Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A Collection of Random Thoughts, Vol 18

The original A Collection of Random Thoughts is back! Well, for this edition anyway. Who knows what the future holds! Matt may be the next one who steals my shtick! Or one of the Ryans. Mayhaps even Christine. Anyway, this time around, the topic is trades! Subjects include solicitation practices, collection diversity and I get into why I trade wait. I also touch on the recent cancellation of S.W.O.R.D. and the upcoming Avengers relaunch. Plus, NERD RAGE! All of this and a reader question after the jump.

NERD RAGE ALERT! - Comics Are Not Movies!

Recently, Marvel has been trying to make their comics more...cinematic, by which I mean they try to make them look more like movies in the most superficial and moronic ways possible. I've mostly seen this with the credits page on their Hulk titles, two examples of which you can see below.

Now, I phrased this "NERD RAGE ALERT!" for a reason. Sure, this stuff probably isn't that bad since it doesn't really reflect the contents of the comics themselves, but it still pisses me off. It all seems like it is part of this attitude at Marvel, and DC as well at times, that comics just are not good enough, which includes doing things like hiring a lot of writers from film and TV.

Sure, some of the film and TV writers have produced great comics but some of them have also met with lengthy delays since the writers had more "important" projects, aka film and TV, to work on. It's this idea that comics are not as good as movies and Marvel seems to think they never can be. Why the hell would a COMICS PUBLISHER take that kind of attitude? It honestly astounds me. So, given Marvel's attitude on this, I shouldn't have been surprised when I saw something like this...

The Growing Importance of Trades and The Decline of Singles?

There has been a trend in collections recently that I'm not very fond of, namely the lack of the issues collected on the back cover. Marvel has generally been pretty good at listing all of the material that is collected in their trades on the back cover and other companies have been less reliable on the matter, particularly DC, but recently I've seen the practice drop dramatically to the point where it seems the act of listing the issues collected on the back cover seems to the exception rather than the rule.

Obviously, this is just my personal experience but it could be the norm as well. If true, I guess that it would mean the further separation of singles readers and trade readers into two different groups as far as comics publishers are concerned since trades were once viewed as a way to get people caught up on and reading the single issues.  Only really knowing the contents based on volumes isn't exactly condusive to that goal.

What Is A Proper Avengers Comic Exactly?

With the announcement that Brian Bendis is the writer of the upcoming Avengers relaunch, the subject of what is and isn't a "proper" or "correct" Avengers comic has been brought to the fore again. To me, this argument has always seemed incredibly silly and boarders on moronic at times.

I've always seen the Avengers as a team that does not have a core concept really. They've always seemed like Marvel's biggest non-X-Men, non-Fantastic Four team. There isn't really anything that can connect any one random Avengers line up with another random Avengers line up or create a distinct separation  from any other random Marvel team, aside from the tag line "Earth's Mightiest," but that's a rather meaningless descriptor. I mean, half of the Defenders are/were Avengers (Namor and the Hulk) and the other two (Dr. Strange and the Silver Surfer) could be as well. Even the Champions had  some Avengers (Black Widow and Hercules) in their line up and most of the characters (Iceman and Angel) could be Avengers as well. Hell, even a couple of New Warriors have been Avengers.

So, if the line up and concept are not particularly useful in coming up with a proper definition for what is or isn't a correct Avengers book, what is? Many classic Avengers fans would point to Dan Slott's Mighty Avengers and generally point out to its stylistic differences compared to Bendis's Avengers titles. Slott's Avengers work can be favourably described as old school or retro. However, stylistic differences are not a valid reason for why Bendis's titles can't be "proper" Avengers titles since style isn't inherent to a concept. There is absolutely nothing about the Avengers, or most comics for that matter, that states they have to be written one particular way or another. This is not to say that you can't dislike Bendis's Avengers work because of his style though.

The other big thing classic Avengers fans would point to is the tradition of the Avengers's comics up until Avengers: Disassembled - the characters, the line ups, the classic stories and events. I don't buy this either. Tradition is accumulated and usually isn't a core part of any concept since it is not there at the inception and means the original concept did not require tradition to be popular. Not to mention the fact that not everyone accepts those traditions as valid or even agree with what is or isn't part of said tradition. There is also the fact that tradition generally precludes most revamps or reinterpretations, which is what New Avengers was, so it is also a flimsy reason in that regard as well.


If you don't buy a lot of trades, then you may not notice that some companies, namely DC and Dark Horse, don't actually solicit trades for the month in which they are released. None of the collections and OGNs listed in DC's April solicitations actually come out in that month and actually come out in May or June. This annoys the hell out of me since it just seems pointless.  I understand retailers require notification of these trades for ordering purposes, but the three or more month lead in from the typical solicits should be more than enough time and doesn't seem to affect other publishers soliciting trades with the other items solicited for a given month.

Diversity in Collections

Now for some trends in collections that I approve of! Early in 2009, DC released Batman R.I.P. as an oversized, deluxe hardcover instead of as a standard hardcover. Previously, DC had only used the format for Brian K. Vaughn's Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina hardcover collections, but they have been using the format more and more recently.

In fact, the first volume of Batman and Robin is initially going to be released in the same format and the first Batwoman collection is going to be as well. They are also re-releasing older series in the same format, such as Tom Strong, Uncle Sam and Fables. Although I don't think releasing new material in expensive hardcovers before the trade collections is a good idea in the long term, even if I intended to buy said hardcovers, it is part of a trend to both re-release old material and offer readers new formats to choose from.

In addition to DC, Marvel's solicitations for February 2010 include a wide variety of collected editions of both new and old material and smaller publishers like Dark Horse and Image have begun to release hardcovers of critically acclaimed series, such as Beasts of Burden and Viking. Again, although I'm not terribly happy that the hardcovers are preceding the softcover collections, it is a move towards offering readers more choice, which I am always a fan of.

On the manga side of things, there has been a trend toward omnibus-type collections. Viz already has their VizBig editions and offering the early volumes of One Piece in omnibus form as well. Dark Horse re-released Clover in an omnibus in 2009 and is offering Chobits in a series of omnibuses as well. I'm hoping this is a sign of older and out-of-print material being offered again in omnibus editions since I didn't start reading manga until last year and there are a lot of series that I would love to read. Personally, I'm hoping some VizBig editions of Monster by Naoki Urasawa.

S.W.O.R.D. Math

When it was announced that S.W.O.R.D. was going to be canceled, there were complaints that people who were waiting for the trade were one of the reasons why since they took away readership from the single issues.

Curious about the veracity of this, I decided to check to see what the highest selling trade was in November, the same month that S.W.O.R.D. #1 was released, which was the Chew Vol 1 TPB at ~6,000 units. Other big sellers were The Boys Vol 5 TPB, Green Lantern: Agent Orange HC, Batman: Battle for The Cowl HC, and the Incognito TPB which sold the lowest at ~4,500 units.  These, of course, are Diamond sales and mostly account for what was just sold in comic shops (bookstores, Amazon, etc), but are a good metric.

Obviously, these are either popular series, ones that that have received a lot of acclaim or both. Not only that, but these are the first month orders which represent trade waiters who are buying the collections immediately and the most likely to have picked up the series in singles, not the people who are going wait a couple of months before picking it up and are the least likely to have bought the series in singles.

Odds are that S.W.O.R.D. didn't have a couple of thousand potential readers waiting for the trade and even, at best, 6,000 additional readers might - might - have let the series make it to issue #12 but even that is highly unlikely. The fact remains though, as it was produced and sold by Marvel, S.W.O.R.D. did not have a large potential reader base and there probably wasn't much that could be done to change that.

For the record, I don't reject the idea that trade waiters can negatively affect the sales of a series but I don't think it leads directly to the cancellation of lower selling titles. In fact, there is evidence that shows that it helps them. Just see Runaways or many Vertigo titles. Obviously, this isn't universal.

Why I Trade Wait

While I've touched on what I think the main reasons are for why people would trade wait rather than buy single issues, I've never really gotten into why I do it. I am bringing this up because, when topics like S.W.O.R.D.S.'s cancellation are brought up, the topic of trade waiting is as well and I usually see a lot of misguided assumptions about why people trade wait.

So, as a trade waiter, I figured I'd use this an an opportunity to explain exactly why I do so and hopefully provide some insight on why some readers prefer the practice. For me, it comes down to two reasons - 1) I intensely dislike the weekly and monthly grind that comes with buying single issue and 2) trades are a better format for my reading habits.

I got back into comics in college, first with trades and then eventually I got impatient enough to start getting them in singles again, partly because the LCS I went to was literally a block south of the campus. I always went at lunch time and it was never more than a couple of minutes away from any class I had around lunch. Getting comics and lunch was a nice way to spend the hour or two I had between class but, after I graduated, I had to go out of my way every Wednesday to get my comics, which got tiring pretty quickly. Aside from the drive to and from, I also had to get there early enough to make sure I could get any shelf copies of any series or issue that wasn't on my pull but still wanted to get. The UPS deliveries were also unreliable at times and I could spend up to half an hour, or more, waiting for the store to finish sorting all of the new comics.

The weekly trips to the LCS became more and more of a problem as time went on for other reasons as well. I kept adding comics to my pull list and kept trying out more and more comics off the shelf and my budget just kept growing and growing and growing. The logistics of just keeping up with what came out each month and what didn't become a hassle as well since I was getting so many books and Marvel and DC have a really bad habit of pushing books back or changing the release date, which made keeping track of not only what came out but how much I spend each week and month take up more and more time.

Eventually I switched over to an online, mail order service, which solved part of the logistics problem but I still had an ever growing budget. Now, partly it was because it is really hard to skip an issue since you not only miss part of the story but it becomes harder and harder each following week to go back and pick up that missing issue because there are new comics each week. Sure, there are back issues and you could go back and pick up the issue on a lighter week but 1) going through back issues takes time and energy that I didn't feel like devoting to it and 2) "light" weeks were becoming rarer and rarer for me. Plus, once I started using an online, mail order service I would have to make special trips to the LCS just for a one or two issues, which I wouldn't have thought was worth the time. As I've mentioned before though, trade waiting doesn't have any of these problems so I simply went cold turkey on singles and gave them up.

Trades are also just a better format for me to read. Right now, comics are pretty much the only type of entertainment I consume. I don't read novels or play video games and while I watch some TV shows online and have Netflix account, I don't have cable, so the amount of TV I watch is very small. This means that, aside from reading a lot of comics, I also am going to reread them a good deal as well, which is much easier with trades. Aside from the fact that each trade usually contains a full story, they are simple easier to store and sort since they can be shelved on a bookshelf. Single issues have to be bagged and boarded and kept in boxes of one kind or another if you want to keep them in good condition so that you can be able to read them later. This means not only digging through the boxes to find the issues, you also have to take them out of the bags and then put them back in when you are done. With trades you just simply walk up to the bookshelf, take the comic off and then put it back when you are done.

Finally, I'd like to touch on the economics of trade waiting. When a series is canceled, often times trade waiters are accused of not "properly" supporting said series and contributing to its cancellation. Personally, I call bullshit because the underlying principle behind the sentiment is generally that it is my moral responsibility to support the comics industry which is, again, bullshit. Why is it my responsibility? Yes, it sucks that I'm not really "counted" as a reader in many cases because single issues sales are considered more important than trade sales. Yes, I hate the fact that I can't effectively support many of my favourite creators and help to make it possible that creating comics can be a sustainable and effective way to support themselves but I have myself to worry about first and foremost. And, you know what? I can understand the bitterness that some creators may feel because people would rather buy their series in trade which may have caused it to be cancelled but I can't put their well being ahead of mine. Period.  They get money from the trades I buy.  The industry is supported just as much by my trade purchases.  If they want someone to blame for their book being cancelled, they can look at the stranglehold Diamond has on publishing or the practices of Marvel and DC or, in many cases, the quality of their own work and how they promoted it.

Personally, I would love for it to be affordable for me to buy a comic in singles and trades but it just isn't and I'm not going to put the needs of the comics industry over mine. Yes, comics are a wonderful form of entertainment and I love them dearly but many of them are still just entertainment at the end of the day, no matter how great a few may be.

Reader Question - How Do You Prefer To Read Comics?

Do you prefer to get issues each and every week, reading each and every issue while eagerly anticipating the next one? Or, perhaps, you like to wait for the story to be finished and read it in one sitting? Are there some series you love to read in singles but others you love to read as trades?  Do you reread a storyline as each new issue comes out?  Do you reread issues in the gaps between releases? 

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Anonymous said...

Some great points on the trade waiting topic. I love picking up a Marvel Omnibus with 25 issues of a series I have never read and blow through it. Another major benefit of trades or hardcovers is that they are easier to share. Because I have a great LCS less than a mile from my law school and just can't wait, I still get singles every week but this habit will likely change with digital distribution. My ideal situation would be to get singles weekly on an Ipad for $1 or $1.50 an issue and then get hardcover collections of series that I enjoy and want to reread and share with others.

Anonymous said...

For the issue numbers with trades
Just look on the legal print on the second page.

Ivan said...

Living in Brazil, series here are often: a) very late compared to what's going on in the U.S.; b) stuck to other series that don't interest me - e. g.: in JLA we have JLA, JSA, Wonder Woman and Flash. c) often unfinished.

I've been ordering trades and omnibuses from Amazon more and more, and I don't see that stopping anytime soon.

Of course, I'd not even be able to buy the American singles in the first place...

Erica said...

My preference for trade vs single issue often has to do with the author and the specific title. Some writers are better at putting out stellar single issues that really stand on their own & others need a whole trade for their ideas to come together.

For instance, though I currently collect it in single issues, I think Fraction's Uncanny X-Men is going to be better collected than single issue. The plot is a slow build. On the other hand, Fraction's Iron Man is consistently strong when the issues stand by themselves.

Klep said...

I trade wait for basically the same reasons you do.

btownlegend said...

The cost of collecting has made me trade wait. It just adds up over the month especially in the summer.

Anonymous said...

I am a trade waiter but sometimes, the list piles up to an extent that i will not buy the book at all and move on to the other titles. It would be better if marvel & DC release both TPB&HC at the same time so that they would not be forgotten later. 'fcourse, the good ones will always be bought but it's the average ones which should be releases in both formats at the same time. particularly, titles like strange tales or x-babies which probably wont be sold much (i think so!!) must be released in both formats....also as you have pointed out, DC doesn't collect many good stories in trades..there are tons of flash stories that i would like to buy when collected, but that doesn't seem to happen. i hope they concentrate on masterworks/omnibus kinda stuff instead of absolute editions..

bRiMaTiOn said...

No, the art style is a big part of what a certain comic book *is*. That's what they look like, how they're drawn, and how they are recognized.

PMMJ said...

I can't keep up with single issues. Trades look better on the shelf, store more easily (no losing one issue when you let a friend borrow it!) and are easier to carry on the train.

brandon said...

I actually had a guest post here around Christmas time about this subject more based on reader experience instead of the full array of factors like cost, storage, etc. This is always a fun topic to chat about.

I prefer singles for a variety of reasons:

I like being in the "know" so if I need to pick up some other issue I can rather than the whole collection - think Atom and Hawkman. I dont want a trade of all of those BN one shots but I wanted that one issue.

I like browsing and sampling. If it were trades I'd be sampling a lot less.

Time it takes to come out also has my interest diminish greatly. DC takes over a year at times to put out soft cover collections. I find stories become irrelevant. Has Batman RIP even come out in softcover yet? At this point if cost were an issue I would pick up the singles on the secondary market.

Finally, I enjoy the weekly trip to the store. With a mortgage, kids and all the daily grind stuff the chance to "get away" is welcomed.

That said, I do purchase trades of stuff I loved in singles and I will pick up trades in the nick and dent deep discount bins. I also buy singles in these bins too.

I only display/store what I absolutely love. Everything else gets donated to heroes for heroes.

Nice post.

Nick said...

I don't think I cold trade wait in the same way others do. I get a lot of enjoyment out of my weekly trip to the LCS. Also, one of my big enjoyments is discussing comics with friends or reading about news and keeping up with things online. By trade waiting on some things I'd be so far behind that I wouldn't be discussing something with friends or interested in reading the news.

What I do buy in trades tend to be old issues and collections and also books that aren't high on my friends interest nor do they have any sort of important continuity going on. Miniseries especially. I just keep the edge on my budget by being very careful about what I add or pick up. Of course, my reading habits are helped by borrowing titles between friends too.

Anonymous said...

I'm definitely under the classic assumption that trades "catch readers up" - I got into comics slowly, and I'm more inclined to get into a regular series if I have a back-catalogue with which to be familiarized.

I definitely re-read issues if it is a slow week. I do like the amount of time that reading a TPB consumes; I can see how it makes comics feel more "legitimate" as a product.

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