Subterranean Conundrums

Every now and then, when it comes to buying stuff indulging in collectorial practices, the imaginary line I draw in the imaginary sand is smudged by an imaginary eraser. As a result of which the aforementioned line becomes the kind that would give Cecil Radcliffe a severe case of the runs, followed by the chills.

Case in point: offerings from Subterranean Press. I have whittled down my purchases to the barest necessary, but my resolve was tested earlier this month, when it was announced that Joe Hill’s latest collection of short stories, Full Throttle, would have a SubPress limited/signed release. Seeing as how my waffling over NOS4A2 did my blood pressure no good in the past, I knew I would go for it. But it took about a week of gritting my teeth and wringing my hands before I actually ventured to lay down $175 for the pleasure of owning a copy of the book, sight unseen, numbered and signed by Messrs Hill and McKean, he of Sandman renown. But the limiteds of 20th Century Ghosts and Heart-Shaped Box are biblionicorns of the kind that make hearts and wallets bleed, and I would rather not take a chance with a Hill book.

It also did not hurt that the Suntup Press limited edition of Hill’s Horns just came to Papa about 2 weeks ago, after a wait of about half a year. I confess to owning the PS Publishing signed/limited edition that came out in 2010, but Suntup’s version was too hard to pass on. The line in the sand that I drew for signed limited editions was that I would only buy one if the original author was among the signers, and Horns met the criteria, while Haunting of Hill House and Rosemary’s Baby did not. Not that I did not have severe crises of conscience, but the line held. It did not however hold for Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, one of my favorite works by the man. Suntup’s edition, not out yet, but sold out in pre-orders, has an introduction and an autograph by Joyce Carol Oates. McCarthy is notorious for not signing his books, specifically The Road, which he has apparently signed a few copies for his son alone.

What really rubbed the line this week was the announcement that Tamsyn Muir’s first book Gideon The Ninth would have a limited release via Subterranean, and copies would go on sale on Tuesday morning. Now here was the situation:

  • The only thing I knew about the book was the phrase “lesbian necromancers in space”
  • It wasn’t out yet, so I could not read it
  • Reviews had come in from a coterie of distinguished authors, including Warren Ellis, VE Schwab, Charles Stross, Robin Sloan, and Max Gladstone (whose This is How You Lose the Time War is what I am reading Right. Now)
  • I happened to get to the Tor website, which had a preview of the first chapter of the book. And by the time I got to the phrase “stupendous work of a titty nature”, I was sold.

Or rather, I was coerced into depositing 85$ for the pleasure of owning a copy of the book signed by the writer herself, courtesy of SubPress.

Which should make me feel terrible vis a vis the Great and Terrible Sullying of the line that guides my buying habits, but you know what?

The book fucking sold out in two days. Had I waited a day more to buy it, I would have been gnashing my teeth by now and breathing slow and deep trying to keep calm.

To make up for this psychological distress, here’s a bunch of pictures of the magnificent Joe Hill book from Suntup Press.


If this does not make you wet your pants, you are not human.

Alan Moore talks about The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier.

It was released this weekend, by the way, bringing a two-year wait to an end for most people. For me, the wait should last another couple of weeks, at best. Months, at worst.). And book three, Centuries will be released by Top Shelf next year, if Kevin O’Neill is done with the illustrations. brokentooth, adgy et al, please let me know if/when you buy it.


Waiting for the trade?

I don’t really like watching TV shows on TV. Frequent ad-breaks take away my concentration from the proceedings onscreen and the fact that I have to adjust my schedules according to a fixed time interval on a weekly, or daily basis does not appeal to my lifestyle. Which is why I would rather watch TV shows by buying the DVDs of a complete season, or by downloading them. Not only do I get to watch them according to my own timings, its pretty obvious that DVDs give me a more lasting product, added extras like commentary tracks. No ads, hallelujah!

However, if I apply the same principle to comicbooks, I have always preferred owning – and reading – the original single-issue comics as opposed to trades. Based on the analogy used, I would be more inclined to purchase trade paperbacks – collected versions of the individual comics. One of the primary reasons why I would prefer individual comics to trades is that when I was a kid, single issues were easily available and priced very cheap. The trades that would be available would sell at dollar price ( anything from 200 Rs upwards to around 900 for the ones that were priced at 35$), while the individual issue would come for anything between 10 Rs to 25 Rs. Collectibility was a MAJOR reason why I preferred single issues – it would be a mental triumph to own something that has had a limited print run and won’t be reprinted AND might be worth a lot of money in the future. Plus, I loved letter columns. The kind of knowledge you get from letter columns used to be amazing, especially in the pre-Internet days. Not only would it clear away doubts about plot points, it would also give one a new insight into a particular aspect of the story, or something about the art. Probably my favourite letters EVER would be the ones in Sandman and Swamp Thing. Miller’s replies to the letter column in his Dark Horse books, Sin City, 300 etc was enough to give put a whole new spin to the term “diatribe”.

Even when I started buying stuff off eBay, I would concentrate on single-issue runs rather than the TPB collections, though the former cost a little, in some cases, a lot more. There were exceptions, like when I bought the collected From Hell ( one of my earliest eBay purchases) instead of paying close to 60$ for the individual issues. Painstakingly brought together runs of Sin City, Lone Wolf and Cub ( the 45-issue run from First Comics), , Swamp Thing, Transmetropolitan and Preacher. Now let me make it clear that I am not one of these fanatical people who insist on examining every corner and crease in a comicbook and talk about CGC grade and shit like that. Not at all. I took good care of the comics I owned, bagging most of them. I still refuse to lend them out to people and take a bit of care while reading them ( if you want to read my comics after you’ve just had your dinner, I will go ask you to wash your hands. With Dettol soap, and then you must dry them to room temperature). I would just insist that the comics I buy had their covers intact, didn’t have any kind of obvious defacement ( no writing names or stamping or stapling my comics, thank you) and weren’t yellowing. Because I was interested primarily in modern-age comics, all these criteria were met by sellers. I was a happy man. In fact I remember arguing with both oooky and gotjanx about the merits of the single issue, when the former was buying trades of Fables and Y The Last Man and the latter, well, everything he bought was trades. I was a purist, and even managed to brainwash convince tandavdancer how cool it was to own the ORIGINALS, not reprinted stuff. There were the occasional mild bouts of weakness when I would lust after a hardcover first print of Sandman: Season of Mists, for instance, but in all, I was pretty much a single-comic guy.

Another vote for single-issue comics comes from the fact that they are “historical” in some way. Printed only once, and not available in the market once they are sold out, and only accessible through back-issue bins in Comic Book Shops in the US. The fact is, most collectors keep all their comics bagged and boarded and pretty well-preserved. Will they become rare someday? I doubt it, because of the fact I just mentioned. More important about why I ought to buy single issues is that without adequate sales of the monthly comics in question, the trade versions wouldn’t even be released. And there is a good chance that a decent series itself might get cancelled if there are not enough people buying it monthly. Case in point: American Virgin by Steven T Seagle and Becky Cloonan, that just got cancelled recently. It was supposed to be a long-running series but had to face cancellation because of poor sales.

This urge to own the original comics persisted until the middle of last year, when I was buying out a large collection from a friend of an LJ-acquaintance, someone who had advertised on one of those comic communities. The prices were rather good, and I started out by buying whatever single issues the guy was selling. But then, he lowered the prices of the trades he was selling, and all of a sudden, I decided to lower my buying-conditions and plonked down cash for all the stuff he was selling. Yes, everything. He had good taste in his books and I was pretty sure whatever titles I didn’t know about I would not be worse than the Image shit I used to read as a kid. Thanks to that decision, I got to read some excellent stuff, like the crime series Hawaiian Dick and Paul Grist’s Kane and Jack Staff. Lots of Marvel Essential Editions and collections. And like a crack-user who discovers the merits of heroin, I found out just how brilliant it was to read a trade paperback.

For one, when you read aTPB, you are reading a self-contained story. It’s of course sturdier – there isn’t that itch at the back of your mind, that battle between the collector who insists that you should not recline backwards and risk the chance of creasing the cover and the reader, who just wants to READ the goddamned thing and probably also have icecream at the same time. You have additional material, forewords, afterwords, design sketches, unpublished material – of course, not all trades have them, but most of the good ones do. And they’re easier to handle. Retrieval time is cut down by a huge degree because I do not have to search through piles of material, the spine tells me what I am looking at. Looking at my trades of Blade of the Immortal, just to give an example, or Invincible, I am happier about the fact that I am able to read these comics and give them to friends without worrying too much about cover damage and spine bending.

Comicbook companies are getting smarter too – Omnibus editions, Showcase Editions, Complete Collectors’ editions, Absolute versions, Masterworks, Essentials. It’s paradise for someone who wants to read sequential literature , er, sequentially without the collectibility part of it interfering with one’s reading pleasure. All of a sudden, it’s more tempting to own a gigantic single volume compendium than a bunch of flimsy 32-page pamphlets. It does not harm my newfound opinion when these 32 page comics have 10 pages of ads and no letter columns and the single volumes have much, much higher production quality. All of a sudden, my steadfast resolution of holding out until I buy the complete Sandman comics in single issues seems to be weakening. Have you seen the colour transfers on the first Absolute Sandman volume? Dang! And all these releases also mean that one can read Silver Age comics without resorting to scans or endangering old collections. Also, with trades of manga titles, like Mai the Psychic Girl or Kamui, for example, it seems the latter-day versions are more uncensored, if you know what I mean.

The Biggest Reason that tilts the argument in favour of my giving up hankering for single issues and opting for trades – White Drongo. I am sorry, but I cannot resist a hardcover edition of Spider-man Loves Mary Jane if it’s available at a competitive price ( read: with a major discount). I am NOT willing to forego the chance to buy The Amazing Adventures of The Escapist, especially if it comes with a beautiful Chris Ware cover. I AM going to resist buying all the Starman trades, though, because they don’t reprint all the original episodes of the eighty-issue run of the title.

Hmm, so what does this have in store for my collecting habits? I will NOT be porting my single issue comics to TPBs anytime soon, sorry Ganja. In all likelihood, my Sandman collection is going to be Absolute-ized. Stuff that I have in trades ( Invincible, Punisher Max), or a combination of trades and single issues ( 100 Bullets ), I shall continue to buy in whatever format I find them in. I will of course buy all of the Omnibus, Showcase, Masterworks versions that come out. Tripe like Absolute Hush? Never.


Among the things I’ve been doing recently

– Watched the complete Firefly, followed it up with Serenity, the comic book and followed that up with Serenity, the movie.

-All of that instilled in a newfound zeal for watching TV series, so I watched half of Berserk and two seasons of Spaced. Started watching The Adventures of Brisco County Jr now.

– Five copies of this are available at MR Book stall, right opposite my office, at 250 Rs each. I have no idea how and why the book is there in the first place. Filed under “Rude-shock-of-the-month”. ( Rude because I have no money to spend. )

– I did have Walden gift coupons to spend though, thanks to a Special Hard-working Person who agreed to let me use 1000 Rs worth. I bought Ramesh Menon’s Devi Bhagavatam ( swear the guy’s writing Indin mythology books faster than I am reading them ) ( and good ones at that ) and Mihir Bose’s History of Bollywood. Reading the latter right now, periodically wincing at the lack of editorial supervision that pervades the writing. Subhash Ghia? Anupam Kher was an up-and-coming star of the nineties? Sheesh. At least the facts seem to be in order so far.

– More lustworthy releases include the two disc edition of 300. 699 Rs and way beyond my budget at the moment.

– Also drooled a bit over the new Koji Suzuki collection that seems to be available at Walden. I already have, and have read Ring, Spiral and Dark Water. Loop was there, too, but I’m holding out for the hardcover, so didn’t buy it.

– There was also the Mammoth Book of War Comics, which had, among other things, two stories by Darko Macan and Edwin Biukovic, Will Eisner’s Last Day in Vietnam, a Commando issuem, an early version of Keiji Nakazawa’s Barefoot Gen and some Sam Glanzman Blazing Combat stories. 704 Rs, pass.


The Walking Dead

Just finished 41 issues of The Walking Dead. Best described by the author himself as “a zombie movie that never ends”, TWD is Robert Kirkman’s other genre-bending work ( Invincible being the first, a fresh superhero story for our times ). With the help of artists Tony Moore, Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn, Kirkman has crafted a story that made my jaw drop in virtually every issue and plough through the books breathlessly. Let me put it this way – if there was a law against speed-reading in the digital world, I would be arrested by now.