Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of people sought out comics as a means of staving off quarantine-induced boredom. I personally managed to tackle several titles in my to-read backlog, but as the pandemic crept into the summer of 2020, I noticed more and more people trying to collect omnibuses, compendiums, or any other format of comics that looked great on a shelf. If you’re reading this, you likely noticed it too. Hell, you may have even started to partake in the trend too. I know I did, at least for a little while. It makes sense, as we were less able to interact with others, we could show off our collections in a way that looks great on social media. As I picked up more of these books, the less I found myself reading them. And so I turned to a trusty friend – the trade paperback format. And you know what? I’ve found myself reading more.
It’s easy to argue that at $150, the Green Arrow: Longbow Hunters Saga Omnibus Vol.1 is a great bang for the buck. It’s 1536 pages, or less than 10 cents per page, which seems like a great value. It also weighs nearly 10 pounds (4.5 kg), meaning you can also kill someone with it. More and more omnibuses seem to be embracing these large page counts, such as the Hellblazer by Garth Ennis Omnibus (1352 pages) and the JLA by Grant Morrison Omnibus (1504 pages). Marvel is just as guilty, with the upcoming Spider-Gwen Omnibus (1224 pags) and the Amazing Spider-Man by JMS Omnibus Vol. 1 (1120 pages). And if you’re a fan of these page counts but like even less durability, the compendium format, which is essentially a paperback omnibus, has also seen a rise in popularity thanks to Image Comics.
Here’s the problem with these massive books: they’re a pain in the ass to read. So instead of reading the stories that creators have put their blood and sweat into, they just sit on a shelf and collect dust. I’ve seen many defend these oversized monstrosities, saying that you can read them fine if you’re sitting at a table and lay the book down flat, or if you get something like a book holder. Others have said using a pillow or lap desk can also make the experience more palatable. To these suggestions, I say “nay.” A book should be able to be comfortably read when simply held with your own two hands. For that, there’s nothing like the tried and true trade paperback.
Aside from ease in reading, trade paperbacks offer a portability and lendability that the oversized formats cannot compete with. Have you ever brought an omnibus to the beach, or on a hike, or even to a coffee shop to casually read? Probably not, because it’s impractical. I’ve lent trade paperbacks to people who want to dip their toes into reading comics, and they’re often appreciative of how welcoming and accessible the format is. The notion of giving someone a 10 pound tomme will likely ensure that the book is never read.
One criticism of paperbacks that people use to prop up omnibuses is that not everything is collected in trades, while the tomme format tends to be all encompassing. But that isn’t really true. Sure, some omnibuses will collect issues that aren’t in some trades, usually fill-in issues that interrupt an ongoing story. Conversely, there are many creator-specific omnibuses that omit certain issues, and as a result the same issue exists. There are also some stories that will never be collected in an omnibus or oversized format due to rights issues. Yes, some things may be hard to find or out of print, but they at least exist, such as Alan Moore’s Supreme, or Alan Moore’s WildCATs. You can at least find a trade paperback of Halloween: Nightdance or the fun crossovers of yesteryear between Marvel and DC. Then there’s the fact that so many great, independent works are only available in a paperback format and will never be in an omnibus. Prioritizing big hardcovers will make you miss out on a lot of great stories.
To be clear, I’m not fully against omnibuses and oversized hardcovers. I am the proud owner of several books in those formats. And of course, they look nice on the shelf where they’ll spend most of their time. But if I’m going to pick up a book, kick back, and enjoy reading it, you can’t beat the paperbacks.