Ahhh… the struggle of the modern comic book reader. Whether to spend money on monthly comic books or wait until they are collected in trade paperback form. Some thoughts have gone through my head on that subject lately and I’d like to get them down in pixels.

I have always liked and still do like monthly comics but my taste tends to run to the more obscure non-mainstream comics. Since I like a lot of stuff that doesn’t come out very often I pick up the comics as they appear in the shop. A lot of times I’ll even pick up the collected version of a comic I’ve been buying as it came out. I recently bought “Short Comings” by Adrian Tomine. A story I originally bought as it was being serialized in his comic “Optic Nerve”. Only an issue a year (at best) was released so it took a long time to finish the story. I don’t mind buying it twice because I want books like that to succeed and I like reading them in both forms. And let’s face it buying six comics over six years and then a collected edition isn’t really that much dough.

I can still be seen picking up an occasional Marvel or DC book but I rarely would buy both forms of their comics. Mainstream super hero books usually come out on a regular monthly schedule. If I were to buy the comics and the trade of the same story that would take up a lot of shelf space. Plus since mainstream collected trades come out so quickly after a series ends I wouldn’t want the trade as I probably just finished reading the same story. No, it’s one or the other with Marvel and DC. But which one?

For the past year or so it’s been, “Wait for the collected edition”. It was the space that ads take up that first made me decide that. A monthly Marvel or DC comic has twenty two pages of story and ten pages of ads not counting covers (one cover three ads). Some months Marvel puts eight extra ad pages in. That’s crazy. That means on the shelf that used to fit four hundred comics only three hundred fit. All for ads I don’t care about. Collected editions have no ads.

Another reason I’ve abandoned monthly mainstream books is “writing for the trade” syndrome. Marvel and DC comics used to be: open with a splash page, tell the story, and end with a cliff hanger. The reader was left wanting more. That month wait between issues was part of the comic reading experience. Their periodic nature made them exciting. Now since almost every mainstream comic is collected into a larger edition most writers don’t bother with cliff hangers and trying to keep readers comic back from month to month. They’d rather have the reader of the trade not notice the seams between issues. That’s easier with no cliffhangers. Nowadays monthly stories often just end abruptly. I may as well be a collected edition reader.

One comic that has been doing an exceptional job of getting me excited to come back month after month is “The Walking Dead”. It executes the classic splash page, story, and cliff hanger structure beautifully. It even uses a preview of the next month’s cover as a story teaser. That is something that really hasn’t been done this well before and leaves the reader with a sort of double cliff hanger as you try to suss out what is going to happen by examining next month’s cover. They are sometimes purposefully obscure or misleading. In a good way. If mainstream books were more like “The Walking Dead” I’d certainly be buying more monthlies.

The third reason that I’ve noticed affecting me lately is that comic book covers don’t matter any more. I’ve always said that a good comic book cover has three elements: good design, good drawing, and it tells a story. That last part “it tells a story” is what has always given comic books covers cachet in our society. Show anyone a comic book cover that tells a story, even a goofy 1960’s one, and they respond positively to it. That was the comic book cover’s place in our culture for decades. They told you a story with a single image. Book covers didn’t do that, nor movie posters, nor TV ads.

Comic book covers gave you a story with a single page of words and images. They communicated in a instant. They tried to hook you in. Now comic book covers just sit there. Since Marvel and DC want to now use the cover art for licensing purposes they want it to be more generic. No stories are told and often the characters are just standing there. That doesn’t really entice me to by the book. Let’s face it, if the company doesn’t care enough to put the effort into its covers why am I going to care out them. They don’t care. I don’t care. That’s one of the reasons I like the more expensive (though not really when you add up the prices of the individual comics) hard cover collection. Time and care have gone into making them look good. Sure you don’t get a classic comic book cover on it but the paper and binding is nicer and sometimes you’ll even get some good design.

Yep, it’s been only the collected editions of Marvel and DC for me. Those are the ones they seem to put the most care into so those are the ones I get. I can only count on the smaller publishers to care about actual comic books so those are the only monthlies I buy. That’s how it’s shaken out for me.