Content is king.
You may have heard me say that over the years. And I think that’s even more true now as stories are collected with an increasing frequency and repackaged in different formats.
When I first started buying comicbooks, “waiting for the trade” wasn’t a thing. First printings were where it was at. I think I first became aware of first printings with Marvel’s Graphic Novel line, with The Death of Captain Marvel. A few years later it was DC’s Batman: The Dark Knight (you know it as Dark Knight Returns or DKR, which isn’t its original name, but I digress). In both of these cases my friends and I would mock each other if we found out someone in our crew had a second or third printing. We scoffed at reprints. (Another aside: it does amuse me to see high prices attached to first printing hardcovers – a first printing of a collection of reprinted first printings.)
You see, having an issue in its first printing, no matter how small or large the print run, was a badge of honor. It was that story’s original vessel and any reprinting of that story is merely a copy. So, here we are, decades later, and trade paperbacks and hardcovers are the way to read the stories of our favorite characters. For a lot of comicbook readers, where a story first appeared isn’t as important as how they get to read it.
In this day and age, I don’t need to own a paper copy of every story I read. If there is absolutely no difference in the story, it shouldn’t matter. Obviously, I’m not talking about IDW’s Artist’s Editions, DC’s Absolutes, or Marvel’s Omnibus collections. But the latest issues of The Avengers and Action Comics do not need to be bagged and boarded and stuffed in a longbox in my crawl space. If you’re a collector and own a complete run, I understand. I am, however, saving my shelf space for those Artist’s Editions, Absolutes, and Omnibus collections. And those grail issues. Which are generally first printings. Not that I don’t own any of those first printing hardcovers…
Nevertheless, I see the appeal of owning and reading physical copies. For one thing, for me, it’s the smell of old comicbooks. The scent of the paper transports me back in time. Another thing: the ads. Flipping the pages and coming across an ad for what was then a current movie or a video game or Saturday morning cartoon lineups or, my favorite, in-house ads and notes from Dick Giordano in the DC titles or Marvel’s Bullpen Bulletins. I’m lucky that I started reading when I was so young because when I roll that cover back I feel like a kid again. With so many of your senses getting hit you’re bound to absorb all that information. It’s easy to see the attraction.
On the flip side, it is hella cool to have a stack of trades, complete events with their tie-ins, and Cardiac’s every appearance from The Amazing Spider-Man on my iPad. It’s convenient as hell and why shouldn’t we take advantage of the technology that’s available to us? Just finished the latest issue of Dept. H? Swipe over and tap the Mail app to send a letter to Matt Kindt with your thoughts on whodunnit, and while you’re at it, let Sharlene know how sweet her colors look on the screen. Another benefit, especially when it comes to collections, is that you’re not losing anything. Stories that snub their noses at gutters and go full page are a lot easier to read on a tablet compared to thick trade paperbacks where you can’t see what’s being said due to poor balloon placement near the edge of the page tucked into the spine. Plus, zooming in! You can get all sorts of up close and personal in a way you can’t with the printed page.
There are plenty of pros and cons, giving each format the chance to shine and stumble. Digital offers instant gratification and no ads. But you’re paying full price to be first. With paper you can get that sweet, sweet discount. As well as the writer’s autograph on the cover when you bring it to a convention.
Seriously, though… who says you’re only allowed to read a story one way? Who is stopping you from double-, triple-, or quadruple-dipping?
There is no right or wrong. There’s plenty of room for both. Both can exist peacefully. Physical or digital, the story is the same. The package isn’t important. Content is king.