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.