On an age-old controversy: Floppy or Trade?

There's a lot going on at the moment, enough that I expect this little blog to get much busier over the next few weeks as I figure out how to start sharing the news about some of the cool things being added to the mix.  In the meantime, I wanted to write up a quick post on my thoughts with respect to reading comic series in floppy vs. trade.  If you have no idea what I'm talking about, read on - I'll make it clear.  This is a favorite topic of debate for people who read a lot of comics, not quite as prevalent as the evergreen "Who would win in a fight between..." discussions, but it's up there. For those who don't already know, a "floppy" is one of several comic industry terms for the 22-page pamphlet that many of us think of as the classic "comic book."  In most cases, they're published for their respective series on a monthly basis (like magazines), and you can find them in comics specialty shops and at some newsstands and bookstores.

"Trades," on the other hand, are the collected editions of the floppies, pulling together a run of comics into one cohesive whole.  The term is short for "trade paperback."  They usually collect 4-6 issues of a given series, and often include some backup material (sketches, essays, even new stories) that weren't part of the original floppies as published.  A trade will often tell a complete story from beginning to end (with the original floppies representing chapters in that story).  Trades generally come out well after the original floppy run has been completed - at least three months, but often more.  Trades are seen as the definitive edition of a given story, and can be reprinted once an initial press run sells out, while the floppies will almost never be seen again past their initial run.  You can find trades everywhere - comics shops, bookstores, Amazon, etc.

So, which is better?  First of all, they're both great, and as long as you're reading comics in one form or another, you're okay by me.  The real answer is that both have their perks.  These days, I read most of what I read in floppy form, because I want to support the industry (especially creators I either know personally, particularly enjoy or both), and floppy sales still drive a lot of publisher decisions (even though I think they really shouldn't, considering the much wider market for trades.)  That said, there are a few series I read in trade (Unwritten, Scalped, a few others), and a few more that I read in floppies and then buy in trade (which, to me, is the highest possible endorsement - it says that I can't wait to read a given installment of the series, and then the pleasure I'll get from owning the collected edition is worth the added expense.  I do that with Locke & Key, one of my favorite books running, and I expect it to be that way with Saga as well.  It certainly happened with Y the Last Man and Ex Machina.)

If you've got a series with detailed, nuanced storytelling (like Scalped), where something that happens in issue 2 might resonate all the way through issue 50, give me trades every time.  On the other hand, I truly enjoy floppies if the book is more about the reality presented in the book than it is the continuity or the overarching story being told (Walking Dead, Orc Stain, for example.)  With those, it doesn't matter if you're getting 22 pages or 132.  The experience of being in the universe is good enough that even a small amount works.  (Also known as the Ice Cream Principle.)  I've recently been enjoying a book that's the perfect example of what I'm talking about - Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso's Spaceman.

The book is hard sci-fi, set in a fully-realized post global warming world where the seas have risen and mankind has (apparently) engineered a small race of individuals tailored for space travel and life on Mars.  The dialogue is filled with elaborate future slang, and phrases or exchanges can occasionally require some puzzling out before it's clear what's actually being said.  It reminds me a bit of William Gibson's Neuromancer or Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash - which are both novels, of course.  I don't have many precedents in the comics world for what Azzarello and Risso are doing.  Fluorescent Black (the gorgeous dystopic fantasy from Nathan Fox and M.F. Wilson) was in the ballpark, but that wasn't published in floppies as far as I know.

Anyway, the reason I like Spaceman so much, and I can't wait to get any given issue, is that it brings me into its world so well.  The experience of reading a Spaceman issue is about immersion into that alternate reality (which is something you would think would happen constantly in comics, but really doesn't, especially once you've read a lot of them).  When you read an issue, you are THERE, for better or for worse.  That is certainly due to the phenomenal level of craft the creators bring to the book, but again, not every comic works this way.

My favorite series to read as floppies act like little vacations.  If you can find a series that does that for you, then by all means, read it that way.  Other than those, though, I think I come down on the side of trades - for me, it's a more complete experience.  It's rare to find a series written so that it works as single issues and as a part of a comprehensive whole.  This makes sense, of course, because writers generally write for the trade, knowing that's the version that will last (floppies are, and always will be, pretty transient.)

Every comics reader has a position on this "issue," and most of those positions make sense (that's why it's the sort of thing comics fans love to debate).  As I said above, it doesn't matter too much whether you go for floppies, trades, digital editions, webcomics or any other way comics might find their way to you, as long as you read them.

Coming soon - news on 27, Strongman (yes, finally!), Strange Attractors, and other titles that you don't know yet... but you will.

27 on the Web!

Another beautiful panel from Strange Attractors!