When we talk about groupings of the same animals we have names: Herd, A Quiver, A Drove, A Murder. So why wouldn’t there be one for the collection of Comics? There is! For comics this name would be Trade Paperback (TPB) or Trade for short.
“In comics, a trade paperback (often shortened to trade) is a collection of stories originally published in comic books, reprinted in book format, usually presenting either a complete miniseries, a story arc from a single title, or a series of stories with an arc or common theme.” (1)
Next is the confusing expect, which you can usually expect with comics. A trade can even mean a hardcover or any other types of collections for comics.
“In the comics industry, the term “trade paperback market” may refer to the market for any collection, regardless of its actual cover.” (1)
Comic trades come in a variety of variations; SoftCover (TPB), HardCover (HC), Omnibus, Tankōbon (Manga), and Graphic Novel (GN). But we won’t go into detail on Graphic Novels because unlike the others they aren’t collections of previously released issues. Instead it pertains to an original story (or series) that isn’t a Periodical like comics, meaning GN’s consists of a story that goes straight to the trade. We’ll also go over Mangas another day.
As there are different formats for Collections, there are also different Trade Imprints. These would be considered themed trades whereas a new TPB collecting the ongoing Batman would just be named, Batman: Rebirth TPB VOL.1 (I AM GOTHAM). DC has Absolute Edition, Archive Editions, Black Label, Showcase Presents, Chronicles, and Classics Library. Marvel has Premiere Classic, Essential Marvel, Masterworks, Ultimate Collection, Complete Epic, and Epic Collection. Each publisher has their own, but we will focus on the big two as we dissect what each trade format is, and what each trade imprint is.
First let’s start with a history lesson.
Dressing The Trade
Per usual, I seem to always pick a subject that’s a pain in the ass to research. Due to conflicting sources, or just a lack of info. I guess we just need to remember that comics are a long running media now and sometimes info gets lost in the wind. But with a good amount of looking around, and anger I may have found just what I was hoping for! The supposed first trade.
Putting on my Clark Kent reporter glasses I believe the first case of a trade would be Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend which appeared in 1905 and reprinted 61 of the strips. Another contender would be R.Crumb’s HeadComix. Which released in 1968 featuring an introduction by Paul Krassner and collecting 68 pages of reprinted material.
As we learned with the definition a trade it is a reprinted collection of floppy comics into book format. But it doesn’t stop there. In some cases this new collection of said comic will include introductions by the creators, or other famous people. New material not previously published, no ads, fan art, variant covers, or any other extras that they want to throw in. It’s different for each publisher and collection. One of my favorites would have to be David Aja’s music playlist in the HC of Hawkeye, which I forgot the volume of, sorry.
When trades first started out they were a means of getting older out of print, or hard to find stories into more readers hands so they could read them. Then as the years flew by the format changed, as everything does. Now on top of being a form of reprinting older material trades would collect story arcs. Which I believe is the cause for longer story arcs throughout the years, and here’s my evidence; because I wrote it on the internet. Just kidding. But if we go way back most comics would complete a story in one issue, since they weren’t reprinted in the beginning this made sense. With this any reader could pick up a random issue and read the complete story, man those were the days. Then times changed, as they do. Story arcs started to become longer and instead of taking only one issue to complete said arc it would go up to three or six issues. When TPB’s started to become the norm they would collect the arc, which would be a snug six issues, the perfect amount for a trade. This means instead of writing the arc around how many issues the story needs they try to stretch or shrink it to the size of a trade which can cause problems. I mean that’s my theory and I’m sticking with it.
Nowadays page count isn’t the same, a normal TPB could be between four and ten issues, depends on publisher and series. Now when I say ‘normal’ TPB my example would again be Batman: Rebirth TPB VOL.1 (I AM GOTHAM), because it isn’t any part of the publisher’s (DC) other Imprints. Instead it is just a TPB based off of a running series. Say it was Batman: The Rebirth Deluxe Edition Book 1 now that’s different. It is one of DC’s Deluxe Editions. Now does that make sense? Because seven hells, I may even confuse myself after a while.
Trades can be a blessing, but also a curse. A few creators and fans like to point out Trade Waiters. Fans that wait for the trade because why not? Most times the trades are cheaper, say a series is $3.99 and with six issues makes 23.94. Well the TPB could go for $15-20 depending on the publisher and series. That’s saving a few dollars even though you have to wait a few months, or even years. Or pay more for a HC or some other format, I personally love TPB’s. Plus trades can be sold at more locations than just the comic shop, unlike floppies that usually only get sold at comic shops. Now you can easily find a trade at Target, Walmart, Amazon, BestBuy, Barnes and Noble, hell the list goes on. Even better most those places have deals happening all the time and memberships, and some exclusive content or covers. Sometimes if you wait even longer your library may get it in house or online. So why not wait?
That’s when comics learn towards another media, film. If a film bombs in the theaters theres a high chance it wouldn’t get a sequel. But say the home media (VHS, DVD, BLU-RAY) release does spectacular! Well in some cases that won’t matter because the original release did poorly, but maybe it’s okay the home media did well, if the film company is feeling nice they may give it another chance. Comics are like that but also unique in their own way. So let’s say I’m coming out with a Booster Gold Maxi-Series (12 issues). But people are trade waiting and within six issues my comic is canceled. But Jason and DC you say, I read the first trade and it was amazing! Why was it canceled! Well dear reader that’s because comic sells are still heavily based on the monthly floppies. They have no idea that the trade will sell, so why not cancel it? On one end you can blame the distributors for not putting more trust in the floppy, but why would they when they see it’s not doing so well? Then you can easily blame the Trade Waiter’s for screwing up your favorite comic. But hell it’s a good deal, and it’s not their fault comic sells haven’t changed in years and factor in trades. But then there’s the problem of how can they tell the future of how well the trades will sell? It’s a vicious cycle of money on the table deciding what get’s down.
Before we open DC and Marvel’s trades let’s look under the cover of our three main collections that all publishers share. One thing all trades share is their release schedule. When an arc wraps the trade will follow, how soon afterwards? Well that’s one of life’s many mysteries, throughout the years publishers have tried there damnedest to get it out as soon as possible with the TPB coming just a few months after the story finished, but that didn’t last long. Then sales started favoring HC’S with the publishers taking notice they tried to push out the HC’s faster, which didn’t work. Release dates have always been sketchy with trades, but even worse is when an amazing trade is announced then canceled. That sucks, a lot.
Two last things to note before we carry on. One: the quality of paper varies between the type of trades, but the problem is at one point we may get TPB’s with top quality paper, then they change it to bad quality. Two: we will not note the prices for each format due to them always changing. As with anything in comics it’s always in flux.
The softcover (TPB) was the first trade so we will start there. As the two names it goes by (TPB, Softcover) imply they are soft paper, not as soft as a floppy more akin to a comic backboard. TPB’s are easier to read, but tend to be easier to destroy by reading, or being rough and tough while handling. A usual TPB that isn’t one of the publishers imprint will go up to 8 or some cases 10 issues of a series that is ongoing. All of these elements and the fact that it’s cheap make it the best buy for a reader that just want’s to read the story with extras and not worry about collecting, for collectors we turn the page to HC’s.
Hardcovers are hard instead of the soft like the Softcover, makes sense right? Now these are pretty, and collectors love them. Sometimes HC’s can have the same amount of issues as a usual TPB but cost more due to the quality of the build, but in the last few years when publishers release HC’s they have more issues and are deluxe editions, or specialties. Back in the Marvel NOW days they would release a TPB for an ongoing, then a few months later release a HC with the same page count for more money. It seems this didn’t do so hot because usually an ongoing won’t get a HC that has the same content of the TPB’s unless it is an special arc in the middle of the ongoing (I.E. Batman/Flash: The Button). Where a TPB’s size is 6.7 x 0.3 x 10.2 inches and a HC 7.4 x 0.5 x 11.1 inches, these can differ depending on the page count with these measurements from Batman/Flash: The Button. So unless you are a size queen it’s not that big of a difference.
Now for my favorite type of trade and the nemesis to my hands, shoulders, neck and back, the omnibus. For it’s cover it’s hard, I couldn’t image it being soft and holding as much as it does, and comes with a dust-jacket. Weighing in at way too many pounds the omnibus is one big mamma. Unlike TPB’s and HC’s the omnibus varies in issue count. These vary because they collect complete series, or events which may only be a few issues in length, or so long that they take multiple volumes. The smallest one I’ve owned would be Justice League: The Darkseid War Saga Omnibus which clocked in 18 issues, 512 pages, and measured 7.6 x 1.4 x 11.1 inches. Making it as tall and long as a HC but the width was bigger. The biggest would be the Blackest Night Omnibus at 1664 pages and 7.4 x 2.9 x 11.2 inches. Justice League was only 3.6 pounds, but Blackest Night is 8.6 pounds, pretty big huh? The demand for omnibuses have grown in the recent years and publishers have taken note with more classic series and recently finished series/events getting this treatment. Another thing that happens frequently with omnibuses is they sell like Aunt May’s hotcakes and go out of print constantly, which we will touch up on after we go through DC and Marvel’s different trade imprints.
On top of the regular formats DC has a few of their own, lets start with the absolute edition, which much like the omnibus is an absolute unit. Debuting in 2002 with Absolute Authority Volume 1 DC started a new imprint for their trade line, coming in over 8.5 x 14 (sometimes bigger) inches the absolute edition is just a tad bit bigger than the omnibus but falters in comparison with it’s width. Having up to 15 issues in a volume absolute editions collect much beloved story lines, events, or in some cases complete runs. Each collection comes with it’s own cloth bookmark in a slipcase as a hardcover with dust-jacket. Like many other trades these come with extras that range in degree, but that’s the case with all imprints we will mention, unless said other wise.
In 1989 DC released their first archive edition, Superman Archives Vol. 1. In these editions DC collects rare early runs of series or stories equaling more than 160 Golden Age and Silver Age being reprinted. The issue count varies due to the page count of older issues being longer, or shorter. With DC stopping publication on these in 2014 this format has become rare and hard to find making them expensive, I know someone who spent over 100 dollars on a Legion Of Superheroes volume. For just one volume. This hardcover format was great for reading older series, but dc started to reprint – again – these early runs in their Golden Age, Silver Age, and Bronze Age eras in huge omnibus and later TPBs post 2014. DC also printed softcovers of the archive edition as DC chronicles until it’s 2014 ending. A Flash fact for this edition: over 2500 pages for this format has been done by Rick Keene. Damn, that’s a lot of hard work!
When DC announced Black Label 2018 they promised mature comics, then one unimpressive batwang later they freaked out. Along with this new imprint of ‘mature’ comics DC started to reprint some older stories. These are just softcover reprints of the stories with the same exact content as the original TPB’s but with the black label logo, so nothing to special.
Also announced by DC in 2018 is their made for cheap Essential Editions. These softcover collections are just reprinted arcs are events in a cheaper format so newcomers don’t feel too bad spending a lot of money. In some cases it dumps the extra features that other trades has. Like black label it’s nothing special, but is nice for newcomers not wanting to spend money. I do find it funny that DC say’s, “For new readers and longtime fans, Final Crisis is a definitive entry point to the DC Universe’s vast library. Start with the Essentials.” about Final Crisis. because as a long time fan, I know that event is not a good entry point.
Wanting to be like Marvel’s premiere classics DC released their own classics library that only lasted 10 volumes. In this imprint DC reprinted older arcs in a hardcover format. Hey, they tried. Now to my childhood favorite, DC’s showcase presents. Not to be confused with the DC anthology comic that introduced Flash, but instead a black and white reprint of stories primarily from the Silver age. These where printed on cheap paper, cheap softcover, and like stated no color, other than the cover. But for up to 18 dollars that had over 500 pages of out of print stories this was a damn good deal. My library growing up had a ton of these and I think that’s what made me love this era.
I have stated before I am a DC fanboy because I did grow up with them, I do love Marvel and other publishers but I own more DC than others, but damn Marvel kills it in their trade game! Instead of going by the alphabet I will instead start with my favorites, starting with Marvels epic collection. Calling this imprint the epic collection fits perfectly because each volume is epic and worth it, too bad I sold all of mine, but hey, that’s life. The epic collection reprints a wide range of characters and teams in Marvels universe starting from the very beginning, but releasing the softcovers not sequentially. That means number 15 of The Amazing Spider-Man Epic Collection came before earlier volumes. They didn’t print the first volume first, but instead flopped around later issues reprinting things that haven’t been reprinted first then going to the earlier volumes. This imprint even collects the cross overs and tie-ins for stories. Marvels epic collection is one of the best going at the moment, and worth every penny.
Marvel’s next great imprint would be it’s ultimate collection/complete edition. In this Marvel would collect entire runs of one title, or related titles by one creator in a softcover. The titles would change around sometimes saying ultimate or complete, but both meant the same. This is a great trade imprint to collect for complete series. One imprint that hasn’t seem to last is the complete epic line that has only produced 21 volumes and that’s consisting of 3 Spider-Man events, and 2 X-men events. Marvel hasn’t used this format in a few years, but has said no word of cancellation. This line just collected the complete events of some of the bigger events I.E The Clone Saga, and Age of Apocalypse. It seems they stopped this because we have received omnibus versions of all of the events this published.
Akin to DC’s showcase presents Marvel has their essential marvel. Reprinting material form the Silver Age or Bronze Age these titles consist of black-and-white volume reprints that are between 20-30 issues long, printed in softcover on cheaper paper with over 500 pages for cheaper than other collections. Just like DC this was how I was introduce to older Marvel as a kid. Support your libraries young ins! Starting in 2006 Marvel debuted a new dusk-jacket hardcover imprint that collected arcs ranging from 1970-2003 at titled it Marvel premiere classic. Size wise it was the same as a usual hardcover and would collect however many issues were in the arc. They would only produce 106 of these trades with it ending in 2012. The weirdest aspect of this was the cover that would feature an issue cover in the middle, with the title and arc on top and the content on the bottom. Plus Marvel made some variant covers for Marvel premiere classic.
Marvel masterworks may be one of the longest trade imprints out there with the first volume releasing in 1987 and ending in 1997 with 27 volumes for series one. For the first series masterworks was a dusk-jacket hardcover that would collect older out of print stories with 10 issues per volume. From 1992-1993 Marvel released 4 volumes in TPB form, but no more in this format until 2002 and 2009. In 2002 Marvel teamed with Barnes and Noble making a few more TPBs for Marvel masterworks. Just like the Marvel premiere classic the masterworks had the weird cover design.
Two other imprints that are worth mentioning that aren’t one of the big two would be Image’s compendium and Dark Horse’s library edition. Image compendiums are easily described as a softcover omnibus with only their big series getting this format which usually collect up to 50 or more issues coming around 6.5 x 2.2 x 10.1 inches. These are great and not so expensive, which makes them perfect beside the fact that multiple reads can break the spine a fair bit. Dark Horse’s library edition measures in around 8 x 12 inches, or in some cases slightly bigger. These hardcovers are akin to DCs absolute editions but without the bookmark, box, but it sometimes they have a dust-jacket. They use this format for their more beloved series, or story lines.
Now these aren’t every trade imprints ever printed, in fact it’s more like ones that made a mark or are still going on. For all the ones left out I apologize, and I still love you.
Problems of the trade
So with some different formats and imprints out of the way let’s talk about some problems that persist in trades. First from Zac’s Comics and More we have one of the most terrifying aspects, the changing of format in the middle of a series this can be a simple logo change (seen on Batman: Eternal Below), having the title or logo in a different placement, or in this case the colors changing on a spine seen below. For collectors and fans alike just a simple change can turn something beautiful disgusting as fast as the Flash.
When storing trades you stand them up right? Yes, that is the common way, but for those big ‘ol omnibuses that isn’t a great idea, well at least me and a few other people believe. With such a huge page count when storing as we would with a usual trade the pages start to slowly – over the years depending on size – drift down which starts to tear the binding of the book, which will ruin it. This is due to being how huge the book is and unlike softcovers omnibuses pages don’t touch the shelf it’s on. Instead since it is a hardcover the cover rests on the shelf. Hardcovers don’t have the tearing issues because it’s not such a high page count, but since there is a little space where the pages hang this can cause problems in the long run, hopefully these picture helps show the drifting.
To combat this some collectors lay it on it’s back or place a piece of cardboard between the shelf and paper.
When comics are made into trades it’s done by comic binding. Within the last few years bigger companies on the internet has seen a growing market in fan binding, and capitalized on it making an industry. For a fair amount of money you can send your singles in and get a custom bound trade. I never have, but I have a lot of singles I would love to do this to. On the subject of binding when omnibuses first started coming out their binding was less then spectacular ending with spines breaking, our losing form (seen below). But luckily for us comic lovers binding as improved greatly with these formats, sometimes you may get a bad binding, but not likely. Sometimes with binding to tight, or to many issues you can get gutter loss resulting in images not being scene, or splash pages being ruined.
With any physical item trades can also run out of stock, this would be considered out of print or OOP. Publishers have gotten better at not having this occur but after a few years this is just a given, but it seems to happen more with publishers imprints primarily happening with omnibuses, absolutes, and some Marvel epic collections. If us consumers are lucky, or make our voice heard loud enough the almighty publishers will reprint a new edition omnibus or instead of an omnibus give it a TPB release, which has been happening lately. So if you see an omnibus for hundreds of dollars more than it should, be patient because it may get a re release down the years, I made this mistake with The Fourth World Omnibus set almost a year before they announced the complete version in a huge omnibus. Sometimes the new printings we receive even more bonus features!
A final downfall on some trades that I may be in the minority for is events that are out of order. Holy moly batman does that piss me off. I’ve only seen it once in the Spider-Verse hardcover, and I immediately sold it. I collected this series in single issues but when I got it in trade they had the main title first then the tie-ins in the back, instead of reprinting it in order, which was plainly put in press releases and in the issues. I have no idea why they ordered it that way, but who the hell would want to read the main series then go and read the tie-ins afterwards? It’s just stupid.
DC also did this with Walter Simonson’s Orion omnibus in which they added the backups from each issue but not in the correct spot, instead in the back of the omnibus. Simonson was not happy with the original release, then with DC announcing TPB re-releases with the stories in order he said had this to say.
Most importantly for me, the various backup stories I wrote for other artists have been restored to their proper positions behind the stories they belong with. I am grateful to DC and to Dan Didio who promised me after the hardcover Omnibus was published with the back up stories gathered out of position in the back of the book that if DC ever published a trade of the material, he would move heaven and earth to put the back up stories together with the stories they belonged to. Thanks also to Scott Nybakken who, as far as I know, did the grunt work to put the book together in proper fashion. (2)
Can’t fault them for fixing their mistakes.
Last remarks/Closing the book
In some exceptions the content inside of the trade is changed, be it wording, panels, or even colors. In 2008 Brian Bolland opted to recolor John Higgins colors (seen below on left) to what he wanted it colored originally in 1988’s The Killing Joke (on right). Some fans were okay, others not. Personally the coloring gives it a different feeling, but I was never a big fan of The Killing Joke, yeah I know it’s blasphemy for such a huge Batman fan, there’s even a few other beloved Batman stories I don’t like. But when it comes to changing something as big as this in a re-release I’m okay with it as long as all of the creators where okay with it.
Another example would be Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Batman trades losing dialogue or in some cases adding it. Regarding a question a fan asked of the Joker at SDCC 2013 Snyder said that he made some changes to the lettering of the trade that makes it darker and “twists the knife harder.”, as originally reported by CBR.com (3). I believe he touched upon this on Keven Smith’s Fatman on Batman Podcast but I am not able to listen to any of the older podcasts. I have reached out to Snyder, but at the moment have not heard back.
As the years pass we will probably get newer formats, but at the moment I believe we are at the height of comic trades and that other than the minor issues we just gone over there isn’t much else to do. All kinds of trades sell incredibly well so I wouldn’t be surprised if the simple ones we have stick around for years, and years. So keep collecting, and loving comics!
Join me next month when we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the best video game of all time Batman: Arkham Asylum.