Book Adoration


As an admitted print fetishist, it will surprise some of you that while I adore premium hardcover editions of comics and graphic novels, I also hate them (to those of you that aren’t surprised – well done figuring out that I make no sense, and frequently contradict myself.) It’s a quandary: how can I like these big, fat, over sized hardcover volumes with their glossy slipcovers, fabric-covered card covers, and thick, tactile pages, but still hate them? Am I never happy? Apparently not. You see, the problem is that they’re unwieldy. Ridiculously so. No one ever talks about curling up in bed with Absolute V for Vendetta. No one ever says that they’re throwing Absolute Sandman into their bag to read on the train. On the contrary, people discuss using them as lethal weapons, because that’s what they feel like – the literary equivalent of cinderblocks. All around, this format does not lend itself to ease of reading. It’s designed to look impressive first, to showcase the work first and foremost, in an almost museum-like reverence. Second comes readability. Notice I don’t say legibility. These books are large, so the words are quite visible; this is not my problem. What I take issue with is their purpose. Books are meant to be read, not seen from afar and admired. If you create a book that is too big and heavy to handle (without placing said monolith on a lectern, and who has a lectern in their house?), what is the book’s purpose? At this point we are forced to admit that the book exists simply for show, a souvenir of something once enjoyed that can be kept forever, now so difficult to read that it will last far longer than ever imagined.

I say this because I once made the mistake of ordering a book to read, without actually paying attention to the format (and this is why I now buy books from a shop, instead of online.) I had no idea I was ordering one of these unwieldy, hardcover behemoths. I just thought “Ooooh, all of the volumes of Girls in one place. That’ll be convenient.” Convenient is pretty much the last thing it was. Arriving with all the fanfare of these types of tomes, ensconced in it’s ridiculous hard case slipcover box (god forbid this armored book go without further protection) and sat on my shelf for a month. Eventually I had a weekend with nothing to do, and I dragged the fat bastard down and read it. Now this engendered a great deal of contortionist-like movements, since I generally like to read in bed. I tried that, but it definitely didn’t work. If a lay down on my side, I had to change sides every time I turned a page. If I sat up and propped the book on my stomach, the weight of the damned thing nearly cut me in half (or it felt that way after 20 minutes). Finally I gave up, and lay on my stomach with the book in front of me, like an 8 year old watching TV. A good book, I enjoyed it a lot, despite the back ache that reading it gave me. And of course I couldn’t take the book to read on the bus, I couldn’t take it to read in my lunch hour at work, I couldn’t even take it across the street when I went to get a cup of coffee because it weighs half a ton (well, okay, not literally, but you know what I mean), so reading it took much longer.

All of this probably rubs me the wrong way much more than it should, because I love the idea of a book like this, that is a tribute to the quality of the work inside it. These books are something big and wonderful, designed to celebrate the great and mighty works of art they contain. But dammit, aren’t we meant to be able to read them? Doesn’t this kind of elitist, form-over-function type of design defeat the purpose of a book entirely? If I can’t easily read it, why own a book?! Am I simply to give up on the joy of reading and admit that all I want to do is own and consume? Well bloody hell, I refuse… kind of.

Once in a while you get a book that is both beautifully bound as well as being wonderfully readable. It is small enough to carry and read anywhere, yet lovingly crafted as an object as much as a work of literary genius. It happens rarely, but when it does, it’s a great thing. I found one such rarity this weekend, at the Alternative Press Expo in San Francisco. This convention of independent publishers and creators is always a mixed bag, who knows what I will purchase? Will I buy a hand-felted giraffe this year? Or a wallet made from old children’s exercise books? How about a t-shirt with a penis on it? Useful? Perhaps not so much… Will I read a $4 comic made from 3 pages of lavender paper, feverishly photocopied and stapled together at Kinko’s late last night? What if it’s the greatest story ever told, but I ignored it because the binding, art, and writing seemed rushed and half-hearted? This annual weekend event is certainly an adventure in reading and art.

This year my favorite find of the convention was a tiny book, really the antithesis of the big, giant Absolute/Ultimate/Essential volumes. A small hand made book, reprinting the last chapter of Moby Dick, measuring only 4″ x 6″, with a letterpress cover, and accordian folded pages, revealing a series of hand-cut strange shapes, one in amongst the text of each page. When the back binding is removed (using a tiny ribbon to slide it out, created for precisely this purpose), the whole thing unfolds like a string of paper dolls, and on the back of the pages of text a dramatic visual retelling of the story is presented in a strange black and white line drawing. A glorious little work of art, and it all fits perfectly in one hand. Made entirely by hand, and published by Two Fine Chaps, this small book made my day.


It’s true, I own a few of those big, brutish premium edition hardcover volumes of the comic book classics. After all, I can’t help myself; even if I want to read my old, beaten up paperback copies in bed, at heart I’m also a victim of the same collector’s design fetish that we all are – I needed to own those big, fat classics. After all, you can’t have too many copies of Elektra: Assassin/
Watchmen/Ronin/etc, can you? They sat in the store and plaintively called “buy me, Sonia!”, and eventually I crumbled. But if you look on my bookshelves, it’s the well-thumbed paperbacks that get the most action, they are the books that have a taken on personality and a life of their own as they’ve been read over and over again through the years, and I love them for it, much more their fancy hardcover big brothers.


Sonia Harris is an ex-pat Londoner, who’s lived in San Francisco for much of her adult life. She has vague memories of nightmares about a Kindle when she was about 10, she doesn’t want one. You can mail your stories of book love to her at sonia@ifanboy.com.

Comments

  1. I have no problem with reading oversized hardcovers that I have, on the bed. Of course the only one I have is The Killing Joke Deluxe Edition, which is an extremely thin book. πŸ˜€

    Sometimes the art is just too good, like in TKJ, but most times its our nerdery that gets us. "Buy me, I shall provide you with great pleasure." said the Daredevil omnibus seductively, "come to DARK SIDE }:-D". 

     

    Thank God I didn’t have any money.

  2. Prime example of the deluxe hardcover gone wrong is that first volume of POWERS. 

    The book is so thick that word balloons anywhere near the spinal margin get lost like Washingtons in cleavage. Virtually unreadable, especially with a series so rich with dialogue.   

  3. Oddly enough, despite not being a print fetishist to any degree, I’m totally with you on this article. Absolute Editions hold virtually no appeal to me and I’m not impressed by Omnibi. Currently, the most obnoxious book I have is the first Walking Dead Compendium, but that one isn’t a hardcover and it’s mainly just fat, not huge all over. I bought it because the price was irresistable (less than a dollar an issue!). It definitely doesn’t travel well, though. I’m debating whether or not I should wait for the next one (and save another ton of cash) or just pick up the remaining trades that are much more portable.

     

  4. "Like Washingtons in Cleavage." Wow. Paul, you are the Samuel Clemens of iFanboy.

    I have never purchased or read an oversized hardcover.  I would like to, but my library doesn’t carry any and I haven’t won the lottery recently, so I can’t afford them (or I can’t justify buying them to my wife). 

  5. Paul, I plan on using that Washington/cleavage line often and never giving you due credit.

  6. I have the Absolute New Frontier, and while it’s gorgeous it was nearly impossible to read for all the reasons Sonia pointed out. Now it just sits on my bookshelf, although sometimes I pull it down and use it as a coffee table book.

    But my favorite collected edition is the Essex County hardcover. It has this wonderfully worn cover, no slip cover (yay), and a simple design. I think it suits the comic beautifully, and it’s not a bear to carry around. I do wish it had a ribbin bookmark, though.

  7. Great article Sonia.

    I completely share your view on this. I LOVE owning Absolutes and oversized hardcovers. I feel immense joy and pride looking at them on my shelves. I feel like they put the work in am amazing light and are so well made that even non-comic fans would have to take a hard look at the material if they came across one of them on someone’s coffee table.

    And yet, I rarely read them. I’m proud to say I’ve read all of my Omnibuses or Absolutes at least once, but it’s definitely a chore and something you have to allocate time and effort towards.

    Good on you.

     

  8. I was once hit in the head with From Hell. I see your point

  9. Absolutes aren’t as bad as the Marvel Omnibi in terms of readibility, IMO. While I love Morrison’s Nex X-Men, that damn Omnibus is pretty much impossible to read in bed.

  10. I’ve always been happy with the simple trade paperback. They aren’t as pretty and they may not last as long, but they last long enough, and unlike the unweidly Absolutes, they’re comfortable to read.

  11. I liked the Local Deluxe HC. Just the right size.

  12. Interesting article Sonia, and you’ve barely scratched the surface here! There is such a wide range of sizes and formats in the "collected edition family", that it’s easy to forget about how different the extremes are on either end. I recently picked up Jeffrey Brown’s I Am Going to be Small and Warren Ellis’ Crooked Little Vein, and I’ve found that they are perfect for reading on the train/bus. I also attempted to crack into my Ultimates Omnibus this past weekend and your article hit a lot of familiar notes with me.

    Great content as usual, thanks Sonia.

  13. @Paul – Even the Powers TPBs are guilty of that.

  14. Several of the oversized hardcovers I own are such a chore to read, I just end up buying them again in paperback form so I can at least read them without having to borrow a forklift. 

    I’ve done this with so many stories (Watchmen, DC: New Frontier, Dark Knight Returns, Bendis’ Daredevil – just to name a few) I think I should just give up buying the larger formats altogether and just stick to paperbacks.

  15. My boyfriend (not a comics guy but has been getting into them slowly via my trade collection) asked why I don’t own any of these super-luscious special edition giganto-books when I mentioned that they exist.  It seemed like the most obvious thing to him that a mondo-fan would need to own them.  And I was like, yeah, I’m sure they’re nice, but they’re too heavy to lift more than one or two at a time, and moving’s already hard enough with the books I have now.  Besides, they’re too tall for the average bookshelf and weigh enough to probably break them as well.  So yeah, I’m right there with you.  Who wants to read something you can barely even hold properly?

  16. I used to have the perfect chair to read absolutes in but no more.  Now I’ll read them while sitting at the kitchen table probably.  The only monster of a book I ever had a hard time  holding and reading is the Ennis Punisher Omnibus.  It not that tall but very thick (That’s what she said.)  Even if some are hard to read I like the large oversized editions purely for the large art.

  17. 12-18 issues is the maximum that should be read and bought.  Anything more is too much.  That’s why I have 5 Bendis Daredevil hardcovers, not 2 DD omnibus.

  18. I’ve never bought any of the Absolute Editions.  For most of them I already have a collected hardcover or trade and I really don’t like buying repeat editions.  I find that most of the Omnibi that I do have are pretty manageable.  The Starman editions are very manageable and i would agree that the Jeff Lemire Essex County and Local Deluxe HC are an excellent size and manageable to read.  The biggest book that I have is the Ed Brubaker Daredevil which was kind of big but still not unmanageable.  I would think that you have to look at the really huge tomes as more coffee table books than actual volumes to be read.

  19. When it comes to hardcover collections, the bigger the better.

  20. @conor

    Compensating much? 

  21. Nope.

  22. @ conner: hell yeah! you ain’t a real man/woman unless you can ‘rassle with your comics!! i don’t know why they couldn’t just put all the absolute sandman’s in one BIG volume!!!!

  23. *conor. i’m a ‘tard and can’t spell.

  24. I will name TKJ Deluxe HC again because it is awesome and totally readable. Brian Boland art, recolored by him, jumps out from the page.

  25. I actually do have a lectern in my house for reading the Oversized Hardcovers πŸ™‚ Bigtime HC fetishist here.

  26. I didn’t even realize that I too am a bibliofile until I discovered shelf porn.

  27. Last week it was Mike’s piece on affordability. This week Sonia nails one of my other internal conflicts. What are you people doing, rooting around in my head like this?

    But seriously: this conflict definitely plays to two sides of my personality.

    On the one hand, I love to always have books on me. Right now, I probably have 2-3 books in my bag. I like to sit at cafes and read. I like to read whenever I can. In these instances, portability is key. I love manga and smaller-sized editions for this. Even a regular sized comic TPB fits nicely into a bag and is perfect for travel.

    But then there are comics that I want to cherish. And that’s how I make the divide in my mind. These books are objets d’art, lavish treasures to be pored over. Usually, I only reserve this treatment for stories that I’ve already read. Ultimate favorites or books that contain art that just make me drool. The Sandman collection is one I own in Absolutes. Also New Frontier. I have the first few Hellboy Library editions, and i have the Local oversized hardcover. I’m pretty happy with all of these. πŸ™‚

     

     

     

  28. Really like the article Sonia, I have one Absolute, one Omnibus, and all three Hellboy Library Editions, but plan on getting more.  For me its a great way to display the art of the book, with the Absolute New Frontier and the Hellboy editions I just love the how the art pops of the pages.  The Daredevil Omnibus is the Brubracker Daredevil ver. 1, I would have continued to collect them in the hardcovers if Marvel still made them.  For me the best ones I own as far as readability are the Oversized HC Marvel does of Punisher, Bendis’ Daredevil and Ulitmate Spiderman.  They are not too big to read in bed and they allow the art to shine.

    @captbastrd: Shelf Porn is really really creepy to me.

  29. Preferring print to digital or some such is not a fetish – it’s preference. πŸ˜‰ I have three bookshelves that are already maxed out from 23 years worth of books, and only three of those shelves have TPBs on them. This is why I’m mainly a single issue reader, because I just don’t have room for getting TPBs. (They do not save room. :-p) I have the absolute Sandman editions which sit proudly next to my Harry Potters and my single-edition, leather bound Lord of the Rings which are displayed. I have over the years gotten the Absolute Watchmen, V for Vendetta, Crisis on Infinite Earths and DC New Frontier. I think all of them benefit from the oversized art and generally look better. My Watchmen TPB looks like a piece of crap after only one read-through and one lending. It’s not that I go out of my way or wait for the Absolutes, I just happen to think they’re sharp looking.

    Great article, as always. Though I have to say, I am a little disappointed in us as a group. I’m amazed at the volume (heh… see what I did there?) of "They’re so heavy to lift" comments I see. Are we so convinced by the geek stereotype that we can’t pick up books! :-p  Come on guys (and girls)! Now granted, I read everything laying down on the floor or on a bed, I can’t stand sitting up in a chair reading, so this probably re shapes how I read things. (It did make reading Wednesday Comics a bit of a chore.)

  30. I have no issues with curling up with Absolute or Hardcover editions in bed. However, my husband has suffered some nearly fatal corner gauges and papercuts

  31. Never gave it a thought.  But I like how the Absolute LOEG did it.  One big slipcase and two manageable books inside.

    I do think that the problem of words being overtaken by the binding should be fixed by just adding a little white space to the side of the page.  Sure it can ruin two page spreads, but, between being able to understand the speech or not having to deal with a little white space in the middle of a big action scene, I think I can deal with a little white line.

  32. I usually read my comics in bed, on my back, holding the comic up in the air above me, and sometimes I’m naked but that’s information you probably don’t need right now. So reading a heavy hardcover would be hard to do because I don’t really work out much. Also, I absentmindedly fold up my comic not just once, but twice, so I can hold it comfortably in one hand. Easier to do that with a soft cover than hard.

  33. I’ve got to say that I totally prefer trades over deluxe hardcovers or even normal hardcovers really for the main reason of ease of reading.  Now, I have Absolute Dark Knight, Watchmen, Sandman 1-4 and Death, because those mean something to me, plus, for Watchmen and Sandman, they’ve been recoloured, but I keep and usually read the trades if I want to read those series, in fact, I’ve never read my Absolute Sandmans and may never because of their bulkiness.  Even the Uncanny X-Men Omnibus is way too big to really read as it’s too thick.  Readability is also the reason I won’t buy those beautiful Y: The Last Man hardcovers, because frankly, I’m more likely to pick up the trades if I want to re-read them, so what’s the point of buying the HCs?  To look good on my bookshelf?  I think sometimes people buy those things more for decorative or OCD collecting purposes than actual reading purposes.

  34. @stuclach—I’m in the same boat!!! I would love that Secret Wars omnibus but even at 50% off ($49.99) I can’t justify that rather get 2-3 trades and have a variety.

    @cromulent—TMI , although I also read my TPB in bed.I often wake up after nodding off inside the pages, with my face wet with drool ok, TMI I know

  35. @Jesse1125 – I could probably justify it by talking about how rough my kids are with books and how I need the hardcover to protect them (the books, not the kids), but my wife would just roll her eyes.

  36. @Prax – I get tired from lifting Stephenson novels.  I can’t imagine how much trouble I would have with the upcoming Wednesday Comics hardcover.

  37. I do love Absolute editions. I have the 4 Sandmans, Watchmen and Hush. Also the "unofficial" Absolute that is JLA/Avengers. They can be a little hard to read comfortably at times, but i think they are kind of worth it, to have the art that big. 

  38. @forrestjwp
    To me it’s no different than home design TV shows and the like. I don’t care about the person that has the shelf full of books, I like the look of the books on that shelf, amidst things like signed and original artwork and other comic paraphenalia.

  39. For me it’s all about an amazingly different experience reading a book I already love, in a new, huge style, and fashion. I have zero issue reading my Absolutes and enjoy opening them up OFTEN on my coffee table and reading and re-reading away. Perfect spot for me.

    I own Absolute Watchmen, Sandman 1-4, LOEG 1,2,&BD, New Frontier, Hush, Dark Knight, & Long Halloween. I plan on getting V for Vendetta and can’t wait until they reprint Planetary, Authority, and Green Lantern: Rebirth gets released. As far as Omni, I only have Astonishing X-Men which I just scored for my b-day and is a very cool single volume. 

    My point being I love these "oversized" editions. I own each of these works in other editions, but have no issue slowly collecting these expensive, extravagant pieces of work……and I only "double-dip" on the stories I’ve really loved & therefore want to enjoy on another level. I see nothing wrong with this.

    @Sonia Harris – I agree with some of your points but, "At this point we are forced to admit that the book exists simply for show." I completely disagree with. Since when does a particular volume need to encompass every possible reading scenario available? One should realize going into a big purchase, such as the Absolutes (hence the name), that you obviously can’t take it with you every place possible – plunk down – and read it. If this cramps the style of many readers, as so many have admitted above, then I would definitely recommend staying away from purchasing said editions. My point being, this should not reflect negatively upon the oversized edition itself, but more toward the (sorry to say) unwillingness to hold back personal urges to splurge on something sexy looking that, in the end, doesn’t suite your reading habits. Not meaning to bitch – just trying to defend the other side of the issue.

    All in all, I agree some HC volumes are a little more all around handy, such as the Starman, etc. I equally enjoy the deluxe format that Y and Ex Machina have been coming out in, being they are only 1" by 1/2" bigger then the normal volumes – but that extra size I find beneficial and not a pain at all. I actually am a little mad Vertigo decided to release Preacher in the standard format and not deluxe or absolute it. I have those comics in that size already – I wanted something that was, again, a different experience.

    However there are some things I couldn’t stand reading any other way then in smaller, very convenient formats. I mean, can you guys imagine reading Absolute Scott Pilgrim? Blah! 

    Sorry for the rant. Done. 

  40. I love the Queen and Country Definitive Editions. It feels like a deluxe edition, yet it’s actually smaller.

  41. I love the look of the oversized books on my shelves.  I look at them and buy them far too often.  But with this recent price hike for the omibi and their ilk, don’t think I’ll be buying as often or as freely as I did.  Not that $99 is too far from $125 (not that I’ve ever paid full price, but the 25% discount it would still be the previous full price). 

    I do love the size of the Queen and Country trades.  And they line up so nicely all matching.

  42. "No one ever talks about curling up in bed with Absolute V for Vendetta."
    Well, I wouldn’t say curl up, because that just sounds weird, but I have read Absolute New Frontier
     lying down on my back in bed.

    "No one ever says that they’re throwing Absolute Sandman into their bag to read on the train."
    I did this all the time with Absolute New Frontier and the Hellboy Library Edition vol 1. The ostentatious factor was primary reason for my doing so, in addition to reading great comics. It’s also one of the main pleasures gained from reading Wednesday Comics on the bus or in the train.

    "On the contrary, people discuss using them as lethal weapons, because that’s what they feel like – the literary equivalent of cinderblocks."
    I also talk about smashing a lout about the head with said volumes. It’s an easy (and easily identifiable) comment to make in general conversation.

  43. I love Omnibuses and oversized books.  Bigger pages make me really slow down and appreciate the art more, and having more story at once is always good because I always want to read more.  I recently finished the Strangers in Paradise Omnibuses.  Those huge tombs took almost two weeks to read and have like 1200 pages per book.  Every bit of the reading experience felt larger than life and seeing it all together really leaves you awestruck by how much work he actually did.  I never minded reading the books either, I normally read in a recliner.  I’m not bothered by the weight of a book, I just want more story.  More story all the time.

  44. Personally the big size doesn’t bother me. I do actually travel with them, and yes they have brought up many conversations. Especially in the waiting rooms at the various Doctors I go to. I am always reading either an Absolute or Omnibus, I love em.

    Some of them are more forgiving, Secret Wars, and Iron Fist come to mind. Conversely, Absolute Sandman definitely lets you know it is there. 

  45. I encountered the ‘difficult to read’ issue with my first omnibus: New X-Men.  I found that it was easily dealt with by grabbing a pillow, putting it on my lap, then placing the book on said pillow.  Still… not the easiest read books.