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Party of Five: August
Posted August 11, 2005

In each round of Party of Five, Bookshelf Comics editor James W. Powell poses a question to five members of the comic book community — a creator, a publisher, a retailer, a critic, and a fan — to get a variety of perspectives on the current subject.
Previously on
Party of Five:

 
Party of Five features a rotating panel of guests, so if you would like to participate in future editions, please email the editor.
 
 
The Question
Party of Five logo A considerable number of comic collectors purchase monthly issues as collectibles with the intention of keeping them minty fresh and unread. These are the same fans who’ve created a market for variant covers and limited editions. Are these collectors an untapped audience that graphic-novel and trade-collection publishers should attempt to attract with special editions, or is that a road best not traveled?
The Creator

Antony Johnston
I don't see any reason not to publish special limited editions of collections and graphic novels if the publisher thinks they'll sell, but I'd be wary of assuming the kind of avid collectors you're talking about would be the audience. The majority of traditional comic collectors are interested in comics - that is, single issues - rather than the collections. And many of them are also resistant to buying original graphic novels because they prefer the single issue, serial format. Whether or not that preference is ingrained due to their collecting habits is a different matter.

I do think there's an audience for limited edition books - limited hardback editions often sell quite well, and can be profitable for companies large and small - but I think any publisher assuming they can sell truckloads of them by exploiting the collecting mentality is mistaken.

As for a road best not travelled, I wouldn't worry about that. The cost of producing a limited edition book is enormous compared to a limited edition single issue. Anyone going all-out for that audience would need very deep pockets, and would almost certainly fail in the short term - enough to kill most smaller companies, and severely hurt even the larger companies. I doubt we'll ever see a glut of limited edition bookshelf format comics.

Antony Johnston is the author of eight graphic novels, including Spooked, Julius, and The Long Haul. He has also adapted prose works by Alan Moore, and is the only other writer to pen a series for Greg Rucka's award-winnning Queen & Country.

The Publisher

Jim Demonakos
I think it would be an incredibly bad idea to start making variant editions of trade paperbacks. This is a much different audience and issue than whether to do hardcovers after trade paperbacks. A publisher might release a hardcover before releasing a trade paperback, so when it's time for the trade, there might be a new cover on the trade, but that hardly counts as a variant.

There's nothing wrong with getting a 'hot' artist to do a cover to the trade paperback, especially smaller publishers. You're one of many fish in the sea and you want to be noticed in that big section at the back of the catalog, so having a new cover on a trade paperback is not a big issue.

However, how would you even go about marketing multiple covers on a trade paperback? What incentive could you offer a customer that would justify spending $20 twice? On top of that, as a publisher, its pretty cost-prohibitive to do a run with two covers too.

It's different with a $3 book, as a fan, if you want both covers, it's only going to cost you $6 and you don't come away feeling cheated.

On the other hand, imagine if the newest trade paperback of your favorite book was $20 and they decided to put two covers on it, would you buy both? I wouldn't. I'd rather someone checked out another fine Image trade paperback.

I do think that there is some validity in doing a different cover for a different market. Like, if you did a very super-hero-y cover for a trade paperback for the direct market (comic shops) but did a painted cover (or a very graphic-design oriented cover) for the book market (like Barnes & Noble), I think you're on much more solid ground, since you're not trying to sell the same product to the same person twice as you're hitting two different segments of fans.

In conclusion, I don't think that variant TP covers are something to even consider.

Jim Demonakos is the PR & Marketing Coordinator for Image Comics.

The Retailer
Party of Five Retailer: Aaron Tucker
Aaron Tucker
With the explosion of mass-market trade-collections and graphic novels it is only natural to wonder how long until publishers look to variant or special editions of their collections. While I don't disagree with publishers offering special editions or even variant covers, I'm fairly certain they are currently looking to other media to model their publishing efforts after. To answer the question bluntly ... we already have variant editions and it's likely we'll get more. Currently the publishers only seem to be dabbling in multiple editions, but if you look at their current solicitations you can see they aren't quite sure what to offer either. Are comic collections/graphic novels currently published as hardcovers enough of a collectable to satiate the collectors? Are publishers looking to the growing DVD market hoping to offer special features, interviews, and bonus material to attract new collectors?

Currently Marvel, DC, Image, and Dark Horse release hardcover editions of some of their publications before the trade paperback is available. Over the last year these publishers have increased the number of hardcover editions with Marvel Comics releasing hardcovers frequently for the first time in its history. Obviously the publishers believe, at least in part, that the hardcover first edition offers sufficient value to the collector, similar to mass-market books. They aren't wrong either. First printings of Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes can reach well over $100 if you can find them and Crisis on Infinite Earths HC have recently started pushing $300! If the publishers are already creating collectible editions is there really a demand for special editions? I'm sure Marvel asks that question every time they write a check for a new print run of Masterworks.

The other media outlet that comic publishers have been following closely is the DVD market. Film studios have discovered that many fans, including myself, will rush to stores to purchase special edition DVDs ("Book of the Dead Edition" of Evil Dead anyone?). It was only a matter of time before comic publishers followed suit. Marvel comics are producing Director's Cuts of their hot selling books. Dark Horse, Image, and many independent publishers have started adding additional creator material at the end of many of their trades. Even DC has gotten into the fray with the release of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Absolute Editions 1 & 2. Many of these volumes, especially the League Absolute Editions, have been strong sellers even at higher price points than the original hard or trade paperback productions. The additional material, it seems, is worth it for collectors; and that will keep the publishers releasing special edition collections.

It seems that most publishers don't know which approach to take yet with collectible editions but I'm sure we will be getting more offered in the future. If both DC and Marvel are adding more collections in hardcover you can bet on other publishers following suit. And if Director's Edition Trades are ever released, watch out! While I don't believe that trade collections/graphic novels will ever reach the variant/special edition craze we've had in comics, I do believe there is a market out there for us fanatics. I don't know about you, but I can't wait for Stan Sakai to do an Usagi Yojimbo Absolute Edition.

Aaron Tucker has worked with Mile High Comics for six years and is currently a Retail Manager.

The Critic

Christopher Shelton
In today’s comic book market I think it would be a waste of time for graphic-novel and trade-collection publishers to try and pursue collectors interested mainly in minty fresh, unread books. I don’t see gimmicks, mainly seen in monthly issues, as being successful in increasing a publisher’s sales figures.

I sometimes, like the rest of us, get sucked into a gimmick involving a monthly book, but I would never buy multiple copies of a graphic-novel or a trade just because they had a slight difference, or that I wanted to keep one in mint condition while I read another copy. Okay, okay I guess I should confess. I did buy, back in the early 90s, two copies of John Byrne’s Next Men volume one from Dark Horse. One copy was soft cover. The other copy was a hardcover and had (clears throat with an embarrassed look on face) a Byrne autograph. But I haven’t bought multiple copies of a particular trade or graphic-novel since then!

Seriously, I think these publishers realize that the way to move their books is to provide the readers with a good chunk of a story with cool art and great writing. With graphic novels and trades, I think the obvious selling point is that you are getting a big story. You either get a collection of a monthly or monthlies or you get a meaty original graphic novel, and you get it for a reasonable price when you add it all up.

Some of these publishers will, however, try and entice some buyers by including extras inside their graphic-novels or trades, but for the most part I’d bet that buyers are mainly interested in getting a book that’s at least three times the length of the average comic book and not in purchasing eight copies of the same trade cause it comes with eight different covers.

Christopher J. Shelton has over 9,500 comic books. He has so many comic books that they’re soon going to force him to move outside and live in the garden. When he’s not hiking all over southern California, he’s occasionally chillin’ with a Hollywood actress.

The Fan

Jason Bovberg
You’ve described me precisely: I’m a comic collector who “purchases monthly issues as collectibles with the intention of keeping them minty fresh and unread.” I don’t collect a lot, because when I think of the comic industry, I see a yawing, sucking black pit of rank consumerism that’s only taking advantage of my collector’s mentality. And every time I delicately seal a new comic inside a new bag and carefully insert a board and tape the bag shut, I grit my teeth and imagine myself thrusting my head into that yawing pit and thrashing about with hideous abandon, as the fires lick at my bald, scarred scalp and the dark laughter of unseen comic-marketing strategists buffets my ears. But I digress.

I have entire pristine, bagged runs of a few comic series, including Sin City and Preacher—modest collections, to be sure—and I check eBay every now and then to see whether the actual worth of these babies ever rises above, oh, 25 percent of what I paid for them. It’s taken several years for me to calculate that such a glorious day might come only after I’m long dead and rotten. Until then, those minty fresh comics will sit in a dark box, untouched by the sun, waiting for my heirs to find them and throw them away.

Why do I care about them? Why do I go to the comic shop to buy the flimsy, overpriced monthlies when they debut? I honestly don’t know. I know perfectly well that I could much more intelligently wait for the trade-paperback collection and enjoy the story all the way through, minus the endless trips to the insufferably rank local shop, which always reeks of unwashed teens playing ridiculous games.

I mean, I know why I collect first-edition novels. They’re often the first, best incarnation of a book. The hardcover novel is the best the book will ever be, and the clear demarcation of the copyright page’s number line and stated FIRST EDITION set this collector’s heart at ease. I proudly slide such books into their place in my library, shunning the later printings and the paperback release and the book-club edition. All garbage.

The demarcation line in the comic arena is less defined. It’s vague. IS it best to collect the first-incarnation monthlies, even though they’re debatably NOT the finest incarnation of the material? Locked into the “first-edition” mentality, those monthlies had their appeal in my early comic-collecting days. But now, confusion has overwhelmed me. The question of monthly-comic collectibility is peculiar and mysterious. You get the feeling that publishers are out there, endlessly gauging what we’ll grab for, how much we can take before our common-sense meters start warbling like a siren. (Apparently, not many comic collectors maintain the batteries in these built-in meters.)

I never fell for the “variant cover” and “limited edition” gimmicks of which you speak, thankfully, recognizing them at once for blatant cashgrabs. And I think this question’s hypothetical situation would seem a similar wallet-pilfer.

It strikes me as unfair. Similarly, I have always regarded with suspicion the habits of book publishers—particularly small specialty publishers—to create several price-tiered incarnations of their books. Witness the actions of Subterranean Press. Its “trade editions” would have been the “limited editions” of yesteryear, limited in quantity, signed and numbered, printed with care and pride, and priced at about double the going rate of the mass-market first edition. This limited item would be very collectible and worthy of any upstanding horror-fiction fan’s library. But apparently that reputation isn’t sufficient for Subterranean, and many other specialty presses. In addition to its line of limited “trade editions,” Subterranean also offers ultra-limited traycased editions, bound in cured human flesh and scribed in ink derived from dinosaur fossils.

They’re taking advantage of the helplessness of the collector, I tell ya. I would hate to see the publishers of graphic novels embark on a path toward such money-grubbing.

All that being said, in general, I value hardcover books much more than softcovers. I would welcome the release of certain books in nice cloth covers, simply for the feel of them, the weight of them, and the stately look of them on my library shelves. Softcover graphic novels have an inescapable, inherent cheapness to them. Just don’t give me any lettered editions gilded in gold foil and inked with the oils of forbidden flowers and subtly scented along the inner thighs of Brazilian virgins.

Wait.

Jason is a magazine editor and freelance writer and DVD reviewer. He’s currently working on a crime novel titled The Naked Dame. He lives in northern Colorado with his wife Barb, his daughters Harper and Sophie, and his dog Cujo. He loves the idea of comics and graphic novels but finds them, more often than not, disappointing: “It’s as if they constantly fail to live up to their potential."

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