Collected Editions: The Good, the Bad, and the WTF

30 Jan

by Mike Hansen

(Another long post, to make up for lost time…)

Congratulations are due to my friend Kris Shaw, who posted a YouTube video the other day that’s been getting some attention:

If you think those DC hardcovers are bad, DC’s New 52 Omnibus is even worse – check out pictures here.

Bleeding Cool featured the video (twice), and Dan DiDio at DC even had to respond:

Dan DiDio's Facebook response

Actions speak louder than words. Prove it, DC, and maybe you'll start getting my money again...

Kris is one of the readers who convinced Marvel to improve its collected editions over the last decade, and the results speak for themselves: sewn binding instead of glued, hardcovers that lay flat, dustjackets that no longer stick to the covers, and (for the most part) binding that doesn’t cause pages to loosen and fall out. Generally, Marvel has given its customers their money’s worth in the last few years. As for DC…

Well, I’m glad that DC is finally acknowledging one of the problems with its expensive book collections. But I hope comics buyers keep up the momentum, because there are several things that could be done to make collected editions better from all publishers. Now, to be fair, I’m sure that publishers are doing the best they can to put out the best product they believe they can make (especially in this economy) – but given how flooded the collected-editions market is today, if a publisher isn’t producing the best books possible, it’s going to lose sales.

Kris has created a Facebook group to encourage DC and other publishers to improve their books’ quality. Check it out here. He also runs his own blog with nice, quickie reviews of various collected editions here.

As my comics collection has transformed from thousands of single floppy issues to thousands of bookshelf editions, I’ve noticed a number of things that, with minimal effort, could be done better. I’m sure my editorial background makes certain things stand out more to me than to the average reader, but I offer these ideas and examples in the hope that people who drop a lot of money on a trade-paperback or hardcover collection are less likely to feel that their money wasn’t well spent. (There’s a summary at the bottom of this post if you don’t want to read the whole thing.)

Kris’s video shows the problem with most of DC’s hardcovers having “mousetrap” binding that won’t lay flat, but DC has broken my heart a number of times over the last decade. Many, if not most DC trade-paperback collections (especially from Vertigo and Wildstorm) use terrible, cheaper paper than the original comics, ruining the color and making the artwork less sharp and clear. It’s been awful to see so many of DC’s (and comics’) best material presented in such a poor format. A lot of them avoid any bonus content as well – for example, the final volume of The Invisibles skipped the first chapter’s opening pinup art, and the last chapter’s afterword by author Grant Morrison. Yeah, it’s only two pages of content – but WTF?

The Invisibles Vol. 7: The Invisible Kingdom

What REALLY set me off, and led me to pledge allegiance to Kris and his crusade, was my crushing disappointment with DC’s Legends of the Dark Knight: Marshall Rogers hardcover collection. It’s a thick hardcover, with nice white pages, containing some of the best Batman stories ever published, and all of Rogers’s later Batman stories. So, what’s the problem? For $50, I expected this volume to contain ALL of Rogers’ Batman work, but instead it skips his first two chapters of a three-part story, plus three pages he drew in a mostly-reprint issue of Detective Comics (which were solicited as being included in the book), and his amazing Batman portfolio and Shadow of the Batman cover/promo work. I even had hopes for the inclusion of his 1989 Batman newspaper comic-strip work, but no dice. On top of all that, considering the historic value of this material, some text commentary would have been welcome as well (as in DC’s old “Greatest Stories Ever Told” books). So some of DC’s finest Batman work from one of the all-time best Batman artists remains uncollected, and I can’t imagine another appropriate book collection that could contain the missing work. In addition, this $50 book has glued binding that is so tight that (like the DC books in Kris’s video) it can’t lie flat and has gutter loss of artwork. The bottom line is that this book, despite having some incredible stories, is a travesty of format and presentation. DC should be ashamed at half-assing this so badly. I can guarantee that anyone who preordered this book would have gladly paid another $5-10 if it meant that the book would have actually been complete. WTF, DC?

Legends of the Dark Knight – Marshall Rogers

DC is far and away the worst offender among publishers, and after the Rogers Batman disaster I refuse to preorder or buy new ANY DC collected editions. I’m just going to assume they’re all defective in some way, and buy them used and/or secondhand at a low price that reflects the perceived quality. Until it makes an across-the-board improvement in its product, I’m done giving DC my money.

Kris also wrote on Facebook,

Please write real letters to DC’s collected edition editors at the following address. Send one letter to each editor. Let them know that we have no problem buying high end hardcovers, but we do have a problem buying high end hardcovers with shoddy production values.

Scott Nybakken, Dan Didio and Ian Sattler
DC Comics
1700 Broadway
New York City, NY 10019.

I strongly urge everyone to do this. We need to make our voices heard.

Amen, dude.

Marvel has, for the most part, done an exemplary job with its collected editions in the last few years. Hardcovers usually lay flat, and cover art and bonus materials are usually complete. On the other hand, the lettering work on Marvel titles has been some of the worst in its history: about half of all Marvel comics have spelling and grammatical errors, and they usually aren’t corrected for the collected editions. But my biggest fear with Marvel’s upcoming books is that they might miss some great, little-seen and uncollected stray artwork that deserves a home and adds value to the books.

Off the top of my head, the biggest missed opportunities in otherwise excellent Marvel books:

Howard the Duck Omnibus: missing the Paul Smith-drawn story from Bizarre Adventures #34

Howard The Duck Omnibus

ClanDestine Classic hardcover: missing Marvel Age cover, ClanDestine Preview promo/sketch pieces, and promo trading-card art by Alan Davis

Clandestine Classic

Excalibur Visionaries: Alan Davis Volume 1: missing the “A.D.” pinup announcing Alan Davis’s return (from an Excalibur Special)

Excalibur Visionaries: Alan Davis, Vol. 1

Excalibur Visionaries: Alan Davis Volume 3: missing Shadowcat trading-card art (whoops)

Excalibur Visionaries – Alan Davis Volume 3 (Marvel Visionaries)

Fantastic Four by John Byrne Omnibus Volume 1: missing a LOT of early FF artwork by Byrne that would have made for great bonus material, like the ton of Jim Lee material in the X-Men by Claremont/Lee Omnibus Vol. 2 seen in the video. Hopefully there’ll be room in the next volume?

Fantastic Four by John Byrne Omnibus – Volume 1

Hulk: The End: missing 2-page “trophy room” guide from original Future Imperfect hardcover

Incredible Hulk: The End

Spider-Man’s Tangled Web Volume 2: missing cover art to all issues, including a stunning cover to #15 by Darwyn Cooke

Spider Man’s Tangled Web, Vol. 2

Ythaq: The Forsaken World: missing intro page illustrations from issues #2 & 3

Soleil: Ythaq – The Forsaken World (Marvel Premiere Editions)

Plus, there are a lot of collected editions that don’t include the writers’ scripts used as bonus features in the single issues, like Kick-Ass, Iron Man: Extremis, and Astonishing X-Men: Ghost Box.

Iron Man: Extremis
Astonishing X-Men Vol. 5: Ghost Box

So yeah, Marvel isn’t perfect. I’m sure most of the above omissions were oversights, and not intentional, but they sure make me TWITCH whenever I pick up those books to read. Last year’s layoffs certainly didn’t help matters, but at least Marvel has some dedicated folks who LISTEN to readers and TRY to create the books that they’d want to buy, so they get a LOT of credit from me for that.

A few quick thoughts about other publishers –

Krazy Kat

Image via Wikipedia

Fantagraphics does an AMAZING job with its books. Its volumes of Peanuts, Krazy Kat, Pogo, Mickey Mouse, and Donald Duck should be at the top of every comics fan’s shopping list. The size, format, paper, and reproduction are all carefully chosen for the best affordable presentation of these classics. Publisher Gary Groth even responded to some feedback on the first Donald Duck hardcover here – I was perfectly happy with that book, but the fact that he acknowledges the readers’ concerns and pledges to improve future volumes makes Fantagraphics the best in the business among major comics publishers.

The Complete Peanuts 1953-1954
Krazy & Ignatz 1925-1926: “There is a Heppy Land Furfur A-waay” (Krazy Kat)
Pogo: The Complete Daily & Sunday Comic Strips, Vol. 1: Through the Wild Blue Wonder (v. 1)
Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse: “Race to Death Valley” (Vol. 1) (Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse)
Walt Disney’s Donald Duck: “Lost in the Andes” (The Complete Carl Barks Disney Library)

The cover of TMNT #1

Image via Wikipedia

IDW has a terrific line of material, and it’s done a superb job with its Locke & Key, The Life and Times of Savior 28, and Rocketeer collections, among others. Unfortunately, some of its reprints of older material haven’t been top-notch: the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles hardcover used substandard digital scans, and the wraparound cover artwork inexplicably only featured the front halves. (The bonus creator commentary was a nice touch, but I would have preferred to see more relevant artwork from that era, like pinups and advertising art from the original issues, the cover art from reprints and collections, etc.) The first Jurassic Park collection used obvious color scans of the old comics, and the art looked dull and fuzzy in comparison to the originals.

Locke & Key, Vol. 1: Welcome to Lovecraft
Life and Times of Savior 28
The Rocketeer: The Complete Adventures
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Collection Volume 1
Jurassic Park (Classic Jurassic Park)

I Kill Giants

Image via Wikipedia

Image is great when it comes to quality and presentation, though I wish some creators would consult a reprint editor; some volumes could be a bit more complete. For example, the two Mage hardcovers have missing bonus chapters, and the terrific I Kill Giants is missing cover art and backup sketch strips.

Mage HC Vol 1: The Hero Discovered
Mage: The Hero Defined, Vol. 2
I Kill Giants

As for Dark Horse, Boom!, and Dynamite, I’ve been pretty happy with their output. I can’t think of any book defects or missing material from their books in the last few years; they use great paper stock so the stories and art generally look fabulous; and they almost always include cover art and related material (except Dark Horse’s Omnibus books – those sacrifice bonus material for additional uncollected stories). You won’t go wrong with Beasts of Burden, Milk and Cheese, Irredeemable, The Boys, Battlefields, or Green Hornet: Year One.

Beasts of Burden
Milk and Cheese: Dairy Products Gone Bad
Irredeemable: Volume 1
The Boys Vol. 1: The Name of the Game
Garth Ennis’ Complete Battlefields Volume 1 TP (The Complete Battlefields)
Green Hornet: Year One Volume 1 TP

Milk & Cheese

Image via Wikipedia

My only gripes with Dark Horse: the heavy-handed computer coloring on the first few volumes of its Marvel Conan the Barbarian reprints (and the missing cover art) – these are some of the best mainstream comics of the early 1970s, and they deserve better… though the book format is great (and the hardcover editions, with their extra bonus materials, are otherwise near-perfect). And I wish the Grendel collections included the original Comico cover art as well – there are some beautiful pieces that weren’t in the Art of Grendel book. What can I say, I’m a completist.

The Chronicles of Conan, Vol. 1: Tower of the Elephant and Other Stories
The Barry Windsor-Smith Conan Archives Volume 1
The Art of Grendel

(As for Dynamite, the only notable omission I’ve discovered is Garth Ennis’s introduction to the original Dan Dare collection from Virgin, which would have definitely added to Dynamite’s otherwise complete edition.)

Garth Ennis Dan Dare Omnibus Volume 1 SC US ED

To summarize, here are my recommendations to collected-editions editors to make their books the best they can be:

Use the best possible reproduction of artwork and color

Choose quality paper stock that best reflects the material and keeps the artwork sharp and colors vibrant

Use good binding that does not cause gutter loss or loose pages and, if possible, allows the book to lay flat without damaging the spine

Proofread the lettering! Just because a mistake was in the original comics doesn’t mean it should stay that way for all time (I’m looking at you, Marvel)

Include the original cover art, including variants, and if there is any wraparound art show the entire work, not just the front half

Include any and all related bonus material. Promotional artwork, magazine covers, sketches, backup/bonus material from the original issues, posters, advertisements, T-shirt art, introductions, afterwords, whatever – ALL of it deserves to be collected and included with the comics. There is a large enough customer base that wants this sort of completeness (including me!) that it’s worth throwing in everything, even the kitchen sink. (And yes, I realize that this means publishers might need to know people with a complete set of The Comics Journal, Wizard, Hero Illustrated, Overstreet’s various magazines, Amazing Heroes, etc….)

Engage the fanbase. Many fans can provide scans of material not in the publisher’s archives, and can make a book go from “good enough” to “everything I ever possibly could have wanted in this book”! Check out the X-Men Omnibus in Kris’s video – it’s got 90 pages of bonus material, a lot of which came from fans who donated their time to make the book the best and most complete in Marvel history. (Full disclosure: I was one of them.) It’s a stunning achievement, and proof that comics fans can come together and help make the books they want to buy.

Feel free to comment, and share any ideas or examples of what you think publishers are doing right and/or wrong.

And if you’re not happy with a book you’ve bought, don’t just keep silent and stop buying the publisher’s output – write the editors and executives and let them know that you’re unhappy, and why. It CAN make a difference!

(Now, if we can just get a complete Cerebus short stories & covers collection, and a collection of all 120 or so Bone covers, I’ll be happy! It’s good to have a dream…)

2 Responses to “Collected Editions: The Good, the Bad, and the WTF”

  1. Collected Editions January 31, 2012 at 12:49 #

    Such a good video Chris made; I linked to it myself today too, and I’ve been encouraging Facebook readers and such to watch it. Dan DiDio has said he’s trying to improve things starting with the New Teen Titans Omnibus (volume 2, I’m guessing), so I hope that’s true. DC’s trend is toward these larger books (see the new 52 Omnibus just announced), so they’re going to have to solve it if they’re going to sell these books at such high prices.


  1. More Ways to Improve Collected Editions « All Day Comics - February 2, 2012

    […] couple weeks ago, before I wrote about various publishers’ collected editions, The Weekly Crisis posted “10 Ways to Improve Collected Editions” – here’s […]

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