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Jack of All
2.12.2002 by Scott, every Thursday.

Well, looks like the fame has gone to my head. I received such a great welcome from all of you, I sat on my laurels a little to long, and now my second column is late. On the upside, it’s given me some time to catch up a backlog of comics I had sitting at my local shop (Librarie Astro on Ste Catherine’s, downtown Montreal) and also some time to think of what I should rant about this time around.

So here it is my friends, Underpants on the Outside takes an in depth look at the Trade Paper Back side of comics. Trades, or TPBs as fanboys know them as, are usually perfect bound collected editions of comic series’ or mini-series’. Often, they come with freaky-cool extras too, ranging from the sublime (a special forward written by the creator or editor), to the really freaky-uber-cool (behind the scenes how the art was conceptualised).

Trade paperbacks are an easy way to collect runs in a series, because they usually contain one complete story arc, from beginning to end. The way I looked at comics was changed by my introduction to the TPB format when I was about twelve. Before then, the comics I had and had read were all little snippets of a bigger story that I would never get to see, and was content with the easy gratification of the action contained within. But then my aunt, not really sure what to buy her nephew who lived in another province for the holidays, sent over the collected “Dark Phoenix Saga”, an X-Men trade. It was a different experience, reading the whole story, not to mention a fantastic read. And so, I began to buy comics in trades. Now I’ve got about 40 or 50 of them.

To look at it from a marketing standpoint, producing trades have all kinds of interesting benefits for publishing companies. Firstly, they get to sell work that they’ve already published and sold before. It’s sorta like movies going to video, they’ve already made their big bucks, but even after the hype and shock value is gone, they can still make some more dough on it. Some fans will buy trades even though they already have all the original publications of a book; just to own the special extra features included in the TPB. These…interesting individuals, known as completists, are looked down on by the lowly fanboy as a form of life even sadder than they are. Anyway…

Secondly, a collected edition makes tracking down past issues a lot easier for fans, and also for new readers. Take for example, Iron Man. If you were a potential fan, it’d be pretty difficult to just jump in with this month’s issue. I mean, what’s this hero all about? What’s his motivation? Am I missing inside jokes? I really want to find out what happened so far, but the store only has a few of the back issues. Think of it like trying to watch the Sopranos, starting this week, never having seen an episode before, and the TPB like the DVD of season one. It makes it easier to acclimatise, and therefore attracts and keeps new fans on a series.
As well, publishing companies also use trade paperbacks to broaden their market, as they are easier to sell to bookstore chains. (Unlike single issues, which due to direct marketing contracts and an no return policy (what, you forgot my last column already?) make it impossible to have anywhere but comic shops.) That means that you can walk into a Chapters or a Barnes & Noble and buy comics. More places they are sold = more exposure to comics for the general populace = more money.

So, what makes a good trade paperback? What separates the really special ones from the run of the mill junk? Well, price is one factor, as I’ve seen books that have come out that had a cover price that was higher than the individual issues they were reprinted from. Cool extras help, like a sketchbook or gallery. But they key factor would have to be a good story. No matter how cheap or how many neat extras a book has, if the content is garbage, who would want to own it? That simple.

Know we know what makes TPBs good, let’s get down to my recommendations and reviews.
Here are Tangmonkey Scott’s suggested reading, trade paperback style:

“The Dark Phoenix Saga” – X-Men – Marvel, by Chris Claremont and John Byrne. This one really has got it all. A well written and action filled plot, strong art, and a killer ending that leaves you hungry for more. I really got into all of the characters, and this story is the penultimate X-Men story.

“Who Killed Retro Girl?” – Powers – Image, by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming. I liken this book to NYPD Blue set in Metropolis. Good dialogue, funny and serious at the same time, and very original. The extra features are really cool, concept art, promo art, and the script for the first issue were all included in this one.

“Kingdom Come” – DC, by Mark Waid and Alex Ross. If the art doesn’t grab you by the crotch and make you salivate, then you’re blind and I’m deeply sorry. The story is also well written and the collected edition comes complete with a promo art gallery, a behind the scenes look at Ross’s paintings, and a character design sketchbook. Even my non-comic fan friends loved this book.

“The Watchmen” – DC, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. Although a little dated today, this mini-series had the media paying attention to comics with it’s political undertones and a great mystery. The TPB is sorta no frills, but the book is a great read, which more than makes up for it.

“Whiteout” – Oni Press, By Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber. Black and White, no special features, and one hell of a good mystery makes this story of murder in the Antarctic one of my all time favs. Both creators have moved on to bigger projects (Rucka is writing Batman for DC, Lieber has drawn Bats and Superman, and they both have won a Eisner award since Whiteout was published), and this is a good showing off of their talent.

So that’s it folks. Go buy a comic this week, and I’ll go get to work on my next colunm now so it’ll be on time next time.

Scott MacIver

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