Chat Cave: Monthlies vs. Trades

In May, DC will begin releasing the first (and in some cases, only) arcs of each of the New 52 titles compiled as graphic novels. Trade paperback collections have a short but venerable history, and often act as gateways for curious newcomers. Monthlies have a much longer and equally venerable history, and the cost of entry is in most cases only $2.99. Fans have their own (occasionally adamant) opinions on the “Monthlies vs. Trades” debate, but how do the Retcon Punchers feel? Welcome to the Chat Cave.

Drew: I must admit, part of what got me thinking about this was a recent piece I read by the AV Club’s Todd VanDerWerff decrying the habit of watching entire seasons of TV in marathon viewing sessions. His main argument centers on allowing yourself time to savor episodes on their own, a philosophy that is easily  applied to this topic. This idea has been resonating with me, as I’ve burned through Brian K Vaughan’s Y: the Last Man at a clip of about two trades a week. That series is particularly good at ending with teasing cliffhangers, which makes demonstrating self-control particularly difficult.

I bring this up as a negative because I’m realizing I’m not giving myself enough time to really enjoy these moments, and only because I know I can move on. By contrast, the time  between issues with monthlies forces me to turn-over, reread, and analyze each issue — and always without any frustration that I have to wait.

This isn’t to say that monthlies aren’t without their faults; I’ve often complained about ads disrupting particularly immersive sequences (Batman 5 is a prime example), and getting the taste of a bad issue out of your mouth is much easier when you can move onto the next one. In fact, I love having handsome collections on my bookshelf, and it’s much easier to lend a trade than a stack of individual issues. At the same time, I’m loving being up-to-date on what’s going on with comics, and interacting with fans and creators. I realize this is kind of an artificial debate anyway (since both can clearly coexist happily), but if I were in some kind of Sophie’s Choice situation, I honestly don’t know what I’d pick. Is that weird?

Shelby: This is a super interesting question. On the one hand, I am obviously reading a bunch of monthlies one at a time right now. On the other hand, I just recently tore through Neil Gaiman’s Sandman on trade paperback. Ultimately, I don’t think one way is better than the other: episodes are crafted to be watched once a week, episode arcs are meant to considered as a whole. To apply this argument back to the original television example, I’ve gotten things from marathon sessions that I missed when I was watching the shows week to week

For me, I think it just depends on what will keep me satisfied. Now that I’m reading so many titles, if I have a cliff-hanger week like last week with Swamp Thing and Animal Man, I may want to know what happens next but I know I can wait because the next week I’ll have Batgirl, and then Batman, etc. When I read Sandman, I was only reading a couple monthly titles: not enough to keep my need for comic literature satisfied! Happily, I could go and pick up the next bound collection to keep me going. *shrug* I don’t know, monthly issues keep me current, trade paperbacks do away with those distracting ads. Ads which are often drawn as a comic book page, and can confuse me when I suddenly see Superman in my Batgirl or what have you. And, Drew’s right, the bound paperbacks do look nicer on the shelf than my stack o’ monthlies. If I could get the comic fan universe to all switch to bound paperbacks so we can all be currently behind together, I would, but until that happens I will continue to enjoy my monthly issues.

Peter:I don’t know if I can make a distinct choice either. Both monthlies and trades have their places in my collection, as well as each their own place in the modern comic book market. I will agree with Drew that I enjoy having a handsome shelf of trades. But, I will say that there is something nostalgic about buying monthlies. I love it. Hell, I love it so much that I don’t even have my store pull them for me; I like to pick them up off the shelf. I just feels good.

However I will say that trades make it really easy for readers who are younger, like me and the rest of the Retcon Punch staff, to experience books that are considered timeless, but printed before our time. I don’t think that Watchmen would be the best selling trade if it was still available in monthlies. Also, some great books are only ever written in trade format, like Art Spiegelman’s two volume set, Maus.

Think back to when we wrote about what embarrasses us about reading comics. Most of our responses were about content, but I would like to propose that reading monthlies is a little more embarrassing to readers than reading trades. I again would like to use Watchmen as an example. Think of all the people that you know who have read or are reading Watchmen. Now think about what those people would think about reading a monthly if you offered them one. Do they match up? I don’t think so.

So, really, I support both monthlies and trades. I just purchased the last trade to Jonathan Hickman’s Secret Warriors. It’s about Nick Fury. It’s an incredibly bad-ass book. Go read it. I also own all of the monthlies to go with the 5 trade books, and I am perfectly okay with that.

Patrick: Hey, suckers. I just want to point out that as someone who reads nearly everything digitally, I don’t have the same complaints about immersion-shattering ads.

Also, allow me to apologize for calling you all suckers. Sorry, I got worked up.

I’ve gone through most phases of comic book fandom in my life – which means I hit the logical progression of reading the greatest-hits in trade to complete-arcs in trade (Flash and Green Lantern) and finally monthly issues with the advent of the New 52. As Peter suggests, buying monthly issues is seen by the general populace as supremely geeky. It’s also expensive, and individual issues are both harder to share with friends and don’t display well at all. What’s more is you either have to put up with copious advertisements for things you hate (leave me alone, Big Bang Theory, it’s never going to happen), or find a comfortable way to read everything digitally.

But I’ve never enjoyed my comic books reading experience more than I am right now. There’s something so alive and active about reading issues as they’re released – I’m not convinced there’s anything quite like it. This will sound hyperbolic, but the only thing I can compare it to is the phenomenon of watching LOST as it aired. Buying, collecting and reading monthlies may be much less convenient than waiting to pick up the trades, but the culture is worth it.

15 comments on “Chat Cave: Monthlies vs. Trades

  1. Ultimately, I think the cost of monthlies is less than the cost of trades, since you can buy precisely as many issues as you want. For example, I was able to bail on Action Comics midway through an arc, saving me like $12. That kind of flexibility has allowed me to take a few risks that I certainly wouldn’t have if the cost of entry were a full arc (and approximately $15). I guess I’m leaning more towards monthlies in that Sophie’s Choice scenario, but it looks like we all agree there’s a place for both.

    • Yeah, I guess that is true. Also, if you’re buying hard-bound trades, (especially from Borders RIP or Barnes & Noble), they can really be expensive. But back when I was devouring Green Lantern trades (in paperback and ordered from amazon) I could get caught up on like 5 years worth of comics for like $60.

      The “bail” option is an interesting one. Action is currently the only comic books series I’ve read a few issues of and then stopped entirely. I may lag behind for a while with other titles, but I always intend to catch up. Not so with Action. And once the Owls pass through, the same will be true of Detective.

      • Yeah, I also bailed on GLC after three issues.

        I haven’t done it (yet), but monthlies also afford you the flexibility to start reading a title in the middle as a way of sampling titles you have some interest in (which we’ll actually be doing a lot of for the Night of the Owls).

  2. The sensation of reading a bunch of stories that weave in and out of eachother AS THEY WEAVE IN AND OUT is pretty cool. While reading GL and GLC in trade, you kind of had to read one and then the other. But reading monthlies allows us to experience Batman and Nightwing’s experience of the same scene basically one right after the other. You could engineer that experience in trades, but that sounds like a huge pain in the ass.

  3. Alright, here’s what I want to know… we’ve been collecting these New 52 books, most of us, for a little over a year. Some of us have been prudent and wise, and others have dumped ungodly ammounts of “expendable” income into these books. What I want to know is, when you flip through those glorious boxes late at night, pulling something old out before bed… shamefully drooling over your very best stuff… what are the 10 single issues in your collection from New 52 Justice League #1 until now do you love the most?

    (In no particular order, but numbered anyway…)

    01 Justice League Dark – Annual 1
    02 Batman – 12
    03 Flash – 13
    04 Green Lantern – 0
    05 Batman – 5
    06 Wonder Woman – 0
    07 Aquaman – 4
    08 Action Comics – 13
    09 Supergirl – 14
    10 Demon Knights – 4

    • THIS IS HARD. Let’s see….

      Batman 5
      Batman 6
      Flash Annual
      Animal Man 2
      Wonder Woman 11
      Batwoman 2
      The Flash 2
      Green Lantern: New Guardians 0
      Birds of Prey 2
      Batman Incorporated 1

      Turns out, I like second issues a lot. I tried to restrain myself to one issue per title — to avoid simply listing all of Batman — but I couldn’t resist the one-two punch of Batman 5 and 6. I was surprised to see BoP 2 and GL:NG 0 on the list, but I will defend the hell out of those issues.

      • Haha. I guess I slipped two issues of Flash in there, too. Don’t think I can be blamed for that. Also, I think I confused the Annual and the zero. Both are great, but I REALLY liked the zero.

        • Yeah that’s one of the handful of absolutely great zeros, but like you say, Flash is pretty fantastic throughout the whole run. Batman, too, obviously. 4 titles on that list, unfortunately, from runs that I’m not reading… damn economic realities making me miss out

    • Great lists–I think most of those were competitors for my list as well:

      1 Batwoman 0
      2 Batwoman 4
      3 Batman 5
      4 Batman 12
      5 Green Lantern 0
      6 Aquaman 1
      7 Wonder Woman 0
      8 Wonder Woman 10 (might also be my favorite cover)
      9 Animal Man 1
      10 Justice League Dark Annual 1

      In the end I couldn’t avoid listing more than one issue from Batman, Batwoman, and Wonder Woman, which are my favorite DC titles at the moment.

      • It’s all good, I didn’t bother listing parameters but I really was just curious the about the single issues that you really, really dig. We overlap 5 issues on this list of 10, which is pretty amazing, considering there have been somewhere roughly near 780 issues published by the company in that timeframe. A real testament to quality for those books. Batgirl Annual 1 was a real contender for me that slipped my mind at the time

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