The Watchtower: Trades vs. Issues vs. Hardcovers

    All comics fans have their own particular reading preferences. Some like hardcovers — nice, sturdy books that they are. Others like trade paperbacks (or simply “trades”), the relatively traditional, less cumbersome “graphic novel” format. There are also issues — the “single magazine” form that most people picture when they think of comics. Apart from being able to stick your nose up and use the word “graphic novel” when reading trades, there are a number of perks and downsides to each form. Here’s a breakdown of different publication styles that win out in the various arenas.

    Cost: Issues (with subscription, $25-30/year for 12 issues)

    Though I personally wouldn’t subscribe to comics, there’s no denying the financial benefits of subscribing to a series. Because it’s about 30 percent cheaper than buying them at stores, the only real downside is the year-long commitment involved. Generally speaking, trade paperbacks end up costing slightly less than the equivalent number of comics ($10-$17) from stores in issue form, and hardcovers cost a bit more ($18-$25, sometimes $30). These will vary by situation, and co-features (which generally add $1 to the cost of issues) can throw things out of whack a bit too, making volumes more efficient. Though cost can certainly vary, these rules generally apply for basic retail pricing.

    Traditionalism: Issues

    This, followed closely by durability, is probably the biggest factor for most avid readers. Volumes can’t quite replicate the distinct feel of reading issues. Though more dated elements like editorials to writers and interspersed ads annoy some people, the more-episodic narrative form and classic sensibilities of issues have a unique charm and authenticity. Their fragility, however, can be off-putting to some.

    Durability/Storage: Hardcovers

    This one’s obvious. Issues, if you have a lot of them, need to be filed away in shoeboxes if you expect them to last — bagged and boarded, if you’re really meticulous. Trades, too, can get blunted corners or torn pretty easily, though they’re fairly compact. Hardcovers, as comics go, are practically invincible, making them the clear victor in this category.

    Accessibility: Trades for new stuff, issues for the old, hardcovers for the ancient

    Though a lot of older material isn’t collected in any bound form, basically everything published since about 2003 can be found in either a trade paperback or a hardcover. Unfortunately, much of the material from the ‘80s and ‘90s isn’t collected in any bound form, and will likely have to be purchased in issue form. Pre-‘80s material can often be found in Marvel’s Essential, Masterworks or Classic lines, or in DC’s Archives or Showcase Presents volumes.

    Convenience: Issues (with subscription)

    Subscribing is, without a doubt, the most convenient buying method. Subscribers have their issues mailed right to their doors, which, holidays aside, is about as convenient as it gets. This is followed by volumes of either form, which only come out at a rate of two, maybe three per-year series. Buying single issues in stores as a monthly commitment is a lot of trouble for some people.

    Lag Time: Issues (subscription or non-subscription)

    Issues are the only form of comics that you can get the day they come out. Though holidays will delay issues a day from their usual Wednesday arrival date, one can reliably expect issues to arrive, either at their stores or at their home, on the expected release date. On the other hand, hardcovers (or trades, if that’s the only form something’s being released in) usually take around three to four months from the last issue’s publication date to reach stores, though Marvel seems to be working to change that. Trades after hardcovers can take even longer.

    Though these differences between reading forms may seem irrelevant to new readers, most people eventually find a preferred reading method, depending where their priorities lie. Regardless of that preference, if you read comics long enough, you’ll probably end up reading all three forms. Then again, there’s also digital, but that’s a whole different game.


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