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.
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.