Pipeline, Issue #309

I'm a bit under the weather right now, so I looked through some stuff I've written that's never made it into a column. Hopefully, I'll be able to get back to writing reviews next week. There's definitely a bit of a backlog there.

What's the difference between a trade paperback (TPB), a graphic novel (GN), an original graphic novel (OGN), and a hardcover (HC)?

Good question. My rule of thumb has always been that a trade collects a series of single issues, usually forming one larger story. A graphic novel is a completely original book, which is the same, really, as an OGN. And a hardcover is just a format for binding and covering, and doesn't tell you what's on the inside at all. But isn't "trade paperback" also just a term for the binding and covering of a book? And if there's no difference between a GN and an OGN, why the distinction?

Maybe we should look to the book market for better inspiration on this. After all, isn't that where comics look these days for everything else? Hardcover books there are usually first printings of works by major authors or books that the publishing house deems to be important or worthy of the additional $20 on the price tag. Trade paperbacks are oversized softcover novels, and Mass Market Paperbacks are the $6 version of the hardcover, printed on smaller paper with a cardboard cover and no dust jacket. "Hardcover" explains both the format and the content, then, generally speaking. Trade paperback is just a further breakdown of a generic paperback, as it "mass market," which tends to equate to a smaller and more standardized form.

But in the world of comics, you have both original works presented for the first time in hardcover format (HUMAN TARGET: FINAL CUT, SELINA'S BIG SCORE, et. al.), as well as new reprints of either classic material (DC's ARCHIVE books) or more recent material (ORIGIN, ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN). Like in the book market, the hardcover comes out first as an incentive to get people to pony up a larger price for the first chance at the material. It's reprinted down the line (in comics, about 6 months) in a paperback format for half the price or less.

The same thing goes for trade paperbacks -- that designation doesn't tell you whether it's new or old, although 99 percent of the time it's a reprint. Are those books that AiT/PlanetLar publishes "trade paperbacks?" No, they're graphic novels. Most of them are, anyway.

Confused yet?

Yeah, this gets tedious. Here is my suggestion. I think we should use words that describe the format differently from words that describe the content. "Graphic novels" are new or old, paperback or hardcover. It's a generic term to describe any complete story that's told in a longer format than the 32-page single issue. But is a 48-page prestige format a "graphic novel?" By this definition, yes, although I'm not happy about it. Is "graphic novella" too pretentious? I like it because it tracks along with the rest of the book world, but I'm afraid some might shun it for being pretentious.

But whether they be "graphic novels" or "graphic novellas," they're also hardcovers or paperbacks. (Where does that word "trade" come from, anyway? Get rid of it. 'TPB' is handy shorthand, but it's meaningless in this new nomenclature.)

I think this way is vastly simpler, easier to understand, simpler to use, and more descriptive. WATCHMEN is no longer a trade paperback, but a graphic novel that happens to be currently available in a paperback edition. CREATURE TECH is an original graphic novel that also happens to be a paperback. Any of the QUEEN AND COUNTRY reprinted editions are graphic novels, but are available in paperback or hardcover.

Various and Sundry hasn't been updated in a few days due to illness, but there's still plenty of new stuff up there from last week.

You can e-mail me your comments on this column, or post them for all the world to see and respond to over on the Pipeline Message Board.

Nearly 500 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically. The first 100 columns or so are still available at the Original Pipeline page.

Dark Multiverse Azrael Saint Batman
Saint Batman: Who Is the Dark Multiverse's Caped Crusader?

More in CBR Exclusives