It’s been said that stuff you own expands to fill the space provided. Well, not exactly that, but that’s the clean version. This is an all-ages website after all! It’s a pretty true statement though, and it applies to a lot of things in life like cutlery, furniture, waist lines and in particular, comic books.
The first comic that I ever bought was the first issue of Flash that Mark Waid wrote, Flash #62. While wandering through a market on a Sunday afternoon many years ago, bored out of my mind, I stumbled across a stall where a guy was selling his collection of back issue comics. Most of the comics were pretty cheap but still outside my budget, which at the time consisted of whatever pocket money my parents could give me that week. But salvation arrived when I noticed that at the back of the stall, there was a box of comics that was marked “3 for £1”. Yeah, it was so long ago that it was actually a whole different currency. The first book I picked out of that particular box was the Flash comic, then an issue of Detective Comics and after that, an issue of DC Comics Presents that had a team up of Superman and Ambush Bug. Ah well, at least I got two great comics for my money.
Life continued in much the same way for about six months: I’d ramble down to that same market on a Saturday morning and spend a ridiculous amount of time leafing through the always-full box of cheap comics. Even over the space of six months, three comics each week doesn’t consume a lot of space on a bedroom shelf, so I didn’t know just what I was letting myself in for.
It wasn’t until I left school and finally got myself a job that the purchasing patterns changed. Disposable income can be a dangerous thing sometimes. It was roughly around the time that I had a few quid in my pocket that I discovered there was actually a “proper” comic shop in Dublin City Centre with up to date comics and a much bigger selection than I was used to. It wasn’t long before the stack of comics on a shelf became a row of comics with their own shelf. And from there, the collection just exploded in size.
I can’t really say when it was that I ceased to be a guy who read comics and became a guy with a comic collection, but I think it was probably around the first time that I went to look for a certain issue and couldn’t find it because I had too many comics to look through in order to get to it. But that was definitely the first time that I ever thought the idea of a trade paperback was a good idea. And as I was at the height of my Kingdom Come obsession at that time, the first trade paperback that I bought was Kingdom Come. I had already bought the individual issues in the market, but the trade paperback had the huge advantage of collecting the four issues in one convenient, easy to find volume. And though I didn’t realise it fully when I bought the TPB, it had extras!!
It’s safe to argue that I’m a man of reasonable intelligence and I have four years of a marketing degree to my name too, so I know when someone’s trying to rip me off or sell me something that isn’t worth the money. But I’m a sucker for extras in a collected volume! And if that volume happens to be a hardback edition as opposed to a softback, you can pretty much consider me sold on it. There’s been a couple of occasions over the last few years when I’ve bought the collected version of an indivually-purchased story arc and the collected edition has nothing new in it, not even a new cover. In my opinion, the extras are one of the main selling pints of any collected edition, no matter what format that edition takes and not including anything new is a bad decision that serves to disgruntled fans in a time when the content can be gotten for free pretty easily online.
These days, it’s not unusual for me to collect a story in individual issues over the course of six or seven months and then, soon after that when the collected edition comes out, to buy that. And to be honest, a lot of the reasoning behind that legitimately is the fact that trying to find those six or seven issues in amongst all of the other comics which look exactly the same when they’re in a stack. But that brings up one problem with the collected editions that is getting more and more prevalent as time goes by. The collections seems to be getting smaller. In much the same way that the average length of an American television show has gone from forty five minutes to a shade over forty minutes, trade paperbacks and hardbacks seem to be dropping from six or seven issues per collection to four which in my opinion is a self defeating exercise.
On the 22nd of February, Warner Home Video will be releasing their new Animated DC Comics movie, All Star Superman, based on the comic series of the same name written by the always-interesting scribe, Grant Morrison. I’d like to be able to say that I have the patience to wait until it’s released to actually order it, but I already have it on pre-order from Amazon. It’s more to do with peace-of-mind than it is to do with any potential saving that I might make if the price drops between now and February. But the thing is, when the package arrives from Amazon containing the movie, it’s going to mean that I have the All Star Superman story four times in five different formats, not all of which are terribly different from the previous one. At the moment, I have All Star Superman in individual issues, in two-volume hardcover editions, and in the ultra-swanky Absolute Edition which finally collects all twelve issues in one volume alongside some interesting extra features. And I also have six issues downloaded onto the DC Comics App on the iPad. So technically I have All Star Superman four-and-a-half times. When I get the movie though, it’ll be nice to finally have the story in a format that is genuinely different from the others. The only story that’s come even close in terms of multiple-purchases is Kingdom Come, for which I’ve bought the individual issues (though I don’t have them any more, they were gifted to a friend some years ago), I’ve bought the TPB, the Absolute Edition, the iPad App versions and, uniquely, the audio play which featured a full cast and sound effects. Again, to indicate the kind of time frame that we’re talking about here, the Kingdom Come audio play was bought on cassette tape.
My purchasing patterns have changed a hell of a lot since the days of buying comics in the market in Dun Laoghaire. Back then, three comics at a time was the more-than-acceptable standard. Nowadays, there comics at a time is… well, that just doesn’t happen. These days I’d never, ever walk out of a comic shop with just three comic books. It simply wouldn’t justify the effort that it takes to get there. This means that I every so often discover new titles through impulse buys but it also means that individual comics get piled on top of each other pretty regularly and it means that certain issues can be damn hard to find. Coupled with the fact that I have nobody else to spend money on but me, it’s a good reason to buy collected editions of story lines that I like. Sometimes the reason and the excuse are the same thing.
Depending on how much patience or disposable income you have, there are a few different ways to read a story these days. You can collect the individual issues, you can wait for the hardcover edition which will come out pretty much immediately after the last relevant issue, you can wait a little bit longer again for the trade paperback, you can hold out hope that there will be an Omnibus or a Deluxe Edition, or if you’re really lucky (and have a lot of disposable income) there may be an Absolute Edition. But the digital age has also give rise to the option of buying your comics for consumption on your favourite digital device. At the moment, “Day and Date” comics are still a rarity and something of a special occasion. A lot of folk have decreed this multitude of availability to be the death of the comic book, proclaiming that nobody in their right mind would shell out for a comic book when they could get the same content in a collected edition for a cheaper price. But in my opinion, that doesn’t ring true. The multitude of availability just gives comic fans more opportunity to buy what they love over and over and over again.
I can’t speak as to what I don’t know. The Comixology stores on the Android devices are a bit of a mystery to me, but I can say that as of the time of writing this article, I have well over one hundred and fifty comics stored on my iPad on the DC Comics and Marvel Comics Apps. The comics take up very little space on my iPad and my iPad takes up even less space on my shelf. If I ever move out of the house I’m in now, those one hundred and fifty-plus comics will be the easiest part of the logistical move from the house. Also, they don’t attract dust.
Even with all of the choice that’s out there at the moment though, I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of the traditional format comic book, even though collections do get a bit out of hand at times. I love sitting down on a lazy Sunday afternoon or in a pub for an hour and making my way through a fresh batch of monthly issues.
Honestly, I think that more choice, more availability and more formats can only be a good thing. At a time when nerds are poised to take over popular culture, any way we can get comics out to the mass populace can’t possibly be a bad thing.