Spring is right around the corner and already spoilers are in the air. As some of you may know, earlier this week the mainstream media decided to have its annual “pretend to understand comics” event by unceremoniously revealing important story details of an upcoming issue (Batman Inc. #8) like a bumbling, ignorant parent trying to understand their kid’s hobby, without the good intentions.
And while that issue was, indeed, released last Wednesday, there are some of us who are still wary of every link we click on and who plug our ears whenever a layperson begins a sentence with “Oh, I saw a thing about comic books in the paper today…” Who, you ask, are these people? Trade-waiters. Yes, those of you who zealously pick up your floppies every week may boo us, but we deserve a little recognition too. That is what this Trade-Waiter’s Guide to Comics is all about — shedding a little light on the sub-culture, and dishing out some advice to my fellow spoiler-dodgers.
What is a trade-waiter? For those of you relatively new to the wide world of comics, what you’re most familiar with is probably issues: the small, thin, papery, magazine-like things clutched by many nerd stereotypes. Think of an issue like a single chapter of a story. When each story is completed, all relevant issues will probably be collected together into one volume, known as a trade paperback, trade hardcover, or simply a trade. Some issues can still tell a short, complete story, but can still be collected anyway.
Some comic readers will pick up both the issues and the collection, as issues tend to be treated like precious commodities while trades can be read anytime. Some will “drop” a series only to pick it up again in trade. And some, like me, have ditched issues forever and only read trades. There are many reasons for this; for me personally, I just prefer having a complete story in my hands.
The only downside to this is, as I mentioned above, spoilers. It’s like only watching TV shows on DVD. Everyone has already seen the episodes that you’re still waiting for, and they are all talking about what happened. It’s a tricky game, and really, you just have to accept that you are gonna get some stories spoiled a little from time to time. Either that, or stay off the Internet entirely.
For those I haven’t scared off the hard path of trade-waiting, you’re probably wondering how to keep tabs on all the wonderful comics series out there right now. How do you know what series to read and when their collections come out? Well, to keep an eye on the best comics in the market, you can simply read several great review sites, such as — oh, off the top of my head — ComicBooked.com. Most professional reviews tend to be spoiler-free, so you can just check out whether or not this is a series you want to follow, as well as what’s hot in comics.
To find out when each particular collection is released, you’d think your best bet would be to check the publisher’s own website. Now, maybe this is just my complete lack of technical savvy, but I’ve found that every single publisher’s site is a complete cluster#@*$ to navigate. Especially the Big Two. Seriously, DC and Marvel, put more things on your front pages, that’ll help. If you can make it through the maze of drop-down menus, you’re a better person that I.
If you’re an idiot like me, however, you can always go to retailers’ sites. There’s the trade-oriented InStockTrades.com, but even somewhere as simple as Amazon. The latter is very good if you’re just looking for a vague idea of a release date, since publishers and most retailers won’t commit at first, as they tend to just make a rough one up and adjust as necessary.
But to get back on the Big Two’s case again (they can take it): statistically, they are who you’ll be buying most of your trades from, but they are also inexplicably incompetent with their collected editions. Marvel is pretty good at getting them out, but a major pet peeve of mine is that they don’t give their trades unique titles. For example, say I want to recommend a good Daredevil story to someone. I’d have to tell them to start with Daredevil Volume One. Now how many trades d’you suppose there are with that on them? It does seem, however, that their Marvel NOW! releases are cured of this, as all solicits come with their own distinct titles.
With that, I now turn my beady eye to DC. If you’re gonna be trade-waiting a DC series, be prepared to really wait. They are notorious for falling behind in such things. The New 52 showed some false hope that this had changed, but they are already back to their old ways. At least they have proper titles though.
One last important thing: Pre-ordering. Sometimes, if a series isn’t doing too well in issues — y’know, money-wise — it will not be released in trade, as the publisher does not expect that to make a lot of cash either. However, if you pre-order a series, which you can do on most retailers’ websites, it may be enough to justify a collection. Now, you obviously don’t need to worry much with mainstream series like Batman or Avengers, and even popular enough indie books are probably safe. But every trade-waiter takes on the unspoken responsibility of keeping track of all the series he or she wants to read and, if its sales are low, pre-ordering it. Keep that in mind. I’ve lost a lot of chances to read great series because of this.
It may sound tedious and time-consuming, but at least we don’t have to deal with longboxes.