This week, I’ve come to some difficult decisions in my life as a comics buyer. Spurred on by ever-rising prices on the front of comics, I’ve had to finally curtail my weekly habit a noticeable proportion and start being that most horrible of beasts – a trade waiter.
This, in comics parlance, means someone who waits for the collected edition, the trade paperback. For many reasons, it’s considered an almost detestable practise, particularly because comics series can live and die on their monthly sales, and waiting for a trade when a series is in its infancy is like deciding you’ll only start caring for an apple tree when it starts producing fruit. Your stubbornness could end up killing it before it gets that far.
Similarly, the main motivation for switching to trades is a fairly mercenary one: the price. And although that price is invariably cheaper than the single issues, it’s even more attractive if you go to somewhere like Amazon and get a massive discount, so it means a double-whammy, taking your money out of the pockets of specialist comic retailers every month and then putting it in the pockets of someone else further down the line. This is not helpful to the industry as a whole.
Saying that, though, the industry itself has done little to make this a hard decision. Price aside, stories these days are geared almost purely towards the collected format. Sadly, there’s a diminishing level of importance in the single issues themselves, and that makes it hard to want to pay extra for them. Some comics get it right, loading their single issues up with exclusive backmatter that makes them worth owning, but the majority are simply insubstantial slices of a whole story. There are only so many times you can spend £5 just to read the slow, unsatisfying first act of a story arc before wondering why you don’t just wait for the whole thing at once.
Waiting for trades does have its own downsides, of course. The worst is that it’s hard to keep up with the shared ongoing universe arcs that make superhero stories unique. A 6-issue trade can take the best part of a year to appear at all, so by the time you read it, it might be out of date contextually. Which brings me to another problem – that when the trade comes out, any enthusiasm for the story might have disappeared anyway.
Consider, for example, the case of Spider-Woman. A series I’ve been looking forward to for, literally, years, since it was originally mooted. It recently started to come out, and in looking at my budget, I realised I couldn’t justify buying it. So I’m waiting for the trade. However, in doing so, I find myself wondering if it’s even worth buying. Two issues in, I don’t seem to be missing anything by not reading it straight away, after all, and following trades is far more casual than following individual, numbered issues. There’s much less commitment.
Unfortunately, this is a move motivated by financial necessity rather than any concerns for the material, and I can’t help feel that in the long run, it’s going to leave me buying fewer comics overall; eventually, I’ll be in the shop less, after all.
Right now, I’m only switching series that are ‘self-contained’ into trade format – series like DMZ, Ultimate Spider-Man and Astonishing X-Men – and the hardest part of making the switch is the initial gap in service. For around 8-9 months, I won’t be reading any Astonishing X-Men, but after that, I’m guaranteed a complete story every 6 months or so, and the more series I switch to trades, the more chance there’s a substantial story for me to buy every month.
And with that promise, it may be only a matter of time until I find I’m not buying single issues at all…
James writes Alternate Cover every Monday at Den Of Geek. His previous column can be found here.