Trade paperback (comics)

In comics, a trade paperback (often shortened to TPB, TP, or trade) is a collection of stories originally published in comic books, reprinted in book format, usually capturing one story arc from a single title or a series of stories with a connected story arc or common theme from one or more titles. Although trade paperback is actually a publishing term that refers to any book with a flexible cardstock cover which is larger than the standard mass market paperback format, comics fans unfamiliar with that meaning have come to use the term to refer to the type of material traditionally sold in comics shops in that format: collected editions of previously serialized stories. The term graphic novel is sometimes used interchangeably, but some people maintain that the terms are distinct, with the difference being that the latter term refers to a square-bound printing with largely original material.[1]

Traditionally, a trade paperback will reproduce the stories at the same size as they were originally presented in comic book format. However, certain trades have been published in a smaller, "digest-sized" format, similar in size to a paperback novel. Other works (usually material likely to sell well) are published in a larger-than-original hardcover format. They are also floppy and soft.

Note that many comics collections are published in hardcover (or in both formats). The bulk of this article applies to both paperback and hardcover collections. In the comics industry, the term "trade paperback market" can be casually used to refer to the market for any collection, regardless of actual cover.

Additions and omissions

A trade paperback will sometimes feature additional artwork, such as alternative cover art or pinup galleries by guest artists, not released in the standard issues. Additional story material that was not available in the series itself may also be included, primarily "preview" or "extra" stories presented exclusively on the Internet or in comics-industry publications such as Wizard (or simply things that are unlikely to be reprinted anywhere else, such as Free Comic Book Day comics). Many feature introductions written by prominent figures, some from outside the world of comics—for instance, The Sandman: Worlds' End features an introduction by Stephen King, the Ultimates 2 book has an introduction by Jonathan Ross and most Hellboy trade paperbacks have included introductions by prominent authors. A common practice is to include an art gallery featuring the artwork of the original comic book covers from which the series was compiled.

While there have been exceptions, as a general rule of thumb, trade paperbacks will not feature advertisements, fan mail, special foil or embossed covers. Where the original serialized format included back-up stories not related to the main arc, these may also be omitted, and, in what is now a largely discontinued practice, it was common in older trade paperbacks to use only small excerpts from certain stories, or to omit pages from the main story related to other subplots.

Readers and collectors

For many years, trade paperbacks were mainly used to reprint older comic-book stories that were no longer available to the average reader, when original copies of those stories were scarce and hard to find, and often very expensive when found due to their rarity. However, in the first years of the 21st century, comic book publishers began releasing trade paperbacks of collected story arcs, often within a few months of those stories' publication in comic-book form (and in some cases, within the same month that the final issue was originally released). This was found to be an excellent way to draw new readers to a series—where before, one would have to hunt for individual back issues to catch up on a series, now a reader coming into an already established title could purchase the previous issues in trade paperback form and have access to the entire series' worth of stories to date.

As the trade paperback versions are usually cheaper than buying the individual comics and presented without any advertisements, many comic book fans choose to hold off on purchasing the individual issues and only follow the stories when they come out in trade. This can sometimes help a series whose sales are flagging, much like how a film that performed poorly in movie theaters can gain new popularity in home video formats; in a few instances, significant trade paperback sales have even revived a series that had been cancelled or slated for cancellation. However, only buying a series in trade format can also hurt a title; despite the growing popularity of the trade paperback, the serialized, individual issues are still considered the primary mode of sale by comics publishers, and if a series is not meeting sales criteria for individual issues, it may face cancellation no matter how well the collected editions are selling.

A significant benefit of the trade paperback version is that it is often available in bookstores, from smaller booksellers to the larger suppliers, and other retailers that do not normally carry comic books.

Unlike the individual issues, trade paperbacks usually have no particular value to collectors, as they are reprints (which lack the historical significance of the original publication), and they are often kept in print (thus readily available new). However, some trade paperbacks can themselves be noteworthy or scarce, and their value to collectors can go up substantially. Trade paperbacks and graphic novels are the preferred format for circulating library collections, since these collections are created to be read, and not to be retained as collector's items or as investments.[2][3] Attempts to catalogue and circulate single-issue comics can pose difficult problems[4] and the durability of the trade paperback format is an important consideration for longevity and collection development in public and school libraries.

There are some criticisms of trade paperbacks by some writers and artists in recent years. They argue that because of the popularity of trades that they are forced to produce five or six issue arcs simply because this is the ideal size of a trade. In their perspective this can be quite limiting in the length of a story and pacing as the size is now set. This however is also countered by placing several short arcs in one volume and in the case of longer arcs—the Metal Gear Solid comic adaptation was released in two separate trades.

See also


  1. "Creating Comics, Part 4: Comic Books vs. Graphic Novels | Writing Scraps". 2007-08-06. Retrieved 2010-09-10.
  2. O’English, Lorena, J. Gregory Matthews, and Elizabeth Blakesley Lindsay. “Graphic Novels in Academic Libraries: From Maus to Manga and Beyond.” The Journal of Academic Librarianship 32.2 (2006): 178.
  3. Bruggeman, Lora. “Zap! Whoosh! Kerplow! Build High-Quality Graphic Novel Collections with Impact.” School Library Journal 43.1 (1997): 27.
  4. Markham, Gary W. “Cataloging the Publications of Dark Horse Comics: One Publisher in an Academic Catalog.” The Journal of Academic Librarianship 35:2, 162-169.
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