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2009: The Year We Switch to Trades?

by  in Comic News Comment

(I use, of course, the royal “we,” man.)

So I’ve been thinking. Here we are, tail end of January, in the throes of economic recession, and yet we’re all still buying our comics. Right? But how are we buying them?

There’s a friend of mine named Bryan. Yeah, that’s Bryan with a ‘y,’ not Brian as in Archduke Cronin, CSBG Overlord. Anyway. My friend Bryan happens to be a generous fellow, and lent me his runs of Fables and Preacher, two series I didn’t think I’d like. And you know what? I love ’em now. The thing is, though, Bryan didn’t hand me a shortbox. He gave me these things with, like, spines, you know? Thick like… like books. I’ve heard they’re called trade paperbacks, or even “graphic novels.” There’s peanut butter in my chocolate. Etc.

Now, when I buy comics, I buy comics, you know? These kinda flimsy little packets of wonder! Wander into a comic shop and you see millions of ’em. The feel, the smell… the smell of a comic shop cures all ailments. There’s nothing better than reading a comic under some natural sunlight (but not outside. I’m not crazy). But man, these comics, they’re getting expensive. Three or four bucks a pop? That seems like a lot. And you tend not to get a full story in 22 pages anymore. It takes over 100 pages sometimes to get a beginning, middle, and end! That’s if you’re lucky.

Trades, however, those usually come in satisfying chunks of story. You can fit six to twelve comics in them! That’s… well, I majored in English. You count the pages. And while you’re doing math, do some multiplication. The prices of trades tend to be cheaper than the separate single issues they collect. And they don’t even have ads! And sometimes they even have extras!

And these trades, you can put them on your shelf, vertically, without having them topple over. And hey, if you don’t have shelves, you can keep them in a pile without shuffling and gravity causing them to bend and fall apart. It’s some kind of miracle technology.

Clearly, the single issue is an inferior product. I mean, what does it have going for it? I suppose there’s the sense of immediacy– instant gratification, rather than waiting six to ten months between sessions. But that’s about it, right? And yet, comic shops rely on these singles to thrive. Well, to survive. Well, to get by.

What’s the deal? Why do we buy singles? Why do I buy singles? I buy them because I love them– and I can’t explain why. I’m thinking it involves nostalgia; I grew up reading this particular comics format. It’s the format that fueled my obsession. Next thing you know, I’m writing blogs. Fear me.

But that’s the thing about me. I’ll go on and on here at this blog about how nostalgia is bad, change is good, let’s stop looking at the past. Let’s learn from the past, let’s be inspired by it, maybe, but let’s push towards the future, towards the new and exciting. But here I am buying comics singles. So that’s my dirty secret. I love obsolete technology. I still own a working Intellivision and an RCA SelectaVision CED player, the most doomed home video device of them all. And you know what? I still use those things. The quality of the graphics or the picture might not be good, and the damn things might be getting temperamental in their old age, but I love ’em. Is it the novelty? The nostalgia? The kitsch value? It’s probably all of the above– those lovely, forgotten formats no one cares about anymore. Well, I care. If I could find one cheap, I’d probably buy a Tandy or something. And why not? They’re fun.

So: single issues. Are they dinosaurs? Is the ice age creeping in, the asteroid approaching? Are we soon going to see the days when single issues become like vinyl LPs? A specialty project done for the novelty and costing way more than a trade? Will a single cost as much as a collection in order to offset the costs? Will we buy them? I wonder. Will these floppy funnybooks become the spinning discs of yesteryear, only snatched up by misty-eyed collectors? Or, hey– are we already there?

I love comics singles, especially when they’re done well– when you get something like a Fell, a Casanova, a Marvel Adventure! The magic of storytelling, the increasingly difficult task of telling a complete story in a seemingly arbitrary amount of pages. The amazing feeling of getting a new pile of comics and peering through so many different windows into so many different worlds. Of course, these days, I get that pile of comics from a box that comes in the mail at a lovely discounted rate, but hey, it’s the economy, fella.  A guy’s gotta keep his hobby alive somehow. And yet… and yet I feel the pull of those trades. I feel I need to catch up on Scalped, and Northlanders, and all those lovely things with spines. Can I resist? Should I?

So what’s the prognosis? Are longboxes and mylar bags going the way of the dodo? Are all those display shelves teeming with new superhero singles a relic of the past? Are we reading the 8-Tracks of tomorrow? Or are they the Betamaxes of today? Format wars, man! And the trades are winning! Should we fight, or should we give in? I am Spartacus! How ’bout you?

2009: The Year We Switch to Trades?
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