, more “mainstream” sites still haven’t got a clue, and you can find out tons of stuff accidentally just going to a homepage and trying to click on a different link. While you wait for the page to load, hey, you just learned the latest person Bendis killed! Thanks for nothing, guys. (Eh, he’ll be back in six months anyway, right?)

I do collect trades for a series that I did not initially collect, but am exposed to later. If I think it’s good, I’ll head immediately for the trades and gobble them up. I am so thankful for the trades being there, because now I have managed to catch up with cool titles like Fables, Cerebus, 100 Bullets, and Runaways. Without trades, who knows how long it would have been until I could read the full Watchmen story! Trades make for great bathroom readers, table conversation pieces, and easy to pack to take on a vacation, in case you want something besides a paperback novel on the plane ride.

I am strategically planning my trades purchases now. If I think a series will be good, and at the same time not be too intertwined with another title, I might wait for the trade. The one catch that burns publishers on trades is that tons of comic readers have made a decision to wait for the trade. To some extent, this can hurt new titles. If the new title does not sell enough monthly copies, it might be cancelled prematurely. It might be determined that it doesn’t even merit being put out in trade format. I have no clue what calculus comic companies use to determine what makes something trade-worthy, or how big a deal this is, but I still tend to buy things in comic form first, in the hopes that I’m doing my own small part to help a good new series find its footing.
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Tpull is Travis Pullen. He started reading comics at 5 years old, and he can't seem to stop.