Okay, so I want to start this with a disclaimer: there is NO SUCH THING as “fake nerds”, or “fake geek girls”, or whatever sort of terminology you want to apply to someone who is perhaps not as creepily fervent as you are about your favourite thing. So let’s just not do that anymore. Okay? Okay.
I work with a lot of customers who are new to the world of comic books and want to start collecting titles with their favourite character from a movie, or who are just interested in the format overall. I don’t care HOW it is you’ve come to be interested in reading comics, be it movie or video game or tv show or you read em as a kid or your boyfriend reads them or maybe you just wandered into a store one day and it was full of beautiful comics. The fact that you are even interested enough to not just buy the first thing you see is very good!
But before you become one of those nerds (like me) who’s hitting up their local shop a couple times a month to grab the latest titles, you need to know what you’re getting in to. Understanding the basic vocabulary of comic books is a great first step, and the more you understand how to talk the talk, the less you’ll confuse the person at the register when you’re asking for advice and recommendations.
I’ll be publishing these basic guides in a series of posts, so as not to overwhelm anyone with too much information all in one go. As more posts are published, I’ll also collect all the info over onto a special “What you need to know to get into comics” page for easy linking and reference. Shall we begin?
Lesson #1: Issues and Trades and Omnis, oh my!
Comic books are published in a variety of formats, with different types of paper, covers, and spines. So why are there so many different forms if they all have the same content? I’ve found that the Walking Dead (published by Image Comics) series is one of the best ways to explain this…
Walking Dead comes out with one new issue a month. After six issues, they compile that content into what’s called a trade paperback (also called a trade, TPB or TP), which is published in volumes as the story progresses. After the Walking dead has published 12 single issues, they compile those into a hardcover volume (HC). So, a HC is the equivalent of two volumes of the TP, and one Walking Dead HC equals a year’s worth of single issues, since a new issue comes out every month. After 48 issues have been published, they put out a compendium (also often called an omnibus); a Walking Dead compendium is the equivalent of four years of single issues, or four hardcovers.
The math on that is all pretty logical, right? In the photo below you can see how the same content (Walking Dead issues 49-96) look when compiled into trade paperback, hardcover, and compendium formats.
However, that’s just the Walking Dead series. Other publishers and titles follow different standards and schedules. So while almost everyone publishes single issues on a monthly basis, many companies simultaneously publish paperbacks and hardcovers with the same content (much like standard novels); whether you buy volumes of the paperback or hardcover is a matter of personal preference (and budget). Hardcover volumes often are marketed as “deluxe”, and can contain extra goodies such as scripts, character sketches and process shots of the art. But seriously, as long as you know the difference between a single issue and a volume, you’re ahead of the game.
I often make the analogy of single issues of comics being like a single episode of a TV show; it’s just a snippet of the story and you have to wait until the next episode to learn more. Trades and hardcovers are like buying a full season on DVD. Omnibuses are the equivalent of buying several seasons in a box set. This is a really accessible comparison for a lot of new readers since almost all of us have waited to watch a TV show until it comes out on DVD… and similarly, a lot of comics readers wait to get into a new series until it comes out in paperback. The compiled books definitely looks better on your bookshelf!
My next post will focus on graphic novels vs. comic books and the common confusion between the terms. What’s the difference, and how do you know which one to use? Eventually I’ll talk about variant covers, how to keep track of crossover events, and break down the anatomy of a comic book.