Friday, July 13, 2007

Of Comics and Fantasy Novels

A decade ago, when I was starting to get into fantasy, one of my biggest hurdles to get into the genre was the fact that novels weren't complete--they were easily part 1 of a trilogy or something similar. And in many ways, I think that's a bad habit that publishers picked up from the publishers of Lord of the Rings (because it was supposed to be one really big book instead of three separate books). It's similarly something that the genre can't seem to shake off. A lot of fantasy novels are still packaged as trilogies. (Even David Eddings's Belgariad was originally a trilogy, until his publisher said there's no market for such a trilogy but there was if it was five smaller books.) I think the same problem extends to the US comic market as well. Collecting singles is a big pain in the ass, especially if it's a back issue. Graphic novels are a godsend, but not all comics are compiled into graphic novels. I think one "problem" the US comics market has is also the fact that the same title comes out in two forms: in singles and in trades. I mean if I have say, issues #1-3 of a title and issues #1-5 is collected into a trade paperback, if I can't track down the last two issues, I'm in a dilemma of whether I should buy the trade and therefore make my previous singles purchase invalid, or just continue to hold out and hope to strike it lucky in the future and find the other two issues I'm missing. And honestly, comic singles are more prone to loss than trade paperbacks due to sheer size of the latter and flimsiness with the former.

Now I'm not saying writers should write more standalone novels and comic writers should write more one-shots. Part of what I like about both mediums is the fact that they're not afraid to tell a really long story if necessary. And I think that's the qualifier: if it's necessary.

Of course it doesn't hurt if publishers start churning out more and more compilations. I mean in the UK, there's this term called Omnibus Editions. Basically they compile various novels or short stories into one big book. I like that format, even if they're usually released as hardcovers (hardcovers are difficult to pocket around). It's also interesting to see that in the indie comics market, a lot of creators are releasing their work not as singles but as trades. It makes their story more cohesive and one complete package--especially considering that they're indie and tracking a sequel or a prequel will be difficult to obtain, to say the least.

On the side of the consumer, I think this all arises from a design problem. Of course what one might see as a problem might be someone else's boon. I mean on the side of the publisher, if they were evil overlords, it's easy to imagine that this is all part of their scam to get more money out of its readers. But so far, despite these practices, the market seems to be content and no bubble is being burst. Yet.


Anonymous said...

What do you mean "in the UK"? They release omnibuses in the US too. That's not something unique to our friends across the pond.

Charles said...

They do but they don't usually call it omnibuses (or at least use it as often as they do in the UK). It's usually "A Collection of ..." rather than specifically stating "I'm an omnibus".

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry but I really disagree. "A Collection of..." might be what marketing will call it and as such, will be what you see on the cover or cover copy, but everyone else (editors, agents, booksellers & readers) calls it an omnibus.