A Great Gift and a Comics Conundrum

imgres-3I’d like to give a big shout out to my Secret Santa, even though doing so is going to reveal the truth that I opened my present well before the big day. I couldn’t wait. The size and shape of the package were too familiar. I knew what was beneath that Frosty the Snowman wrapping paper the minute I saw it and like…well…a kid at Christmas, I just decided to open this one particular present a bit early. And to put it simply, my Secret Santa just hit it out of the park, gifting me the John Byrne Fantastic Four Omnibus, something I’ve desperately been pining for since it was released a little over a year ago. Merry Christmas to me.

At over a thousand pages, the thing is an absolute beast size-wise and I couldn’t be happier to have received such a thoughtful gift. And at a cost of a hundred and twenty-five clams (suggested retail price), it’s one of those comic book compendiums that I just could never really justify buying for myself. I often have to remind myself: mortgage comes first, comics come second. It’s not an easy thing to accept, but such is the life of a comics fan with a house payment. That being said, the Byrne FF omnibus really is perfect in many ways. But now that I’ve got this wonderful collection of comics in “convenient” and beautifully reprinted book form, it’s also shining a light on the fact that I’m personally trapped somewhere between the analog and digital when it comes to my own comics collecting. To put it simply, this gift has made it abundantly clear that, for a number of reasons, I stubbornly refuse to accept that I have to makes a decision when it comes to what format I choose to consume comics.

My first thought upon receiving this magnificent omnibus edition was that having this fantastic-four-232-00collection was going to allow me the opportunity to finally get rid of the original Fantastic Four comics that I’d purchased over the years. I put a lot of work into amassing the majority of John Byrne’s work on Fantastic Four, but this was going to fill in the few remaining blanks and also allow me the opportunity to cull the collection a bit and pass on the originals to the comic book universe. Why would I ever need to look at the originals again? I now had the premium version, ad-free and brightly printed for my enjoyment. I would ditch the old floppies and move on with my life. I imagined that this is what the future would be like as a “mature” collector: get a collected edition or trade and summarily ditch those silly old originals. Soon I’d just haver books on my shelf. Real books. This is what I thought would happen. This is what I thought having a collected edition of a legendary run would do for me. Life was going to be simpler now. So I thought. Apparently, I was wrong.

As I thumbed through pages of my new omnibus, pages I’d only experienced previously as badly printed pulp images with hard to read lettering, I was struck by a decidedly modern thought. I thought to myself that it would really be nice if this massive tome came with a digital copy that I could access via my “tablet device” of choice. I was packing to go on vacation and the idea of having the contents of this brick of a book with me was really enticing. But there was no way I was going to lug this hefty piece of reading material with me. Let’s face it, it’s just too damn heavy. I needed both the analog and digital versions to satisfy my needs. This is where it all begins, the realization that if I like a book, I want it in all of its incarnations. I need help. I’m hip. But I can’t change who I am. The simply truth is this: if there’s a comic book I like and can see myself reading and re-reading in the future, I want it as a comic, an actual book and as a digital file. That’s my confession. That’s my reality. Don’t judge me. It’s just who I am.

urlSome people love the idea of having all their comics with them on one simple little device. A comic store in the palm of one’s hand. But while I certainly enjoy the convenience of the digital experience and the way it allows me to focus on story, the digital without the existence of a hard paper copy somewhere feels empty to me. I of course have different reasons for wanting different incarnations of the same book. As a consummate nostalgist, the actual comic books afford me the opportunity to travel back in time because they are such a specific piece of memorabilia; even the ads hold a special place in my heart. Yes, I like ads. Generally speaking the collected versions omit the ads, thus allowing for a more focused, story-based experience, so I want those versions, as well. And finally, the digital versions allows for a sort of uber-focus on the art and story in a panel-by-panel fashion that my aging eyes really enjoy. In essence, I’m a marketer’s dream in that I want every version that’s available. Is that so wrong?

Am I alone in this multi-pronged collecting style? Are there others out there who buy their favorite books in whatever versions the comic companies dole out? I know it’s irrational, redundant and ultimately an expensive way to collect, but right now it makes sense to me. And when the Fantastic Four Byrne run is released as an interactive hologram that I can read (or have read to me by a robot) while my autonomous car drives me to work, then I’m pretty sure I’ll buy that version as well.

Gabe Roth is a TV writer trapped in the suburbs of Los Angeles. @gaberoth on Twitter.


  1. I find myself buying multiple versions of comics all the time. I own the single issue runs of books like “Y” and “Fables”, and also the trade paperback versions. I can’t bear the wait for the trades to be released to keep up, and when they DO get released, I get them so that I can a) easily re-read it when I want and b) lend it to people so they can experience the greatness.

    I’m pretty sure the reason I DON’T own a tablet or anything is that I would feel compelled to buy all the digital versions.

  2. It’d be nice if I could buy 2 copies of every series I collect ( one to read, another to preserve), but that would be too expensive. I prefer reading single issues for the little things like recap pages, letters pages, ads for comics and not stupid cars or body spray. Im just reminded though that most comics don’t have a letters page anymore; only 2 that I collect contain them (Saga, TMNT). I know why they aren’t usually done but I still miss them. TPBs are nice because you can carry an entire run and finish it with minimal hassle. I don’t do digital tho, I prefer paper an I feel the technology for reading comics on tablets is not advanced enough that it is not cumbersome to me. If publishers sell floppies that include a digital download copy for an extra dollar, then I have to wonder how long before that’s done for TPBs as well. Either that or just offer the same stuff for download, but maybe including a digital copy with paper versions would boost sales. Just my thoughts.

  3. guilty as charged! I have triple dipped(issues,trades, digital) on my absolutely favorites stories.
    Frank Miller’s Wolverine, The Dark Knight Returns, Walt Simon’s Thor(some of that run on digital) and my all time fav Secret Wars.
    I can’t part with the issues just yet, like the total pkg of the trades and need to have these stories on my device when I’m stranded somewhere (subway, Dr.’s office, shoe shopping with the wife)

  4. I had this problem for awhile, especially when I finally got an iPad. I wanted to own any series I ever enjoyed in all three formats. After a while though I realized that I am simply not much of a fan of reading books digitally. There is something about holding a book in my hand that an iPad can never replace. The trades/HC format is my preferred format but it means being behind on the discussion, which is a big part of being a comic book reader. With all that in mind, this is how I buy:

    Digital – Now I only read digital books of series that I’ve never tried before and I am not sure if I will like. Last Monday I got many of the books in the Age of Apocalypse sale because I doubt I will like the story enough to need to own it in a physical format but it’s also a story I would like to read. Digital is the perfect format for me to try books I would never have tried before and if I like them enough I will buy the trade or hardcover so I can have the book on my shelf.

    Single Issues- Any big event book that everyone is talking about I will buy in single issues so I can stay up on the conversation, one of my favorite parts of reading comics. There’s no way I’m going to wait to read Death of the Family in HC because I do not want this great story spoiled. I will still eventually buy the collected edition. I save this for only the biggest and best books (only about 5 right now) because I don’t want to double dip buying too often.

    Trade/HC – I love this format, especially a good omnibus. This is how I get a majority of the books I read, those that I enjoy but don’t need to keep up on the conversation or am not afraid of having it spoiled I will buy only in trade or hc, the books that I love I will get in multiple formats with the trade/hc being the final purchase and then selling my single issues. This is my ultimate format of comic book purchasing. If a story has been released that I really liked, I will buy a paperback or hardcover (preferably hardcover) even if I already own the single or digital issues.

    This is the only format that I care about owning on a longterm basis. SIngle and digital issues are just placeholders.

  5. No, I try to only get one version of everything. Sometimes there’s a situation where maybe I already have 1 or 2 issues collected in a trade, and the trade is the most convenient way to get the rest of the issues, but that’s not intentional. For me, that money spent to get an additional version of the same thing could be spent on getting something that I don’t already have at all, but dearly want.

    I have nothing against digital, it’s just not quite to the point where I need to convert. I can get a $2.99 comic for $1.79 (or less) on Discount Comic Book Service, so even at the month-later dollar-off, I’m still saving money, and space hasn’t yet become an insurmountable issue. But again, I have nothing against it, and have spent time thinking about what kind of device I might want in the future if/when things changed.

    But in the meantime, I’d rather have a big stack of floppies that I didn’t have before than get that Omnibus of comics I’ve already read.

    • Just to mention – I get my comics once a month, so sometimes I’d like to be able to read the latest issue of the latest big crossover or whatever while I’m waiting. I’ve suggested to Comixology that they offer a “rental” of digital comics for $.99 or less where you only get the comic for a couple of weeks. That would allow me to at least read the digital version while I wait for my physical version. That’s really the only situation where I’ve downloaded pirated comics as well.

  6. I believe the choice to go print or digital or both has a lot to do with where you are in life, financial responsibilities, etc. Personally, I don’t see how people can afford both (but then, maybe they don’t have a wife and kids to support either). I can’t live without singles because of their episodic nature and my immediate gratifcation of reading comics every week. Once I’ve read a story, though, I’m ready to get them all in one trade for convenience. Just my all time favorite runs. Once I do, I have no problem dumping the singles. I used to care about their value, but that’s secondary to story and art to me now.

    Besides, why keep more than one version? If you have to grab the John Byrne run of FF when escaping the apocalypse, would you rather run out of the house with a stack of one hundred loose books in your arms, or a single (although heavy and immense) book? And why keep the old 70s issues of a book if you have them all together on high-quality paper? If you’re worried about value, I can understand why you want to keep the oldies. That’s YOUR choice.

  7. I ditch floppies ASAP, and use the money to buy the trades. I don’t see the point in keeping a massive number of floppy comics that no one is going to pay hundreds of dollars for in the future. Keep the important comics and ditch the rest.

  8. There are very few books that I really want to own multiple formats. Digital isn’t something I’m worried about, but with a book like The Escapists, I worked really hard to pick up all the issues and then bought the trade. Thats probably one of 3 or 4 books that I own in multiple formats. Those are also the only things that I care about having the issues. I sell most of my comics to buy more comics, so most single issues don’t really bother me to get rid of.

  9. With how expensive comics are nowadays, I don’t even think I can afford an iPad.

  10. I collect the trades only. In between releases I read older graphic novels or collections of series I haven’t read yet. Or just regular novels. Hopefully I don’t ever run out of material…

  11. Omnibus…ugh! I had the Frank Miller’s Daredevil and Claremont/Bryne’s X-Men run once but sold them on Ebay for the reason you mentioned…too cumberson to take on vacation. Plus I like to layback and read in bed and having that monster on your chest is nigh impossible.
    As for multiple copies in different formats, I would not mind having some of my all time favorites like Avengers 164-166 in digital format so I can read it again while waiting at license bureau or at the dentist office.